Brent Ryan

Rethinking Fame & Glory- Is it a Good Goal?

Posted on February 28, 2019 in music, Music Business, Musical Inspiration, Opinions, Updates

I was recently reading a fellow musician’s website bio. He mentions in his bio that his goal is to make his name a “household name”.  I understand that sentiment. All of us creative types have a genuine, and good-natured desire to have our creations enjoyed by others. But there is a strange and precarious balance here that exists for me when it comes to making big decisions (especially financial) about how to promote my music. I ask myself questions like…

-What is my ultimate goal?

-Does this get me to where I want to be?

-Does this investment align with who I am as a person and musician?

I’m going to share with you guys a major pet-peeve of mine in the songwriting world. Here is the basic structure of the annoyance: Roger Rockstar begins a music career. Roger posts all over social media and proves that he is an ambitious “in-it-to-win-it super serious musician”. Mr. Rockstar talks about chasing his dreams, craves international fame and glory. Roger achieves a small corner of that goal, gets picked up by a good management company or label, and gets sent on tour. The following year Roger Rockstar releases a new record, and it is chalked full of songs of him whining and complaining about how hard it is on the road and how much he misses home.

That scenario doesn’t happen for all musicians, but for the few who fit into that storyline, I really feel like showing up with a match to burn down their pity party.  Why do we assume that fame & glory are the industry standard reasonable goals for a musician?  You don’t see this (as much) in other careers.  Folks who get hired into, say, a credible accounting firm don’t post all over their social media how they want to be such bad-ass accountants that by the time they die the whole world will be talking about how they dominated the accounting world. And yet, entering upon a musical career often comes with the notion that the achievement of Fame determines our success. That is a rather precarious platform to hang your hopes and dreams on, isn’t it?  Here’s why…

I was in a sales career for a few years of my life. Sales organizations are steeped with a culture of motivational talks and books that teach you how to establish healthy goals. A goal is something that should be an achievable destination to focus on and make reasonable steps towards pursuing within a defined time frame. In other words, it must be obtainable, definable, and realistic.  For example, as a sales person, one might be tempted to say, “My goal is to get rich and be an awesome salesperson.” Sounds good, right? Not really. It makes a poor goal because it doesn’t define anything real, and has no definitive tracking to evaluate success or failure.  A good goal for that same salesperson might look more like, “My goal is to produce $125,000 in net sales and finish the first quarter in the top 3 of producers in my company statewide.”  That is a defined goal with solid and clear expectations, making an easy to determine measure of success or failure. Only the creator of the goal can determine whether the expectation is reasonable and obtainable.  Musicians are infamous for having bad goals. And yet, not all of us.

I was listening to an interview on a podcast that I really enjoy (Joe Pug’s, “The Working Songwriter”), and Joe was interviewing regionally successful Austin songwriter and performer, Shakey Graves.  Shakey mentioned that he sat down early in his career and wrote down realistic goals, that would still stretch and challenge him, for one year, three years, and five years.  Those goals were specific markers to chart his climb to where he wanted to be as a performing musician.  For example, one goal for Shakey was to be performing at festivals by his 3rd year in music, rather than playing little empty barrooms.  The goal had reasonable, obtainable, definitive markers for what HE HAD CHOSEN for his marks of personal success. Now I cap’d those letters for a reason.

Choosing fame & glory as a goal for your music career is to put your measure of success into the hands of a global audience that you have absolutely no power to influence or control, at least not in reasonable measures.  Why would you gauge your success and happiness on a mob of people who don’t really care about you? Why not go ahead and give them the title of your house also? Let them date your wife? Make your car open to the public? Ridiculous examples I know. But so is letting the world around you determine your measure of success, a world that proves over and over again that it is absolutely unreliable in valuing quality talent?!

I’m going to state the obvious and overstated fact that you already know- most musicians don’t ever achieve fame & glory. Okay, you already knew that. But here is another fact that you probably haven’t considered quite as much- even fewer musicians manage to maintain fame & glory if they actually do achieve it. But wait, here is yet another even less-stated but valuable fact- many musicians who achieve fame & glory wind up being miserable ass-holes once they have it.  Have you ever sat down and really thought about why you want fame & glory? Do you know what you would do with it once you had it? Would you use it for good? For evil? Would you wreck your life and lose your family like so many who achieve fame & glory? Is that really what you want? Or do you think that you’re the one person who would just handle it like a saint? I believe these are worthwhile questions to consider if you’re really serious about planning your music career. Why? Because YOU want to be in charge of your career, YOU want to be the one who determines your happiness and success. Please don’t put your happiness in the hands of an unstable and irresponsible world.

I want to close this little thought by saying that I’m not opposed to fame & glory. For many it comes to them whether they ever wanted it or not.  Some handle it very well. Many do not. But if we are going to foolishly make fame & glory our goal, then we should probably also have a pretty good plan for what we are going to do when it fails us, or even worse god-forbid, what we will do if we achieve it.  Because fame & glory is a heavy mantle to carry I’m sure! For me, the more that I perform as a musician, which I love doing, the more I begin to recognize how much I value and thrive on personal intimate connections with my audience. For me, I’m prone to setting my sites more on listening rooms and small theater venues than filling up the AT&T Center. I’ve played some big stages in front of big audiences (okay not that big), and it doesn’t fill my heart like the experience that I have in smaller setting where I feel “in it” with my audience.

For me as a musician, I’m less and less interested in letting popularity measure my success as a musician. If my goals include having a small intimate audience of fans who truly are inspired by my music, then it’s possible that I will be a very happy and fulfilled person just playing my local/regional area and building a fan-base of close friends who love to come out to my shows.  If I truly want to be an international superstar, then it is probably wiser for me to parse that out into achievable step-by-step measure of success, something like, “In three years I’d like to have digital audience of 100,000 followers.” or, “In five years I want to be touring with an internationally successful act”.

Many career studies show that people who put definable and achievable goals in front of them on a regular basis stand a better chance of achieving them than who do not consider goals in their careers.  One of the best, and easiest ways to get above the curve as a musician might be to actually have goals in the first place, good goals. If you do that, you’re already statistically better off than these incompetents who recklessly and ignorantly say, “I want to be a rock superstar and I won’t quit until I am one!” Very impressive. That person stands a good chance of being a superstar cashier at Wal Mart in the next five years in my opinion.

Share with me your thoughts!