Metal Mike: How to Define Success As a Musician
Just a few days ago, I spent a week with 42 metalheads aged 10 to 19 at a destination Metal Camp at Camp Lakota in Wurtsboro, New York.
It was a fantastic, positive experience on several levels, fueled by young energy, enthusiasm and "go get ‘em" attitude from the young rockers. Many of them wanted to make metal music their life. While I was there, I started to collect my thoughts the definition of "success," and what it could mean to them as metal musicians.
There are countless thoughts and possibilities that come to mind, because success is a very personal thing. It means something different to everyone. To top it off, the vision of success often changes as you travel along on your journey.
Here are a few ideas that can help you ponder the meaning of success:
What Do You Want? Be Honest About It. What is your current vision of success? It cannot be your teacher’s or your best friend’s. This is just for you. What is it that you want to get out of being a musician right now? How do you think it could look in five years? You don’t need to know every detail, but capture the picture that appears in your mind.
You have to be honest with yourself because the path you choose will be often traveled by you alone, so you'd better be sure it is the one you want to take. No dream is too wild or too big, simply because if somebody else is doing it, it is possible.
There are many ways someone can be successful as a musician. It can mean you signing your name next to “musician” as your occupation on your tax return. You've achieved success at being a full-time musician. It certainly takes guts to do it, and many people fill out that line every year.
Being successful also can mean having a guitar in your hands every day, playing the style of music you love. Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you make your living doing something else. There's no rule that says you can’t. As a matter of fact, hats off to you for having skills to do two things amazingly well. If a pop singer can have a jewelry line, own a restaurant and be a recording artist, why can’t you fix cars during the day and play the music you love at night? That sounds pretty successful to me.
I think it is important not to cave under the social conditioning that you must be a full-time musician so you can tell so to people you meet. In all honesty, some of the full-time musicians I have come across were some of the most complaining, unmotivated people I've ever met. They played gigs and music they didn't care for just so they wouldn't have to get a job. This distorted their view of what they loved in the first place.
Others find jobs within the music industry just to stay in the biz. Yes, it does work for many as it allows them to make contacts. For me, it makes little sense. I prefer to spend my time with people who don't wish they were somewhere else. Why not use other non-musical skills to make money if you have to (Yes, you have other skills outside of playing your instrument) and save the music part only to the type you love?
Some musicians find a lot of satisfaction in the DIY approach. They might work during the day to save enough money in order to get in a van and tour two months out of the year, which also allows them to sell their music across the US or whatever. It has its challenges, but for many young metal musicians, it also can mean the time of their life. Traveling across the country while spending time with people who love the same thing you do sounds pretty successful to me.
There are many types of success. All I wanted to do was support myself while playing and teaching heavy metal. That's all I wanted. I also wanted to release records of my own music, which I still do, and the hard-core love for what I did later on lead me to work with many of my heroes within the genre. That was icing on the cake. With the new opportunities, however, my dream grew to include tour bus arena tours, in-store appearances, album release parties, meeting more of my heroes, a visit to the Playboy mansion and a fine-tuned Italian automobile.
This is what my vision was. I am not telling you this to yank my own chain. I am telling you to simply explain that I was (and still am) very precise about what it is that I'm shooting for. You can't find things unless you know what you're looking for. Once you obtain your goals, you’ll get bored unless you set new ones. As you obtain them you'll be fulfilling your own vision of success. You don’t need to tell your dream to everyone. As a matter a fact, the closer you keep it to your heart, the more it means to you.
As I have achieved many things I wanted to do, my own vision of success has taken another dimension. In addition to recording and touring, I also found out that I want to share my experience with others, and I do this through blogs, guitar clinics, videos and metal camps. I find it satisfying to spend time with young metal players and share ideas with them while helping them with their dreams. I concentrate on creating as much value for others while being true to my visions.
Ultimately, it's an amazing feeling to use your musical talent in order to help others. That sounds pretty successful to me, too.
Polish-born Metal Mike Chlasciak has recorded or performed with heavy metal greats Rob Halford, Sebastian Bach, Bruce Dickinson and Axl Rose. Mike is the long-time guitarist for Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford's solo endeavor, Halford. Mike's new album, The Metalworker, is due in spring. For more info, check out his official website and visit him on Twitter.