Success is such a weird thing. I mean, on one hand you have the business idea of success, which is how well a product has sold. On the other hand, you have the psychological idea, which is whether or not the product has accomplished what it was made to accomplish and how it makes the customer feel.
There's no right or wrong idea of success, but it's definitely interesting to look at the different ways that people choose to interpret success in modern business.
Take writing, for example. To be a successful writer usually means either to sell a lot of text, or to output some really good text.
Again, there is no right or wrong interpretation. Whether or not you see a commercially denied writer as successful isn't really all that important, as long as you look at his/her work objectively.
It's only when we let commercial success taint our perception of the actual work that it becomes a problem.
Independent musicians are often looked down upon, as if the music being made is somehow worse than that of a musician backed by a major label. It feels less professional, even when it's not.
Part of that could be how indie musicians choose to portray their work. Often times, indie music will be taken less seriously because the musicians themselves don't take it seriously enough. Other times, a listener will simply reject the music because there is this idea that it is somehow worse than most of the music they listen to.
Where this really gets interesting to me is when you compare indie musicians to indie software developers.
If you've ever spent any time at all looking into the history behind the Mac or iOS App Stores, you'd know how incredibly active independent software developers and designers are. In fact, I'd even argue that indie developers and designers are the ones who have made Apple's current platforms so compelling.
If I take a look at the software that I have on my phone right now, the majority of it was created by a team of ten people or less. And this isn't just software that I rely on, it's software that keeps me on these platforms in the first place.
This isn't a complaint, and it has gotten better as more and more developers make multi-platform versions of their apps, but that's not always justifiable and I certainly don't expect it, especially from such small teams.
These creators are breaking new ground, and they're also making some of the coolest and most polished software in the world.
Nearly everyone thinks it's utterly cool that one of the top internet companies in the world was created by a student in his dorm room.
This stuff is all over the news, it has had at least one failed reality TV show, and it's actually being celebrated, which is awesome. Independent developers are at a place now where their work can easily be seen as a success, both commercially and psychologically.
But it's completely different with music, and it shouldn't be.
Indie music isn't celebrated in the same way that its software sister is. Success in the music industry means platinum records, world tours, and sexy scandals. Barely ever is success actually determined based on how good the music is, and even if it is, it's still looked down upon because of a less traditional production and audience.
And that's the thing that I don't quite understand. How in the world did success in music grow to become a completely unrealistic phenomenon of otherworldly stardom?
Success in music should really mean two things: commercial success, meaning the music has sold well enough to make the artist and those involved a profit, and psychological success, meaning the music says what the artist wanted it to.
Those are really the two ideas of success that make sense to me. If you try to compare any two musicians, you're going to get an unrealistic idea of what it means to be successful. And that's what people do lately.
The music industry has become this massive political ball pit that it's almost completely abandoned the idea that the best music wins. Maybe it's never really been like that.
Of course advertising dollars, production head count, and trends have a huge effect on whether or not an album sells or not, but what's different now is that customers buy into this.
We're too used to only hearing major label artists. We're too used to only seeing these artists included in the modern music conversation. We're too used to treating music as something that we don't pay for, and it's turning independent artists into professional hobbyists.
I thought the internet would change this, but major labels usually snatch up anybody who receives some viral traction online.
It's not that labels are bad, it's just that people still think they're necessary to make good music, which they're not. But as long as we continue to keep the spotlight only on major label artists, we continue to push a lot of good music out of the picture.
When we do that, we take away the possibility of commercial success, because it puts indie music on a lower level than the music made by "professionals".
Supporting a mentality that music shouldn't be paid for, and that artists should find other means of profit like shows or merchandise, only makes labels more important to being a musician for a living.
If we instead pay for the music that we enjoy so much, anybody can make a successful living if what they're making is good enough. It doesn't mean that a musician has to be a superstar to be considered a success, just like a software developer doesn't have to be a multimillionaire to be able to make a comfortable living off of their creation.
In the end, as long as the art — or whatever — says what it was made to say, that's really all it needs for it to be successful. As customers, we should want to support creators because we want them to be able to continue to make the things we love. If we treat all art equally, regardless of who made it, we can make a much clearer and more honest understanding of how these people are able to do what they do. And that would make success a whole lot more accessible.