I stumbled across a pretty fascinating story in the book, "The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k", where the author, Mark Manson recounts a Dave Mustaine interview he once watched. Now, for those who can't place the name (myself included), Dave Mustaine is the frontman and songwriter for legendary metal band, Megadeth. I read with surprise as Manson recounted how Mustaine described himself with painful honesty as feeling like a failure! "Hold up, whaaaaat????", I hear you exclaim! By any artistic/business metric, any of us would deem Mustaine and Megadeth a MASSIVE success with very little to complain about (at least in theory) …right?
You're talking longevity? How about 3 decades & 15 albums worth? Legacy within their genre? Pioneer status! Cultural impact outside their genre? Massive! Album sales? Multiple platinum albums! Sold-out tours? Standard! Awards? Several! If this is failure, then I'd hate to see what most of us indie artists would call ourselves in comparison!! But wait…there's more!
Manson went on to explain that before Mustaine co-founded Megadeth, he was kicked out of a band that went on to become global pop culture icons and the biggest name in their scene, achieving the type of mind-blowing success that would haunt Mustaine for most of his career. The band? Metallica...
Mustaine apparently swore to himself that his new band would be more successful than Metallica ever would be...so you can imagine now every subsequent accolade, every sold-out tour or multiple platinum album Metallica received feeling like a knee to the gut in comparison to his; till the pain blinded him to his own success. So long as Metallica did better than Megadeth, Mustaine couldn't see himself as successful...enough.
This story gripped me as Manson used it to comment on the way human beings measure success. So many questions rattled my brain as I applied it to myself as an artist. Do I even know what metric I'm using to measure artistic success by? How will I even know when I'm successful? Am I setting my metrics from a healthy, confident place, or am I moving from a place of envy?
We're so driven to "make it", that I wonder, if we'll even realize what the "it" is, when we get there? That "it" is often so vague, that even after we've achieved what other people would call success, that drive/comparison anxiety/need for validation, will keep us chasing the mysterious "it" until "it" eats us alive.
Let's take this to a micro level. How many of us, as independent artists or bands, have ever actually vocalised or written down our goals and our measurement for success? Even within your band, do you all have the same goals?
Let's say your drummer sees success as making the front cover of Drum Magazine, while your lead singer wants to be Bono 2.0 and challenge injustice. At the same time, your guitarist wants to hear sold-out stadiums singing every word, while your bassist sees success as settling down with their young family. It's safe to say that this band will probably have all the impact of a parked car! Yet how many bands even recognize the need to talk about this, till they're "suddenly" having creative differences.
This question works in reverse too. Especially in the social media age, where the temptation is to base our success metrics on factors that have very little to do with real world value. For example, I might be carrying myself like a king around town because my tweets have a billion likes or retweets (they don't!) in comparison to my competition. But what impact does this have on my streams or merch sales, gig bookings and ticket sales, cultural awareness, reviews and coverage? If the answer is "NONE" (and it usually is), then maybe I might need to check myself and go listen to some Gary Vee and learn how to work both harder and smarter.
There's power in writing down your goals. It helps you focus on your own lane and avoid the stress of comparison anxiety. Just maybe, if we knew what we were aiming for, we could enjoy it when we get there, knowing we've achieved what we set out to do, and enjoy everything else as the spoils of victory. Stay in your lane!