How do you feel when you see a musician you know post about some really good news?
However hard I try, when I see something good happen to one of the people around me, there is always at least a tiny part of me that will feel envy. The news of their success is never entirely just about them – it’s also about me.
In the age of constant social media updates, I am prone to this challenge more than ever.
And especially so as an independent songwriter, where so many of my social media friends are fellow musicians whose path is also lined with a long list of very specific successes or milestones: touring with that artist, featured on that playlist or radio station, nominated for that award, written about in that magazine, etc.
For the past eight years I’ve met, played with and formed good friendships with lots of musicians who are hard working, talented and nice people, who are thoroughly deserving of the success they get.
Sometimes, however, I forget all that when I digest their success as it pops up on my Facebook wall or Instagram feed. (And I would be staggered if this doesn’t apply, even slightly, to the majority of the people reading this.)
Who knows, perhaps there is even a songwriter out there still thinking something along the lines of: ‘How did Ned get one of his songs onto Spotify’s Stress Buster playlist? Really, Ned?? Wow, that is not helping my stress levels…’
Breaking down the thoughts into good and bad
When I see news of someone’s success, I don’t want to think anything but one or both of the following thoughts:
1) Oh, that’s nice, a reason for X to feel happy – more happiness in the world is a good thing, so that makes me happy too!
2) Oh, that’s interesting – I hadn’t thought of trying that, or doing things that way – maybe I have something to learn from this that can help me create my own success…
What I DON’T want to think is any of the following sorts of thoughts:
1) What has X done to deserve that?
2) Oh, I didn’t realise that X probably has a relative in the music industry.
3) Why can’t I be as lucky as X?
4) X is probably feeling really smug right now and here I am feeling sorry for myself.
The truth is, except in certain very defined situations (e.g. when you’re nominated for an award and up against three other artists for the top spot), other people’s success has no bearing on your own practical success.
It does, however, have a huge role to play in your emotional wellbeing, depending on how you respond to it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past months, and have identified three distinct methods for reacting to other people’s success, which I believe have led to a healthier and happier me.
Healthy Approach #1 – share in their success
This is broadly in line with the first of the ‘good’ thoughts I laid out above.
When you see that X has had some success, e.g. been played on the radio by a very well known presenter whom you admire deeply, congratulate them – maybe even post about it to spread news of their success.
By doing this, you feel more a part of the news – like it’s your good news as well. Assuming that your musical friend is a nice person (it obviously makes it much harder if they’re not), and especially if you like their music, a good thing has happened to a nice person resulting in more people hearing some good music. That is surely a reason for everyone to celebrate!
Healthy Approach #2 – try to turn their success into the exact same success for you
A perfect example of this happened to me a few years ago; the result was one of the biggest single interventions in the August and After story and within several weeks we’d gone from thousands of plays to hundreds of thousands of plays.
It all started with this:
I saw that a friend of ours – a wonderfully talented musician and songwriter who fronts a band called Hanging Valleys (also the loveliest man you can ever hope to meet) had been featured on a Youtube playlist with half a million subscribers.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the existence of such playlists – the first thing I did was to find the email address of the playlist in question and send a very personal message saying that I liked his choice of music and could he listen to a couple of our songs, the ones I thought most suited his channel.
He quickly replied with a really nice message saying that he appreciated the personal approach and loved one of the songs.
Within two weeks he’d posted up Vancouver Waves, leading to a massive spike in Spotify plays and an eventual official playlisting for one of our other songs on Your Coffee Break. Now WE were the ones with the good news (and various friends excitedly messaging us to tell us they’d heard our song in a coffee shop.)
I could so easily have just sat in my room feeling sorry for myself and scrolling on through Facebook.
Side note: help each other out
I just want to add – on the above point.
One of my pet hates in independent music is the hoarding of personal contacts. Nothing annoys me more than when you ask someone if, for example, they know someone who works at a BBC radio station (knowing full well that they do!) and they are really guarded and don’t want to help you.
I believe firmly in the power of good karma. If you give help, help will come back to you. I’ve always been extremely lucky with the sort of coverage my music has got – getting into places like The Independent and Kerrang! without any help at all from professional PR.
So if a fellow musical friend directly reaches out to you for help, don’t be precious about it. Share the help and help a friend out.
Healthy Approach #3 – the philosophical way
It helps me to remind myself that, ultimately, there are far more important things in life than these sorts of successes.
However much personal satisfaction and validation I might get from being featured in a national newspaper or played on BBC Radio, these things have little bearing on my identity as a songwriter and the deeper, more meaningful elements that flow from that. And so, a lack of these successes does not pull the rug from under me. Far less does their presence for those around me.
The ‘more important’ things that directly relate to my music are the following questions:
‘How do individuals, real people, feel when they hear my music?’
‘How can I become the best songwriter possible?’
‘What will enable me to carve out as much time to create, just for the sake of creating?’
Career successes are nice, and can help you build your audience, leading to more money and therefore more freedom to create for longer. But ultimately these moments are just a flash in the pan compared to the richer, longer process of improving how you make real people feel on an individual level.
There is so much more to gain from appreciating the happiness of others rather than focusing too intently on the destination, and those little markers of success that are scattered haphazardly along the path towards it.