If there was a Grammy awarded for comparing one's life with others and then suffering about it, I'd be a superstar by now. I have a long history of picking up a magazine, such as this one, comparing my life and my "success" with who is featured in it, and then feeling awful about myself. I'll have thoughts like: "I wish I had their studio.” Or, “Their career is better than mine. Look at their achievements; what have I done? What's wrong with me that I don't have what they have?" This sucks more than a spilling your protein shake on the console. With the internet, it's easier than ever to compare people's success and lives with our own. I'm writing this because I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who does this. Comparison, success, and art is a weird dance.

I'm here to ask the deeper question behind comparison – what even is success in music and art? Where, when, and how do we find success as an artist, producer, engineer, or mixer? There are as many answers as plug-ins, and I've been asking myself these questions for the past ten years.

There's the Western idea of success. Success is external and achievement based – stream counts, number of fans, radio play, money, awards, and fame is what "matters." If we don't have those things, we might feel there is something wrong with us. I bought into this. Out of a desire to make my life mean something, I pushed hard until my band was signed, toured the world, had a Top-5 rock hit, played on Conan, and performed at festivals for tens of thousands of people. However, because of depression and anxiety, I never once felt that I’d made it, or that I was successful. I couldn't enjoy it, because when I hit my "peak," I was still upset I wasn't in a bigger band. Instead I found myself once again being dragged along by the demon of comparison. I felt like a unworthy fraud, and only focused on everything I wasn't. Instead of fixing the painful shadow parts, fears, and insecurities of myself I wasn't willing to face, the fame, money, and success only compounded and intensified them. Now I was depressed and anxious with fame and money.

The whole "I'll only feel successful when I get there" never works. If success is always somewhere outside of yourself, you will never find it. Because, if and when, success does come, it's never going to feel like you thought it would. Although your external situations have changed, your internal world is the same. Not to mention, what if your idea of success doesn't come? Then you're going to spend your whole life feeling you were not enough, or that you are a failure. Brutal.

Years later, I had some unusual experiences around success that broke my brain and made me rethink the whole concept. At a medicine ceremony, I spoke with an Indian guitarist who said his teacher in India could play guitar and control the weather. Using sound to control the elements? Excuse me? A week later I bought a sound bowl. Hearing it drone was one of the most beautiful and powerful experiences of my life. The vibrations and frequencies felt like I was witnessing a universe being created and destroyed. Months after, I began to play music in ayahuasca ceremonies. People told me my voice helped them reconnect with a past loved one, or that the songs made them feel guided and safe on their journeys, filling them with protective light. These things began to feel like success to me. (I know this may sound far out, and that's my point – they made me question my spoon-fed notions of success.)

Who’s really to say what's more "successful," or what has more value of one thing over another? A song that has a million streams and wins a Grammy, or a song that only two people hear yet it touches them deeply? A song that someone sings as a prayer and devotion alone in their room, or a song sung to a stadium of thousands in service of financial gain? A mixer who gets paid well, yet is miserable? Or a home studio mixer who finds daily micro instances of joy in their growth, discovery, and process? I've met guitar students who can barely play a chord, but they find so much joy when they learn a new song. More joy than artists I know who can sell venues out. Success is subjective. Orientation and the relationship we have with success is everything.

So, what is success as a musician and artist to you? What does achieving it, or lack thereof, mean about you as an artist or person? When will you feel successful? Is your idea of success about getting or serving? What's behind your drive to be successful? To make people love you? To feel important? To survive? To prove your life matters? To cover up emotional pain you don't want to feel? To leave a legacy? To ego trip? Is success the outcome or the path? Are you waiting to feel successful until after you’ve reached a certain goal? What if you are already successful right now? What if success is an inside job, and has nothing to do with external factors? These are questions only you can answer. There's no right or wrong here, only what rings true to you. Whatever your definition of success is, you will live and die by it.

Here's one – when was the last time you felt joy in music? Do you remember the last time music gave you meaning? Go do that. Chase it. If you can't find it in music right now, find it somewhere else and come back.

For me, success is about enjoying myself in the moment to moment path of being an artist. Success is an inside job. I'm successful when I decide that I'm successful. I'm realizing how important it is to pause and celebrate "small" incremental wins – like finding a zing of bliss when I get a mix right, understanding how to use a new plug-in, or writing a song. These are huge moments. I know if I miss these moments, I won't be able to cherish the "big" ones when they come, and I'll get to the end of my life feeling empty, as if none of it was enough. I'd be waiting for some moment that never would come.

To get way too heavy for a recording magazine, we cannot take our material achievements with us to the next plane. We eventually have to give everything up. So, what's left? That's for you to find out. Do we spend our lives chasing? Or do we realize all the success and beauty has been right here all along, inside of us? There's always a success and joy to celebrate, here and now.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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