Measuring Success as Happiness (and the decision to move on)

In business I don’t believe in eternal growth, it is a myth that capitalist idealists sell us. At some point, things have to either get smaller or go sideways. There will come a point in every successful artist’s career where they can’t go grow bigger as such, *but we can always grow musically*. I think accepting that fact is important for an artist’s personal happiness in this industry. In the business of music we are not going to be on top of our game forever, but somehow knowing that allows us to enjoy the journey that much more. Happiness is the best measure of success.”
[Jono Grant, Above & Beyond]

This comment completely resonates with me this morning. For years as artists we find it all too easy to become trapped, and ensnared in the notion of a linear progression. We grind through the gears, year after year, in pursuit of a 'pinnacle' of achievement. Once we meet one achievement, another comes into focus, and another, and another ... and in actual fact it turns out that the pinnacle we were chasing is just a shifting illusion. The goalposts have silently changed as we've clicked through each objective, and still we move relentlessly 'forward' towards the beacon that's forever shrouded in smoke, and mirrors.

If we used to track our progress and judge our successes by a combination of record sales, press coverage, and DJ Sales, the picture now has become much more chaotic with the advent of Social Media. Wolfgang Gartner wrote an articulate and sensible piece this week describing Social Media as an 'unfortunate side hustle', and he has a genuine point. Whereas Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et al are, at their most essential, an opportunity to communicate and bring together your fan base in one common place, they are now used as part of a cynical (and clinical) marketing ploy.

As part of this entrenched concept of 'linear progression', in the past year or two I have witnessed a slew of artists latch onto a simple formula of boosting their Likes and their profile when their music continually fails to engage. These artists have set themselves up as tabloid content regurgitators, re-posting videos as their own in a mass scramble to amass Likes, Post Reach, Market Share and other random measurements of 'success'. The online community readily buys into this, because as we all know too well the internet is a great source of raw material, but pretty much terrible at creating reliable filter mechanisms.

People are intrinsically lazy. Only 1% of the internet's consumers are actual content creators, whilst a further 9% will interact with existing content. That leaves nine in every ten people happy to be spoon fed their daily dribble of shareable content, which is what these music producers are providing - setting themselves up as the new content aggregators. It is inertia from the public at large that allows for this vacuum to exist, and there is a familiarity for both the audience and producers alike in maintaining their respective roles as passive recipients and content providers.

I had a promoter the other day approach me to do a show and part of the negotiation on both my DJ fee, and my place on the bill, revolved entirely around the number of Likes each artist had on their Facebook pages. I had another promoter friend insisting that a certain DJ was now a surefire bet because his 'Social Media Profile' had sky-rocketed. Does this super-charged Social Media presence bring more bodies through the door? Does it expose more people to your music? Are you still doing what you are doing for the right reasons, or are you maintaining the same myopic charge towards that shifting pyramid?

In the past year or two, I've become increasingly aware of the need to measure my success in a very different currency. Happiness. At the point that you realise and understand that the sands have shifted and you are in danger of no longer making music from your heart and with your soul, there is a newfound liberation. When you realise you are not interested in playing the petty, self-serving games of click-bait empire building, collecting Likes like your parents collected stamps, you are liberated, and your music will follow. In doing so you are allowing the heart to flow back into your work, and in doing that you are giving voice to your soul. The bottom line is that you begin to feel again, you stop coveting what others have and you relocate your creativity ... because you are being true to yourself.

This is what is behind my decision to park the bus (Long Stay) on my Elite Force career and to focus on other avenues that inspire and drive me forwards.  When I listened back recently to music I made as far back as '97, there is a musicality and common thread that runs throughout it, and as it stands in 2015, my creative output as Simon Shackleton is affording me that voice to join some of the dots to my past, whilst keeping both eyes on the future. I don't want to exist in a world where I am chasing a shifting set of goals and competing alongside a musical canon that I feel increasingly disenfranchised from. Life is too short.

So with that in mind, my closing set at this year's Breakspoll will be my last Elite Force show for the foreseeable future. I can look back on 18 years with a great deal of pride and satisfaction and look forward to the future with a HUGE smile on my face.

There will come a point in every successful artist’s career where they can’t go grow bigger as such, but we can always grow musically.

Amen Brother.