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Musical Success

If you’re reading this article for answers, I don’t have any. I’m simply writing about goals I’ve had musically and how they were achieved. The definition of success has several iterations. The one I like the most is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Using this, success can be whatever your heart desires at any level. This makes sense to me.

Many times, when we set goals, we go big. I’ve done this so often it’s not even funny. The main problem I have with this is when I try and take on the world, I set myself up for failure, as there are too many components that need to be achieved for success. By breaking the big picture down into smaller goals, the mark for success is easier to accomplish. I’m not saying the task itself will be easy, but better than taking on the whole. This approach can be useful in life as well.

When I first started playing guitar, the only goal I had was to play on stage. At the age of 14 my aspirations were not about getting better as a musician, I didn’t have the mental capacity to think that way. It was to follow in the footsteps of my guitar heroes. In 1987, at the age of 19, I achieved this goal, playing in a cover band. I’m 49 now and still remember it vividly.

First off, I was terrified. Playing in front of people?! Not the place for an introvert. However, the music started and I got lost in what I was playing. I had never dealt with stage monitors or doing sound checks. I was amazed at how “quiet” it was on stage compared to being in front of the blasting PA. We did a very heavy cover of BTO’s “Taking Care of Business.” There weren’t many people at the show, maybe 20-30. However, I remember the drinks on the tables near the stage shaking, like an earthquake. That was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. However, even though I had achieved my goal of playing on stage, it didn’t feel right.

Fast forward a few decades to the age of 47. My first gig with an original band. I wasn’t an introvert anymore having gotten used to lecturing all over the country in my previous career. However, I was jumping up and down, trying to subdue the anxiety and butterflies in my stomach. Even though I had been on stage before, it was not at this high a level. I was lucky that I considered my bandmates friends and there was comfort in that knowledge. They were all seasoned professional musicians having played their instruments even longer than I. We hit the stage and played without a problem. In fact, the owner of the club approached us after and was amazed to find out we had only been together for two weeks. He said we played as if we’d been together for years.

I did feel a measure of success from that show. Actually, every time we play, even at practice, there is success. However, my dream/goal wasn’t truly realized until this past June. We were playing a benefit concert for ovarian cancer. My mom had died from this disease and I had decided to use the first guitar I ever owned for the show. It was surreal playing my 1984 Aria Pro II ZZ Deluxe that I bought when I was 16. I got off stage and my heart was pounding, my head was in a fog, I had to walk it off. I was nearly crying from the emotion running through my system. That was the moment I had dreamed about when I was 14. Many in attendance told me they saw something special happen on stage that night, truly inspirational.

I still have musical goals. I want to get better as a musician, not just a guitarist. I’d like to get back in the studio to record a full-length album; play on a big stage with a famous act; and so on. All of these goals need to be broken up into simple components to become achievable. It will happen in time with proper planning and support.

Success is a state of mind. To me it’s not about the money or being adored by millions, we’re not, yet. One of my biggest successes is realizing every time I pick up the guitar and play, I’m doing something very rare in this world. Not many people can do what we musicians do. When I put down the guitar after practice or a gig, etc. and realize I’m doing something very unique and fulfilling - that is success.



-Scott Duncan - MU Columnist


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