Having written hundreds of songs over fifteen years before one of my songs was recorded by an artist on a major label, I had a lot of time to think about what “making it” in the music business meant to me. Looking back now, it’s easier to appreciate that even though the outside world couldn’t see my successes, there were lots of indications that I was making it all along. I thought I’d take a moment to provide a little perspective for those of you who are frustrated by the amount of time it appears to be taking to have success in the music business. Below are a few ways that I would define “making it” that go beyond fame and fortune.

1. Creating songs you’re proud of

As artists, one of the best things in the world is being pleased with our work. We can be so hard on ourselves starting out that when we finally get to a place where we feel like we’re doing solid work, that should be celebrated. Better yet, when we feel like we’re able to consistently create great songs, that is an even better indication that we’ve achieved a real career milestone.

2. Reaching people with your songs

Another important indicator that we’ve arrived at a successful place in our careers is when we’re able to connect with others through our music. Whether this is moving one person by performing your song for them or having your song stream on Spotify for millions of listeners, the effect is the same. You’re putting a song into the world that connects you to others. That’s definitely the kind of career goal worth celebrating.

3. Building your career on your own terms

Given that the trade offs when choosing a career in music are pretty obvious, it doesn’t hurt to remember that in exchange for the lack of security and ups and downs, you have the opportunity to build a career – and life – on your own terms. Being able to pursue your passion is the kind of thing that most people never do. And, in case you were wondering, security is an illusion. You can just as easily be let go from a “secure” job as you can from any work you do as a songwriter or musician. All the more reason to take pride in doing what you love for a living.

4. Making a living making music

Speaking of making a living in music, for most people, songwriting and music will only ever be a hobby. Having as a goal to earn your living in music is a big deal. In my opinion, anyone who earns their living in music has done what most can only dream of. That sounds like “making it” to me.


The problem for so many of us in music is that we look at the mega wealthy superstars in our chosen profession as the definition of success with anything less than that lofty peak representing failure or mediocrity. I couldn’t disagree more with this assessment. Take a moment to appreciate any and all of your successes and you’ll be much more likely to stay motivated and joyful in pursuit of your passion.

Good Luck!

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14 responses to “What Making It in the Music Business Looks Like”

  1. Gary Nobile says:

    Thanks for the encouragement and outside perspective Cliff. You’re so right that it’s easy to lose site of the wins along the way. Happy Holidays to you and yours~

  2. Thank you Gary! Likewise!

  3. Ricky Young says:

    Thank you Cliff for allowing us to benefit from your years of experience through your articles. I personally feel there are many levels of success in music therefore many opportunities for anyone to be successful. God Bless and Merry Christmas!

  4. Thanks Ricky! All the best!

  5. Tom Rose says:

    Thanks, Cliff – and well said as usual! I always enjoy your perspective but you really nailed it on this one. If you get to make music you like, you are already a success. If others like it, even better. If you can make a living at it, you’re living the dream! Enjoy the Holidays and thanks for all the great advice.

  6. Cliff says:

    Thank you Tom! Same to you!

  7. THANKS CLIFF FOR PUTTING GOLD IN OUR PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE. Having great attitudes help write better songs !!. As a little Gift. Thought you might appreciate a little bit about your family name. What is the average Goldmacher lifespan?
    Between 1962 and 2002, in the United States, Goldmacher life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1986, and highest in 2002. The average life expectancy for Goldmacher in 1962 was 73, and 96 in 2002. THIS WILL MEAN YOU WILL BE WITH US FOR MANY DECADES SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCE AND VISION TO BRING BEAUTY TO OUR LIVES AND SONGS.
    View Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for Goldmacher

  8. Shannnon Voykin says:

    Thank you for your essay Cliff. I often feel that I have not achieved a lot in the music business because I have not written that #1 hit and I am not a wealthy songwriter, however, just putting pen to paper is a success!

  9. Julius “JUICE” Davis, Jr. says:

    Any and all of your comments, opinions, suggestions, and/or personal stories or insights into the music/entertainment industry are well-worth reading AND appreciated, Cliff! THANK YOU!

    Julius “JUICE” Davis, Jr., aka

  10. Ruth Pappas says:

    Wonderful piece! I love # 1 & 2. Both are fantastic achievements, and should never be swept under the rug! Here’s my question: If you’re not a vocalist, not a singer- songwriter, is there any real chance, of getting a cut, these days ? How can one dream of making a living, when no recording artist/ rep. will accept a song from someone they don’t know, or have never heard of ?

    Thanks for your wonderful upbeat motivating energy!

    • Hi Ruth,

      Thanks for the nice note! The short answer is, yes, you can absolutely make a living as a songwriter who isn’t an artist BUT you need to do a lot of writing and make connections (slowly and organically) with people in the industry. It takes A LOT of time and patience but it can be done! Wishing you every success!

  11. Tim G. Young says:

    Thanks, Cliff,
    “Making it,” is different for every artist. After working day jobs and doing my music for over forty years, I have now reached a place where I am performing enough shows a month to pay the bills with NO day job. Please wish me luck that this phase will continue!!

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