The Role of Luck in Success

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I recently wrote about how “There is only so much promotion you can do.” It is part of a theme in my writing about making music: focus on the important stuff. Or as that paragon of creative thought, C. Montgomery Burns, once taught: “Push out the jive, bring in the love.


In my last article, I suggested using “there is only so much promotion you can do” as your mantra (but “push out the jive, bring in the love” is pretty good too). It is something to repeat to yourself to stay centered on the making music part of making music and not get distracted by the promotional part.

(Sidebar: until I Googled this, I remembered Monty Burns saying, “Push out the jive, bring in the funk” which IMHO, is way better.)

Through my writing about “strategy” and making music, I try to stay away from the magical thinking that pollutes so much advice about “being successful.” I’ll call the proponents of that thinking, “success magicians.” One thing that success magicians emphasize is your personal responsibility for your success. Certainly, you are responsible, but you’ll see in some people who are wildly, almost disproportionately successful, that they want to think it’s all because of them. They sense their illegitimacy and don’t want to acknowledge what is absolutely the case: that luck played an enormous role in their success.

This is not to diminish the achievements of other bands who work really hard on promotion and succeed but success always takes a bit of luck. You can follow all the advice; you can hustle like crazy; you can be super good-looking; you can have the catchiest songs — but unless you catch that break at just the right time, you might not get that meteoric success.

In an article about “Chasing Lightning,” I mentioned that the Pixies acknowledged that people “got” their band immediately. In the interview in which Black Francis acknowledges that, he does so in a way that exculpates his band from success magic. The Pixies made deliberately weird music that was full of ideas and people got it instantly. Francis wasn’t saying, “we did all these things to succeed and it worked.” They just made the art they wanted to make and it worked.

To me, Francis’s experience is far more inspiring that the advice of success magicians: just make the art you want to make with full intent and dedication and if you break through, you break through. If you don’t break through, nothing is lost.


Todd A still makes music despite catching no breaks. Read his writing about music on the SongCast Indie Artist Insider.

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