The Secret DJ: 'It may be time to examine what 'success' actually means.'

In their latest column for M Magazine, anonymous author, artist and activist The Secret DJ asks how we should define success in music, and what our definitions say about us.

The Secret DJ
  • By The Secret DJ
  • 5 Dec 2022
  • min read

It’s not the end of the year quite yet, but it is around this time that some of the major clunking digimonsters dole out fat chunks of stats for all to share, or roundups of our listening habits for imaginary festival line-ups. We’ve all seen it, maybe even joined in. And really, could there be anything more ‘now’ than end of year stats? It may be time to examine what ‘success’ actually means. It is perilous to take a word that important for granted. After all, for some of us it is absolutely everything. Perhaps, just maybe, it shouldn’t be. Maybe all these loopy internet numbers are blinding us to better ways of living?

How then should we currently define ‘success’ in the biz? And what does your definition say about what kind of artist you are? Are you buzzing off the numbers or spending more time with the kids? What sort of toolkit should you be assembling to get to where you want to be? Because playing the numbers game often only means more numbers, rather than genuinely life changing moments. The world changes greatly in merely a year, so you will certainly need to change along with it. Yes, you could argue that money is just a different points system but the thing is – I’ve yet to meet a landlord who accepts bantz, TikTok dances or being bare wicked by direct debit. Measuring a career in plays, stats and numbers is inherently flawed. It’s not a video game. 

'If you move up authentically, that gain will make you feel good. It will warm your cockles. Fake fame will make you feel shitty.'

A success fast-tracked by fakery will not hold as firmly as one achieved authentically. Adding value to things such as mental health, wellbeing, good attitude and strong networks over simple monetary and short-term online gains actually really is everything. I can also tell you unequivocally that if you move up authentically, that gain will make you feel good. It will warm your cockles. Fake fame will make you feel shitty. Ultimately the problem with capitalism is that those in favour of these slightly mad systems, those who are what you might generously call ‘willing victims’ labour under several dreamy myths, the largest one being that all this steaming jism is great because one day Rodders, one day my son, it’s going to be me up there. So these powerful men are not my enemies, they are my idols! No Labrador looks at the sausage in their master’s hand more lovingly than johnny stat surfer.

‘Hey everybody! I got played ONE MILLION TIMES!’ Yeah. We all did son. All of us got played. Every day. And sure, if you think you are doing OK and you made X out of it, why not shout about it? The fact you ‘should’ be making a thousand times more is just something you’ve never experienced in your short lifetime. Crazy old goats like me wandering out of the desert using our beards as pants ranting about a golden era of fairness and being able to make a living is just plain mental. You go ‘LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU’ with fingers fully in ears. There’s nothing wrong with the system if you never know any better and therefore there must be everything wrong with the message and messenger. You are right, I am wrong. Stop bothering the kids with facts man! They are happy. Leave them be.

Thing is you see – some of the brightest minds on the planet worked out that money can be replaced with an imaginary points system as long as a small victory is written into it. As any spouse struggling to make a relationship work will tell you; heterosexual men love winning far more than making a living. Sadly, it is always the Bros who love sharing their personal online doom the most. The Net Lords know that being ‘best’ and ‘top’ is enough for The Lads and it doesn’t even matter if the whole thing is fake, and let’s be frank, often it is made up entirely of fictional numbers. How can ratings function when anyone at all can just buy the numbers? By definition it ceases to make sense. If online systems are compromised, what does ‘success’ actually mean if cheating (sorry! 'gaming the system') is so widespread? No one understands this better than Musk, who recently allowed anyone at all to buy a blue tick, instantly making previous blue ticks irrelevant and completely undermining the purpose of them existing at all. A jolly and slightly hysterical ‘fake it til you make it’ now permeates everywhere, a phrase that is truly sinister when you actually examine what it really means. 

There’s something fatalistic about taking what you can get and thanking the table for the scraps. I kind of get it and I probably do it too. Arguing with the tide like King Cnut is strictly for silly, noisy cnuts like me. It is way safer in the current, more cosy in the shoal. I totally get it. I have social media. I’ve written entire books on it. I know what the responses are from the Stockholm Syndrome Krew. You are fine with it, shut up Grandad. Understood.

'Power is required to make change. Professional bodies are required for this, staffed by professionals, for professionals.'

Those of us who had an income from music long enough to remember the year it dropped by 90% didn’t need the pandemic to illustrate what happens to musicians when the income from ‘live’ is taken away. What gets me is that even after COVID destroying so much there are still voices that say everything is fine. A tad presumptuous of me to guess, but I have a very strong feeling that next to none of these voices are professional vocalists. Don’t get upset, ‘professional’ is merely a word used to describe those of us who do music for a living and nothing else is intended by it. There is no other money for us besides that which enters our skinny piggy banks via gigs, recording and writing. We don’t have a nice job on the side. Professionals don’t make music so that our mates think we are dead cool. We do it, and forgive the purple truth, so our kids can eat. And I think the crux lies herein. There is nothing at all wrong with having fun, making tunes and being a hobbyist. There’s even less wrong being someone who deeply wants a career in music, can’t afford to do it full-time and works on the side to fund it. That is ten levels of fine. OK squared. My point is this – when amateurs outnumber the professionals by such vast numbers, it completely destabilises any system. Eventually it becomes a hostile environment. Like Martians who arrive to terraform the earth. Ultimately hobbyists do not join unions, or vote in AGMs, or track their PRS, or go to PPL meetings or indeed do much that puts anything back into the pond. You can’t tax LOLs and likes. You can’t pay subs to a union with love hearts and thumbs aloft. 

Power is required to make change. Professional bodies are required for this, staffed by professionals, for professionals. Lobbying a government is pretty much all any organisation can do to actually change how things are in real life. Bless you all for your hashtags, wishes and prayers but if the darkest years of COVID showed us anything it is that none of these gestures do anything at all. Zero. One of the problems with replacing money with stats is saturation. The urge to project your numbers and turn everything into a contest is due to the vast amount of participants obscuring your way. The only way to emerge into the light and get some attention is to make your plumage brighter and your mating dance weirder and maybe to be certain grow a couple of mad glands that glow in the dark. Personally I have a giant and very prominent multicoloured arse. Never fails.

Listen up. Big Digital is not there for your professional career. It’s all about empowering the amateur and making the market domestic, global and entirely about the Benjamins. And sure, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of that unless of course you are one of the ever-dwindling minority; a professional. An interesting story in relation to this was when I used to demo tech for Pioneer. Something like 25 years ago I was doing some fancy scratching at a trade show and something rarer than hen’s teeth turned up. It was like in Aliens 3 when we finally see someone from ‘The Company’. An actual Japanese executive from head office appeared. After many formal pleasantries I got a moment to express how grateful I was that they had made these interesting new CD players for DJs. After translation he looked a little shocked and I was told, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t spend billions of yen on research and development for a handful of DJs (he was right, you could fill a large room with all the pro DJs in the world back then, instead of two stadiums now). In 30 years, EVERYONE will be a DJ. These devices will be in every home.’

'Value has nothing at all to do with money and everything to do with understanding what matters and what does not.'

I actually laughed at the time but he was spot on. Well, he was out by about 5 years. What does he know right? And that is why they are a global corporation worth a fortune and I am a very silly sausage. We are all the product now. In fact we always were. It’s just now that we are starting to notice. I honestly do not have much in the way of answers for all of this. But I do know I won’t be going quietly. 

Ultimately the greatest takeaway from all this is understanding true value. Value has nothing at all to do with money and everything to do with understanding what matters and what does not. Arguably you can attach a scale to absolutely everything that exists, and Lord knows Libertarian TechBros know this to a decimal place. These issues above have great meaning if we can use the discussion to understand true and absolute value. The things that make our life better have meaning and precedence over things like false statistics that obfuscate and arguably make our lives worse. I’m just here to remind you that you know exactly what the good and worthwhile things are, and to gently warn not to get distracted by the unreal. I don’t have to go all soppy and new age-y to list the good things that have truth and meaning, they are staring you in the face right now and hoping for a biscuit. Switch me off on the way out would you? I can’t stay on your screens all day I’ve got to take the dog out and get some sun on my face. 

The opinions expressed within this piece are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of PRS for Music or its affiliates.