Courtesy of Max Monahan
Take a look at this list and see if you might actually be doing better than you think you are. Even if only a couple of these situations apply to you, keep working at it, because you're well on your way!
1. You can notice yourself progressing on your instrument
The number-one sign that you're doing better than you may think you are in your guitar playing is when you can see and fell yourself progressing. Most successful guitar players state that they learn something new just about every day they sit down with their instrument.
If you find yourself at a standstill, your routine may need some tweaking, or maybe it's your whole attitude that needs tweaking! On the other hand, if you find yourself addressing and mastering new challenges, even if it's just now and then, it means you're headed in the right direction and that you won't be at any shortage for new creative ideas.
2. You have earned money playing guitar
While money has nothing to do with artistry, we're all living in a real world with real bills to pay. If you're making solid money, (either directly from playing your music, or by playing in a band), it means you're doing something right!
Making money from playing guitar validates the time you spend on it and adds an extra degree of drive to the equation on top of the personal fulfillment, (which should be your foundation). If your musical pursuits are too experimental to pay you as a direct result of your work, you may want to look into other areas of income. These might include composing scores, jingles, or giving lessons, working as a producer, recording music in a studio, writing a guitar blog, running a YouTube channel, or even working on musical instrument repairs. Gigs like this can function as dual sources of income and inspiration.
3. Many of your friends are musicians or people in the music industry
It's a pretty good feeling when the thing that you truly love starts to spread to all aspects of your life. If music takes up a significant portion of your time, it's likely that many of your friends are musicians (or work in the music industry in some capacity) as well.
It's a great luxury to have people in your life to bounce ideas off of and share inspiration with. Regardless of what level you're at in your music career, it's a beautiful thing to have friends who mirror your musical interests.
4. You get called for playing gigs
This one's as black and white as it can get. If your phone is ringing off the hook with gigs – whether it's performing, producing, co-writing, or anything else you're working to become great at – you're doing something right. A player who has a great personality, is very reliable (emphasis on reliable), and who can function well as a musician is always in demand.
5. You've moved past simply mimicking your idols and have developed your own style
This is one of the biggest milestones you can reach in your music career. As guitar players, it's safe to say the vast majority of us spend a lot of time rehashing the sounds we love, and there's nothing wrong with being in that stage if you haven't found your own voice yet.
Take your time, and don't feel obligated to rush into things based off of anyone's time frame but your own. There's nothing quite like the moment where you find yourself coming into your own artistic voice. You'll get there if you haven't already!
6. You have professional, reliable guitar gear
Few things are worse on a gig than playing with that one person who always has a busted cable, or the input jack makes a ton of noise, or he always needs to run out to get a new battery, or whatever else is wrong that day! This is just not professional.
If you plan on being a professional musician, you need to be serious about everything - especially your gear. Professional does not mean super expensive gear, just really well operating equipment that does exactly what its supposed to do.
Getting quality gear that works consistently is the first step you need to take in making sure that you're successful in the long run.If you're trying to play with other serious players and your gear is total junk, (or you cannot make it work in the setting that you're performing in), they probably won't call you back.
7. People associate you with being a "guitar player"
Whatever you spend your time doing is what you'll be known for, and if we're talking about something as public as playing music / playing guitar, you'll want your reputation to precede you. You want people to know your work and respect you for it.
Beware of the day when people are dodging the subject of your music career; you want your friends and acquaintances to be eager to speak to you about your successes. If you're an introvert, it can feel a bit strange to take pride in deeply personal work that may reflect a very private side of yourself, and if this is the case, it may be a good idea to practice how you'll handle these situations. Be prepared, and hope to be known for the work you do.
8. People say they enjoy working on music with you
Your longevity in your line of work (playing guitar) relies largely on whether the people who you work with like you or not. Even if you're talented, if you're impossible to work with, your career has a very slim chance of lasting.
If you're not already, learn to be a team player. This doesn't come naturally to everyone, so don't be too hard on yourself if your social skills aren't flawless; just try to follow a nice basic code of Western ethics. There's an old saying that everything you really need to know in life you learned in kindergarten, and this point is exactly what those folks were talking about. Oh yeah, and start by showing up on time.
9. You wake up excited to play guitar
Ah yes, personal fulfillment, how could we forget? This is why most people get into music in the first place (unless this is all just a huge extension of the piano lessons you were forced into at age seven). There's truly nothing like waking up in the morning excited to work on something you're passionate about, and going home at the end of the day and being proud of what you accomplished.
Your satisfaction with your choice to pursue music as a career should be the summation of all the other factors of your success. Try your best, work hard, and you'll go home at the end of the day feeling joyful and fulfilled.
Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.