Let's be honest, it was never easy to "make it" as a creative in any field at any point in time, but many people would argue that it's easier in today's day and age because of the internet and technology available. That being said, while the opportunity and possibilities available today may be greater, becoming a successful independent artist is hard if not harder than before.
First of all and for the sake of clarity, let's assume that "successful" means developing a large and growing fan base, having the support of an artist team (manager, booking agent, label, etc.), touring internationally and making bank (dolla-dolla bills).
On one end of the spectrum you've got the capability of overnight success thanks to the internet and global sharing capabilities across social media, YouTube, VEVO, Spotify, etc. Being able to share any song or video or piece of information at any point in time across hundreds, thousands or millions of people is amazing, but it only works if something goes viral (think Gangnam Style!). Thanks to the accessibility of recording on cheap budgets, home studio setups, releasing your music online, and DIY marketing strategies through social media, any one can be a songwriter or artist. But consequentially, THE COMPETITION IS INSANELY HIGH. This does not make the chance of "going viral" a very realistic one, unless you've already got the fanbase and industry support in place (ie. Beyonce dropping her album out of nowhere...twice.)
Then there's the other end of the spectrum and probably the more old fashioned method of trial and error, where an artist has worked tirelessly and endlessly over ten years or more to reach a point of success and a self-sustaining career. This grassroots method of building your fanbase and artist team from ground zero to the top slowly but surely is no doubt to be a crazy rollercoaster ride and those that make it can sure as hell feel proud of it. Having only been realistically pursuing my career as an artist for four years, I can say that even that length of time has had its ups and downs.
If you're like me, you're probably thinking, how can you actually go about making a career in music nowadays? What's a realistic approach that will diminish some of the unwavering and undeniable uncertainty that looms over every aspiring band and artist's head? It seems in today's day and age, the more capable you are on an independent level and the more hats you can wear, the more likely you are to succeed.
Not only do you have to be an artist, songwriter and performer, but also many of the following - manager, producer, engineer, cowriter, composer, arranger, session musician, teacher, booking agent, tour manager, grant writer, business manager, accountant, videographer/photographer, label, publicist, designer, etc... YOU NAME IT! How about also branching out in these realms to other bands, labels, companies, etc? There's no need to only do these things for yourself and your own artist career. Ultimately, it's about being a problem solver and having the entrepreneurial drive to make money in different ways.
This is by no means meant to discourage any aspiring singer-songwriters or bands out there - myself included! I simply want to point out the obvious facts of the current state of the industry, and suggest solutions on how to still take a stab at making a career in music. Don't be discouraged. As pointed out above, there's still many ways artists make it work for themselves. Ask yourself, how else can I dabble creatively and what other hats can I wear? Then juggle them accordingly.
Some days we all feel like giving up, other days we feel incredibly inspired, but overall if you love what you do, find ways to make it financially work for you too. I'm discovering this for myself and who knows where things will end up in five years time - successful independent artist or not!