That's my definition of success. If you can pay the bills and live a normal life solely through earnings from your musical activities, then you're a success. That puts musicians, songwriters, recordists etc. on a par with plumbers, electricians etc. and I think that's fair enough. Music is a massive part of life for many people these days, and I don't see why the people involved in its production shouldn't be able to put bread on the table as a result of their efforts.
As far as generating money is concerned, the best ways I have found so far are:
- Get paid by people to record them making noises.
- Play loads of gigs and have a well stocked merch table.
- Become mildly popular and sell your self-released stuff online.
These are all things over which you have full control. You can make them happen yourself without relying on any third parties.
FYI paid dowloads are a thing of the past, they are about 2% of the market. If people want to download your stuff they will - and they won't be paying for it, so you might as well offer good quality versions of your stuff for free in return for an email address so that you can build up a marketing list.
If you want to sell stuff, despite what the music industry would have you believe, CDs are where its at. There will always be physical products because people love to own something tactile that they can cherish. That's why there are so many collectors in the world (of anything). You can hardly 'collect' a streamed song can you?