This subject has probably been discussed ad nauseam but it’s been on my mind lately. I’ve always been of the mind that if you don’t pay your dues on the way in, you’ll pay them on the way out. But attitudes are changing for better and for worse and I sense a change of tide is on the horizon.
I certainly paid more than my fair share with years of back breaking physical labor and just about everything one can do in the composing field that isn’t actually composing. Plus plenty that had nothing to do with music at all but that gave me access to those that were making it. I once even single handedly catered a 100 guest wedding under the guise of being a composer’s assistant. Things that I can’t imagine most young composers even considering doing now but as I’ve said here before, I was willing to do anything to break in. I suppose the one saving grace was that I was never truly mistreated or forced to do anything against my will.
But that was 20 years ago. Things are different now both for the better and in some ways the worse. I’m going to talk about entitlement and about shifting attitudes towards the price people are willing to pay to break in. These are completely different things but both come down to what we are willing to give and what we expect in return.
On the negative side of this I am perceiving an increase in entitled attitudes, more and more people feeling like they can walk straight through the door and right to the top based purely on talent but without actually doing the work that all of us have had to do along the way in one form or another. For every seeming “overnight success” there are years of hard work that led to that breakthrough. Success for those that have skipped the entry fee is short lived.
In addition to the entitled attitudes I’ve encountered an increasing amount of people that have a somewhat lazy attitude towards a career that I for one have given every ounce of myself to from the beginning. I wonder sometimes if I’m the one that’s doing it wrong. Maybe I’m crazy to have been working 7 days a week for years on end but I don’t do it because people ask me to. I do it because I want to do it and because days off drive me crazy.
On the positive side I am seeing an increasing number of people demanding fair treatment and speaking up about mistreatment. While entitlement can be a negative thing what we are entitled to are basic human rights and fair treatment. With increasing competition comes increasing numbers and there is strength in numbers when people are willing to work together and risk standing their ground. I hope that the changing tides will bring strength to those that have been without a voice in the past.
I’m aware now that while my “do anything” attitude is what got my foot in the door, it’s also the kind of mentality that has allowed the culture of mistreating those who are starting out to persist and get worse over the years. The onus is on the employers to treat their employees properly but its also on the employees to draw a line in the sand.
It’s easy though for me to say that I would do things differently if I had to do it over. I don’t have to. I do know that people used to ask me why I didn’t go work at that big composing factory, the one that seemed to be a sure fire way to the Hollywood A list. Nothing against that place whatsoever, I didn’t because I had already paid my dues elsewhere and I didn’t have it in me to do it again. I decided that I was going to do it my own way, wherever that got me. But would I have done things differently if I had started a few years later?
Now that I’m in a position to hire people I wouldn’t think of asking someone to do the majority of the stuff I ended up doing along the way. In my case this comes from having been on the other side of it but there are plenty of people who get treated like shit coming up and in turn treat the ones coming up after them like shit. For me it’s basic human decency but it seems like an increasingly rare commodity these days.
So there are both sides to the coin. Can we as an industry work harder to treat those starting out better? Can we as individuals continue to give everything we have without losing ourselves and our dignity along the way? Can we treat our peers, our employees and our employers with the respect that these fellow artists and craftspeople deserve? I know the concept seems far fetched at times but its a question worth pondering, isn’t it?