The Struggle to Settle into the Creative Industry

The creative industry is a line of work that attracts many nerves and fears for those just starting out. As the world continues to revolve more smoothly with jobs of stricter markets, things with less freedom for expression and art, the careers that fit into the creative industry seem somewhat scary. There is the idea of building a portfolio that might seem a little threatening. If you don’t have the right amount of things in your past or the type of notable experiences in your history, then that pay check and job may be that much harder for you to get. Just what do you have to do and who do you have to know to turn that creative side of yourself into a profession? It’s these questions and the words of Hesmondalgh on page thirteen of Media Work in Three Cultural Industries that really make a musician like me stop and take a second to think.

“But in cultural production, the line between paid and unpaid work, between professionals and amateurs is often blurred. Many creative workers spend many years honing their talents as amateurs before gaining entry into the business. It is not unusual for the unpaid work to provide the basis of a reputation that allows people to turn professional: such as a fanzine writer, or a musician paying for their own records” (Hesmondalgh, pg. 13).

For many years, with out even realizing it, I guess someone like Hesmondalgh would say that I was honing my amateur talents. I was playing my music at an unpaid level and it was something I did completely unnoticed. My first instrument was the drums and yes, my first set came after many years of just pounding on pots, pans, and trash bins. From the age of four to eight I was basically slamming a rhythm on any object that wouldn’t break.

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Then came my first guitar on Christmas when I was ten, a ukulele on my thirteenth birthday, a keyboard another Christmas, a mandolin for my sixteenth birthday, a ukulele for my high school graduation, the banjo for confirmation…are you seeing the pattern? If not, then the pattern you’re missing is that I get a new brand of instrument every Christmas, birthday, and event that involves gift giving. It’s just become a tradition for me and for every single one of these instruments, a lesson on how to play was never needed or wanted. Somehow, some way, and for some reason I’d just pick these things up and know what I had to do to make a solid sound. Then I’d fall in love with each and every one of them, twenty six total now, and I’d play every single one to the point of total exhaustion. Most nights I fall asleep with some kind of string instrument in my hand and for so many years I just let this passion of mine slide by. I mean come on, I’m the quiet athlete. The softball player that was going to ride the sport straight into college. That’s my identity, the athlete – not music. But maybe, as Hesmondalgh explains, those years of hiding with my instruments in my basement were the years of my true study. Maybe putting such focus into my writing and only using it as a way of enjoyment, it never once felt like practice. Maybe, I was honing in on my amateur talents every single time I played those instruments with such a desire to play them and create something, a special sound of my very own.

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Again, I am no professional and I’m not sure I’ll ever consider myself one. But these words, the ones that mention a line between “paid and unpaid” make me wonder – does one have to be paid a certain amount in order to be considered a professional rather than an amateur? Do they have to be involved with some kind of union in order to be considered in the ‘business’? For me, the moment I felt like I officially could be recognized as a ‘songwriter’, was the moment I got that letter from the BMI music association. Those moments that I sat and spoke with names such as Meghan Trainor and Hunter Hayes, surrounded by mentors like Lori Mckenna and Shane Tarleton, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything different. I was simply just hanging around with people who had the same type of fun with music as me. So why did this letter, not even my letter from Chase Bryant when I was recognized by the Universal Publishing Group of Nashville,  make me feel like I had done something?Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 6.07.47 PM Why did I suddenly feel as though all of those silly recordings I had done through out the years, the choppy ones I’d mumble into my phone at 3 a.m. with my sister begging for me to put the guitar away in the background, weren’t all for nothing? Maybe it’s because that this letter, these words from BMI put me into the category of someone in a union.

On December 2, 2014 I became accepted into this union for music makers. I was accepted into a group that would support my role in creating stories through lyrics, beats, and sounds, and I’d have the ability to utilize the people working in those office worlds to make sure that my creative products would be rewarded with the proper something. With these office workers on my side, I had people there to make sure my music would somehow always come back to me, no matter what artist out there decided to take on the project and attempt to give my song a little bit of their sound and flavor. Kelsea Ballerini for some reason took on one of my projects recently and although I’d happily let her play around with the sounds for nothing at all, the BMI makes sure I’ll receive credit if it happens to ever make way. It’s a silly thing but with this protection and representation, there is a sense of some kind of respect.Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 6.08.06 PM

I know I’ve said so many times already but again and again and again, I am no professional. There is still so much for me to learn and all of this is still just as hard for me to understand and accept as the next person. I still feel like the girl recognized as the quiet softball player and I don’t expect my songs and names to ever be known anywhere beyond my closest friends. But when Hesmondalgh says on page forty that “very few musicians really gain the autonomy and ownership associated with authorship”, I realize that there needs to be a sense of ownership when I put out these pieces of music. When I go in and meet up with these teams of writers, the people I look up to and admire, I must begin to understand that I am taking my first steps into this creative world. It will take time to get there, but now I know that it is worth doing all this work to get there.


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