Does Paying Your Dues Ever Pay Off?

We have a strange set of cultural norms around how creative people are supposed to become successful. The common tropes of the starving artist, suffering for your art, and paying your dues need to be made a thing of the past IMHO.

In the folk music world that I've been a part of, I've seen people show up year after year, volunteering for menial jobs at festivals, playing free gigs and open mics, agreeing to play for "exposure", and finding a hundred other ways to chip away at their soul in exchange for opportunities that never arrive. And that is considered normal and acceptable.

I believe in a different model. I stand by the idea that our creativity is meant to be a valuable service to other people, making a positive difference in the quality of their lives. And that it's worth paying for.

The majority of creative people I work with have been struggling with these messages and their fallout for their entire careers. I know many musicians who have been paying dues since the 1980s and have not received any sustainable opportunities in return. 

Some people may argue that they're not "good enough" to merit that kind of pay. If they're good enough to ask for their talents, their talents are worth paying for. The one things I can teach creative people that will start to turn this trend around is to be much more visionary and intentional about the work they do, who it's for, and how much they require to provide it. This is the beginning of re-educating a public that has gotten used to exploiting creative talent, often for their own gain.

I believe that the days of paying dues, suffering for art, and the starving artist can be over if we're willing to stop settling for a norm that doesn't serve us.

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