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#3 "You Have To Pay Your Dues"
But to whom?

   "You have to pay your dues" started out as a general suggestion that to get where you want you typically should expect to work hard learning the ropes. More often I hear it as a euphemism for surrender by those with a lack of self-esteem. In practice those who think that way - no matter your skill or conviction, you are never good enough to earn what you think you deserve.   There is that awful movie with great actors called Whiplash, about an ambitious student drummer who must survive the tribulations of a collegiate jazz program led by an mentally and physically abusive professor. Having had a college percussion professor who similarly treated his students I saw first hand how cool it was to be chided, derided and subjugated with fear-based methodology. That is to say it was NOT cool. This particular tenured professor was just a bully, yet to many this experience was "paying my dues" but it's really just abuse.

You Have To Pay Your Dues 1
   The truth is when a teacher, auditioner, band leader or really anyone treats you that poorly when you are paying them to help you - they are very aware students new to college or music lessons tend to feel vulnerable to judgment or fear of failure such that obedience can be confused for motivation. So always make sure you know where the door is and use it at your discretion. There will always be a better band, opportunity or school who will accept your money. I am not talking about a teacher who pushes or challenges you. There is a large difference between a disciplinarian educator and the abusive types. There is no punishment or blood in good education or opportunities.

  The dues you pay, for example, are the sacrifices you make to learn or do something you love. The time from friends and family. The money you invest. Other opportunities you give up. Facing mistakes and failures and resolving to overcome. These are the dues you pay.

   Unfortunately many believe abuse builds character; others consider it entertaining to watch people abused or destroyed as we see with boxing, hockey, car races or television programs with fake singing auditionees being sentenced to national ridicule by a panel of metrosexuals. Most take abuse because they just have no idea they don't have to. They also may not know the intrinsic value of enjoying the participating in music, no matter your skill level. But the worst reason one might sustain the abuse of Simon Cowell's forked tongue commentary is to "win" and go on to bask in commercial glory - the gastrointestinal refuse of Maslow's Hierarchy. The glory of singing a song someone else already wrote and did a much better job singing. Egads.

You Have To Pay Your Dues 2   But what about the abuse musicians/bands might take from a club that sadly has no standard of value for good musicians? As a performer I find "You have to pay your dues" the go-to statement for musicians too meek or afraid to question tyranny of a club and let's be clear - a default for most of us. It is far easier to rationalize getting ripped off by a club and repeating the process under the branch of "Were paying our dues!" than it is to address the issue rationally and change the process of acquiring such gigs – like not returning to that venue; like setting up your own gigs not at a bar! While getting ripped off is going to occasionally happen even when you're trying to avoid it, do you have to feed the hand that smacks you?  A subtext here is that musicians have to learn to say "NO"!

   If this abuse is paying your dues just where do these hypothetical dues go? The same place as lost socks? I'll tell you where they don't go toward: your wallet, dignity, art, perspective or future.  "Paying Your Dues" is used by those who have no value for what you do. When you have a positive standard of value for your skill, product and service you will find you are less open to having it exploited for nothing. Certainly lawyers, doctors, mechanics, landscapers, caterers, undertakers, circus performers, prostitutes and snow shovelers have all figured it out. So how will you respond the next time someone tells you demurely that you must "pay your dues"?

   Thoughts? Comments? Criticisms? I'm open to read your thoughts!