“Get it?” “Got it.” “Good.”

Showing initiative. Sticking your neck out. Acting independently. Taking a stance. Lately, I’ve been feeling that these have become forgotten concepts. Whether I’m comparing notes with fellow educators or talking to studio owners, production coordinators or other employers, there seems to be a common thread. For the last decade or so, our educational system has been churning out students who have not been trained to take the lead, think independently, or forge their own paths.  We give them study guides, multiple federal and state mandated No Child Left Behind assessments, and ask them to spit back reams of information as though that is what is valued out there in the workplace. Well, guess what?  It’s not.

Talk to anyone who has to supervise studio interns.  There are three types of interns.  Let’s say that Rock Solid Recording has a typical pathway for the advancement of interns.  An intern shift starts at 9:00 and runs until 6:00.  Each intern is given a list of jobs to do during their shift.  The list might say “Vacuum all of the carpets in the common areas. Mop the bathroom floors.  Empty all of the wastebaskets.  Clean the bathrooms with the supplies in the cleaning closet with the yellow door.”

Intern Type 1 arrives a few minutes late for his shift.  He does a half-assed job with the vacuum, getting most of the big stuff, but not moving any furniture or getting into the corners.  He mops the bathroom floors, but doesn’t use hot water or wring out the mop all that often, because it’s a pain in the ass.  He takes frequent breaks to call his girlfriend and to take Instagram photos of himself posing in front of the studio’s gold records.  He empties the wastebaskets and does a decent job on the bathrooms, but doesn’t replace an empty toilet paper roll because there wasn’t a replacement in the supply closet. He is always ready to go at the end of his shift.

Intern Type 2 is always on time.  He follows the list to the letter.  His vacuuming job is always good, and the same can be said for the other items on the list.  He does a competent job with bathroom cleaning, floor mopping, and emptying the wastebaskets.  When confronted with the empty toilet paper roll and no replacement, he goes to the studio manager and asks what the procedure is when they are out of toilet paper. He doesn’t abuse any phone privileges and if there is down time, asks the studio manager if there is anything else that needs to be done.  He always waits until the end of his shift before leaving.

Intern Type 3 shows up early every day. She vacuums as though she is attempting to win the Nobel Prize for Vacuuming.  She vacuums the couch after going through the cushions by hand to retrieve any lost coins, cell phones, pens, or other items.  All such items are put in an envelope, labeled with the date and time they were found and left with the studio manager. She cleans the bathroom better than any of the other interns, and replaces any items that are running low such as soap, paper towels, or toilet paper. When confronted with missing supplies, she writes down a shopping list and asks the studio manager for some petty cash so she can make a run to the store.  Furthermore, she has instituted an inventory system for bathroom and cleaning supplies with a clipboard for the closet door, so that they won’t run out in the future.  In her off time, she has found a cheaper vendor for vacuum bags and asked the studio manager to order a large supply.  She organized the messy menu book and made copies of the most popular equipment manuals, putting them in a binder so that interns could study them on their down time.  She routinely stays a couple of extra hours past her shift reading manuals, observing the studio interaction, doing odd jobs, and soaking up the atmosphere.

Intern Type 1 lasts a few weeks and gets fired.  The world is full of people like this.  I don’t think anyone reading this blog is like this. Type 1 isn’t doing the job.  Type 1 isn’t really relevant to this discussion.  I just included him because he represents the 75% of the workforce who is incompetent.  Those people don’t last very long in the freelance world and wash out sooner or later.  This post is about the difference between Type 2 and Type 3, both of whom ARE competent.

So, Type 1 screws up and goes home. Intern Type 2 is a whole other matter, though.  He is following all of the rules, doing what is expected, and going to his supervisor with questions when confronted with detailed tasks that he has not performed in the past.  This is someone who probably won’t get fired, but will also not necessarily advance that much.  Why? Intern 2 is like the student who wants me to explain every last detail of an assignment.  “Clean the bathroom.”  “Do you want me to use disinfectant on the toilet or just use scrubbing bubbles?”  “Clean the bathroom.”  “Do you want me to clean behind the toilet, or can I just brush the inside and wipe the seat and the top?”  “Clean the bathroom.”  “Do you want me to put that blue stuff in the tank, or should I just brush the inside and then use scrubbing bubbles and then………”  I think you get the idea. Type 2 displays no initiative. No ability to take the bare bones of a situation and run with it.  Because his education has not valued that kind of thinking. He KNOWS what a clean bathroom is.  EVERYBODY knows what a clean bathroom is. If I pulled out a grenade and said “I will answer no questions. If this bathroom is not the cleanest bathroom in the universe, I’m pulling the pin,” I guarantee you that he would have no problem cleaning that sucker right up.

Employers will keep a Type 2 around until something better comes along.  Type 2s do the job in a minimal, competent sort of way.  But they are a pain in the ass.  They require a lot of maintenance.  If I want something done by a Type 2, I’m going to have to answer a ton of questions or write a very specific instruction manual detailing EXACTLY how I want it done.  Because Type 2s need to be told exactly how to do things.  Most businesses have to plan on hiring MOSTLY Type 2s, which is why many people make careers out of writing manuals that detail exactly how other people should do things that are fairly obvious if only the other people had the ability to think independently and with some initiative.

A Type 3 is what everyone is looking for.  Someone who is seeking the opportunity to use their intelligence, their abilities, their drive, in whatever situation they are confronted with.  Type 3s know that today’s vacuuming is tomorrow’s assistant engineering gig.  And next month’s production job.  The workplace craves excellence. It craves drive.  It craves people who say “I’ve got it covered,” rather than “Can you please explain exactly how you want me to do that.”  Passively doing what you’re told, doing what is on the job description, is not the way to make your mark.  No matter what the job is, no matter what level you’re at, there is always room for you to go the extra mile, to distinguish yourself from all the Type 2s out there. Think about it.

The Necessity of Thinking Big

I just got off the phone with an old friend of mine who lives in LA.  He’s been a freelancer for a very long time, composing for film and television, working in film as a music supervisor, playing keyboards for some pretty well known people, and more recently, producing indie records and playing shows and recording with two of his own bands.  We were talking about the huge changes the music business has undergone in the last decade, and how much harder it is to scrape together a decent living as a freelancer.

The typical fee or rate that a musician, audio engineer, or recording studio could expect to charge for a typical recording or live gig has DROPPED significantly since I came onto the scene in the early 80s. There are lots of reasons for this, and you can spend a week or two Googling them if you want the details. The main thing is that there are two ways to look at this difficult reality: glass half empty or glass half full.

In my opinion, far too many of the kids I talk to have reacted to this new reality by lowering the bar and scaling down their dreams. They react to how tough things are by giving up before they even get started. Is the music industry more difficult and competitive than it used to be?  No doubt.  Confronted with cold hard reality, it’s understandable why so many people have downsized their career aspirations.  Understandable, yes.  But I feel like it’s also a BIG mistake.

I’ve always felt that it’s important to have a “balanced portfolio” as a freelancer.  Some work, you do simply because it helps to pay the bills.  There is nothing special about it, and it’s not likely to end up on your resume’, credit list, or demo reel, but as a professional, you need to make money by working.  Maybe another gig doesn’t pay all that much, but is higher in profile or is for a potentially lucrative client.  But there should always be something you’re working on that has a high risk/high reward factor. The Impossible Dream. After all, regardless of the (insert whining voice here) crappy state of the music industry, people still win Grammys, Oscars, and Emmys.  People still have hit records. People still have successful recording studios that serve niche markets. People still get signed to big record labels and have a cuts on a major hit movie soundtracks. Why not you? Why not put in a certain amount of time working toward BIG goals and dreams that have a chance at paying off BIG, either in money or in personal satisfaction? What do you have to lose by trying?

Having those big dreams keeps you mindful of the competition and pushes you to hone your skills.  Sure, it’s hard out there.  But when I was trying to get a record deal in the 1980s, there were about 15 major labels and NO indie labels of any consequence at all.  So it was about as competitive as you could imagine.  And in the process of trying to make stuff that was good enough to pass muster at the majors, I worked and worked and got better and got to the point where my stuff was just plain good, and that got me all kinds of work that had nothing to do with my big dream.

Having the big dream gives you something to hold onto when everything else is bursting into flames. When I was trying to make it, I would cut demo after demo, pitching them to labels, publishers, and whoever else I thought could get me closer to my big dream of getting a major label record deal. Along with these demos, I was doing lots of other work that was much lower on the risk/reward scale. And sometimes even that would fail.  But no matter what, I always had my big dream that I was chipping away at, and I knew that one day it would pay off. And one day, it did.

So think about it. What is your big dream? Whatever it is, SOMEBODY is going to get there. It might as well be you.