Paying those dues

When you hear that phrase about paying dues, you automatically think of two things:

          Belonging to a labor union and seeing that deduction on your paycheck stub

          Working long and hard to master a craft or skill that is your heart’s desire, and knowing it may take a long, long time to be successful monetarily from it

I did the first for 33 years at the post office – first paying dues to the APWU, which represented clerks like me, and then for NAPS, the advocacy group for most postal management employees. 

Now it’s my time for the second example.  It’s been a year since I was cast for my first commercial voiceover, a TV spot for a men’s clothing store in West Virginia.  It didn’t pay anything, since it was essentially intern work my coach gave me in addition to my training.  And I did about ten such spots during my six months of training.  That’s not to say they had no value to me.  I certainly profited from the reinforcement of learning each time, plus I had a ready-to-go resume when I opened JoeKat Voice-over, LLC for business last summer.

When I decided to pursue learning to play the drumset nearly ten years ago, I began subscribing to Modern Drummer magazine, absorbing the stories of the top drummers of today, and noting how hard and how long many of them had to work before making it big in the industry.  I’ve met and talked with a number of local drummers about how they started and how much work they have put into developing themselves as successful musicians.

As a Marx Brothers fan from way back, I first began to understand how many dues they paid after reading Harpo’s biography “Harpo Speaks!”.  It didn’t dawn on my until then that Groucho, Chico, and Harpo were all in their early to mid-40’s when they made their first movie “The Cocoanuts” in 1929, a smash success that followed their successful Broadway run of the same play.

Why so late in life?  Because in essence, for the last 20 to 25 years they had been on the road seven days a week, playing every vaudeville circuit in the country.  I can’t imagine what must have been like.

Their success did not come without cost – low pay, loneliness, riding buses, trains, and even stagecoaches, booing audiences, rejections from agents and theater owners, thievery and corruption by unscrupulous businessman, to say nothing of the fatigue and bad food. 

But those long years on the road were where Chico developed his piano showmanship.  Where Harpo taught himself to play a harp and become a pantomime.  Where Groucho practiced and developed and refined his unique persona, style, delivery, and penchant for snappy comebacks.  It was where they forged their determination, and molded their talent and skills day by day, month by month, year by year, until success arrived “overnight”.

While I don’t intend to leave my family in the lurch for the next twenty years in search of VO success (wives tend to frown upon husbands doing that), I do understand that patience is in order, as well as hard work each day.  I use any small success that comes up – a favorable rating from an audition, a compliment by a prospective client I’ve just struck up a conversation with – as the fuel for my determination to succeed as a voice actor.

If you’re reading this post, what dues are you paying right now?  What keeps your fire burning, whether you’re pursuing voiceover or another skill or goal?  Feel free to share by clicking on “Leave A Reply” section below (please, NO spam, NO advertising, NO messages inviting to buy your guarantees to increase my web traffic – those will be deleted with extreme prejudice, and they tell me you’re not reading this notice!)

That’s all for now.  Ouch – I spent the previous weekend in Denver at a conference, and my body still hasn’t adjusted back from the high altitude there.   Maybe I’ll write about that experience in a future post.  Until then, keep your best voice forward and make sure you set aside something in your personal budget to make sure those dues get paid.   Take care.


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