Drowning In Internet.
The lost producer.
My story is probably not unlike a lot of other creative kids who grew up around the era of the dot-com boom and a sense of promise about the internet. As we come up to the 20 year anniversary of Google, I’m reflecting on my own work choices and how the internet has affected them.
I don’t remember the first time I dialled up to the internet, I wish I did now as it marks a big occasion in the life of those who were around before ubiquitous access. What I do know is that it didn’t have a big impact on my school education. There were a few times we looked things up online, for better or worse, but mostly the computer was used for games and Encarta 98.
Following a passion for music and technology I went straight from school to a college studying music production, part of an early wave of people farmed into a new system of creative industry learning. The wild success of bands and producers in the 80’s and 90’s could now be taught as a curriculum, as formulaic as the music we produced.
I duly did my work, learned the craft and launched my career on the music scene full of potential. I joined a team of professional songwriters in 2001 and began my apprenticeship as a ‘tea-boy’ while I studied for my degree, hoping one day I would tell stories of my humble beginnings perhaps even to my own apprentices.
I was not a world class songwriter, but I had potential. In a ‘normal’ job I might have been considered a promising young employee bound for promotion. What followed though was not a glittering career path to a Grammy, but death by a thousand pin pricks. A decade of declining revenues starting with iTunes and finishing with Spotify fuelled an exodus of young hopefuls, which eventually included me. Smaller record labels folded and the big ones merged, it’s a story of supply and demand replicated across many creative industries.
While I still merrily bounded about the internet, full of wonder as each speed upgrade brought about mind-bending possibilities, the web was quietly prising apart the globe. Emerging from every crevice like an army of ants were billions of competitors quickly learning new software and skills, just like me.
As the creative supply rose, the price plummeted and all of us who had stood on our own small piece of land looking out eagerly to the sea of internet possibility, now found ourselves cut off by the rapidly rising tide. Soon we would all be swimming together desperately looking for any high ground, but finding very little.
So now here we are. All of us multi-skilled Producers, Photographers, Designers, Video Editors, Web Guys, Writers, Digital Marketers, Social Media Experts and everything else, grabbing on to whatever floats past in an attempt to stay above the water. Historically unparalleled access to global clients, but with exponentially more competitors that ever before, finding good value and long-term work is increasingly challenging.
When I see others who have invested their whole working life into the internet and digital content, learning so many new professions in the process, I can’t help wondering what we are all doing. What is it that we’re hoping for? If it’s skills based promotion or pay rise, there isn’t one. In this business you have to be at your best just to get basic work. If it’s a long-term gamble on that ‘one big break’ then maybe we’d be better off in Vegas.
Like a lot of others I’ve ended up spending huge amounts of time indoors, sat in a chair, staring at a screen. It isn’t without consequences. I don’t think I’m the only one that’s starting to look longingly out of the window again and wondering how to get there. Very occasionally, on a great job, we get to share a photo of us in an exotic location with our laptop living the dream, but in general we are slave to our own creative passions and accompanying technical equipment which resides very much inside. Ubiquitous technology has driven a price war in the creative industries and the result is a mad and cut-throat fight for jobs — in front of a screen.
But technology hasn’t ruined it for us and we weren’t unlucky. We were tempted into these industries precisely because technology got cheap enough for us to have a go. We should be pleased that we get to swim in the warm waters of the internet in the first place, after all, the world really is at out fingertips for the first time. If we need to add a new string to the bow we instantly source some free tutorials, scour some forums, buy some inexpensive equipment and…voila, we can amend the business card.
It is by all accounts a very exciting time to learn anything. If this is a global moment of creativity we should be thankful for the chance to freely learn and compete at all.
Perhaps though, the time is coming when should start getting organised; as a disparate group of creative content producers we have no representation, no union, no code of conduct, no price guidelines and no idea who we all are.
After all, we have become digital labourers. We are the workers of the web. Like a man with a van, when content needs building and organising, we can do it. It’s skilled, hard work and it pays ok, but it is what it is.
Doing creative work using technology is something I love doing, but it’s taken time to correctly value different opportunities. I have grown up alongside the internet and consider it a gift, but as I move into my third decade on the web I’m also more aware of the potential weight that it can carry.
I hope by putting this post out that I might resonate with a few of my fellow sea-fairing creatives and maybe spark an idea or two about the future and where we all go from here.
Feel free to comment or get in touch anytime.