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Dealing with power issues in the creative industries

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, September 27, 2018

No one really warns you about the extent of the power dynamics at play in the creative industries - which are too informal for anti-discrimination legislature to apply in practice. This makes negotiating relationships in the creative industries seem like walking a tightrope, particularly if you are a woman. Read on to find out how to protect yourself…

 

Do not give your power away

You may need to court the favour and patronage of those who are ahead of you in the game. If you are lucky, you might find a champion and/or a mentor who will encourage and support you. But it’s equally likely you’ll find people trying to bargain you down to work for low pay or free, who will try and belittle your talent and aspirations while you are still finding your feet.

 

What to do if you’re being taken advantage of

In the worst case scenarios, this can result in outright abuse (hence the #MeToo movement). Your power resides with you. Do not let anyone manipulate you into sexual or financial favours. Journal about what is going on i.e. log the nature of incidents that are worrying including time and location, and seek help from an impartial party such as a friend or therapist - or if necessary, the police.

 

Misuse of power isn’t always easy to spot

A mid-ground situation to watch out for, is when you work with someone who helps your career at the beginning, but who is also benefitting. Such a person may not be the best person to give you advice on career strategy, because it’s in their interest for you to keep working with them. (The worst case I saw of this was a small semi-pro band whose young singer was offered a huge solo deal with a major record label, and who was persuaded by the band leader to turn it down, for no sensible reason that I could see… He simply played on her fears and made her feel it was ‘not the life for her’. Shocking!)

It’s natural to regard them as a mentor and someone whose word can be trusted – but make sure you discuss your prospects with a variety of disinterested people as well. And analyse people’s motives. Would it hurt them if you moved on or changed direction? I know you’re a nice person, but don’t let loyalty blind you. Just because someone has given you a good start or taught you a lot, does not mean you have to work with them for the next 20 years!

 

Know your own worth as a creative artist

If you want to work at the top of your industry, you need to aim as high as you can at the beginning. Do not let yourself be fobbed off with low-grade work for the sake of working. This applies particularly to actors but really to anyone. Set your pitch where you intend to and only work with people who are professional and respectful.

Key to this, is getting some sense of your worth as an artist right from the outset of your career. Listen to the good feedback on social media. Consult with friendly people in related fields where there is no risk of rivalry. Get a picture of who wants to work with you and what price and conditions your work commands.

 

Take the opinions of direct rivals and even colleagues with a pinch of salt

It’s not in their interest for you to feel good about yourself. The stories of musicians destroying the esteem of the singers they work with are legion – it’s part jealousy because the audience always regards the singer as the star, and partly fear of the power that gives the singer. So they feed that singer’s insecurities where they can in order to get them to work for a terrible deal or to stop them leaving. Don’t fall for it…

 

Build a peer network

One way to protect yourself is to build a good peer network of people you trust. And to cultivate close friends who can be ‘there’ for you (you’ll need to return the favour too, of course…). These peers can be people in your own or related fields who consistently act with integrity, or knowledgeable people who are older than you, whose opinion you trust. These are the people with whom you can mull things over with or go to if things go wrong. A small caveat however - be aware that the creative industries are not like other industries – and something that is standard practice in the music business, for instance, may be something that your otherwise wise, non-creative friends, find strange.

 

Step out of your comfort zone regularly

Another thing to do is make sure you don’t become too dependent on any collaborative partner you work with regularly. If you do, you risk not developing the skills that would make you more rounded and independent (because they’re always providing them). Do some work with others, or away from them. It will build your confidence amazingly!

 

Do something that you have control over

Granted, some industries are collaborative by nature. Actors need directors and casting directors to hire them. Singers work with music producers. But remaining ignorant of anything but your narrow role is a bad idea. Branching out into related skills will give you much more power and respect. Write a monologue, or a script, learn to shoot and edit, study music production – or learn how to produce plays or TV. That way you can take more control over your creative direction – even break out into a new direction or show off skills no one would usually hire you for, because they don’t know you’ve got them!

Other artists tend to respect people who can stand on their own two feet and produce their own work. It doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate, but it’s always a good idea to have something of your own going on so that you don’t feel continually dependent on others to hire you. If you’re a woman, take heart, because although all these skills seem daunting, it’s perfectly possible for you to learn. Don’t be put off by the male ‘gatekeepers’ trying to discourage you. Be brave!

 

I offer impartial mentoring and coaching if you’re struggling to find support in your creative career. Book some creative coaching with me to assess where you’re at, where you want to go and want you need to do to get there. E:sheila@sheilachandra.com

 

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