Guest blogger Malachi Mott ’08 gives tips to young alumni trying to get their first big break: make yourself useful! To view the original post, click here.
In my five years of working at major labels and in world-class studios, one statement answers the question, “How do I get ahead?”. Through every job, project, interaction, and relationship, the words “make yourself useful” are used casually, but often. It’s pretty much how every first day goes.
The first time I showed up to Interscope, the New Kids On The Block were having a dance rehearsal and the crew was putting down a floor for them to practice on. Without asking my name, the person in charge yelled “hey kid! Make yourself useful and help us move this couch!”.
My first day at Diddy’s studio, they were doing inventory on dat tapes. I was given an inventory sheet and told “make yourself useful and type these into this computer”.
Shift number one at AMC theaters, they gave me a broom and pail and said “make yourself useful until we can train you”.
At a park back in my hometown, I showed up and was given a plunger and gloves. Apparently, one of the toilets was clogged all day. You can guess what they told me.
The point is that there’s no reason to be somewhere taking up space if you’re not serving a purpose. I’ve seen many people come and go throughout all of my employments and one thing remains true… Those who weren’t useful lasted the least amount of time.
Success requires a number of things. Three of those are:
1. Access to resources
2. Expertise in the field
3. Opportunity to shine
(My examples may often relate to the music industry, however this applies to any craft, dream or venture)
Access to Resources: It costs a lot of money to make a professional product. Without access to thousands of dollars of equipment, software and facilities, you can never hope to be on the same level as the people who utilize them daily. In order to gain access, you need to provide your time, favors or cash. No matter how you look at it, you’ll have to be “useful” in some way in order to gain the access you require.
Expertise in the field: Now that you have access, you have to learn how to use everything in the most efficient way possible. Sure, you can learn everything on your own by buy books, watching youtube tutorials or simple trial and error. However, if you want to break through a ceiling and bring your productivity up a level, you’re going to have to learn from an expert. Again, that’s going to cost you time, favors, or cash. You’re going to have to make yourself useful to that expert in order to get their time and knowledge.
Opportunity to shine: This one is everyone’s favorite. Everyone wants to skip straight to the “I’m just waiting to be discovered” phase. Even if you are an expert in a particular field, you will still need someone to invest time and/or money if you are going to get off the ground. Someone will have to take a chance and give you your first break. Once again, you have to be useful to them in some way in order for them to take that plunge. I don’t care how talented you are, if you don’t plan on sharing your success with the person who holds the keys to the gate (either upfront or on the backend), they will not open any doors for you. Some call it “nepotism”, I call it “logic”. Nobody owes you anything. Make yourself useful and you’ll have some leg to stand on when you need those doors opened.
As a producer with my own studio, I frequently have visitors. Everyone knows how I am useful to them (professional equipment, musical sense, engineering expertise, industry connections etc), but few of them ever think about how they are useful to me. The result looks a lot like “gimmie gimmie gimmie”. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not as empowering as forming a bond/relationship built on a mutual respect. I think the key to getting ahead is going above and beyond to add value to what you bring to the table.
Claude Kelly (one of today’s biggest songwriters) once said something like “your friends will watch you climb the stairs all the way to the top of the Empire State Building, then ask you to build an elevator so they can come up and chill with you.” Unfortunately, this is a little too accurate.
If you want to go somewhere in life, find someone who figured out how to get there and then OFFER them something. Make yourself useful and you’ll be surprised how far it will get you =)
Peace, blessings and best of luck in your endeavors