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Paying Their Dues
A term used in show business to describe the minor roles and drudge work one usually needs to do before hitting it big.

The name comes from paying dues to a union one belongs to, but even big successes need to pay dues if they are part of a union.

Naturally applies as much, if not more so, to Real Life as well as fiction.

Compare Money, Dear Boy, because even big stars have to pay their bills. If this work is exceedingly terrible and the artist does make it big, these often become their Old Shame. Fuel for the eventual Retroactive Recognition or "Hey, it's that guy/girl!" reaction.

Examples:

  • This seems to be the rule with successful actors, directors, musicians, etc. Therefore in biographies of them, quite often there will be a section detailing about the small work they did before hitting it big.
  • High Voltage Software spent years making licensed games, but did get a reputation for getting work done on time and under budget. Then they used the skills and experience they got on making The Conduit, their breakthrough game.
  • Referred to in one of the vaudville Garfield strips. Garfield gives this as the reason why he's doing an act that universally gets shoes thrown at him.
  • Doonesbury's character Jimmy Thudpucker (Trudeau's go-to character for lampooning the music industry) once refused to do a "paid my dues" song as being pointlessly whiny, pointing out he was an overnight success at age nineteen. His agent retorts "It's in your contract." A Take That against rock music groups with such songs.
  • The rock group Boston had a song about having paid their dues.
    "We were just another band out of Boston. On the road and trying to make ends meet..."
  • In the commentary on one of the Red Dwarf DVDs, the actors talk about the original actor for Kryten. He asked if they were "legit", meaning if they had gone to a proper acting school and paid their dues in small parts on stage before being on TV. The answer for all of them was No , which resulted in the actor treating them with mild disdain.
  • The late, great Paul Newman's first screen appearance was a minor role in an episode of the now-forgotten sci-fi anthology Tales Of Tomorrow.
  • WayForward Technologies (named after the company in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) was a small time game developer spending years making Licensed Games, except most were pretty enjoyable. Eventually, they started to work on a project which would come to be known as Shantae...
    • Which has led, oddly enough, to making a game based on the Adventure Time licence.
  • The Professional Wrestling industry had a hard-on for ensuring that wrestlers come up the pipeline naturally rather than through shortcuts. Many wrestler guests on the reality show Tough Enough seemed to be there for no other reason than to vent at the contestants as to how far they were ahead of thousands of others looking for the same break and how much they resented having to deal with these debutantes.
    • This term is used a lot in professional wrestling, partly as a need for experience, and partly as a need to understand locker room etiquette.
    • It's practically accepted tradition that no matter how you got there, once you make it to the WWE, you're going to spend at least a year going through constant hazing, both in and out of the ring, until the veterans are satisfied you have the "mental fortitude" to make it in the business.
    • There's a reason it's called "doing the job".
    • Not as much a problem now as in the past, as WWE has moved away from hiring career jobbers and wrestlers off the street over the past twenty years. As they are the undisputed premier wrestling promotion, all other "competition" can serve as farm leagues to funnel the best talent to the top, so that even "rookies" can expect to have years of experience and polish.
  • Taken together, Billy Joel's songs "Piano Man" and "The Entertainer" are basically about a musician starting off playing bars and clubs, then gradually working his way up to "the idol of my age".
    • The first being about the most depressing song in the repertoire. The tune is a pleasant little waltz, but the words are all about a bunch of pathetic losers hanging around a tawdry little bar getting hammered. They're so shocked by someone with talent or potential coming into their mix that one of the song lyrics is them asking the piano man "What, man are you doing here?"

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