Follow TV Tropes

This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.


Paying Their Dues

Go To

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, often with the excuse, "I Was Young and Needed the Money." Fuel for the eventual Retroactive Recognition reaction. See also Waiting for a Break and Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job.



  • 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 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 vaudeville 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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...") which was in fact almost entirely fictional: while individual members of the group had indeed paid their dues in bar bands in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Boston as a unit was the brainchild of producer Tom Scholz, who wrote all the songs and recorded all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts in his private studio alongside Brad Delp as lead vocalist, then enlisted additional musicians to tour it.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • 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. 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. There's a reason, after all, of why it's called "doing the job".
    • 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.
    • Many wrestler guests on the reality show WWE 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.
    • Subverted with Stacy Keibler. Stacy was hired by WCW in 1999 after winning a contest to become the new Nitro Girl. Because of this and her general attitude of "I'm only here to launch my acting career" while in the business, Bubba Ray Dudley has called her "a classic example of what happens when you don't come up in this business the right way".
    • 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.
    • In response to criticism World Wonder Ring STARDOM received for hiring "gravure idol" Yuzuki Aikawa as a wrestler, company founder Nanae Takahashi promised the general public a chance to see what paying your dues in pro wrestling looked like, ensuring she would personally have Aikawa's handled by the end of her debut match. It wasn't pretty, but it worked, as Aikawa was the company's most popular wrestler by the end of the year.
    • Arguably, no wrestler in the WWE got hit hard with this other than Promoted Fanboy The Miz. Coming from a reality TV show, having to endure large amounts of fan resistance due to his origins and disastrous debut, being bullied backstage by JBL and kicked out from the locker room by Chris Benoit for more than 6 months just for accidentally dripping chicken crumbs that Miz ate on his bag (following Benoit's Un-person, this was changed to a referee's bag on WWE's request)note , he was also ribbed on live television, on commentary, and by Triple H and Shawn Michaels. This is noteworthy because this ended up becoming fundamental to the story of his title run. In hindsight, this is quite surreal considering Miz has spent quite a lot of years on the main roster and is considered one of the veterans.
  • 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 "Man, what are you doing here?"
  • Shounen Hollywood is all about this trope. The group is just small time and localized to one theater venue, so in order to spread the word they have to do meet and greets, advertise themselves on small-time television, pass out fliers and other similar activities. The same was true of the group's predecessors before a few of them hit the big time.
  • The song "Baby Girl" by Sugarland is from the POV of a young woman who has left her home in Flyover Country in hopes of becoming a famous musician. She starts off playing gigs at bars and such, and has to ask her parents for money (and it's heavily implied that she's been sexually exploited at least once). But by the end of the song, that's all behind her; she's staying at the Ritz, and is able to send her parents money.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: