‘It ain’t work if you love it’: How tired cliches are devaluing the industry

In an Audio Media International exclusive, producer and mix engineer for the likes of Frank Turner and The Wildhearts, Elliot Vaughan, writes about how tired cliches and increasing pressures to work for free are inflicting serious damage upon the professional audio industry and the mental health of its exponents…

We’ve all heard it a thousand times. “Find something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a pretty great ideal, isn’t it? Discovering that one thing you adore and getting to do it every day. What a life! It will never be hard, it will never be stressful. What could be better than making your hobby a life-long career? Nothing, right? That’s what we all strive for, isn’t it?

Sadly. That’s all nonsense.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great to love what you do. I think that is a noble goal. Life is too short to be miserable every day (a recent Gallup poll suggests that up to 85 per cent of the global workforce actively dislike their jobs) so I would always suggest someone follow their dreams and not be part pf the aforementioned statistic. The problem is when the dream job gets sold as a panacea for all of life’s angst and it doesn’t quite turn out that way.

I’ve been a full-time audio professional for almost 10 years now and before that I was doing it around other ‘normal’ jobs. Some I enjoyed, most I hated. I know the value of not dreading the week ahead. I know how nice a Sunday evening can be when you genuinely look forward to getting to work on Monday. I have felt (on many occasions) an exciting itch to get to work. I know I am lucky. I worked hard to make my dream come true, but I’m still lucky. I’m mostly happy and truly love what I do. So far, so good. Yes?

The problem is, from my experience, that there are three points that negate the ‘love what you do mantra:

1 – I work harder in this job than any of my old ‘normal’ ones.

2 – I give (and give up) more of myself to this job than any of my old ‘normal’ ones.

3 – I still have plenty of bad days.

Anyway. Why am I ranting about this?

For a long while I felt that it may only be me that has these issues. Maybe everyone else who made their hobby into a career is floating in some utopian nirvana and loves every day of their lives? Maybe it’s just me and I don’t actually love this job? Should I do something else? What if I hate that? I became a mess of uncertainty. Then I started thinking more about it and decided I would some other audio pros. I very quickly realised I was not alone.  

Most of us who do this professionally have these issues. One extremely well-known mixer/producer I spoke to (you will know this person, they have lots of Grammys) told me they basically have a panic attack every time they send off a mix as they think it totally sucks and they’ll be outed as a fraud. I don’t know about you, but that seems a lot like work to me. Emotional labour without the danger-pay.

There is also the outside opinion of the general population. If you’ve ever struggled to up your rates (or even charge anything at all) because of the idea that you needn’t be paid for something you love then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It seems very hard to put value on something that you enjoy. It can be a tough sell to those who maybe don’t love their day jobs and find money to be adequate compensation for misery. I don’t know why this idea persists because I’m sure plenty of plumbers love what they do but Joe Public would never question getting a bill for a new bathroom, would they? Perhaps you’ve even had it from friends and family who think you can’t really monetise something that you love. It could even be that they suggest you’re not working very hard if you’re having fun. Jealous? Maybe. Misinformed? Definitely.

The view of society is one thing, but I have seen this tired trope used within the industry and I can’t see how that does anything useful. The thing that inspired this whole article was this: I spotted a recent Instagram post of a lovely looking studio with the phrase “it ain’t work if you love it” as the caption. I was annoyed. I instantly wanted to comment “so you do it for free then”? Of course, because I am a well-rounded, not-at-all-petty adult I refrained from this Insta-antagonism and decided to write a long rant about it instead…

I actually think it is a real problem. By suggesting that the service you offer is not really work, you instantly devalue the whole thing. By creating this narrative you step on any peers who do consider this work and conduct themselves accordingly. It’s disingenuous at best and an outright lie at worst. All that said, my main concern with this whole issue is the mental health repercussions it can have on fellow pros.

When you’re constantly being told that this shouldn’t feel like work, the days when it does fill you with guilt, confusion and anxiety. This is my personal experience, but I’m willing to bet there are plenty who share it. There are days I come home and complain how little I enjoyed the session, or how difficult a client is being, or that I’m generally just not feeling it. When this happens I feel a real guilt because a voice tells me “this should feel like play – this should be easy”. I feel ungrateful. I feel like a fraud, honestly. I’ve even considered quitting because I obviously don’t have ‘it’. Everyone else loves this so why do I have off-days?

The answer is clear. I have off-days because this is my chosen career and sometimes a job feels like just what it is. A job. I am lucky to mostly do work I want to do. Work that speaks to me and inspires me. Work that allows me to flex my creative muscles and feel artistically satiated. It doesn’t mean every day is perfect. There is a yin and yang to the creative spirit and that means you have to allow for the bad days. I also work extremely hard for every client and that has value.

This year has seen the arts take a battering. A lot of that is out of our control, of course, but a lot of it is due to the perceived lack of value in the work. We’re told to “retrain” like we’re not already skilled professionals. We can’t allow it to be devalued much more lest we lose it entirely. We also don’t need the added pressure of having to enjoy it all the time. Let yourself have bad days that make you wonder why you bother at all. Allow them because there will be amazing days when you will fall head-over-heels in love with the craft again. You’ll have to stop for five minutes and reflect  “This. This right here is the reason I do this.”.

I have the best job in the world. It’s pretty great. Just like every job, however, sometimes it sucks. Work you love is still work.


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