This article is the second instalment in a three-part series, originally written by the composer, curator, and founder of the influential Australian experimental ambient label, Room40, Lawrence English in 2011, revised and updated in July of 2020. The guide is divided into three sections, and this one is subtitled “For Others”. Be sure to check out the Introduction with an updated foreword, One tale of hustling, the first entry, “For The Work”, and then return here for the last instalment, as well as a follow-up interview with the author discussing his unique view on the subject. This guide will also be available as a downloadable PDF at the conclusion of this feature on Headphone Commute. We hope you will enjoy, and more importantly, apply some of these lessons to help you in your quest!
Speaking of respect
If there’s one overarching principle to living this life it’s be respectful. Honestly, in the decade since I wrote this guide, not a single word captured here has resonated so very strongly. As I revisit this text, I am struck by just how significant the shifts in the world have been over the past decade. Now, more than ever we need to push ourselves towards radical positions. We need radical optimism and generosity, and most importantly a radical embracing of respect as a core driver for how we operate in this world together.
Very few of us are getting rich here, most of us are in this because we’re driven by an unruly and foolish desire to create and support work we care for and feel passionately about. Much easier (and likely dull) livings could be sought in any number of academic, corporate or public service positions, jobs with actual benefits like retirement or pension savings, holiday pay and sick days, but we have chosen another path.
What we hold (or in the very least should hold) is a deep, unconditional, mutual respect for one another, our work and the lived experiences that shape it. There’s room for everyone’s creations and curatorial pursuits here. What reduces those opportunities and shrinks the realms of possibility is territoriality and occupation for the sake of itself, spurred on by pointless anxieties and fuelled largely by entitlement and lack of respect for each other.
Be thankful for all those opportunities that have allowed you to come to this place. They are plentiful, but sadly not evenly distributed amongst us, so be mindful and most of all be generous in how you interact with your friends, your peers and your colleagues. There might be moments where you feel you’re overlooked, or someone else is offered something you feel you might be best suited to. It’s ok to feel disappointed, but it’s never ok to feel entitled to that opportunity. If you keep at doing your work and engaging in the world around you, something else will pop up. It can be difficult but, keep this firmly in mind, not everything needs to be now. And honestly, some things never need to be.
Whilst we’re here, may I also suggest we all remember the fine art of diplomacy and the value of patience. Belligerence, though an utter necessity from time to time and useful for us individually in our commitment to our work, can be a bit of a drag for people on the receiving end. Believe it or not, there’s a real human on the other end of that email after you hit send, they have good days and bad days too, it pays to be conscious of that.
If you say you will, then follow through
It’s a simple one, but often overlooked or forgotten.
If you agree to do something, then live up to your word. There’s nothing more frustrating for a freelancer than having a whole array of things promised to you by a third party and then have them dismantled, one by one, or simply not honoured. Sometimes these things are unavoidable (act of god, we’ve all been there) and you just need to accept it and move on, but that’s not always the case. Sadly, some people (either through lack of experience or something less excusable) simply don’t deliver what they promise.
So just as it’s frustrating for you to experience, think of those on the receiving end of your interactions. If you agree to help on a project or offer a fee to an artist or agree to a certain condition, then try everything in your power to respect those agreements. It’s the least you can do to honour the agreements you make, as best you can. And if you can’t, own up to why. Be honest enough to take responsibility for any shortcomings and in a timely fashion.
Remember your friends
As I said earlier, memories can be short. It’s our responsibility to remember and think about those who have supported us. Freelancing is about peaks and troughs, and not everyone’s wave cycle is at the same frequency. You can almost guarantee that people you see on the way up, you’ll more than likely see on the way down towards the troughs of your cycle.
Having friends, supporting them and hopefully having them support you is vital in the ebb and flow of creative life. This point is relevant to other thoughts in this essay too, like respect and not taking things (or people) for granted. It’s important to remember that we’re all creative folks trying to work out a place for ourselves, our projects and ultimately our creations. There’s room for everyone, so don’t be shy giving people a lift up when they need it. Who knows, before long they might be doing the same for you when you need a helping hand.
It’s not hard to do and more often than not we don’t do it enough. It’s the very least you can do to demonstrate to people what they do for you actually matters, and is meaningful. Everyone loves getting a note of gratitude once in a while.
While you’re at it, take the time to congratulate others on their work and what it means for you. Write to them, phone them, message them, don’t be shy. We’re all feeding off each other’s creations and it’s nice to make connections that extend outward from that work. It’s a chance to be reminded that community is always there, even if it’s not necessarily geographically available.