Strategic Profit Sharing

By • July 21, 2008

To share, or not to share? Whether ’tis nobler in the economic mind to avoid suffering the immediate slings and arrows of economic misfortune by doing all of a given gig yourself or, by picking up the telephone to spread the work around, to invest in your very (long-term) survival. Depending on your circumstances at any given point, a case could be made for each side of this proposition, but not to consider it at all leaves you steered by a career autopilot which may make you a hero to “the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker,” but to hardly any others.

Let’s take the following scenario: You are a composer with an upcoming project that carries a budget. You have the means, motive, and opportunity (translated, “the chops, the economic need, and the time) to do the gig completely solo. So do you? Should you? Or should you use the opportunity to spread some work around by hiring some help from competent people in your circle who are both loyal and success-oriented enough to potentially return the favor?

Let’s look at the downsides first, as they are the most obvious. Money. By subcontracting perhaps some lower parts of your food chain, you get less of it. In a union job, you also get smaller contributions to both your health insurance and pension. Plus, your budget will bloat, as the AFM mandates a supervision fee on any job employing more than one person, equal to 25% of the whole team’s income for the duties and responsibilities of the supervising copyist or orchestrator. Additionally, you may lose some control over the look-and-feel of your product, and perhaps some peace of mind over quality issues (although hopefully your “people” are competent.)

But the big-ticket question is: What are the chances the favor(s) will be repaid? To misquote a sentiment from the early years of our industry, “You can take all the loyalty in Hollywood and stick it in a gnat’s belly button and still leave room for a producer’s heart.” I’m sure we’ve all done favors that were never repaid, or gone above and beyond the call of duty (and above and beyond the recall of the client.)

Ah, but there are advantages, assuming everyone knows when you are doing this out of necessity and when you may be doing it out of “selfish nobility.” The satisfaction of people owing you, for a change. The insurance that comes from reinforcing your network of trusted and loyal colleagues, and expanding it under real-world-trial conditions. Quality of work, unless you are truly a specialist and vastly more competent than any of your people (in which case you need to find more…) Forced organization of communication and project management. The extremely important second-set-of-eyes oversight aspect (assuming you don’t bat a thousand in error-catching.) The value of your identity as a power broker. And the general rewards stashed in the bank of “what goes around comes around.”

But the question remains: Will the favor ever be repaid? Actually, it’s irrelevant, as the question should be: Do you have a history of favors to others that can be repaid? How many have you squandered by a too-narrow focus? When I first emerged from the copyists’ ranks as an orchestrator, I seriously bruised a working relationship with a supervising copyist by assuming that I should go ahead and extract the parts for a cue I was orchestrating. This was back when most of the work was still done by hand and way before one-mouse-click part prep; I assumed that my streamlined score-parts process could save time. He saw it differently, as a selfish attempt to take work away from his people. Who was right? Depending on viewpoint, both and maybe neither. From the angle of my survival, however, he was, since he was a fount of past and potential employment. I should have checked first, as there are circumstances where efficiency doesn’t trump all.

In a demonstrably shrinking recording industry here in L.A., when to delegate can be a tough call. Somewhere you have to be able to see the line that separates survival alone from comfortable success (unless you are at that point where survival is success.) By keeping that “third eye” always focused on “where to share,” your career instincts will become sharper.

So what’s it to be? An adequately-fed hermit in the wilds of industry, mostly looking upward for his next meal? Or a “player” constantly linked to other “players,” a constantly roving and connected target in a war fought by moving targets? Or perhaps the sublime sage who instinctively knows when to do and when to delegate? You’ve heard of climbing the ladder to success? As our industry is built on so many intangibles, people don’t climb to success; from below and above, they’re lifted to it. The more hands you can enlist in the process, the better your odds will be.

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