By T. Perry Bowers
According to the Pew Research Centre the official definition of a Millennial is anyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 23 to 38 in 2019). Anyone born from 1997 onward is actually part of a new generation.
Based on this definition my son is a Millennial (although just barely). I’ve also had the fortune to work with many Millennials. To be honest I’ve run into a few challenges dealing with this generation. They might say our generation doesn’t understand them. People in my generation say Millennials don’t understand us … or life in general, or reality, or even what it is to be human.
I think it goes both ways. We (us old people) don’t understand Millennials well enough. I’ve interviewed, hired and unfortunately fired a few Millennials in my music business. One thing I’ve noticed is they have a certain vibe of entitlement. It’s hard to put my finger on it but they certainly have no fear of asking for what they think they deserve.
Here’s where I believe the disconnect lies. Our generation (and the generations who preceded us) were taught we needed to provide value in order to get paid. But the Millennial generation were taught their time is valuable, no matter what. They’ve been told if they’re doing something they wouldn’t normally be doing, they should be paid for it. So, if they’re not chilling with friends, shopping, playing on their phones or sleeping, they expect to be compensated.
In a way, I respect that. When I first started audio engineering for bands and musicians, I didn’t always know what I was doing. Sometimes I could bluff my way through a technical problem so the client wouldn’t figure out I was having an issue. I wasn’t trying to get away with anything – I just didn’t want them to question my abilities. If they lost faith in me, it might kill the whole vibe of the session and no good music would be created. However sometimes it would go so badly I would have to admit I was lost. We’d take a break and I’d scramble to solve the problem. When this happened, I never charged the band for any down time. That was on me. I wasn’t providing them any value, so I didn’t expect them to pay.
My employees from the Millennial generation struggle to understand this. They often have problems in the studio. But even when I can’t charge my clients, my Millennial engineers still expect to be paid.
I do try to make this clear from the get-go. My employees need to understand every piece of equipment in my studio. They are accountable for that. If they experience down time because of their own lack of knowledge, I don’t expect them to charge me or the band. I give them more than ample time to learn the gear. I even pay them to train on it. But there’s a limit. They have to be willing to put in some of their own time to learn. They are representing themselves as audio engineers. There better be some blood, sweat and tears behind that representation.
On the other hand, if my business isn’t providing any value to them, I’m the one who is accountable. If I don’t maintain my gear properly, I can’t expect my employees to cover my ass. If I don’t vet the clients to ensure my contract employees are safe and treated well, that’s on me. I’m responsible for providing a professional atmosphere where my people can thrive and grow. Employers need to listen to this younger generation and give them what they deserve, respect.
No matter what generation we come from we all deserve respect. As an adult and a business owner I can give people the respect they deserve. If I provide an atmosphere of opportunity, safety and creativity for my Millennial counterparts I am doing my job.
If I do this, I find Millenials almost always give me back exactly what I ask for. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s another thing I’ve discovered about Millennials: you have to ask for what you want and be very clear about it. They won’t read your mind. They also won’t go above and beyond your expectations unless you clearly outline what that means to you.
Millennials are better at living in the present than we are – at least when it comes to jobs. They understand I am providing employment. They don’t extrapolate this. They don’t imagine the job to be anything more than a job. Sometimes I feel they are a bit short-sighted. They don’t see that the way they treat somebody, or something now could come back to them later, especially in the music business. It’s such a small world.
If I were to give any advice to the Millennial generation as a whole, I would ask them to look at what they can do for a business, not what the business can do for them. Cliché, I know. It’s also selfish since I am the business owner. As such I need to provide proper incentives for going above and beyond the tasks at hand. But for me, compensation can be just knowing I kicked ass. Sometimes it’s a good feeling inside to know that you made someone’s day.
I think if all generations practice a little more understanding and reach out a little more, we can make a lot of beautiful things happen. We have a lot to learn from each other. Instead of grumbling and complaining about how we are so different, let’s spend our time finding common ground and goals. It’s what I intend to do anyway.