Video Game SweatShops...
There's always been a dark side to the dream. Down south, entertainment industry workers famously nicknamed Disney Inc. "Mousewitz" for that company's stance on wages and working conditions. Rock bands seeking attention in Los Angeles get reduced to paying clubs for "stage space" and having to sell tickets to their own shows.
In Silicon Valley, stories about janitors getting the shaft from hugely successful tech firms littered the business pages for years. In many cases those same subcontracted janitors were cleaning up the gourmet cafeteria meal remnants left by the kind of "information workers" over which companies intensely compete for still.
An alleged shortage of such workers even necessitates importing highly educated folks with technical skills from India, Asia and other regions. The bottom line: play a front-line role creating electronic stuff that makes big money and nobody screws with you.
Intellectual property in Los Angeles is often protected with union contracts, royalties or back-end deals. That Alan's performances aren't compensated with even a fraction of a penny every time a Guitar Hero game prominently bearing his voice is sold is undoubtedly sweet music to the management at Activision, the nearly $1.5 billion dollar game software developer now headquartered in Santa Monica.
It's a lovely beach town filled with people receiving "mailbox money" from acting, singing, writing and other things that generate more customers and more income over time. According to L.A.-based songwriter, composer and film orchestrator Tom Mgrdichian, "residuals keep creative people from falling into poverty between gigs."
Who is getting rich off Silicon Valley's new sweatshop economy? Certainly not Littlejohn's company, which might best be compared to the janitorial contracting companies Big Tech hired to avoid paying decent wages and benefits to the people cleaning their buildings.
Both businesses provide services essentially for flat fees and while their owners do better than employees, nobody gets rich. Littlejohn points out he drives a 2003 Ford Escape and that the musicians he hires are well paid compared to the area norm.
One answer comes from New York Times columnist and noted author Thomas Friedman. In his seminal book about globalization, The World Is Flat, Freidman observed: "If I can buy five brilliant researchers in China and/or India for the price of one in Europe or America, I will buy the five; and if, in the long run, that means my own society loses part of its skills base, so be it."
Replace "researcher" with "IT worker" and one sees the brutally efficient logic that put thousands of college educated, highly skilled, local information technology workers out of work, many permanently. Is there any reason to believe American musicians and other creative types are somehow insulated from the same fate?