An Artist’s Life Expectancy – The End of Ageism in the Entertainment Industry
Updated: Apr 3
I personally believe that it’s never too late to start something. In fact, having a few years mileage behind you is a great asset when it comes to launching yourself into your dreams and goals, because there is an undeniable wisdom with age that is hard come by in youth. Industry pros have told me to lie about my age for years. I'm 35, but I look 25, so I lie about it, and it's exhausting. I feel like I'm undercutting myself and my hard earned years of wisdom by pretending to be a lot younger than I am. Some of my favourite entertainers didn't get their big break until they were well into their 30s; Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain, Oprah, Harrison Ford, Ken Jeong, Jon Hamm, and let's not forget that Steve Carell, Melissa McCarthy, Samuel L Jackson, Betty White, Morgan Freeman, Viola Davis, and Tommy Lee Jones didn't hit the big time until they were over the age of 40.
It’s like there’s this underlying panic with creative people, worrying that they will soon become irrelevant and that their opportunities will dry up as they get older. I’ve felt it, friends of mine have spoken of it, and I even put it forward as a question during an industry panel at The Melbourne Sessions hosted by APRA and Creative Victoria earlier this year...
The Melbourne Sessions is an event for emerging songwriters and composers to network with industry pros and grow their skills. During the keynote speech, I looked around the packed auditorium and noticed that the majority of the faces there were of people in their 30s. It piqued my interest because it seems that the music industry (much like the film industry) caters to youth when it comes to agents, opportunities and interest, as well as directing entertainment marketing at a younger audience and seeking younger prospective new artists. Yet all of these new artists in attendance were much more varied in age.
I threw my hand in the air, took the microphone and asked Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) what he thought of ageism in the music industry, the trend of youth taking precedence, and if he sees it changing.
(Check out this video of the Keynote with Jan Skubiszewski and Chris Walla from The Melbourne Sessions and skip to 51mins in to hear me ask Chris about his thoughts on mature artists getting a start in the music industry) He responded as most industry pros do, saying that young people are the ones absorbing the music via the "instagramifcation" of the industry (so that’s where it’s marketed to). But he also pointed out that great music from the 70s and 80s was often written by older artists, and that we currently live in a time where anything is possible and that he would love to see it going that way. It became apparent very quickly that I wasn't alone in my curiosity, because throughout the day, multiple attendees approached me and thanked me for asking the question and wanted to chat more about the topic. This got me excited. I hit a nerve on a topic that a lot of creatives think about, but hardly speak about.
According to ourworldindata.org, the life expectancy in Australia in 1920 was 61 years old, compared to 2015 where the life expectancy had risen to 82 years old. On average people are living an extra 20 years these days. If this scale keeps rising, we’re in for a lot of longer living citizens in the future.
The government aims to accommodate for this by promoting superannuation and ensuring the population will be able to take care itself in their older years, however, if the health industry continues to grow as it has been (and it’s currently one of the highest growing industries according to ibisworld.com) it seems that the people of today take much better care of themselves and will continue to do so as they age. With health being one of the biggest growing trends, it seems by the time I’m elderly, people will likely still be working and wanting to be active at 80 years old. We might be living longer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all going to be unhealthy old people on respirators from the age of 65 the way many of our grandparents and great grandparents were. By the looks of things, in the next 30 years, the world will see the largest population of healthy elderly people that have ever walked it's surface.
What does this have to do with being a musician, actor or entertainer over the age of 30? Well, for an industry that has largely been focussed on youth for the past 40 years, this creates an interesting possibility for a whole new market to open up. In terms of a paying audience, older people have more money, they are established and have a higher disposable income compared to younger people who are often casually employed while studying and strapped for cash. Sure, the stats for who is engaging with entertainment may still lean towards the youth end of the scale, but is that because it’s only young people who want to be entertained, or is that because the entertainment industry has only been aiming their marketing at youth? What might happen if we focus more on marketing popular entertainment to mature audiences also?
In the past it seems people were more likely to quit creative work after a certain age, because the industry stopped offering a source of income. It’s kind of like the entertainment industry says “well, you’re old now and you didn’t hit the big time, so the target customers can’t relate to you”.
But with the increasing life expectancy, advanced technological entertainment at our fingertips, and the ability for creatives to run their own businesses and create their own work, why would an artist stop pursuing a creative career, when they have more control over it, and when there is a growing market of healthy older people in their age range and above who have the money to spend on entertainment?
Actors are producing their own films and content, musicians are self-releasing their music, so there’s less need for industry “gatekeepers” to decide who gets seen and heard and who needs to quit the biz and go get a day job and/or retire. From my point of view, the stigma of ageism is sitting on a precipice, ready to be pushed off the edge and obliterated, and it’s up to the mature creatives and mature audiences to take the reins and decide what they want to create, and how they want to be entertained. Some people will argue that no one wants to see a 40 year old pop star twerk on stage in a one-piece. But I personally don't even want to see a 20 year old pop star do that. Granted, at 61 Madonna still rocks being scantily clad and sexy to boot, and did anyone ask Iggy Pop to continue performing shirtless at 72? No. Does he still look sexy? Yes!
If you take a close look at the entertainment world you’ll see that in some areas content is being made to appeal to an older demographic. I nearly stood up clapping at the cinema recently when I saw the trailer for “The Good Liar” starring Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellen, this is no cosy beachside old person love story, it's a psychological thriller with intrigue and passion. They’re in their 70s and 80s and they're still super attractive in my humble opinion.
I’m still “young” (ish), but I can’t imagine how excluded older people must feel when they look at films, music, and general entertainment in society. Everything in popular culture is geared towards younger people. But why?
I mean, I don’t mind crocheting, I make a killer beanie and scarf, but do I want to stop going out to see live bands and films because they’re only catering to young people, and stay at home making tea cosies when I’m 60? Hell no.
One of my close friends is 68, she goes out dancing 4 nights a week and has men who are 20 and 30 years her junior chasing her. I honestly can’t keep up with her she has so much energy. She travels several times a year, goes to gigs, open mic nights, theatre shows, loves films and just generally loves life. She’s someone who has looked after themselves really well for many years, she’s a pescatarian, drinks filtered water, meditates, exercises daily and practices mindfulness, so she’s in ridiculously great health compared to a lot of people her age. THIS is the future of society as far as I’m concerned.
There will always be an appeal to youth in the entertainment industry, but we can’t deny the social and economic fact that older generations are less inclined to behave as they previously have. In western culture, we’re no longer restricted by social conformity. More people are choosing alternative lifestyles, such as being single and never having children, and society today supports that choice. Others are coupling, but choosing to have children later in life or are opting for adoption. Let’s not also discount the healthy older citizens who are starting over, changing careers, and exploring the world well into their 60s and 70s the same way my friend does.
All in all, there’s a new entertainment industry market hidden in plain sight that no one seems to be talking about.
A mature market.
I’m in my mid 30s, and many of my film industry friends are 10-15 years younger than me. But we talk of the same interests and goals, so there seems to be no obvious divide in our lifestyles. We all use the same Apps, watch the same TV shows, and go to the same gigs. The main differences that I’ve noticed between me and people under the age of 23 is that I know a few more things, I’ve heard and experienced the art, movies, bands and culture that were around before their time (which honestly makes me feel kind of cool). If I’m being completely honest, I probably make more excuses to leave a party earlier than they do. But I have a business to run the following morning and a slower metabolism that can’t handle as much alcohol as it used to. As an actor and musician, this bodes well on the reliability scale as to whether I’m a good candidate to work with because I’m not as likely to be reckless and party as often as my younger creative friends. The point is that I love absorbing new music and art as much as the younger folk. I’ve been performing and following around my favourite bands since I was 13. Fast forward 20 years later and I still go to gigs regularly and get just as excited. I don’t see that changing in another 20 odd years. But I’d be heartbroken if the only entertainment available was directed at people half my age.
The next generation of elderly people will know how to use tech, unlike many of our current elders who didn’t grow up with it. By default future elders will be more plugged in to popular culture than previous generations. I don’t know about you, but in 30-40 years I certainly still want to be up to scratch with what’s new and exciting. Music, art, film, social trends. Nobody wants to purposely be out of touch with the world (except some introverts, but that’s their quirky schtick. lol).
More than ever, age is just a number.
If you’re creative and you feel that the pressure of impending age irrelevance is stopping you from moving towards your goals, it’s time to snap out of that way of thinking and take a look at the world we live in, with it’s endless opportunities where anything can happen.
I find that being in an audience where the age is varied from young to old is way more enjoyable, and I find that being a 35 year old creative with a tonne of experience makes me more in tune with the world.
I’m looking forward to a future where ageism is a thing of the past, and entertainment lovers and creators, young and old, excitedly share their similar interests. In the meantime, I’ll speak of this topic to anyone who will listen, and I invite you to do the same.
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Alicia Pavlis is a writer, actor, musician, filmmaker, photographer, visual artist, and content producer. She is passionate about progressive topics and is also an advocate for mental health awareness. All writing, artwork and content expressed on this site are Alicia's own views and intellectual property, protected by Australian copyright law, reproduction, distribution or publication without Alicia Pavlis' permission is prohibited.
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