paid one's dues

paid one's dues

Fulfilled one’s obligations; acquired experience the hard way. This mid-twentieth-century bit of American slang was adopted by jazz musicians, although it did not originate with them. It transfers the cost of being a paid-up member to the cost of gaining expertise in some field. Nat Hentoff defined the term in Jazz Life (1962): “‘Paying dues’ is the jazz musician’s term for the years of learning and searching for an individual sound and style while the pay is small and irregular.” However, the expression was already in print in a nonmusical context by 1943.
See also: due, paid