What Constitutes a “Professional” Musician?

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

Everyone has their own idea as to what makes a musician "professional." I look at it in terms of how one conducts themselves when playing out and how they conduct themselves in terms of rehearsals and being in a band or a solo performer. Obviously, some things are more important than others but a number of things are crucial to really, truly conducting oneself as “professional” musician. I will give some of my thoughts on the subject.

Just Like a Job

Acting professional is something that is normally expected by employers when we work a regular job. There are certain expectations your employer will have of you since they are paying you a salary. A truly professional person will expect many of those things from himself and generally does not have to be told, in most cases, what is expected of him. Some things just go without saying.

When you are a member of a band and you are playing out, certain things are expected of you by the other members of the band and the venue owners whose establishments you are playing at. What generally makes you a professional is dependent upon your ability to meet those various expectations and a true professional will expect those things from himself. So in a sense, being a “professional” musician is no different than being a professional on a regular job.

Punctuality

If you work a regular job, your employer generally expects you to show up every day and on time. This is not an unreasonable expectation on their part and tardiness is usually frowned upon. Some employers are a bit stricter regarding attendance and punctuality than others but the same may be true regarding certain venue owners and how it pertains to their live entertainment.

Let’s face it, if you are scheduled to be set up and ready to play by 9 o’clock and you aren’t ready to play until 10 o’clock, there could be a problem. Sure, it might not be the fault of everyone in the band if only the bass player is late but they can’t go on until he shows anyway. So that one unprofessional guy is screwing everything up for the rest of the band.

The same is true regarding rehearsals. If you have someone who is always late to the band practices, that is just as unprofessional as being late to a gig. You are expected to be at a certain place by a certain time and if you are not, you are being unreliable and reliability is an important part of being professional.

Courtesy

A true professional is generally courteous on the job. In a band situation, you need to get along with your band mates. Sometimes you have to put your differences aside in order to get along and get things done. Constant infighting brought about by the same person all of the time demonstrates a basic inability to get along with people. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good a musician is if he just can’t get along with people, including his band mates.

If you go to a venue to play and are rude to the staff or the customers, believe me, that can really come back to bite you on the you know what. That bartender or waitress you were just extremely rude to might just tell the venue owner about your rudeness and they generally don’t appreciate when you do that. You are the entertainment and there is nothing entertaining about you being a jerk.

One time, a while back, I was having a conversation with a venue owner and he mentioned a local band that had just played at his establishment and how he would never have them back. The one guitar player jumped up and stood up on one of the tables and did his guitar solo. The venue owner did not appreciate that and was quite angered by it since he had just opened up the place and much of the furnishings and everything were brand new. So he never allowed them to play there again.

Professional Quality Service

As a paid entertainer, you are basically providing a service. That service being performing in front of a group of people for a specified period of time with a specified starting time. Certain things are also expected of you in the area of conduct as well. Not meeting the various expectations basically means that you are providing poor quality service.

Think about it, if you call a plumber up to perform some kind of work on your leaky pipes, you expect certain things. You expect him to show up when he says he would. You expect him to know how to do the job and do the job right. And, yes, you expect him to be courteous. You don’t expect him to show up with a lousy attitude and you don’t expect him to be rude. Why? Because you expect a certain level of professionalism from him.

So if the service that you are providing is live entertainment, why should anyone expect you to be any less professional than that plumber you are paying to do his job?

Pride in Your Work

A true professional, regardless of his profession, takes pride in his work. He takes great satisfaction in the fact that he does a good job. If I show up at a venue and am ready to play on time, provide a good performance and I am courteous to the staff working at the establishment as well as to the audience, I am quite satisfied with myself. I am also happy when the venue owner is appreciative of my performance and my efforts.

There are countless professions out there. And some jobs may be considered menial jobs by some but even if you consider a certain job to be a menial one, you still expect certain things from the person performing that job function. And if that person has a good work ethic, he will take pride in his work. It doesn’t matter how menial a job may be considered by some, what really matters is if it is honest work. As far as I am concerned, there is no shame in honest work and a person should take enough pride in his work to make the effort of doing the job right.

So, as a musician, do you take pride in your work? Do you make the effort to provide a positive experience for your audience, band mates and venue owners whose establishments that you play at? Because doing a good job is something worth being proud of.

Learning Your Part

Being a musician that is out playing steady paid gigs requires that you know a lot of material. You have to have a somewhat extensive repertoire in order to be able to play a three or four hour show. This obviously means that everyone in the band must know their parts. A professionally minded musician will make sure he knows what he is expected or supposed to know.

Your audience expects you to know the songs you are attempting to play. The venue owner expects you to know the songs you are attempting to play and your band mates expect that as well. If you don’t know your parts, you have basically let them all down. And if you tell someone you have learned your parts and it turns out you didn’t, they remember that and let me tell you that people generally don’t appreciate being jerked around.

A Professional Is Committed

I have always believed that a person should not make a commitment unless he feels he will be able to meet the various obligations associated with that commitment. One example is marriage. If you don’t think you would be able to meet the various obligations associated with being married, you don’t get married. If you join the military, you have various obligations to meet like being prepared to be sent off somewhere to fight if necessary. If you are not willing to do that, then don’t join the military.

If you can’t meet the obligations associated with being in a band situation, then you should not make the commitment of joining a band. Responsible people honor their commitments. Honest people honor their commitments and people should not commit themselves to anything if they know that they can’t meet their obligations.

So let’s say that you made that commitment of joining a band. You need to meet your obligations. You need to be committed to your band mates. When they expect you to show up at gigs or rehearsals on time, you need to be there on time. That is part of meeting your obligations. When they expect you to know the songs, you need to make sure you know the songs. And if you told them that you learned the material, you need to be telling the truth. Committed people do what they are supposed to do. They meet their obligations. And if you can’t do that, don’t make the commitment.

Are You a True Professional?

So think about yourself and what the word professional means to you. Do you meet that standard? It’s good to take an occasional look at ourselves and assess where we stand in the overall scheme of things. Be honest with yourself. Then, if you determine that maybe you have not conducted yourself in a professional manner regarding your music, make the necessary changes. I’ve just laid out a few things for consideration in this article. I am sure that many of you out there that are reading this may think of a few things that I neglected to mention. So take a look at yourself and see where you stand.

© 2018 Bob Craypoe

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