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What constitutes "Professional?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by cschenk78, Mar 5, 2001.

  1. cschenk78


    Mar 12, 2000
    Watertown, NY
    What, in your opinion, makes one a professional musician?
  2. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Don't play = Don't eat :rolleyes:
  3. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Earnin' money or benefits by playing music.
  4. NJXT


    Jan 9, 2001
    Lyon, FRANCE
    There has been a loooooooong and controversial thread on alt.guitar.bass on the same subject.
    Hope it will not get as bad in here.

    IMHO, a professionnal musician is someone who makes a living by playing his instrument/music.
  5. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I'd like to add maybe someone who supplements their income by playing music. It's difficult in this day and age to completely make your living as a musician (don't I know.....) and lots of folks take home a fair amount of 'mad money' by gigging.

    Which is also not to say that there aren't a lot of 'professional quality' amateurs out there......
  6. NJXT


    Jan 9, 2001
    Lyon, FRANCE
    Hehe. That's exactly how it started on alt.guitar.bass.

    I agree.
    Still IMHO, beeing called a "professionnal" musician is not a indicator for your ability to play or your creativiy ...
    Like any other profession, some amateurs are very good, some professionnal are bad at what they are supposed to do, but they managed to make a living out of it ...
    Even if you make the best cooking in the world, a long as you don't get payed for that, you won't be called a professionnal chef.
    "Amateur" is a french word (which comes from Latin) that doesn't have (originaly) any pejorative meaning implied. Litteraly, it's "someone who love (doing) something"
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    IMO, it's about attitude.
    In other words, some of the most "unprofessional" musicians I know happen to be "professional" musicians. True, they're gigging non-stop while doin' OTHER peoples' Pop music...if that floats your boat, then go for it. Jamming with these "professionals" usually means doin' a cover song that THEY know(ask them to jam on a Funky Blues...you'll get blank stares); ask them to do a one of "their" cover songs in a different feel...nada!
    So, for me, "earning money from playing" isn't enough...
    ...on second thought, if "Don't play, don't eat" is the definition, let me say this-
    Some of the "best" musicians I know are "non-professional".

    I'm with ya, Pacman...it's especially tough to MAKE music down here in BumF***, Va. ;)

    ...I see NJXT has explained it far better(& in a more professional manner)than moi.
  8. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    Gotta go with the paying the rent thought. Being a pro doesn't really have anything to do with talent. We also tend to place certain behavioral qualities around "professional" - when we say someone acts like a pro, we imply that that's what they do for a living, and that their behavior suggests it. I've seen all sorts of distortions of this definition, but I think rickbass1 hit it right on the head.
  9. kinda like being a diva.. hehehehe
  10. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Diva means Goddess.

    Re the am/pro/semi-pro, does it matter?

    I play cos I love it, it someone wants to say thanks, buy me a pizza or pay me cash fine.

    The biggest advantage of being an amateur is that you can walk as soon as it becomes less than enjoyable, having a pro attitude means you will often have somewhere to walk to (this dont mean that being a prima donna is acceptable).
  11. cschenk78


    Mar 12, 2000
    Watertown, NY
    I am glad i got this ball rolling here...

    I wanted to get to really address te idea of professional level musicians here...(there are many great ones out there who don't make a living, i know several-personally)...but is it the money you make or the attitude you have or the level of compitence that makes one a professional?

    I personally think that it is a bit of all three...what do you guys think?
  12. Well, there's different areas to be addressed. In the session world, When someone needs a player, the professional musician is the one who gets the call. If you're phone never rings, youe probably not a pro.

    In the world of bands, I guess the folks with the major label contracts and radio play would be considered the professional musicians.

    With local working bands, a professional musician would be one who makes a living playing music.

    I tend to think of the first group when it comes to pros. You know, like when they have magazine columns like "Ask the Pros" or "What gear do the Pros Use?", I think of people who can PLAY and have a distinct presence in the recording or performing aspects of the music industry.
  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ditto that.

    That doesn't mean, of course, that if your phone ain't ringin', that you can't play. But with most folks I know, you're a pro if you make a significant portion of your income playing music, or if you play on that level to the point where you work regularly. I know plenty of "pros" by this definition who have a day job, still manage to make the gigs and play their *sses off (FUQHORN EDHORN comes to mind), and I have no less respect for them than for those who only play for a living. In these times, most folks have to supplement their income in one way or another. Most of the pros I know - even folks like Rufus and Lynn Seaton - supplement their playing income with teaching, or as in Lynn's case, vice versa.
  14. Well, teaching has always been a vital aspect of professionalism, as in the three original professions, doctor, lawyer, minister. I wouldn't call it a side job of any kind. You have an obligation to pass on what others have taught you and what you have discovered on your own, to make a contribution to the art, and those who feel this obligation and do something about it are displaying professionalism.

    Another aspect of professionalism is service. Your attitude is to get the job done no matter what personal sacrifice it involves. I mean personal, not family. You're not free to sacrifice your family. But you're free to sacrifice a few hours early in the morning before the house wakes up perfecting some skill you're deficient in so you can perform a tune properly instead of blowing it off or looking for a shortcut.

    Now, that's just service to music, what you do out of respect for the music. That's closely linked to service to others. The bass is maybe the most social of instruments. We provide services to others in the band, feed information about the form of the tune, you know, are we in the second or third verse and is the bridge coming and when, what chord changes are coming up, where the breaks are, and of course pitch and time information. And we serve the listener by making them feel good, whether it's chatting with them on break, or making their butts twitch because we never stop working on the groove, or comporting ourselves well on stage.

    There are lots of other aspects to professionalism, but this one, serving the listener, is worth dwelling on with a story I heard Kenny Rogers tell on TV. He said he once went to see an act specifically to hear a certain hit tune, and the singer didn't do it, and he went away feeling cheated. And he said he never forgot that, and he performed his hits in every show because these people came to hear them and he would never get tired of playing what they came to hear. That's pure professionalism as far as I'm concerned.

    We can always debate whether the definition of professional fits us by traits of the craft, like providing a vital community service, or mastery of a specialized body of knowledge to which the general populace is not privy that requires long training at a high level, or such things as unity of practitioners as demonstrated by such things as self-regulation of practitioner behavior through a code of conduct, etc. But this doesn't matter, really. It's enough to act professionally in our service to our fellow musicians and audience. Then it won't matter whether or not we're called professionals.
  15. rickbass1 said it.

    Some traits that keep the bills paid:
    1. Always prepared.
    2. On-time.
    3. Responsive to the customers needs.
    4. Prepared for emergencies.
    5. Consistency.

  16. Oh, before someone points out that the top amateurs possess these traits, I agree. But NOT to possess these habits is a sure way NOT to become a professional.

  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    The North American mind really doesn't get the idea of the dedicated and talented amateur. I mean why would any sane person spend all that time and effort to learn to do something that wasn't gonna make any money? A guy I met in a music store the other day (sadly it was the final day for Troy Music in N Van) was telling me that while touring Italy he noticed that every little town had an opera house and anyone who played well was called 'maestro' regardless of what they did to get money. This says a lot for the role of music in everyday life there. To those people the music is alive in a way that mere "product" never can be and the skilled amateur seems to be regarded as highly as the professional. This is as it should be. The charging money part has more to do with point 3) on amebassplaya's list than whether or not you're a good enough player to charge if you so chose.

    It's nice to hear someone talking about the idea of service. If more musicians paid attention to serving, among other things, the music they'd create better music. You'd also see a lot fewer pick vs fingers, scales vs chords, I Wanna Draw And Quarter My Drummer kinda threads.
  18. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    jeffbonny & kurosawa, I thank you for bringing this to our attention.
    Mastery and professionalism are indeed different things. A fact well known outside "the american way of life". Definitions of the words are somthing like this:

    Professionalism is about charging for doing things, amateurs do the same for other reasons.

    Masters do it tremendously well, payed or for free(!) - and passes his knowledge on.
  19. "Amateur" is a noble title. It used to mean someone who loved the art, really loved it. Frederick the Great was one of these (the first chapter of Hofstatdter's "Godel, Escher, Bach" goes into this in detail). He was a flutist and composer, whose works are sometimes still played. We would not call him a professional because he didn't get paid. He didn't even do Sweet 16s or Bar Mitzvahs free, not even an open mic night. But he loved music and the development of music--hi-tech stuff, too, in his time--loved music so much that he had up to 15 pianos built by Silbermann in corners of the castle. At this time, the nascent piano-forte was the killer keyboard because the harpsichord could be played only at one volume, but the piano-forte ("soft-loud") was capable of dynamic expression. Thank God we still have amateurs. I'm seeing lots of hard-working folks in here spending their paychecks on exotic basses, enabling folks like Roger Sadowsky and Sheldon Dingwall and the Wickershams advance the art of bass-building to heights Leo wouldn't have dreamed of. Pros alone couldn't bring this about, because they don't have the spending power. Or how about the advancement of teaching? Frederick the Great, hearing that "the old Bach" (J.S.) had pulled into town, got very excited and summoned him to the castle right away. He had Bach tour the castle with him to play the pianos--actually challenged him to compose and play a piece on the spot as they stopped by each of the pianos, and later, challenged him to improvise a fugue in six parts, which he did, flooring the audience. Frederick and his amateur friends were great enough to understand and appreciate the difficulty of what they'd witnessed, and later Bach sent him a challenging musical puzzle of incredible complexity, maybe in appreciation of his keen mind. But even though the puzzle remains for us to study, it was just between them, a great lesson that didn't get shared with many other musicians of the day. However, today's bass amateurs make it possible for today's masters to record teaching videotapes so the art can be spread further and new techniques can be made available to all faster. These amateurs love learning so much that they make possible things like BIT and Bass Day and several magazines and videotape series. And all those bass recordings, what bass player could have hoped to fund their creation on the returns from radio airplay and sales to the general public? It's the sacrifices of the amateurs that make these advancements of the art possible. They are the driving force in today's bass world. But many of them want to be called professionals, not thinking that many "professionals" might jump to do anything that paid better. Surely they don't want to be a "pro" like that!
  20. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I also think kurosawa's first post makes many excellent points. There is no shame in being an amateur at anything - it simply means that you love what you do enough to do it simply because it feeds your soul to do it....which I suppose makes me an amateur photographer, writer, and recording engineer, since I have never been paid to do those things but love to do them anyway. In addition, I think that teaching is also one of the most honorable professions, as you get to help others by imparting knowledge that may help them on their journey towards their own self-realization. I love to teach only slightly less than I love to play, and some of the most important people in my life have been teachers whose influence will still be felt long after they themselves are gone.

    But let's not start bashing professional musicians because they DO make money when they play, or assume that because they have to make some compromises in order to make a living that they are not being "creative" or "true to their art". While it's true that there are a number of extremely jaded professionals out there for whom all the joy of music making seems to have been swallowed by the "bottom line", as it were, most of the musicians I know who could be considered "professional" musicians (myself included) decided to get into the business because they wanted to dedicate their lives to the study/pursuit of the music, not the dollar. Like I said, when you do this you have to make a lot of compromises, play a lot of gigs that are not really what you would be doing in an ideal world, but then, this is only a natural part of the human condition....who DOESN'T have to do that? Only a very lucky few.

    I have been playing a "free" gig (or what amounts to it) every week for the past seven years simply because I want a chance to share some good music with no restrictions with the people who like jazz in this town, and many of my "professional" peers do the same all the time. We consider that a form of service and do it because it's the right thing for us to do, and yet many of us often also find ourselves in situations which could be percieved as producing a musical "product" in order to pay the bills. Like everything else, it's a question of balance, and it is wise not to be too quick to judge someone someone whose "product" you don't care for when you may not be aware of the other things that same person does as a creative outlet, or in the name of "service". It's good to remember that all of us - professional and amateur musicians alike - are all striving to do the best we can and to balance what we really love to do with what pays the bills.

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