How to know if you are a professional musician

The sign of the amateur is overglorification of and preoccupation with the mystery. The professional shuts up. She doesn’t talk about it. She does her work. – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I was asked, “How do you know when you are a professional musician?”

Is it verified by our passion for music?

The professional doesn't wait for the audience. He shows up regardless. A music degree?

Knowing chords or scales?

Because we are paid to perform?

Many people love music and love to play it. But love of a craft doesn’t make you a professional. The amateur loves the craft too, but love doesn’t motivate them to sacrifice for the art.

Professionals earn money because they have invested time and resources to achieve their goals. But making money doesn’t equal professionalism either. If it did, doctors would display paychecks, not diplomas.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (‭Matthew‬ ‭7‬:‭20‬ NIV)

My wife is an excellent cook. She doesn’t get paid for it. However, those that sample her dishes tell her she should go into catering.  She doesn’t consider her work professional quality. Evidently others do.

She rarely sits to enjoy her own creations. She loves the process more than the product. She studies though there is no test.  The next recipe is the goal.

Likewise, the professional musician is never satisfied. While the amateur stops to admire their work and seeks the approval of friends, the professional musician has moved on to the next challenge.

So to the question, “How do I know I’m a professional musician?” I say;

  1. The quality of your music demands professional respect,
  2. You love the process of making music more than the results, and
  3. You refuse to settle for yesterday’s accomplishments.

If you are a professional musician, you won’t have to say so. Your music will do that for you.

Share this post with other musicians and discuss what qualities a professional musician should have. #GodandGigs

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9 thoughts on “How to know if you are a professional musician

  1. As professionals we need to respect and admire our peers, our idols and even those who seem to have had better luck than we’ve had. But compulsive blather about successful people in the industry hurts one’s credibility, I think.

    • Thanks for your thoughts! I’m trying to figure out what you meant by ‘blather’. Do you mean talking negatively about successful people, or do you mean the practice of ‘name dropping’ in order to build up your own reputation?

  2. Well said! Great post Allen; Your professionalism manifests itself in the way you work too. Onward and Upward!

    • That makes sense. “Hero worship” could include trying to convince others of your status by naming the legends you admire. There’s nothing wrong with following legends that inspire you to become better. But I’ve seen where musicians try to pass off having adequate musical experience by naming lots of people they listened to. Unfortunately their skills didn’t match up with the words.

  3. The dictionary says differently: your “profession” is what you get paid to do. The bored trumpeter droning through yet another wedding gig so he can pay the rent is a professional, like it or not. (I don’t, but that’s the definition.)

    And the guy staying up late nights to scratch out an original symphony, applying perspiration to inspiration, is an “amateur,” but in the best sense: from “amor,” an amateur loves what he’s doing. That’s where the craftsmanship and beauty you’re talking about comes from, I think, and the artist who works under these conditions would continue to do it whether he got paid or not. Certainly it would be preferable if he got paid, just so he could afford to spend more time at his desk and/or the piano and create more beauty!

    • Thanks for your thoughts Michael. I fully understand the lexical definition of being paid as a qualification of being a professional. You hit on the key aspect of skill and passion being connected. It’s one thing to have the label of a professional – it’s another to be what a professional ‘should be’. The drive to create despite the rewards is what starts to separate those that only do the work, from those that do the work and live the the life – those that combine the love of the art with the discipline to create day in and day out. Thanks for reading!