How to know if you are a professional musician

An encore post on what separates professional artists from amateurs

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 (Allen) was asked, “How do you know when you are a professional musician?”

Is it verified by our passion for music?

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, friends in the culinary industry 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 if 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 truly a professional musician, you won’t have to say so. Your music, and the professionals around you, will verify your status.

Share this post with other musicians and answer this question – What qualities make you a true professional?

(This post was originally published in May 2015 under the same title. This version is minimally edited from the original. )

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