What Is A Professional Musician

Mcjnic

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There have been a few threads over the past ten or so years that seem to be dancing around this question.
So, why not just ask it directly.

What is a Professional Musician?

Obviously, we have the Employment Service and the Musicians Union and such to fall back on.
But even those don't agree 100% on the definition.

When you ask a bunch of drummers here ... I've seen the answers vary quite a bit.

I'll kick off the discussion with this point. Ya'll can take it any direction (within the constraints of this forum) you feel.

There appears to be a strange belief that you cannot work at a full time career in a different field and still be called a professional musician ... if you do, you are a hobbyist and not a professional musician.

This one is blatantly incorrect from where I sit.

I'll use a friend as an example. This guy is pretty much the picture on the page of why you can have more than one "professional" title attached to your name ... including "musician".


Greg Flesch - longtime guitarist for Daniel Amos ... arguably one of the most important Christian rock bands to ever put a needle to the groove. Legendary.

Greg recorded more than a few albums with DA and others ... he's been DA's guitarist since 1984 ... the last recording they released was 2013, with still more to come. No idea how many tours he's done over what would be almost 40 years ... let's just leave it at a bunch.
He's toured the world and played to hundreds of thousands of people through those years. A handful of his recordings are considered some of the most important in the Christian Rock genre.
He's in countless history books on the subject.

He easily fits the definition of Professional Musician for most all air breathers.

However ...
Greg's day job is with NASA. Yes, that NASA. He's been with NASA for more years than I can recall.
So, does he lead off only with NASA? ... or can he consider himself a professional musician when conversing with other musicians?

According to some here, he's not a professional musician because he has a full time day job and doesn't spend every week playing and gigging and recording with his band.

My goal here is to civilly discuss the idea of what it is to be considered a "Professional Musician".
I believe it's a positive thing - trying to point out that things are not always one way or the other.
There are many professional musicians that do not fit into those tidy little boxes we try to create.

Many musicians have very deep and satisfying lives that crisscross the roads of categorization.
We can all produce examples of this.
So, if it fits "YOU" ... then put it down here.

Enjoy the discussion ... and keep it civil. We're all drummers.
 

ChicagoDave

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Traditionally, the term "professional" applies to someone who earns money (makes a living?) from a trade. In this case, playing a musical instrument.

However, I've found that having the necessary skills, right attitude, and work ethic are required in order to have the reputation that is implied when referring to one's self as "professional".

It would seem that one could have the right chops, good attitude, and serious work ethic without earning a living from the trade, but still be considered a professional.

It's an interesting discussion. That being said, I am nowhere near professional. Just an enthusiast.
 

kdgrissom

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Strictly speaking (according to the dictionary), it is:
1) Relating to or belonging to a Profession.
2) Engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

So, it's going to mean different things to different people in different musical genres.

To me, it also means showing up on time, knowing your part before the rehearsal starts, wearing the correct (clean, fitting. not ratty) clothes/uniform, and presenting a "lets make this happen" attitude.
 

pwc1141

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There are two parts to this.....

1) Earning money from playing by definition makes you a professional.
2) Acting "professionally" when you are doing that is something else.

For the first part, that can apply just to when you are on that gig or whether you do it for a living.
For the second part, I think we all know what it calls for.
 

CAMDRUMS

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It’s an interesting topic. I have a day job as a manager in a government agency. I am also a sideman in a band where I get paid for rehearsals, recording sessions, and live shows. Some of the people I play with completely support themselves as musicians while others have day jobs. I also play in a band with friends that occasionally does paid gigs but is mostly for fun. I refer to myself as a semi-professional musician when asked, because I am often getting paid to perform music, take my role seriously, and act professionally. But it is not my sole source of income (and in reality is a small percentage of my income).
 

ARGuy

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Being a professional musician is as much about attitude as about whether you get paid.
By attitude, I mean things like you show up for whatever it is you're doing on time and prepared. If you're part of a group you put the needs of the group and whoever is paying the bills above your own. That doesn't mean you let the leader and whoever hired the group walk all over you, but it does mean that you approach any disagreements in a professional manner.
If you are a professional, gigs and rehearsals are not for partying. You're there to do a job.
 

dyland

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It's a label, first and foremost. And one that I'd argue is not very effective, as evidenced by the subject of this thread.

Simply put, a profession is a paid occupation, so the guy doing $50 bar gigs is engaged in a professional endeavor. There's a difference between that and a garage band, there's a difference between that and somebody who's on the road 200 days a year, and there's a difference between all of those and the full time teacher who does GB gigs or original music on the weekends.

Then there's the ism. Professionalism is the set of attitudes and behaviors associated with high caliber craftsmanship. This can be anything from preparedness, timeliness, flexibility, and just being a good hang. In my opinion conducting yourself at this level is what will make it enjoyable for others to play with you, whether there's bread on the line or not.
 

dcrigger

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There are two parts to this.....

1) Earning money from playing by definition makes you a professional.
2) Acting "professionally" when you are doing that is something else.

For the first part, that can apply just to when you are on that gig or whether you do it for a living.
For the second part, I think we all know what it calls for.
Agree with both of those - but would add...

3) Being capable of competently accomplishing the task you are being hired for.
 

JDA

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There appears to be a strange belief that you cannot work at a full time career in a different field and still be called a professional musician ... if you do, you are a hobbyist and not a professional musician.
the distinction there is... do you advance do you broaden your skill set. If you are 71 years old (for example) and still can only play the same 'set' your band played when you were '17'. I call that a
"Professional amateur"

He/ she never "advanced"..
there was no ' evolution'.
never 'broadened the horizon
a professional thru 'practice (in the a Doctor or a Lawyer 'practices' sense)
accumulates knowledge and skill etc

If not, if none of that, occurs
I call it a professional amateur.
irregardless of how locally often that one performs.
 
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dcrigger

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It's a label, first and foremost. And one that I'd argue is not very effective, as evidenced by the subject of this thread.

Simply put, a profession is a paid occupation, so the guy doing $50 bar gigs is engaged in a professional endeavor. There's a difference between that and a garage band, there's a difference between that and somebody who's on the road 200 days a year, and there's a difference between all of those and the full time teacher who does GB gigs or original music on the weekends.

Then there's the ism. Professionalism is the set of attitudes and behaviors associated with high caliber craftsmanship. This can be anything from preparedness, timeliness, flexibility, and just being a good hang. In my opinion conducting yourself at this level is what will make it enjoyable for others to play with you, whether there's bread on the line or not.
Yes - separating being a professional from acting professionally makes things clearer. And probably more accurate, in that I've know many a well paid professional musicians that often behaved far less than professionally.

At the end of the day, it is a label that IMO means little because it is not fixed - is it a bare minimum... you get paid $50, you're a professional? That's absolutely true and probably the most agreed upon base line definition... which just doesn't amount to saying very much.

I think when it comes to getting hired, the questions become more specific to what the people hiring really care about... again, confidence in the person's ability to successfully do the gig... coupled with a sense of reliability - and for longer term associations, does the person seem like someone you'll want to have around day in and day out.

It all depends on the gig.
 

Cauldronics

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This is a good topic. There are many ways to define a professional musician and it's probably not limited to being a musician.

I'm fine with a pro musician meaning literally "one who gets paid for playing an instrument." Not doing it 24/7 doesn't make it "less pro" when it is done. It depends on the level of professionalism that person brings to their craft. If we take the "-ism" part into consideration, it's more about how well-prepared and how well-performed the job at hand is done.

Plenty of drummers who don't gig and record full time are more than up to the task. An adequate skill level would be needed to pull off the gig. It could be a 20 year old kid who's never recorded in a studio before, but brings something to a band that they can't find with another drummer. Even if the kid's skill level is far below what many of us would think of as a pro drummer, if he's playing the gig for what he brings to it, he can be called a professional. That term might not last beyond the recording date, but he was pro (paid for his creativity and talent) when he did it.
 
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Whitten

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Yes, several good posts already.
This discussion seems to crop up regularly.

My personal definition is simple and basic. If your main income is derived from making music, you are a professional.
That's it.

If you earn money a few days a month, while making most of your income from plumbing, or real estate etc - you are not a professional musician.

As to the usual follow on debate.

Yes, there are many thousands of musicians who are NOT professional but may perform better than professionals, maybe highly skilled, important and innovative. It may be for whatever reason they don't want to make music their career.

If you can barely play, are lazy, difficult to deal with and a plagiarist, BUT all your income is derived from playing music, you are STILL a professional musician.
 

Ghostin one

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The way I learned it, professions require a degree and / or certification of some kind. Law, medicine, engineering, education, etc.

Teaching school band is a profession, playing in a bar is a trade. Just my opinion.
 

Houndog

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There have been a few threads over the past ten or so years that seem to be dancing around this question.
So, why not just ask it directly.

What is a Professional Musician?

Obviously, we have the Employment Service and the Musicians Union and such to fall back on.
But even those don't agree 100% on the definition.

When you ask a bunch of drummers here ... I've seen the answers vary quite a bit.

I'll kick off the discussion with this point. Ya'll can take it any direction (within the constraints of this forum) you feel.

There appears to be a strange belief that you cannot work at a full time career in a different field and still be called a professional musician ... if you do, you are a hobbyist and not a professional musician.

This one is blatantly incorrect from where I sit.

I'll use a friend as an example. This guy is pretty much the picture on the page of why you can have more than one "professional" title attached to your name ... including "musician".


Greg Flesch - longtime guitarist for Daniel Amos ... arguably one of the most important Christian rock bands to ever put a needle to the groove. Legendary.

Greg recorded more than a few albums with DA and others ... he's been DA's guitarist since 1984 ... the last recording they released was 2013, with still more to come. No idea how many tours he's done over what would be almost 40 years ... let's just leave it at a bunch.
He's toured the world and played to hundreds of thousands of people through those years. A handful of his recordings are considered some of the most important in the Christian Rock genre.
He's in countless history books on the subject.

He easily fits the definition of Professional Musician for most all air breathers.

However ...
Greg's day job is with NASA. Yes, that NASA. He's been with NASA for more years than I can recall.
So, does he lead off only with NASA? ... or can he consider himself a professional musician when conversing with other musicians?

According to some here, he's not a professional musician because he has a full time day job and doesn't spend every week playing and gigging and recording with his band.

My goal here is to civilly discuss the idea of what it is to be considered a "Professional Musician".
I believe it's a positive thing - trying to point out that things are not always one way or the other.
There are many professional musicians that do not fit into those tidy little boxes we try to create.

Many musicians have very deep and satisfying lives that crisscross the roads of categorization.
We can all produce examples of this.
So, if it fits "YOU" ... then put it down here.

Enjoy the discussion ... and keep it civil. We're all drummers.
Your friend is exceptional and fortunate he has a job that lets him go on tour .
I would have no issue considering him a professional musician.

He is surely an exception to the rule though .
 

Whitten

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The way I learned it, professions require a degree and / or certification of some kind. Law, medicine, engineering, education, etc.
That discounts 90% of all the greatest musicians of all time - The Beatles and Rolling Stones for starters.
Please don't tell me Keith Richards and Paul McCartney are trades people.
 


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