What Is A Professional Musician

Matched Gripper

DFO Veteran
Joined
May 28, 2019
Messages
1,909
Reaction score
1,634
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.
Not sure what he’s doing musically now-a-days, but, I think I would still consider Jeff “The Skunk” Baxter a professional musician. Bobby Colomby? I think so too!
 

Ghostin one

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 1, 2019
Messages
207
Reaction score
149
Location
Eastern PA
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.
You skipped the part where I said "playing in bars is a trade". I don't think those guys play bars very often.
 

Houndog

DFO Master
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
3,778
Reaction score
3,354
Location
Oklahoma City
You skipped the part where I said "playing in bars is a trade". I don't think those guys play bars very often.
To me a trade is something you go to school for and involves building and or repairing stuff .
Accompanied by a certificate of completion.
 

Jazzhead

Very well Known Member
Joined
May 30, 2015
Messages
1,245
Reaction score
544
Location
Los Angeles, CA
I think a professional musician as the title suggests is someone who is a musician by profession, especially if that person studied music theory and all that good stuff. Now, you can have multiple professions but I don’t think just playing drums, jamming with people, or having a band makes you a professional musician even if your chops are pro level. Professional musicians are heavily involved in the industry and are known among their peers.

All these comments about “you get paid, you are a pro musician” makes me go whaaaaat!
 
Last edited:

Vistalite Black

Ludwigs in the Basement
Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Feb 17, 2015
Messages
4,404
Reaction score
2,406
Location
North Carolina
It's almost a philosophical question ... a lot like how many days in a row do you have to wear a cowboy hat before people start calling you 'Cowboy?'

Most don't have a cowboy degree/certification, but if they're willing to climb on a mean bull, that's good enough for me.
 

Squirrel Man

Very well Known Member
Gold Supporting Member
Joined
Aug 28, 2020
Messages
1,301
Reaction score
1,536
My humble, honest and generally 99.7% of the time correct opinion is - someone who plays at a professional level.

That's it, so like a football player, competitive bass fisherman, golfer, doctor or whatever.

The profession dictates your qualification as a professional, if you're not you won't last long in that league.
 

Tornado

DFO Master
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2017
Messages
3,146
Reaction score
3,337
Location
Dallas
It's almost a philosophical question ... a lot like how many days in a row do you have to wear a cowboy hat before people start calling you 'Cowboy?'

Most don't have a cowboy degree/certification, but if they're willing to climb on a mean bull, that's good enough for me.
Oh man, the "who's a real cowboy" question is probably the worst gatekeeping out there.

I was thinking about different professions/hobbies/interests, wondering if anyone else talks about this. Like, if you don't make the PGA tour, are you not a real golfer, and does anyone care? And does Phil Mickelson think a recreational golfer hasn't earned the right to play with the most expensive clubs? Does the part time woodworker who sells his crafts fret over not being seen as a full time professional? But yeah, cowboy. Don't go calling yourself that around the wrong people. Sheesh.
 

mebeatee

Very well Known Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2012
Messages
921
Reaction score
667
Location
Sechelt(ish), B.C. Canada
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.
These are just terms, open to different meanings. There are, it seems, the "professional" occupations....law, medicine etc. Then there are the "trades"... plumbing, carpentry, etc. Some of these occupations have certificates as well, and folks are paid to do their job.....professionals. Having said that do they do a professional job...lol.
Many times "playing in a bar" or whatever will be way more professionally educational to an aspiring professional musician than a certificate. I always think it funny when folks get a "music performance" degree without doing any real world gigs.
I have much personal experience working with school band teachers who can't play music. Yes they can show all the right notes et al the chart tells them to play, but some can't play, or even create music. This worked out great for me as a private instructor as I would get called into the schools to teach real world scenarios, and provide instruction from a professional drummer's viewpoint....not a band teacher whose primary instrument is flute and is expected to "teach" drumming. And yes I have also instructed some band teachers...two in particular are some of the worst "professional musicians" I have ever encountered btw.
Am I certified? No, not on paper....except for my tax returns and passport. Seeing as I have solely made my living from playing music for more than 40 yrs. should qualify me.
I shudder at the thought of, as already mentioned, the Beatles or the Stones having to be "certified".

You skipped the part where I said "playing in bars is a trade". I don't think those guys play bars very often.
Where did they get their start then? I'm sure if they could they would love to play in a bar and quite often, and would love the "trade" off.
bt
 

A.TomicMorganic

Very well Known Member
Joined
Dec 8, 2018
Messages
579
Reaction score
632
My take on this is "If you are a professional musician, it means that most, if not all your income is a result of you playing music.
 

toddbishop

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 5, 2020
Messages
251
Reaction score
363
A person with professional training, who is a member of a community of professionals, who is in business, and meets professional standards as a performer, and professional standards of conduct and ethics.

It has little to do with how much money you make, or how much success. You can be a total failure in business and still be a professional. It does imply a level of commitment, like it has to be your main pursuit, and you have to be in it to get paid.
 
Last edited:

Mcjnic

DFO Master
Double Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Dec 28, 2010
Messages
3,683
Reaction score
2,500
Man, there are some incredible points being made.
I had a feeling this one was ripe for discussing.

One wrinkle I would like to add to all this ...
So, if we take one point made by several members here ...
You are a professional musician if the majority of your income is derived from that.
I would bring to the table many professional musicians that make quite a bit of money in other ventures outside of music. Wineries, Software, Real Estate, etc.

An example ... Musician A has a very successful career drumming for a very successful Band A ... who records and tours regularly.
He is also wise with his fiscal protections and is always seeking out good private investments. So, he becomes a private investor in the extremely successful Digital Media Business C, which nets him a six digit figure salary every quarter. NOT at all unheard of for those that are familiar with private investment returns. And believe it or not ... this is more common than one would imagine.

So, by the definition in question ... he/she would not be a Professional Musician due to the salary discrepancy ... even though said musician is a very successful drummer in a very successful actively recording/touring band. His Investments net him considerably more than his music.

Maybe ... just maybe ... it's not so black and white?

Keep discussing ... there are some incredibly insightful thoughts on the subject.
 

Tornado

DFO Master
Silver Supporting Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2017
Messages
3,146
Reaction score
3,337
Location
Dallas
Man, there are some incredible points being made.
I had a feeling this one was ripe for discussing.

One wrinkle I would like to add to all this ...
So, if we take one point made by several members here ...
You are a professional musician if the majority of your income is derived from that.
I would bring to the table many professional musicians that make quite a bit of money in other ventures outside of music. Wineries, Software, Real Estate, etc.

An example ... Musician A has a very successful career drumming for a very successful Band A ... who records and tours regularly.
He is also wise with his fiscal protections and is always seeking out good private investments. So, he becomes a private investor in the extremely successful Digital Media Business C, which nets him a six digit figure salary every quarter. NOT at all unheard of for those that are familiar with private investment returns. And believe it or not ... this is more common than one would imagine.

So, by the definition in question ... he/she would not be a Professional Musician due to the salary discrepancy ... even though said musician is a very successful drummer in a very successful actively recording/touring band. His Investments net him considerably more than his music.

Maybe ... just maybe ... it's not so black and white?

Keep discussing ... there are some incredibly insightful thoughts on the subject.
What about, "I know it when I see it?" If it's good enough for the Supreme Court, it's good enough for me.
 

Vistalite Black

Ludwigs in the Basement
Platinum Supporting Member
Joined
Feb 17, 2015
Messages
4,404
Reaction score
2,406
Location
North Carolina
Man, there are some incredible points being made.
I had a feeling this one was ripe for discussing.

One wrinkle I would like to add to all this ...
So, if we take one point made by several members here ...
You are a professional musician if the majority of your income is derived from that.
I would bring to the table many professional musicians that make quite a bit of money in other ventures outside of music. Wineries, Software, Real Estate, etc.

An example ... Musician A has a very successful career drumming for a very successful Band A ... who records and tours regularly.
He is also wise with his fiscal protections and is always seeking out good private investments. So, he becomes a private investor in the extremely successful Digital Media Business C, which nets him a six digit figure salary every quarter. NOT at all unheard of for those that are familiar with private investment returns. And believe it or not ... this is more common than one would imagine.

So, by the definition in question ... he/she would not be a Professional Musician due to the salary discrepancy ... even though said musician is a very successful drummer in a very successful actively recording/touring band. His Investments net him considerably more than his music.

Maybe ... just maybe ... it's not so black and white?

Keep discussing ... there are some incredibly insightful thoughts on the subject.
If a doctor made real estate (or other investments) successfully enough to generate more income than his medical practice, you'd still call him doctor. If he wore a cowboy hat 24/7, most would call him that Cowboy Doctor.
 

Vicey

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2016
Messages
154
Reaction score
205
Location
FL
I think of it this way: if someone asks me whether I'm "a pro," I make it clear that I get paid for playing, but that music is not and never has been my primary source of income. To suggest otherwise would be to misrepresent myself. Claiming to be "a professional" in response to this question would in my case be dishonest. But I do take a professional attitude toward my playing and to my relationships with bandmates. This can cut both ways: I am respectful of my bandmates' time and abilities. I want what is best for the band as a whole. But it also means that I have little tolerance for what strikes me as an adolescent attitude that in order to function as a band, all members must socialize together regularly, be best friends, and/or conceive of themselves as a band of brothers united for a cause ("we few, we happy few"). There are quite a few middle-aged musicians with adolescent fantasies, and I find them unprofessional in the sense that has little to do with money (yet these attitudes can also prevent you from making money).
 

premierplayer

DFO Veteran
Joined
Mar 10, 2006
Messages
2,355
Reaction score
378
Location
Southern Maryland, USA
When I was 15 - 16 years old and getting paid for Teen Club, CYO, K of C, Church and school gigs, it WAS my prime source of income, I WAS NOT a professional musician. I/We played at a compentent level, as we all had some degree of professional training, we were a Band, a Garage Band, that was good enough to work regularly. At that time I would have told you the bands with the recording and touring contracts were Professional Musicians.
Now days the scope of being a professional musician has broadened. Playing at a profesional level and being in demand to accompany touring and recording pros I believe makes you a professional musician even if you are a child care provider by day.
I know guys that give guitar lessons at the local shops, that record and tour National/International groups, they get the call because they've got the chops. They're professionals to me.
 
Last edited:


Top