Expectations Of A Professional Musician

Professionalism is perhaps the most important thing you can do as a musician. And the good news about it is: these changes can be made instantly. You can make yourself a more professional, and by extension, a better, musician today.

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Over my admittedly young career in music, I've played with a plethora of musicians in a plethora of different settings. I've sat in with symphony orchestras, played in community and school bands, sat behind the skins of jazz ensembles and combos, and played in a bunch of small ensembles, from brass quintets to rock bands. From all of these experiments, I've noticed that a lot of musicians are the least professional people I've ever met. But you don't have to be that way. Being professional is the best way to assure that you'll get hired, and continue to get hired, as well as creating habits to make you a better player, and a person that your fellow musicians continue to want to associate themselves with. So lets get started.

The Professional Musician is Never Late

This is a big deal, and one that is misunderstood. To be on time, you actually have to be early. Being on time means that you are completely warmed up, tuned up, hooked up, miced up, whatever it is you do, when you want rehearsal or your show to start. If you show up for a 6 pm rehearsal at 6 pm, you're late. Because you will not be ready to play until 6:01, at the earliest, and at that point you will have lost a minute of rehearsal time, time you could have spent making your ensemble better. And if I were organizing a show, and I gave your band an 8pm slot, and you walked into my establishment at 8 o'clock, I'd not-so-politely ask you to leave. I have no time for your tardiness to upset the schedule I created. The reasons not to be late go on and on. If you're late, you let your band down, because they can't start without you, or if they do, their sound will be severely compromised without you. You need to take responsibility for your presence at rehearsal/performance, and be reliable. Nobody wants to work with a musician that doesn't show up for things.

The Professional Musician is Always Prepared

There are two facets to this. The first is that you bring everything you need to rehearsal/performance. This menas all instruments, effects, amps, cables, mics, tabs, picks, straps, etc. etc. etc. I can not tell you the amount of times I've showed up to a rehearsal only to have someone say "Okay, I only have about half the sheet music, and no part for (insert musician here) so he'll have to read off whoever's part and..." its annoying, its obnoxious, and most importantly, its ineffective and inefficient. There's no way you can accomplish as much as you would have usually if the drummer doesn't have his sticks, or if the guitarist is hooked into a hi-fi because he forgot his amp. If you're playing a show, you need to first check to see what will be provided for you when you get there, and then have a backup plan in case there was an error in communication. You need to foresee any issues that could possibly arrive. Could your amp short out? Could your cable fray or rip or whatever it is cables do? The less room for error there is, the more chances that your performance will be a smooth one.

The second facet is that you come prepared to play your part at rehearsal. That means practice. The rule of thumb is that you need to be able to play your part by the second rehearsal. If you rehearse Monday Wednesday Friday, and you get new music on Monday, that means you need to be able to play it by Wednesday. No excuses. If you don't have to spend the time in rehearsal working out parts because somebody didn't do their job, then you can spend that time working out dynamics, or musical nuances, or whatever you want to make that song really pop. If you're improvising a solo, you need to KNOW the changes. There's no reason why the rhythm guy should be calling out chord names to you as you play. You don't need to work out exactly what you're gonna play, because its improvisation and writing something beforehand kind of defeats the purpose, but not knowing what you're soloing over is called a lack of preparation on your part. The more you do it, the less fun you are to play with, and the more problems you'll have finding a band/gig.

The Professional Musician Uses Discretion

"Dude you suck, what were you thinking?" I have heard that during a rehearsal more than once, and it is just the worst way to go about anything. I don't care if it really did suck, telling a band mate or a fellow musician that is just cause for resentment and fighting. I have three problems with the above statement, and I'll tell you exactly what they are. Number one is that it was antagonistic. It was a personal attack on the musician, and is bound to be taken personally. Number two is that it offered no specifics as to what was unacceptable. "You suck" doesn't tell me if I missed notes, was flat/sharp, was not in dynamic balance with the ensemble, was out of rhythm, wasn't clean, or whatever. There's so many possibilities for things I could have done wrong, and "you suck" isn't any of them. And finally, "you suck" does nothing to help me fix my problem. Again, if I was flat, tell me on which notes and I'll fix it. If I missed a note, tell me which one, or ballpark it, and I'll fix it. If I was out of time, give me a hand with helping me get back in time. Playing with a non-conductor-led ensemble is much different than playing with a conductor. In that situation, the conductor addresses the problems with the performance, and you really get kind of a dictatorship. When you all play together, you're in a democracy, and you have to keep the peace and learn how to work together. Everyone gets to make suggestions, and you respectfully and quickly resolve conflicts or differences of opinions. You have to realize that you won't get your way every time, but you have a right to have your opinion heard. So again, be courteous, don't attack any of your fellow musicians, and always make your rehearsals enjoyable.

The Professional Musician is an Ambassador of Music

This one is a pet peeve of mine. Any time you perform in public, the people who watch you form an opinion about musicians. So do what you do on stage, but don't ever act like you're better than anybody in the audience, like any show is "beneath your standards," or whatever. Be courteous to the people who booked you, to anybody who is nice enough to set up your equipment, ESPECIALLY if they aren't being payed, fans who want to talk to you, engineers in the recording studio, and fellow musicians. You never know who you're talking to. The person who booked you is an invaluable contact if you ever need a gig again, plus he might reccomend you to other people. Somebody else in the audience might know somebody who needs a band, or, if you have albums out, will want to buy your album. But, if you act like a bunch of idiots, he/she might not. The engineers in the recording studio are working pretty hard to make your project sound awesome. Don't disrespect them. And your fellow musicians (along with most recording engineers) and you share a bond. You create music, and therefore, you're in the same game. The music business is tough. Don't make it any harder on yourself.

The Professional Musician is Musically Educated

I'm not saying you need a college degree. But, if you want to intelligently and coherently create and discuss music, you should be educated in the subject. So learn some music theory, and always be listening to as much music as you can get your hands on, from all genres. Notice, ALL genres. That means Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, Wagner, yeah, all those guys. And don't forget about Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Monk. There is a LOT of music out there, and listening never hurt. It often expands your "tool box" and gives you a bunch of new ideas to try.

The Professional Musician Realizes that His/Her Job is No Excuse for a "Rock n' Roll Lifestyle"

Look, I get it. We love partying. But don't be an idiot. Don't trash hotel rooms, don't show up high or drunk to rehearsal or shows. If you want to party, that's awesome, but mess up your own stuff. Don't ever do it in public, because remember, you are an ambassador to music. Like I said, don't be an idiot.

Like I said before, professionalism is severely lacking in a lot of musicians nowadays. Don't be that way. Take care of business, and do it in a professional manner. Just like you have to dress for who you want to be, you have to act that way as well. You wanna be a professional musician? Well, act like it. It certainly can't hurt, and it'll almost certainly help.

Good luck, and have fun! -John

70 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Zakattak264
    Ok to everyone giving this guy shit for his article: 1) A professional musician is anyone who plays an instrument for money and to entertain. this means (of course)Guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. It also includes brass, woodwind, strings such as piano and violin, and all things that are produced to make music, so this isn't just for rockstars. its for all musicians. 2)when people are trying to give advice, just take it and use it to your whim. Dont be a dick 3)When poeple are pointing out genres such as jazz, classical, and blues; they are just pointing out the origins of music theory and music as well. I play mostly metal, but when i am practicing, i just sit down and go over my major and minors, modes, blues, and just all kinds of scales b/c you never know when someone could be like "hey man, i heard you were a good (instrument here), would you mind playing with my band for a grand on saturday?" and and you go to a resersal and they bust out some very bluesy rock and you dont know it b/c you say "oh, blues is dead, so **** it.(i've heard that ALOT)" you just missed out on a gig and a grand. 4)IT IS BETTER TO BE OVERPREPARED AND DON'T NEED IT THAN TO BE UNDERPREPARED AND NEED IT!!!!!
    TheWannabe
    I agree with you on the
    Always prepared
    and
    Never Late
    front but the
    The Professional Musician Realizes that His/Her Job is No Excuse for a "Rock n' Roll Lifestyle"
    part I disagree with, fans love this Lifestyle, as long as they aint doing anything to mess up the gigs and practices I dont see why they cant act the way they want to and
    remember, you are an ambassador to music.
    There aint any lines between musicians and the avarage man, if one musician acts like a douche there's no reason why people should think that the 'world of music' is bad.
    Martindecorum
    TheGreifer wrote: decayingdave wrote: You are an ignorant stupid wreck of a person for writing such total and utter bollocks. This article is reminiscent of a 50's ''how to treat your husband right'' article - in other words, your saying to young musicians that you should simply bend over the table in the vaguest hope of getting ahead? Shit... how dumbasses like yoursle f still exist, I don't know - but let me say this - I'd rather cut off my own balls, fry them in peanut oil and feed them to my pet cat than I would take advice from such a buttoned down dickhead like yourself. If you're so concerned about how other people think of you, then keep your in-securities to yourself - DON'T throw them at the general public and just call yourself a ''professional''. There is a confusingly large amount of unnecessary anger in this post. Good article.
    yeah i dont think he is very professional at all and also i think he missed the point of a "professional musician" which is basically "work"
    kerno1
    hahaha thats good hes like a father figure to the ug community
    twat
    Something I've always requested from the authors of articles that say "listen to classical and jazz" is to give a reason why. Yes, put we all know we should sit in a room playing Take the A Train and Ode to Joy to make us "better musicians", but no one ever says why.
    To learn about new styles of music and the types of chord progressions, timings etc. used in them, so aspects of it into your own music. The more about different genres of music you know, and they are all very different, the more interesting and diverse you can make your own music. Also knowing about these things will make you seem knowledgable and is good for getting some respect from other musicians.
    TheGreifer
    decayingdave wrote: You are an ignorant stupid wreck of a person for writing such total and utter bollocks. This article is reminiscent of a 50's ''how to treat your husband right'' article - in other words, your saying to young musicians that you should simply bend over the table in the vaguest hope of getting ahead? Shit... how dumbasses like yoursle f still exist, I don't know - but let me say this - I'd rather cut off my own balls, fry them in peanut oil and feed them to my pet cat than I would take advice from such a buttoned down dickhead like yourself. If you're so concerned about how other people think of you, then keep your in-securities to yourself - DON'T throw them at the general public and just call yourself a ''professional''.
    There is a confusingly large amount of unnecessary anger in this post. Good article.
    decayingdave
    You are an ignorant stupid wreck of a person for writing such total and utter bollocks. This article is reminiscent of a 50's ''how to treat your husband right'' article - in other words, your saying to young musicians that you should simply bend over the table in the vaguest hope of getting ahead? Shit... how dumbasses like yoursle f still exist, I don't know - but let me say this - I'd rather cut off my own balls, fry them in peanut oil and feed them to my pet cat than I would take advice from such a buttoned down dickhead like yourself. If you're so concerned about how other people think of you, then keep your in-securities to yourself - DON'T throw them at the general public and just call yourself a ''professional''.
    jslick07
    shawnyboyskater wrote: this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    If you show up exactly on time there's no way you'll possibly start on time, which leads to disgruntled fans and probably a loss of money for me.
    EnDZYm3
    I give an A+. This is how we should all be as musicians. But don't forget to mention one last thing, SHOW UP TO PRACTICE. Flakey musicians lead to a lack of trust both amongst members of the band, and the people booking your gig.
    shawnyboyskater
    this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    shawnyboyskater
    this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    liamduzrocks
    SynthSilver wrote: Great points all around. The only annoying aspect was implying "all" genres and then going off to list only classical and jazz composers, and even then just staying with the big names. Something I've always requested from the authors of articles that say "listen to classical and jazz" is to give a reason why. Yes, put we all know we should sit in a room playing Take the A Train and Ode to Joy to make us "better musicians", but no one ever says why.
    you shouldnt really have a reason lol i dont really listen to jazz but i play it all the time cos i enjoy playing it and i listen to classical cos i enjoy listening to it same reason i listen to zeppelin
    Mr_Kite
    CG138 wrote: "The Professional Musician is Never Late" by this reasoning, the professional musician does not exist. You got pretty defensive in your "using discretion" portion. If you suck, you suck! Also, Classical and jazz are not ALL genres.
    They are the two genres members of this site are least likely to listen to though. Why would he tell the reader to be well versed in classic rock or metal when 99.9 % of the site already is?
    fagelamusgtr
    I wish everybody with an axe or a pair of drum sticks acted like this. It would give the music industry a better rep and make everyone a bit happier.
    Martindecorum
    shawnyboyskater wrote: this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    a dream theater concert went 12 minutes of schedule time they were fined 20000 dollars
    ElDiabloMuerte
    Nick_porter333 wrote: CG138 wrote: "The Professional Musician is Never Late" by this reasoning, the professional musician does not exist. You got pretty defensive in your "using discretion" portion. If you suck, you suck! Also, Classical and jazz are not ALL genres. Well, someone missed the point completely... The point is, if you 'suck' there is a number of elements wrong, but not ALL elements, unless you pretty much sat there, dribbled on the guitar, and left... You may be flat, and fudging notes, but the timing may be there, or the other way round...there will usually be something that is good, even when you may want to say they 'suck'... ElDiabloMuerte wrote: Okay, this is quite a good article and the advice and guidelines are quite good but I did get a distinct sense that whoever wrote this is an extremely anal and is not having a good time playing music. You mean, "i'm too young and too far up my own arse to listen to sound advice from someone with some experience..."
    Well this person really put me in my place and I will now go home and re-evaluate my life. . .
    Nick_porter333
    CG138 wrote: "The Professional Musician is Never Late" by this reasoning, the professional musician does not exist. You got pretty defensive in your "using discretion" portion. If you suck, you suck! Also, Classical and jazz are not ALL genres.
    Well, someone missed the point completely... The point is, if you 'suck' there is a number of elements wrong, but not ALL elements, unless you pretty much sat there, dribbled on the guitar, and left... You may be flat, and fudging notes, but the timing may be there, or the other way round...there will usually be something that is good, even when you may want to say they 'suck'...
    ElDiabloMuerte wrote: Okay, this is quite a good article and the advice and guidelines are quite good but I did get a distinct sense that whoever wrote this is an extremely anal and is not having a good time playing music.
    You mean, "i'm too young and too far up my own arse to listen to sound advice from someone with some experience..."
    findingasound
    I love this article. For those of you who don't, take a look at the company you keep. They're probably the same people prank phone calling nursing homes, and pushing shopping carts into cars at Wal*mart. People tend to forget that just because its a fun career, doesn't mean you shouldn't act professional. How many times have we seen an athlete act like a complete jerk, and say "Man, what an ass"? The same goes for musicians. Realize that yes, your talent has gotten you into the field. But without the other people around you, there is no field. Have fun with it, but treat other with dignity and respect. It will open far more doors for you than trying to kick those same doors in will. Great article. Musician or not, people should follow these ideals.
    drewkilljoy
    shawnyboyskater wrote: this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    Apparently someone has never been to a professional gig to play. A very well-known trumpet player from my area was at a gig once where the lead alto showed up 2 minutes late because of a flat tire. When he got to the practice he already had another player in his spot. It pays to be a professional in music. It helps both your image and the music industry's image. We don't look like trashed out junkies and bring in the fans. Who doesn't like that? And guys, he wasn't mentioning classical and jazz as the only 2 other genres lol. They just happen to be underrated by a lot of people. On topic, great article. Most everyone needs to read this.
    GisleAune
    Take all the advice you can get from this awesome article, the ones flaming him ARE the guys who NEEDS it. 100/10
    ElDiabloMuerte
    Wow, the author of this article seems to be very popular . . . I still think he sounds anal and unfulfilled by music. LONG LIVE FREE SPEECH! (Fuck you Nick_porter333). Right, now it's time to go out and get a life.
    Rengori
    shawnyboyskater wrote: this guy has some pretty good points but in the article he does seem like an annoying self-centered douchebag. especially during the part where he says if you showed up to a gig he was running exactly on time he would throw you out. who the **** would do that?
    Have you ever set up for a gig in under a minute?
    Zakattak264
    liamduzrocks wrote: SynthSilver wrote: Great points all around. The only annoying aspect was implying "all" genres and then going off to list only classical and jazz composers, and even then just staying with the big names. Something I've always requested from the authors of articles that say "listen to classical and jazz" is to give a reason why. Yes, put we all know we should sit in a room playing Take the A Train and Ode to Joy to make us "better musicians", but no one ever says why. you shouldnt really have a reason lol i dont really listen to jazz but i play it all the time cos i enjoy playing it and i listen to classical cos i enjoy listening to it same reason i listen to zeppelin
    Ok there is a point. 1) Playing these styles get you used to the keys and changes as such in classical. 2)the scales are very relevent in all musical styles (except rap and hip hop)and are very inportant to a successful musician. rock was BUILT on blues scales and jazz is just a different way to play them. A lot of metal is built on modes and minors, so classical gets you used to whipping out different keys that match, and it also helps with the solos. 3)its all really just a music theory thing. like i stated in my last comment,you need to know scales and their reletivity(Am=CM etc.). Besides why not learn something. 4) music is constantly changing and going through fads, so why not be ahead of the curve and learn everything you can instead of being a shitty musician and knowing a few chord progressions and a pattern that you saw on here for solos. BE MUSICAL!!!! NOT A FUCKTARD!!!!
    noox
    I really couldent agree more with this artical, you state every little thing that annoys me about my fellow musicians, and every little thing i feel bad for when i do wrong, thank you so much!
    DoomsdayArsenal
    I need to show this to my singer. He usually shows up two hours late and leaves one hour early. In that time frame, he does absolutely zero practicing, but rather watches while the instrumentalists practice, and occasionally tries to start off-topic conversations.
    foo_diddles
    How can anyone have any issues against this? Go to a gig late without your guitar drunk as hell, and acting like you're hot shit, cause you know you are, piss of your band mates so rehearsals are unbearably hostile... yeah that's the dream... 10/10
    gizmodious
    Article Summary: Be courteous to your fellow musician and behind-the-scene crew and remember: No one wants to play with immature dickheads who think they're the shit because they can play a sweep lick or two(LAME). 10/10 Every musician alive should read this.
    Gig Boy
    Some good practical ideas. Respect for fellow musicians is paramount if you're gonna make it!
    Priest_of_Judas
    Now I do agree with you on pretty much every point. Especially : "you come prepared to play your part at rehearsal" and "Be courteous" - pretty much towards everyone.Personally I do not believe the rock 'n roll lifestyle only to be connected to whatever music one might be playing, or basically using hte music you're doing as an excuse. People without any musical talents/interests may live quite a dangerous rock 'n roll lifestyle, so it's a bit too wide. But yeah good point, don't be an ***** and wreck the hotel, it's totally unnecessary and proves you're an ass. The second part is Education. I think yes, one should know what one's talking about. And listening to Alot of different genres and styles of music do widen our horizons which is good. Yet, I fear/think that eg. a classical music school will sort of push you to that very classical taste of music. Might be good, that's up to each one of us to decide. Good article friend.
    messiah01
    "The Professional Musician is Always Prepared" I remember the bass player in my band showed up to a gig without a strap. Very helpful article
    SheKILaDZE
    agreed to every point above, more or less, but it's a shame that a lot of people i know - despite their playing abilities - can't change to meet these standards.... sucks a lot...
    CG138
    "The Professional Musician is Never Late" by this reasoning, the professional musician does not exist. You got pretty defensive in your "using discretion" portion. If you suck, you suck! Also, Classical and jazz are not ALL genres.
    DukeFame
    this was okay its a bit stating the obvious i was hoping itd be deeper
    whocares09
    Very Good Article. Alot of it boils down to common sense. But unfortunately, many people dont seem to have common sense.
    Martindecorum
    crohno wrote: i kinda disagree with one little thing, although i agree with you in everything else, but for me it's alright to show up high to rehearsals and gigs, i don't mean completly stoned when you can't even stand up, but i found that sometimes a joint or two makes me play better, specially since i'm in a psychedelic band HOWEVER i do agree if you want to get a little bit high you should act normal and not as if you were a junky
    in your mind
    jsurf06
    i can dig it it's funny how many break the guidelines you've pinpointed, you spelled it out pretty good bud
    Xeus
    that gets a 10 from me. i've done gigs with many bands who could do with reading this...
    crohno
    i kinda disagree with one little thing, although i agree with you in everything else, but for me it's alright to show up high to rehearsals and gigs, i don't mean completly stoned when you can't even stand up, but i found that sometimes a joint or two makes me play better, specially since i'm in a psychedelic band HOWEVER i do agree if you want to get a little bit high you should act normal and not as if you were a junky