I’ll close this week with a shout-out to professional musiciankind. Especially in right-to-work states like North Carolina, where one doesn’t have to be a union member to play paid gigs, many people don’t understand the advantages of hiring full-time professional musicians over amateurs. The difference between dedicated pros and hobby musicians can be astounding, though–just this week, I’ve encountered several musical hobbyists looking for paying work, but being unwilling to deliver the exceptional service that pros are used to providing.
Here’s a countdown of ten defining strengths that successful professional musicians have:
10. We know our stuff thoroughly. – Most professional musicians have gone through years of rigorous training, plus several more years of intense experience on the bandstand, plus ongoing daily practice. We bring this experience with us every time we take the stage.
9. We’re trained to entertain. – Our job isn’t to sit and play; it’s to show people a great time! A pro musician’s full-time job is to help people enjoy themselves; we are like those squeezy stress balls, but slightly louder and more danceable.
8. We think outside the box. – This is related to #9; we want you to have fun, so we’ll find creative ways to entertain you. Ask me about the time I stuck a bow on my head and played “Happy Birthday” to an officeful of surprised cabinet salespeople!
7. We are notoriously punctual. – The last time I played a wedding gig, our quintet beat the bride to the church. Pros arrive early not just to set up, but to give our already-busy clients one less thing to worry about.
6. We focus on you. – Often, your show is the only responsibility we have all day. A full-time pro won’t come to play your wedding worrying about a deadline for her day job; she’ll arrive (early) focused on playing beautifully.
5. The show must go on! – This isn’t just a popular saying; it’s a way of life for pro musicians. Professionals won’t back out of playing your party at the last minute and “hope you’ll understand.”
4. Pros protect you with contracts. – We don’t just say that the show will go on, we put it in writing!
3. We infuse our performances with detailed understanding. – Pro musicians not only perform; they understand the theory, history, and conventions of a variety of musical styles. We can communicate the quiet longing of Tchaikovsky or the easy swing of Ellington, because we’ve spent so much time with these guys in our studies.
2. We’re proud of what we do (so we’ll be sure to do it well). – Professional musicians have an intimate relationship with their art form and a personal commitment to playing well. With less serious musicians, a performance may be hit-or-miss. But pros will do whatever it takes to deliver excellent work.
1. The stakes are high, and pros rise to the challenge. – Ask any professional musician and they’d agree: if we didn’t do the nine things listed above to the best of our ability, we wouldn’t be working in this business for long. Pros rise to the challenge, but it’s the audience who reaps the rewards!
Reading this list makes me proud to count myself as a professional musician, and even prouder to be teaching young trombonists these skills each day. Are you working on developing the strengths necessary to become a working musician? What can you do today to build your skills?