To be Treated Like a Professional Musician, You Must First Act Like One

Definition of Professional: “Following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain.”

There are many times in our careers, especially in the beginning when we take a variety of gigs with the purpose of building our professional image or reputation. At this point, we may not necessarily be receiving monetary compensation. Sometimes if we do it is not enough to live on without added sources of income.

Here are a couple of examples from my own career when being a professional didn't necessarily equate with monetary compensation. I was asked to sing “free” for a friend's wedding and of course immediately accepted. It was an honor for me to be there on her special day. I treated this particular gig with the same amount of focus, discipline and professionalism as I would any other high paying wedding gig. This is the “secret” which separates a professional from an amateur. Treat every performance as if you are being extremely well compensated.

During a theatrical production I was working in, a fellow performer continually showed up late for our “call time.” I and other performers would show up a minimum of ½ hour early. I would take time to step on the stage, walk through my blocking and begin my mental and emotional preparation for that night's performance. This other individual would rush in, sign in late, and complain about the fact that he wasn't being paid. He felt this was a valid reason for treating this job with little to no regard. We were all at the time in a “Showcase Contract” which essentially means that no one receives compensation until the theater company pays for all their out of pocket expenses. Then if there is any profit left, it is divided among the performers.

I think you can already imagine the reputations we were building. I went on to receive continued referrals for future paid work and never did see or work with this particular individual again.

Recently at a local Barnes & Nobel, there was an Artist Showcase Night. A visual artist and a musician were scheduled to showcase their talents for the evening. After arriving I inquired as to when the music would be starting. The answer stunned me. I was told the musician phoned and said, “Sorry I can't make it.” Really??! No valid reason other than, “Sorry I can't make it??!”

That is definitely not a reason for a no show. It is extremely unprofessional and in poor taste regardless of whether or not one is being monetarily compensated.

If someone doesn't want to work free, that is absolutely fine. I would actually encourage all artists to be compensated fairly for their work and avoid ever working free. However, if you enjoy performing and agree to do something free, then you are engaging in a professional commitment - one that should be treated with the same level of respect as a paying gig.

Yes, I know there are times when we want to speak our mind and feel we are being taken advantage of. Always take the high road and maintain your professionalism. In the end, it will pay off and you will maintain your personal integrity.

Until next time - go have fun and make some awesome music!

-Lisa Leitl - MU Columnist
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