What makes a professional musician professional?

Over the years I’ve played with a lot professional musicians and sometimes I was suprised by their, in my eyes, unprofessionalism. On the other hand I played with hobby musicians who took it serious and had a very professional work attitude.
So I thought about what makes a professional musician and particularly a professional bassist, professional. It’s not about skills, the amount of money you get paid for a gig or how expensive your equipment is, for sure.
To me beeing a professional musician / bassist is related to these 10 points:

1. Be there on time
Being at the location early takes away stress from you and from the musicians you play with. It’s not a relaxed situation when you should be doing soundcheck since 15 minutes and one musician hasn’t shown up yet. Beside this being on time shows respect to the other musicians who also had to travel to the location and made it on time. Furthermore you don’t want to set up your gear and do the soundcheck when the audience expects you to have started playing already, don’t you?

2. Be prepared
Sometimes I have been in a situation were so called professional musicians relied on their skills, their ears, their experience and their ability to make it through the show somehow without being prepared. For me, that’s not the way to go. To me being prepared is essential because it shows that I take the gig, the musicians I play with and the one who booked me serious. And I might want to get booked again. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to know every little detail, but you should really know the song. By that I mean you should do more than just listen to it once on the radio on your way to the gig.

3. Play, but don’t overplay
As a musician, especially as a bass player, you mostly get booked to play someone else’s songs, to lay down the groove and to make the main artist (in most cases the singer) look good. My goal is to play what the song and the band needs, not to show how flashy I can be with on my instrument. Altough I like to play something extra here and there and I also like to step in the spot light for a little solo, I prefer to be asked to play a little more instead of being blamed for destroying the song or even the whole show by overplaying it.

4. Keep your gear in proper condition
Make sure the equipment you are using is working the way it should and everything is in proper condition. Think of your instrument, amp, effect pedals and so on as a craftsman thinks of his tools. This includes carrying a pair of extra strings, extra cable, batteries, tools to change settings on your instrument just in case it’s necessary.

5. Treat every gig the same
Sometimes musicians I played with treat different gigs differently. Sometimes they don’t dress as good as they would have if the gig would have been better paid. Sometimes musicians think a certain gig isn’t worth to prepare for because the the other musicians or the audience won’t hear the difference between being prepared or not. I disagree. I do treat every single gig with the same importance. No matter if 50 or 5000 people are in the audience or what ever. A gig is a gig.

6. No alcohol
I do very rarely drink alcohol at all so for me that’s absolutely clear, but sad but true, a lot of musicians seem to drink pretty much alcohol before and / or during a show. To me that’s a no go! In my opinion I’m booked to play the best and be the best Joerg that I can. And I sure won’t play better when I would step on stage being boozed.

7. Don’t take problems to the gig
Like I said before, you are booked to give 100 %. So concentrate on the gig, not on the problems you might have with your car, family or whatever. You can think about how to solve them after the show. This goes for feeling sick as well. Of course it’s not comfortable to play a show while having a headache, but don’t talk about it all the time and don’t let the audience know it. It may be hard, but you can take a aspirin, keep up and hopefully you can stay in bed tomorrow.

8. Be nice
Being professional includes being respectful and friendly to the other musicians, the organizer, the sound and light crew, the recording engineers, the security and all staff at the venue. Help to create a nice, comfortable atmosphere for everybody involved. Just like in life in general.

9. Respect other artists and musicians
When you play a gig with musicians who, in your opinion, are musically not on the same level as you, treat them with respect and try to lift them up instead of pushing them down. Someday it might comet back to you. This is true for the band that opens up for you and for artists you cross path with you at a festival or somewhere as well. You may not like the person or what her or she is doing, but everybody who steps on stage giving the best he can deserves your respect.

10. Love what you do…
or do something else that you do love!

5 thoughts on “What makes a professional musician professional?

  1. Very true!! Especially horn players, professionally horn players (!) think they don’t need to show up to rehearsal and soundcheck and prepare if they hop in for somebody! Most of the time the beginnings and the endings of pieces are a pure catastrophe!! That is very ignorant and embarrassing for the band.

  2. I agree with you on all points, especially the “overplaying” thing!!
    Real great bassists know how to keep it simple when that’s what the music needs.

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