I’ve covered a couple of topics already, dealing with the freelancing and business portion of playing out and gigging (feel free to review them here and here). And the comments thus far have been truly awesome and led to some good points on both sides, which is what we’re going to discuss today. In my years playing out, on the road and at home I have run into many musicians that can fall into two groups: the Hobbyist and the Professional. Today, we’re going to talk about the differences – and similarities – between the two.
In order to get this going, we need some definitions. Here they are, courtesy of Google:
The Hobbyist (hob•by•ist)
A person who pursues a particular hobby.
The Professional (pro•fes•sion•al)
(of a person) engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as a pastime, or hobby.
For the Love of It
We all play music because we love it, and can’t imagine NOT playing; I think we can agree on that, right? The allure of locking in with like-minded musicians, connecting with the audience and being inspired to new heights are some of the many benefits afforded us by music. Even in its simplest forms, music relieves stress, lifts spirits and soothes the savage beast (or in our house, the savage toddlers). The greatest thing about this? ANYONE can play music and derive some form of joy out of it. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to play. In fact, it really doesn’t take that much time at all to learn an instrument and play it in front of people (the latter takes a mixture of ego and guts, but that’s a talk for another day).
So, What’s Different?
If both groups are playing music because they love it, then why are some more determined to get paid for it whereas others are just happy with the act in and of itself? Why can’t we all just be happy playing music, and call it good? It comes down to two very important points that really divide the Hobbyist from the Professional.
1. The Professional has a career in music, and their playing and performing is putting food on the table, paying the rent, etc.. The Hobbyist does not rely on music and are not financially dependent upon playing music.
2. Because of #1, the Professional treats playing and performing much like the Hobbyist treats their job, because when you are a Professional Musician, it IS your job.
Now for a second, just let those two points sink in before you start typing up a response and ask yourself this question; if I had to pay my bills based solely on income I gathered from playing and performing music, would I treat it differently than I do now? Would I conduct myself in a more professional manner, knowing that my livelihood is dependent upon the gigs I’m taking? Puts a different spin on being a musician, doesn’t it?
When It’s Your Job
When you are a professional, working musician, gigging takes on a very different meaning. While I’m at a point now where grabbing a gig is because I want to, five years ago taking a gig was paying rent. Because of that, I used a pretty specific criteria to determine if the gig was worth my time. It also meant spending some regular time keeping the instruments in tip-top shape; cleaning, polishing, keeping strings in good shape (and switching them when needed). Things that a hobbyist may do, but not have to worry about. Why worry about general maintenance? If you are an auto mechanic, you need to make sure the tools you use to repair cars are in working order, right? Same thing when you’re a professional musician. That amp that “is a bit finicky, so you have to jiggle the power cord just so” isn’t really an endearing quality when you’re at a studio trying to record some tracks on someone else’s dime.
That also means – and I’m sure this is where a lot of people would draw the line – that a Professional, who is living off their playing, will play gigs that may not musically fulfill them or be what they would love to play on a regular basis. Consider the cover/wedding band. Many people would scoff at playing someone else’s music, let alone ones that have been played to death on the radio. However, a good cover band plays out very regularly (sometimes 3-4 times a week or more) and makes decent cash. The wedding band plays out a lot in the summer months, and rakes in the cash.
When it comes down to it, the Hobbyist and the Professional aren’t really that different. We all play music because we HAVE to, we enjoy it, we couldn’t think of doing anything else. However, when you are depending on the money you make from playing for basic things, like food, clothes, the rent, you will find the differences from the Hobbyist and the Professional become fairly clear.