On Being Professional

In my last article I gave you the art of learning to see your actions in you mind’s eye. This time I want you to think with that big picture of how your actions promote or harm your chosen career.

Wikipedia defines professional as; “A professional is a member of a profession or any person who earns their living from a specified activity.” To be a professional you need to achieve certain standards and act professionally.

Aspiring musicians talk lots about being “Pro” or doing things the same way the pros do. This aspiration is good. Sadly a lot of people limit the way they apply this to a few techniques (or the toys they buy) and don’t develop the mindset of a professional. This is the most common cause of career failure that I have seen in 25+ years of observing musicians.

Let me give you a few examples from my experience:

Me And Paul

I saw an electro band called Squelch on the local scene. There was something about them that said they could make it. However there were also a few things that were wrong. I did the meet and greet after the show, offering to help them. The musicians were too busy playing precious artist so I ended up being hand-balled to their manager who was too busy playing important. Wasn’t long before I was left standing alone. The band scored a support for a Nick Cave tour but disintegrated not long after. The reason being that they were all fighting over artistic matters. This is what I saw and wanted to solve.

I saw a Rockabilly band called Blue Denim and they had the same sort of vibe as Stray Cats. The lead singer/bassist “Switch” was a wonderfully scary cat. Sadly they started to believe their own image right at the point they seemed about to make it and they imploded. That and people wouldn’t hire them anymore as they were too badly behaved.

I saw another Rockabilly band called The BobKats. They had a nice cartoon quality and a sharp sound that could have sold records. They were a husband and wife combo with a “guest” guitarist who played like Dwight Yoakam’s original sideman. There were tensions and they separated into more serious personal projects – never to be heard from again.

I have seen numerous acts also focus more on logos and merchandising than completing a song, let alone a record.

The number of musicians I have had dismiss, or even insult me, only to go on to obscurity is more than I care to remember. Why did they not at least listen and consider advice given?

For your own ego

Yes it was ego that destroyed all of these act’s chances. If these band members had seen their bands in the same way they saw a mundane job, they may well have made different choices. They may have realized that while they weren’t besties, they still had a something together that they didn’t have apart.

It is also ego that leads to the avoidance strategies that these self-destructive patterns represent. At core these people haven’t given themselves permission to be successful.

Sound Off

If you want to make it in any industry then the very first thing to do is develop a mindset of being like a professional. Not pretending to be rich and arrogant but to have the steady, calculated strategic approach of a battle-hardened general.

It is about discipline.

Aspiring artists feel that it is all about being free to express themselves. But ask; why you are expressing yourself? To be seen and heard is the answer in the Alan Jackson song. If you want to be seen and heard you need to do what it takes to get that audience.

You have to plan every aspect and execute diligently. You have to make every action be on-plan or you will be lost and not realize it till the boat has sailed – WITHOUT YOU.

In acting they say don’t work with children or animals. Nothing against animals or children but it is that they don’t have the same degree of self-control so things go wrong and egg is left on faces. Professionals can spot the un-disciplined a mile off and will avoid – pros have more important things to do.

A soldier or sportsman trains themselves in the right mindset (if you follow Aussie tennis players then you may get the wrong idea). Some of that comes from the drills, but some comes directly from learning what things improve performance outcomes.

I have pointed to a few above. Lets pop them in the much loved point form:

  • Rock Star
    Rock Star

    If you are arguing with your band mates then ask yourself if the disagreement is about ego or success. If your artistic visions are different then maybe it is time to part and forge your own way but it is equally likely that you will fade away. If your band is getting traction as a Metal act but in your heart you want to sing Pop then ask yourself, would you rather fail as a Pop singer or succeed in Metal? I figure if you really love music then you act like a pro and go where the work is. Maybe later you can take to singing Pop. If it is just ego crap then stop right now.

  • If you are drinking and taking so many drugs you can’t play your shows and get repeat bookings then you need to re-asses. If rockin’ is your profession then you need the opportunity to be on stage again and again. Don’t scupper that no matter how cool it makes you feel at the time. Be a wild man on stage but call the venue manger Sir and thank him for the gig. If you are a pig or a prat he will remember you for that alone.
  • If someone is offering advice, listen. Really listen and go away to think about it. Why did they say this? There is no smoke without fire. There is no such thing as a random murder. There is a reason you are being told this thing. Sure the advice may be wrong but life has a way of presenting what you need when you can use it. Take advice when it is offered and use it. Also don’t forget to pay, even if that is only a heartfelt thank you. Also considering referring mates from other bands as this is never forgotten.
  • If you treat those around you with disrespect they will not want to help you any more. Many of the music industry’s greatest behind-the-scene helpers have been pretty un-cool characters. Just because they don’t seem cool, don’t blow them off. The oddest people can help you. If you start a relationship, treat it with the same respect you would pretty girl you want to keep around. Sure a time may come for you to move on. If the helper is good people they will know this and help you. Otherwise have a discussion and be as clear and polite as you can. Just be sure you are never the guy throwing help back in someone’s face. Also always pay and pay on time.
  • If you find yourself paying more attention to logos, fancy websites and other merchandising then take care. Sure it will be necessary to do some of these things at album launch time but even then really assess if you are letting your focus slip from promoting the music to self-aggrandizing, but ultimately useless (and costly), actions. Focus on the main game of making good music and getting it in front of your fans. When they start asking for your band t-shirt you know it is time.

Being washed up is never cool. It may happen but no need to make it happen sooner. Win the battles you can and you are still standing, with a chance to win the war.

The film “Rock Star” has some wonderful advice. Sure in some ways it is a bit of a self-amusing fantasy with a limp ending but the words of the band members (who are all musicians) is completely correct. Get the right strategy and play it tight.

Leave a Reply