Becoming a professional musician

Sometimes when my students get paying engagements for the first time, I joke with them that they are now “professional” musicians. That’s true in a sense, but I think there’s more that goes into being a true professional.

If you are a college student aspiring to be a professional musician, here are some things you might ask yourself:

  • Am I reliably on time to things?
  • Do I always have a pencil? Extra reeds? Whatever else is needed?
  • Do I show up to rehearsals with my parts learned and ready?
  • Am I self-motivating when it comes to practicing?
  • Am I pleasant and cooperative on a gig or in a rehearsal?
  • Am I easy to contact, and prompt about replying?
  • Is my closet stocked with clean, sharp gig apparel?
  • Do I keep my instruments well-maintained?
  • Do I have a sense of what my time and talents are worth, and a firm but polite way of expressing that?
  • Do I meet and exceed my teachers’ expectations?
  • Am I willing to play any part, including the less-prestigious ones? Am I willing to put my best into supporting someone else’s solo moment, even if I think that opportunity should have been mine?
  • Have I recorded myself lately? Did I come away from it with some ideas of what needs improvement?
  • What are the most common issues my teachers or ensemble directors mention about my playing? Am I addressing those in a focused way?
  • Am I responsive to useful criticism, thick-skinned against non-useful criticism, and able to tell the difference?
  • Is there anything about my playing or demeanor that would cause stress to someone who hired me for a gig? Am I currently stressing out my teachers, directors, or fellow students?

Graduation from college doesn’t guarantee you any gigs. Become the person that other musicians want to work with.

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