Back when I was in college studying music, professionalism was merely called musicianship. Learned music dictates a kind of protocol that is largely based in scholarly attributes and discipline.
Or, in other words, there’s a set of rules, you need to follow them and you’ll most likely learn something in the process.
But, for a lot of musicians in the rock n’ roll, blues, country, alternative, electronica, and pop world, there is no structure and these principles were not hammered into our heads: basically, unstructured musicians just do whatever they want.
And by musicians, I mean each musician. And by do whatever they want, I mean they follow their own set of rules…and often these rules are changed or even discarded depending on how they were feeling at the moment. In a band context, that mean four, five or whatever number of players are doing whatever they please.
At this point, half of you recognize at least one player in your band that fits this description. The other half is saying, “yeah, so?”
For the latter, this is about you.
Musicianship isn’t just about playing well; it is about an all encompassing way of conducting yourself in every aspect of your life as a musician. But, to keep the point clear, we’ll talk about all the non-playing aspects of being a musician as “professionalism” or just plain being professional.
A rehearsal or gig typically has a specific load in time. A professional will be there at that time, if not before. If the gig or rehearsal has a designated start time, a professional will have their gear set up and ready to go well before that time arrives.
Usually, it will be well before that start time. They’ll arrive early enough to find the optimum parking space and load in point (which also facilitates their quickest departure). They’ll be the ones who are chill, not rushing to get it together before downbeat and often have an amused look on their face at the late comers rushing around at the last minute.
Time is a commodity for everyone. It is disrespectful to believe yours in more valuable to anyone else.
The professional has everything they need, and everything works.
How do they know it’ll work?
They try it out before hand, they use it in rehearsal, they only buy/use quality components and are generally obsessive about it. Big time pros hire techs to make sure everything operates flawlessly: small time pros do it themselves as if they were hired to do the job.
But what happens when something doesn’t work?
The pro is prepared for that, too. They have extra strings or parts, tools, the expertise and the time to correct the problem. If an outlet doesn’t work, they may not have an extension cord and power strip in their gig bag because they didn’t expect to need it, but they probably have one in their car (you know, just in case).
The professional knows what everyone (or most everyone) is wearing to the gig. This isn’t some gift of intuition; he/she asks everyone what they are going to wear. They may or may not be wearing it to load in or out, but when it’s showtime they look the part.
Some bands don’t wear coordinated clothes or just wear street clothes to the gig, but the pro knows that not all bands operate this way…so if he is substituting, he asks. In a new band situation, he/she initiates the conversation.
On the outside…
On the inside.
The pros keep it classy.
Most band business is best held in private. If there are issues that arise at a gig that can be settled off premises, then the more professional thing to do would be to wait. This includes post show rundowns and critiques, which (because of their timeliness) seem urgent…but, really, it can wait.
Business, as in pay, bookings and such, should be handled by one appointed person and away from the customers whenever possible.
Needless to say, interpersonal issues have no place at a gig. Critiques or criticism of bands, musicians and songs are best left to positive comments only…unless you’re punk rockers, in which case: let ‘er rip.
When there is a song to learn, the professional not only learns the song but charted it as well before the rehearsal.
While every band member should chart the songs themselves, traditionally the bandleader is responsible for distribution of the chart. However, in most less-structured bands there is no formal leader, so the professional will often make copies of his/her chart for other band members.
If a new song is going to be preformed on stage and the chart needs to be read, it’s highly likely that the professional will pull out a music stand that he/she happened to have in their gig bag for just these occasions.
The pros I have seen in action have always been willing to share a chart, teach a lick and even loan an instrument to a brethren. And, most of the time, they are willing to pick up a bag to help out a fellow musician when loading in or packing up. The exception has been when the person has been perpetually late and/or otherwise non-professional.
Basically, professionalism is common sense, but as the saying goes: Common sense just ain’t the common.
– Jake Kelly