Hi, ive been browsing this amazing site for about 2 weeks now, and lately I've been thinking about a career in music. I just would like to gauge what type of skill level is required to have a career as a performer, because I can see most of you have a lot of experience and skill.
So, how many of you are professional musicians and how many are just playing jazz guitar as a hobby?
Also, if music is your living, what are some pros and cons of music as a career?
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Thread: Are you a pro or a hobbyist?
02-06-2012, 03:57 PM #1
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- Jan 2012
- Ohio USA
Are you a pro or a hobbyist?
02-06-2012 03:57 PM # ADS
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02-06-2012, 04:05 PM #2
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- Feb 2009
I play as a career(while going to school to get my degree for a better career in music hopefully). There are a ton of downfalls to this career choice, as nothing is really stable. The biggest pro is the fact that I play guitar for a living, I get to do what I love, and I always have my guitar by my side. Cons, too many to list haha.
02-06-2012, 04:15 PM #3
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- Nov 2011
I want to get to the point where I can do this for a living. Right now I play the occasional gig and get paid for that, but not much. It's not worth showing up for those gigs for the money, but I love to play and that's why I do it.
Becoming professional means I can focus all my time on getting better. There are not enough hours in the day anyway, so it's not like there is any other option to me, since all I want to do is play the guitar and nothing else.
It's a rocky path to choose. I could have chosen something like working in an office doing things I dread, waking up every morning knowing I could have spent those seven hours practicing instead. What happens when you get home? Chances are you're tired from work and have little energy for effective practice. I know some cats work day jobs and are able to play at a high level. More power to them.
It's not for me though. I know where I'm going with music and I will get there, even if it has to take decades.
Once you've been bitten by the jazz bug and contracted the disease/curse, then there is really no other option.
02-06-2012, 04:41 PM #4
I guess I'm semi-pro...I really see my performing self as an amateur...I do it for fun, but I do make money from music...but I only play 10-15 gigs a year. Most of my money is made from teaching.
I used to gig more, at one time every weekend, but not only jazz. Now I'd much rather only play the music I like and make my money another way.
Making a living playing only jazz is TOUGH. Even a lot of pros--big names, gotta supplement their income with teaching. In Chicago, we've got world class players, I'm talking cream of the crop, toured the world with jazz legend type players, playing at restaurants for folks drinking overpriced wine and contemplating adultery. Jazz is a rough way to make a go of it.
I'm damn glad I have my teaching gigs. (high school and private lessons)Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
"Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."
--The Ghost of Duke Ellington
02-06-2012, 05:22 PM #5
I picked "I get paid occasionally, not a full-time musician"... I'm not a pro and I'm not trying to be one.
And I consider music my hobby.
02-06-2012, 06:01 PM #6
I would need to select NA, I don't swing the jazz for money or hobby. I use it for worship. Devil worship.
Last edited by Buster Loaf; 02-06-2012 at 06:22 PM.
02-06-2012, 06:12 PM #7
Let it be known that being a "professional musician" only means that somebody gives you money to play. It doesn't necessarily follow that you are good at it.
Last edited by Dark Star; 02-06-2012 at 06:18 PM.
02-06-2012, 06:15 PM #8
Strickly a hobby for me. I play a couple hours a days because I enjoy it.
02-06-2012, 06:51 PM #9
If you have youth or time on your side and no overblown monetary responsibilities I'd say go for it, it's better to give it your best shot than to sit at the end of a saloon bar gazing into your cheap scotch and muttering the Marlon Brando line from 'On The Waterfront' (I could'a been a contender....).
Seriously, if you have the self discipline, clear focus, contacts and luck you will eventually make something of yourself.
Remember though - you gotta pay them dues before you can sing your own song!“When a wise man points at the moon the fool considers the finger.”
02-06-2012, 07:11 PM #10
02-06-2012, 07:23 PM #11
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- Nov 2011
02-06-2012, 07:26 PM #12
yes, i know a professional dentist, and let me tell you....he sucks.
02-06-2012, 07:26 PM #13
02-06-2012, 07:34 PM #14
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- Mar 2011
02-06-2012, 07:58 PM #15
Give it a go, find out what it's really like to do it, then make your decision to stay or leave on your terms."Jus' press." - Raymond Kane
02-06-2012, 08:00 PM #16
I can't speak for their enjoyment. I can speak for what restaurant gigs pay.
Enjoying what you do is only part of playing music full time. There's also bills to pay.
Making a comfortable living playing jazz just ain't easy...and if you hit a dry spell of gigs...rough way to make a living. Not impossible, but not easy. I'd say 1 in 10 musicians is actually cut out for it, maybe 1 in 20.
For the record, I do enjoy playing restaurant gigs for exactly the reasons you mentioned.Jeff Matz, Jazz Guitar:
"Jazz is like life...it goes on longer than you think, and as soon as you're like 'oh, I get it,' it ends."
--The Ghost of Duke Ellington
02-06-2012, 08:33 PM #17
I began lessons when I was 52 after owning a few guitars off and on for around 40 years. I'm now 58 and have been learning theory and site reading over the last 6 years. I figured that you're never too old to learn, but I'm kicking myself that I wasn't more serious at a younger age. I got a lot of catching up to do, and this stuff does not come easily to me. I think I make it harder than it has to be, even though I have an excellent teacher who is also an excellent player.
Last edited by zigzag; 02-06-2012 at 11:32 PM.
02-06-2012, 09:10 PM #18
Music/Guitar is my main living, but not just performance, so I voted "occasionally". I manage a guitar store, teach private lessons, play live gigs, host jams and events at my venue, and sell my book here and there. Between all of those, I get by. I'd be way more mad at the world and current music scene if I tried to "make it" as an original jazz recording/performance artist- Being able to keep it fun and challenging is where it's at for me. I can play "pro" level gigs, but I prefer to think of myself as a student of the endless process of creating meaningful music... There is always more...
02-06-2012, 11:01 PM #19
amateur or pro
I guess i am more amateur than pro. I used tp play a couple of gigs every weekend for pay but right now we are down to averaging 3 or 4 per month. I don't do this for my living, I am a retired engineer. Actually, we do get paid but don't consider ourselves to be professionals. Jazz and jazz guitar have been my passion and my hobby most of my life and for me that is enough.
02-06-2012, 11:27 PM #20
Maybe a little more than a hobbyist but still an amateur, even though I play the occasional gig with some professional friends of mine. I usually let the other guys divide what little money the venues are paying them, since I make a pretty good living on my day job. I enjoy the fact they let me play with them.
02-07-2012, 05:08 AM #21
I assure you I was completely serious, but just this once.
We all know what it means when someone says, "That guy is a real pro", but the fact is that there are lots of jazz guitarists who can play circles around a lot of others who are just good at self-promotion. This is not to cast aspersions; it's just true. But we're not talking about playing golf here.
There are a lot of great guitarists out there too that are making a living at it, so there. If what I said bothers anyone it is only because they are insecure & afraid they might be considered hacks but that's not for me to say. Either that or they need to change their definition of "professional". That would be cool.
02-07-2012, 08:43 AM #22
02-07-2012, 10:39 AM #23
I only do about 10 paid gigs a year plus a few non-paying benefits. I rarely get more than $50 for a gig. I used to have 12 regular students, but I'm not teaching currently. I don't like the term, "Semi-Pro." I feel that my playing is at a professional level, though maybe somewhere near the bottom of that categorization. So, I call myself a, "Part-time Professional." The amount I make doesn't impact my financial situation noticeably - tends to cover expenses at best - but it validates (to me) my view of myself as a 'professional'. Having said all that, I'd still do it for free!"Thanks, but you should have heard what I was trying to play!" - T. Monk
02-07-2012, 11:00 AM #24
I voted "I get paid occasionally/not full time musician"
I play an average of 2 - 3 gigs per week either duo, trio or larger combos, all jazz and paid but not a lot, also some freebies.
I also rehearse with some combos as well. I don't teach at this point, but my day job allows me to focus on jazz and trying to develop my playing.
02-07-2012, 12:04 PM #25
Your definition will not be enough to make you a professional by the IRS hobby definitions.
Isn't it about doing something for a livelihood. Somewhere I saw a definition that used 50% of your income/livelihood.
Last edited by fep; 02-07-2012 at 12:15 PM.
02-07-2012, 12:07 PM #26
02-07-2012, 02:12 PM #27
But you know "professional" players that are not "good" players, right?
02-07-2012, 02:32 PM #28
For me it's a matter of 1) whether the occupation qualifies as a profession and 2) are you doing well enough financially to consider that occupation to be your profession.
How well you play... doesn't directly factor into my definition of a profession or professional. So your comment is not relevant to me in the question of whether someone is a professional.
But yes, I agree there are amateurs or hobbyists that play much better than some professionals. Especially since for music there is no certification required or organizations licensing the "professionals".
It seems all someone has to do is claim the are a pro. But under my definition that won't be enough.
Last edited by fep; 02-07-2012 at 02:38 PM.
02-07-2012, 02:50 PM #29
The venue I own is a modern art gallery with a stage for live music (fits 30 listeners). We throw art/music events every month, weekly jams (folk/country night and modal jazz nights). There are 12 small art/music studios that locals rent to do their craft that pay the overhead. It basically breaks even financially, but I get to jam and teach every week- The lessons at $20 per 30 min is where I make a bit of profit. Managing the guitar store (across the street from the gallery) is my "day job"; buy, sell, trade gear, etc. Keeps me busy!
02-07-2012, 04:22 PM #30
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- May 2010
- Mystic CT
I've been a full-time professional for 45 years or so. Jazz occupies the majority of my gigs, but not to the exclusion of other forms that I enjoy, from Flamenco to classical to World music. Teaching was important some years ago, but I found that it took a lot of my creative and mental energy, so I stopped teaching and replaced it with arranging, producing and performing at Senior facilities and schools. CD sales make up part of my income as well, and I enjoy being the music director for vocalists, which involves arranging and leading the band or orchestra along with playing. It is a difficult lifestyle at times, and luck plays a big part. Also, I got in when a 6-night-a week schedule was standard, that's now a distant memory. My ability to sight-read in different styles was very valuable; being able to take a show for a few weeks often meant the difference between Ramen and real food. I have found that the style of music is less important than the level of fellow players. Background gigs are OK, concerts are better in most every way. Jazz is an anti-marketing term, however, and if you can find something else to call it, you'll get more gigs and better money.
02-07-2012, 04:51 PM #31
02-07-2012, 05:52 PM #32
I'm not sure how to characterize myself, semi-pro? There was I time when I made all of my money from playing gigs, I was working 5 nights a week with many different kinds of bands. Over the last few years I got more into teaching (for the money) and now I play 2 or 3 nights a week, almost always with one of my bands, teach 30ish private students a week, and teach theory at a private college here in Seattle. I do still play the occasional standards gig, but usually find them to be long, and not at all worth the money.
The number of corporate/money/wedding gigs has gone down in recent years as well, although I am lucky enough to still get calls for those pretty often. (fingers crossed).
I'm about to release my first record and start working as a band leader for the first time in my life in a month or two. I'll let you know how that goes. If I can sell these things and fill a few venues, I will consider myself pro, regardless of how much money I make. but of course, I already do consider myself pro..... because if I didn't I wouldn't have produced a record in the first place. right? i'm confused. what does "pro" mean again? and who's keeping track?
oh yeah, one last thing.... I have never had a "real job" and am still debt free, live comfortably, and have free time. I think that qualifies me as "pro"..... but,.... my list of "who i've played with/studied with" does not include anyone who played with Miles, I didn't go to school in new york, I've never won any awards, and my high school jazz band sucked ass.
Last edited by timscarey; 02-07-2012 at 05:58 PM.
02-07-2012, 07:10 PM #33
Great post, Tim! you're kickin' ass, IMO.
02-07-2012, 07:27 PM #34
In the world of jazz, it is a few elite that make a living from gigging. Most pro jazz musicians are more than happy if they can support themselves with anything music related- teaching, composing, recording, producing, etc.
I get a kick out of guys that say they are pro, and still living under mom and dad's roof. Give them a wife and kid, and they're punching a clock somewhere like the rest of the world. No shame in feeding a wife and kid. Jazz probably won't do it.
02-07-2012, 07:36 PM #35
02-07-2012, 08:19 PM #36
So, for you, it's about having all the skills to function at a professional level? Then a fully trained grad out of Berklee is a pro. I get your definition, but I think we're looking at things more from a career/income perspective, otherwise, I'm a pro in about 9 different fields, using your description.
Last edited by cosmic gumbo; 02-07-2012 at 08:21 PM.
02-07-2012, 09:17 PM #37
02-07-2012, 10:54 PM #38
1) You can usually play any style of music (yes, even jazz) as long as it is not loud and obnoxious. People usually want to be able to talk over the music.
2) The pay is pretty regular although in my small town it only runs $40-$55 per night for a 2 to 3 hr gig with a 15 min break and usually a free meal.
3) The music exposure can often lead to other gigs like weddings and private parties.
4) Trios, Duos and an occasional Quartet are the most common sizes for local restaurants and that reflects what the owners are willing to pay.
5) The best part of this job is the confidence, experience & abilities, ie...musical benefits gained from playing music for the public on a regular basis.
Last edited by wizard3739; 02-07-2012 at 11:03 PM.
02-08-2012, 05:03 AM #39
I think that "Professional" or "Hobbyist" - which are you? leaves some players out - it gives them no category - no pigeon hole.
My dictionary calls a "hobby" a sideline, a pastime, and a spare-time activity. And it seems we've defined "pro" as a player who earns a living by playing.
There's another kind of player, to which JonnyPac alluded. There's the passionate, eternal student and practitioner of the art. I'd say this category would include many, many of us. It's certainly more than a "hobby" - calling it this puts it on a level with stamp collecting, seems to me (nothing necessarily wrong with stamp collecting - be passionate about that, too!)
And we all know players of amazing talent, who never perform, for whatever reasons. Playing guitar, for me, is much more than a pastime; yet I've never felt any desire to perform. There are many like me: where do we fit? Passionate student of the art? If you don't aspire to perform, yet you go to sleep thinking about guitar, and you wake up thinking about it - and you even dream about it - mustn't there be a category for you other than "hobbyist?"
02-08-2012, 08:15 AM #40
02-08-2012, 09:37 AM #41
A couple of thoughts and opinions on your post kojo. Regarding Jonnypac, he's being much too modest, in my estimation. Based upon his post, I would have no problem at all considering him a true pro. He indicated that he is still learning and still educating himself. Who among us aren't? He also has the honor and privilege of adding educator to the title of professional musician.
Regarding the last paragraph of your post and most specifically the question you pose . . . to me it doesn't matter if you play guitar like Tommy Emmanuel, Julian Bream or George Benson, or if you go to sleep and wake up thinking about guitar (as I do virtually every night) . . if you aren't performing and at least sometimes receiving compensation for it and have no desire to perform, you are a hobbiest. If you really need another catagory for people who are as passionate as you seem to be, consider "serious hobbiest musician".
In an earlier post on this thread I enumerated several attributes that I believe to be essential for one to be considered a true pro, as opposed to just being a hack who gets paid to play guitar. One can have each of these attributes and more, but still be a hobbiest. Being a musician, is very different than being a professional musician. As stated here earlier by others, there are many hobbiest musicians that are far more learned, skilled and talented than some professional musicians. If they aren't performing at some level, and at least occasionally realizing some form of compensation for those performances . . . they are hobbiest musicians . . in my opinion. There are also retired professional musicians. Think Johnny Smith. Where do we pidgeon hole him? Other than royalties, he's not earning as a guitar player. He stopped gigging for money decades ago.
Another thought about those who might be degreed educators in the feild of music, but who never perform in a public arena. I do not consider them to be professional musicians either. I consider them to be musicians, for sure. But, educators rather than professional musicians. Being capable of performing at a professional level, does not necessarilly constitute being a pro.
02-08-2012, 11:32 AM #42
A lot of folks are passionate about their hobby. Car collectors, horse owners, golfers etc.
Same with armature. I think you can be proud to be classified an amateur.
"Latin source, amtor, "lover, devoted friend, devotee, enthusiastic pursuer of an objective," and from its Latin-derived French source, amateur, with a similar range of meanings." Amateur: Lover of...
02-08-2012, 01:07 PM #43
I am jazz guitar player.
02-08-2012, 01:16 PM #44
Lemme clarify -- I certainly have performed for people... on television, once on a 100,000 watt radio station, in bars, in churches, gymnasiums, street corners - but not a lot. I just don't feel a big desire to play my guitar in front of people.
BUT: playing alone in a candle-lit room, some can develop an intimate, almost spiritual connection with their guitars, and with the music. And maybe some could, but I could never make such a connection during a live performance.
It's achieving this "oneness" that makes the work pay off, for me.
02-08-2012, 01:38 PM #45
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- Dec 2011
I am most definitely a hobbiest with no desire to play professionally given the economics of jazz. There is an old joke:
How does a jazz musician make a million dollars? He starts out with 2 million.
And that was from back in the day when jazz was the popular music of the time.
I have a great deal of respect for those that have the passion and drive to make a go fo it as a professional jazz musician, though. I read where Eric Dolphy used to keep a big bag of dried beans in his closet so that he would be able to eat. He would rather eat beans and play his style of music than play something commercial and popular and make money. Ya gotta respect that!
I also have a great deal of respect for those on this forum that make any kind of living in music, be it teaching, gigging, working in a music store, etc.
02-08-2012, 07:37 PM #46JonnyPac said: "I prefer to think of myself as a student of the endless process of creating meaningful music... There is always more... "
Sorry if I goofed, JP.
02-08-2012, 09:22 PM #47
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- Dec 2010
- Los Angeles, CA
If it wasn't for us hobbyists (and the dates we bring to the shows) the pros wouldn't have anyone to play for.
I spent 15 years trying to slug it out in the L.A. club scene (original rock/blues). I don't regret it but I am much happier now making a steady income elsewhere and enjoying music as my passion/art. Falling down the jazz rabbit hole was the best thing that could ever have happened to me as it has renewed my love of the guitar and will undoubtedly provide life long study and enjoyment.
Last edited by Jazzpunk; 02-08-2012 at 09:28 PM.
02-08-2012, 09:44 PM #48
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- Mar 2009
Used to play up to 25 nights a month up to the late 90s; all sorts of gigs. In a R&B house band up until about 2006. With kids, house, day job, etc...I keep my hand in, but it's on hold for a few more years.
02-08-2012, 10:13 PM #49
Lol. No hard feeling here, guys. I love what I do- and I am very devoted to music in my life. Pro or not, I strum more strings every week than I pound nails or flip burgers!
02-09-2012, 04:08 AM #50
Assuming that The American Heritage is okay with you as a document of spoken word meanings in America, we can look there and find that the word “professional” has more than one meaning. This is according to the hundreds of millions of people who speak American English.
Again, the language evolves. But it evolves slowly. One person – whether a Heritage representative or a United States President – cannot, by merely deeming it so in an Internet forum, and by tagging it with “IMO,” change the meaning of the words that are the backbone and guts of the language itself.
The American Heritage Dictionary on “Professional”:
1. Of, relating to, engaged in, or suitable for a profession: lawyers, doctors, and other professional people.
2. Conforming to the standards of a profession: professional behavior.
3. Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer.
4. Performed by persons receiving pay: professional football.
5. Having or showing great skill; expert: a professional repair job.
1. A person following a profession, especially a learned profession.
2. One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation: hired a professional to decorate the house.
3. A skilled practitioner; an expert.
Now, Patrick, imagine for a moment that your exemplary guitar players -- Tommy Emmanuel; Julian Bream; and George Benson -- for whatever reason (the reason is irrelevant for the moment) got together and decided they were sick of performing, sick of the business – and what’s more that any further money from record sales, etc., would be forfeited.
This is philosophy, Patrick - s search for the truth, which often involves hypothetical situations - so please don't ruin it by saying something like, "Oh, they'd never do that."
By your proposed definition of "hobbyist," (and by no one else's) aren't Tommy, Julian, and George now only “hobbyists?”
Isn’t each a “skilled practitioner; an expert”? (noun – #3 of "Professional")
Doesn’t each “have or show great skill”? (Adjective – #5 of "Professional")
People who earn money or a livelihood can obviously be “professionals” in their fields, too – but in our language, Patrick, an expert guitarist, or one showing great skill, need not be undeserving of the term, just because money isn’t part of the picture.
And as much as you would like the language to accommodate your desire to be right in this discussion, it simply doesn’t.
Now, as for your proposed label for people whose very lives revolve around playing guitar, or pursuing some other art I suppose -- the label "serious hobbiest (sic) musician" -- jeez, how awkward can it get? "What do you do?" "Oh, I'm a serious hobbyist musician."
Are you serious? Evan as an answer to, "Do you have any hobbies?" This: "Yeah, I'm a serious hobbyist..." Come on.
I often answer that question like this: "Are you asking me how I pay bills, or what I actually do most of the time?" And I wait until the person specifies. I'm polite about it and I smile a lot, and nobody has ever seemed to take offense -- but it starts some interesting conversations.
Labels and "pigeon holes" are bad things, imo. They let people easily and quickly file other people away in neat little categories, rather than recognizing others' uniqueness and interest. It's another symptom of an assembly-line society. "Whaddayado - NEXT!!!"
Last edited by Kojo27; 02-09-2012 at 09:29 AM. Reason: Ending was missing