5 Traits that Separate Professional Musicians from Amateurs

Connor McCoy, Spire Contributor | February 6, 2019

professional versus amateur

If you look at some of your favorite artists and wonder what specific trait you lack that keeps you from walking the same path, you’re not alone. Many musicians spend so much time and effort on their craft and artistry, only to miss the mark when it comes to upgrading their hobby to a full-time, money-making career. Let’s take a look at some concrete ways you can actively begin to see yourself in the industry as a professional and leave the amateur life behind.

musician keyboard piano practice

1. Spend the time

The most important trait that comes with being regarded as a professional in the industry is also the most straightforward one: spend the time on your artistry. Many musicians cover a lot of ground when branding themselves as a professional, but lose sight of what’s most important: the music, and spending the time to practice, grow, and create it.

If you’re not putting 15+ hours every week spending the time on the actual music (yes, that means 15 hours + a 40 hour work week), the day when you become a professional will start looking further and further away.

There’s a lot you can do to advance the progression of your artistry with marketing and audience growth alone, but your raw talent needs to be at a professional level first, and practice can help.

But this takes some serious self-reflection. Listen to your influences and inspirations: obviously, they are going to be a few steps ahead in terms of having more time, money, and real industry experience to influence their craft. Nevertheless, ask yourself:  

Are my songs/compositions at a similar level?

What can I work on in order for someone to hear one of my songs and really want to see me play live or listen to my professionally produced record?

professionally recorded music

2. Get professionally recorded

One of the common misconceptions of beginning artists today is that the opportunity to get professionally recorded only happens when you land a “record deal.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore!

But fortunately, professional recordings of your songs are much easier to come by nowadays, with high-quality home studios commonplace, and record studios often offer affordable services. If you have songs written, get you/your band to a studio or a professional home setup and start the process!

Before you start, get to know what tracking, mixing, and mastering engineers do, and how you can find and enlist the help of some in your local community in order to put a single or a small album out there. Places like upwork.com and fiverr.com are great places to find freelancers to help you produce some great sounding music for minimal costs.

The best way to look professional to potential fans is to look like you’re on the way up—and having professional music released on streaming platforms (like Spotify and Apple Music) are great first steps to establish your brand and create that sheen polish that so many amateurs envy.

group of people community

3. Become involved in your (local) community

One of the biggest parts of any industry is surrounding yourself with the community you’re looking to rise up in. By actively putting yourself out there and going to local shows, concerts, or coffeehouses, you can find a community that will keep you in the loop of peers that are climbing a similar ladder.

By gaining knowledge on which local venues you need to start playing (and which artist you need to/can play these venues with), you automatically start branding yourself as a professional instead of remaining a cooped-up beginner in their bedroom making beats or recording voice memos.

This means reaching out. There are so many blogs, writers, musicians, artists, designers, promoters, etc. who want to hear about your music! If you think there isn’t a space for you in the community, think again. People are always on the hunt for something new and fresh, which is the wonderful thing about the artist community: it can never be too big.

Link up and help each other prosper! This isn’t the easiest path, but for so many reasons, having and being a part of a music community is vital for personal growth and professionalism in your career path.

music fliers posters marketing

4. Become a marketing guru

In this day and age, you almost certainly won’t go anywhere if you don’t have a good grasp on how to advertise and promote yourself/your artist/brand on social media and the internet. A branding guide is a good place to start if you haven’t already. Not only do you have to have a presence on these platforms, but you need to emulate the professionalism of the artists that do it well.

Social media is a very strange tool, and certain things need to line up on your page before you start getting reactions and additions to your following. Again, a great way to do this is by researching the artists that have already accumulated a massive following, and study what they do best. Each sub-genre of music has a different aesthetic, and you need to mix and match until you create a unique aesthetic that adheres to who you are as an artist and also plays along with the rules of social media, like posting at certain times of days and what products are worth posting/posting about.

A brand needs to adhere to its identity across multiple spaces, meaning that in order to tie in your work and advertise yourself as a professional, your brand must be coherent, easy to understand, and easily accessible. If you use Facebook to advertise your songs or your shows, for example, consider tackling an Instagram/Twitter account as well. You want to reach the most amount of people, and, if you haven’t already, place yourself at least one level higher than the one you are at now. There are ways in which you can retain your identity and honestly on social media, while showing your fans and audience that this is a project you are invested in.

A good website is a great tool to have, especially for promoters and venues to look at if they need an understanding of who you are and what type of music you play. Consider cheap options on places like wix.com or squarespace.com to create a great looking website with a minimal amount of work.

talk the talk marketing

5. Talk the talk

Debatably the most important aspect of being a professional is thinking like one. So many artists stay in the pitfall of “I’m not good enough” or “maybe this isn’t for me after all.” The only way you’re ever going to be revered as a professional in the music industry is by acting like one, which means proclaiming it as your goal and your profession right away, and taking proactive steps to improve and get your music heard. It’s easy to get stuck in the loop of putting it on your to-do list but never getting around to it because it seems so unattainable.

If that was the case, no one would make it. If you’re putting the effort in to make music, be proud of it! You won’t find an extremely successful musician who doesn’t put their whole being into their artistry. It’s absolutely necessary in order to keep your foot on the gas and move forward as an artist. Connect with your community, get your music recorded, stay on the social media game, and spend the time necessary to work on your craft.

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