I am honestly asking this question as I deal with new graduates each year. Just because someone has received a degree from a university does not mean that they are now suddenly “professional.” That term must be earned through experience and practice. Just because you know how to play an instrument for pay does not make you a professional musician. There is a difference between being a paid musician and being a professional musician.
A professional musician is one who has taken the time to learn the ropes in the real world from his fellow musicians (usually older and more experienced). He has learned how to handle contracts, act on the actual gigs, deal with referrals and business contacts, and most importantly, be a responsible, ethical person.
1. Contracts – I have a whole blog post on this. Basically, each gig should have a contract that spells out the terms, requirements, etc. http://vinylinist.com/?p=470
2. Acting on the gig – This is the essence of this blog post. How you act is judged immediately from the first communication. If you act professional, then they will expect a professional. If you were recommended for a gig, then you are representing the person who recommended you. Your actions are a direct representation of the person who recommended you. This is one reason I try to be SO careful with recommendations! Be on time (preferably early). Allow extra time for traffic, finding the venue, loading in, parking, etc. Come dressed professionally. You may not be in your performance attire, but you should look presentable. Do not smoke prior to or on breaks at any performance as the odor permeates your hair and clothing. Do not consume alcoholic beverages prior to or during the event. Many contracts have specific clauses that you cannot partake in alcohol at any time on the premises or with the guests, even after the performance. Make sure you are in place at least 3-5 minutes before each set. NEVER give your personal information (especially your card) to anyone other than the person who recommended or hired you. If the gig came as a result of another company/contractor/agent, you must ask them first relating to handing out cards, websites, etc. And if the client requests you for a future date, that booking should always be handled through the original referring/contracting party.
3. Dealing with referrals and business contacts – When I recommend someone, I am saying that I hire him; that I have “vetted” him as being a professional who represents my company. I am trusting that person to be ethical and know that all referrals should come back through me. This is a sure-fire way that I will definitely recommend him again, and even continue hiring him. I have spent years developing my business contacts, and I have learned the hard way about proper business protocols. I am now a respected and even preferred Union contractor based on how I conduct myself with other companies and musicians whom I hire, but that has taken a lifetime to create. I don’t want that reputation jeopardized when one musician acts unprofessional on my event.
4. Being a responsible and ethical person – does this really need to be explained? It appears so. Do the right thing – always. If in your heart you think you did something wrong, you probably did. If you feel the need to try to explain it away, then you probably did something that went against your moral compass. If you screwed up, be an adult and take responsibility for your actions. Apologize, fix whatever might need fixing, then don’t do it again. Learn from your mistakes. Sometimes it is more important to maintain a relationship with someone who can help you and get you many more gigs than to tick off that person in order to get one more gig on your own.