In any profession I know of, being professional is what sets you apart and makes you desirable. It puts you at the top of your game and creates credibility in each of your actions. It builds trust and relationships.
However, for whatever reason, there are always some bands and musicians that appear to be incapable or struggle at acting professional. It’s hard to determine if this comes from a rebellious standpoint of rock n roll or if it’s just complete ignorance on how the real world works, or just lack of care in general but it’s all fascinating to me.
This article is written to share 4 things which could easily be perceived as “unprofessional”. It’s common sense yet I’ve seen this stuff throughout my years and some of it as recent as this weekend across my web surfing. I’ve even learned these lessons personally and plan to never go back (most of us have).
These things are tough to write about because it sounds like a bitch session and “shooting the messenger” is a real thing but it’s still worth the share and it’s targeted for folks who are truly taking music seriously and choosing to work it like a profession.
If you are saying “duh” then you are likely a professional and this article is NOT for you. However, maybe it’s worth the read because I’m sure you’ve seen the same things in your journey and it will make you shake your head and smile.
1. You’re Late
Time is our most valuable possession. You can’t buy it and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. This one applies to the entire spectrum of music life to include making it to a rehearsal on time or making it to a sound check of a gig on time. Consider this, major artists have been booed off stage because they were late, and those were paying customers.
From both a gig (venue) standpoint and band member standpoint, being late creates a credibility issue. It causes 2nd and 3rd order consequences which can ultimately lead to band breakup or removal as well as not getting future gigs at venues. It’s that serious.
If you are going to be late, communicate it quickly and prevent it in the future as much as possible. Things happen and can be excused but being in a band is hard enough and being late all the time plants a seed which can destroy your crop. I cannot think of a single member that was kept in a band that was constantly late. Some could say it goes down to a character thing and values but that’s another article. I almost want to provide the wide array of excuses I’ve heard but then I’d embarrass the people who have used em in this area so I’m gonna hold tight and take my own advice of #4 below!
2. You don’t know your material
At the gig: It seems pretty obvious that you would not want to perform a song you did not know in front of a crowd right? Then why do bands and musicians consistently go ahead and try playing that song they don’t really know on stage? Some will even announce to the crowd that “ we don’t know the song but we’ll do it anyway” in some way to lessen the blow of suckdom. End result, exactly as they said.. they didn’t know it. And yes, I did this when I was young.. guilty as charged! LOL
The question must be asked at this point, was the $5 or even $100 tip worth it? Was it worth it for that one person in the audience who yelled out “free bird” when the rest of the bar patrons are thinking “this band / musician sucks”? Was it worth it to the venue who paid for quality but sees and hears something different? Oh, and don’t forget the cell phone footage on Facebook which clearly shows your best for venues and club owners to review for future gigs.
At rehearsal: Again, pretty obvious but.. if you are the musicians that does not learn your songs when others in the band have learned their material, it makes you unprofessional and a liability. Bands cannot maintain any level of momentum with an anchor and it breeds resentment. The professional thing would be to lay out what you can do and then deliver or move on to others who have the same commitment. Not learning your music = wasting others time. It’s professional to be respectful of others time, the most important asset.
3. You can’t handle your alcohol
The overused but still reliable banter “the more you drink, the better we sound” is used across America. It provides a little humor and ultimately helps to sell more drinks for the venue you are playing. However, it’s intended for the crowd and not the band. Fact: your band doesn’t sound better the more it drinks. The more your band drinks on stage, the worse it sounds and those things like #2 break out.. “hey guys, let’s do that one song, these people will love it”, knowing that nobody knows it and the vocalist cannot sing it nor knows the words (time to break out the phone.. lol). Net gain… 1 person likes it, the rest.. not so much. Yeah, I’ve been guilty again.. dammit.
Admittedly, I’ll cruise through facebook live video of bands because I’m looking for the best bands to book at the venue and I ultimately see bands across the states that drink to a point of sounding like total crap. These are good bands with bad actions or bad band leaders allowing it. These videos are on the web and there is no way for the band to try and say “man, we were drunk.. that’s why it sounded so bad”. How is that even an excuse? There is just no escape from looking unprofessional and its out on the web for everyone to see over and over.
I’m thankful cell phones were not around when I was young. I mean, I wish I had video of my playing a long time ago but the stakes are so high if you are in a band taking it seriously with cameras everywhere. The competition is fierce and there is certainly more supply than demand so getting drunk makes no sense to me.
BTW, I’m not suggesting to never drink but I’m suggesting that you’ve rehearsed so much for the gig and to consider the fact you can screw the entire band and venue if you can’t control yourself. Point is, what other professional service would you pay for that you would be ok with someone being drunk? Why would a venue hire you if it’s going to become a $hit show and it’s been documented online?
I’ll leave this subject with this: I speak with bands occasionally that will talk “business” and work their band as a professional business but then have this exact activity. I’m all about a good time but if a band was truly a business and you had to put food on the table with it, I don’t think getting drunk at your job would be a smart move.. I digress. Actually, maybe that is the deal.. these people are not really in a business or really don’t need it for food.. it’s just a hobby. Ok, I digress now. LOL
4. Your mouth overloads your canary ass
Our community is so small that our theme song should be “heard it through the grapevine”.
The quickest way to find yourself unlikable as a musician or band is to talk crap about other people and bands. It spreads so so quickly and everyone knows it. I assure you, you are not as good as others, especially if you have to say it to yourself and your friends or put others down.
I get it though, you don’t like that band or maybe that person rubs you wrong. However, being a true professional means not discrediting or talking about other musicians and bands or even venues. Let the person / band actions speak for them and the rest will work out without you having to say anything or get sucked into the conversation or as an accomplice in many cases around these parts. We owe it to each other to be kind and supportive. The people and bands that are at douche level 11 are easily spotted without anyone having to say anything.
I’ve found being professional also requires to have an open mind without prejudgment. As someone who is connected fairly well to the community, I hear so much stuff and I can tell you that the majority of negative stuff I’ve heard on bands / people is not remotely true. I can tell you that the people in our community are amazing people and we’ve got an amazing amount of talent yet some don’t get the opportunity because others have heard negative comments..etc. Again, let the actions of those people / bands speak for themselves. You might be surprised that everyone actually has more in common than not and there are some really cool players in the area that may have been improperly labeled.
Last, when I see musicians or bands call out each other online, it truly makes me shake my head in disbelief. I’ve seen local folks who will comment on someone’s ability when they themselves have little to no experience or ability (the ol’ put someone down to raise me up thing) . When things get posted online, it’s no longer on the grapevine, it’s action, it’s not professional, and folks will always remember how you made them feel, especially in a public forum.
Ok, there we go. 4 blatantly obvious things which can make you look unprofessional. I’d love to hear your opinions or even your disagreement, you have the right to be wrong (joking). I’m hopeful the content will help everyone pause and say, I’m so glad I’m not like that. If you recognize some of the behavior in yourself, it’s never to late to make a change. My entire life has been experience (surviving mistake) and some of the stuff above (and below) is what I’ve learned in my journey. I’m not proud of many things but I’m proud to be able to share and hopefully prevent you from making some of these simple mistakes like i did when I was young.
Bonus: if you are still reading this, here is a bonus.
#5 You’re too loud
Your loud amp directed at the audience doesn’t sound as good as you think. The louder, the better? NO. The volume you have on stage or volume of your PA can have a direct result on future patrons, gigs, and how you sound to an audience. I’ve seen people leave shows because it’s too loud and I’ve seen bartenders who could not perform their jobs because of it. I’m speaking from personal experience. PLEASE, PLEASE, know the room and play to what’s best for an eventful night of music and not a painful one, louder is not always better. Many pro bands are now doing silent stages (other than drums) and the control of the mix is incredible. In ears are also a great resource to consider.
thanks again for reading!