what is the definition of a professional musician?


Senior Member
...Ask yourself what it would mean to you if someone said they were a professional plumber. Would you think they did plumbing, but didn't get paid, or didn't make a living off of it? ...
not to be TOO picky - but plumbing is actually a trade, not a profession - so there's no such thing as a professional plumber, they usually use terms such as 'licensed' or 'journeyman' or 'master' to separate themselves from apprentice or non-licensed plumbers.

this whole discussion is kind of a quagmire because the term 'professional' has evolved over the years and where it once was used only in reference to practictioners of medicine, law or divinity, it has now expanded to include other professions (like architecture, teaching, nursing, therapists, etc) as well as the arts and sports. It seems like the term is often appropriated by any group that wants to acquire a degree of esteem or authority (while the traditional 'professions' fight to keep the term all to themselves to protect their own validity). The other thing that gets people in a state is that there's not usually ONE thing that makes you a professional, i.e. just having it as your sole means of sustenance or following a established code of professionalism.

Professional 'artist' (musician, painter, actor...whatever...) is a funny term because it takes two words that have somewhat fuzzy definitions and combines them into one totally incomprehensible glob. To many people - the term 'Artist' is more meaningful than 'professional', so to them - adding professional to it actually denigrates it a little bit, whereas those who are more insecure might want to use the professional designation because it makes them feel more respectable.

Of course - to keep it all in context, we should never forget what the world's oldest profession is... :)


Gold Member
not to be TOO picky - but plumbing is actually a trade, not a profession - so there's no such thing as a professional plumber, they usually use terms such as 'licensed' or 'journeyman' or 'master' to separate themselves from apprentice or non-licensed plumbers.
I had a plumber fixing my bathroom while I said this...so, good point, but it stands with any profession you throw in there.


Silver Member
I guess i'm a professional musician who works two jobs. I still have a day job when i'm not on tour but some months I make more playing music than I do at the day job.


Platinum Member
When I run into friends from college/high school/whatever that I haven't seen in a while, and the question comes up, "What are you doing, nowadays?", I've learned to answer, "I'm a professional musician". If you just say "musician", they immediately picture that you're still living at home with your parents, mooching off the system. By adding the preemptive "professional" to it, they immediately assume that you're making a living doing it, and you can side-step that unnecessary conversation and get to what's important, like how old their kids are, what happened with them and Susie after graduation, etc...


Silver Member
Bear in mind that what I write is classical philosphy and I'm just the messenger. I have no comment on the value of the information.

In classical philosophy, Greek--this is old, music was one of the 4 disicplines and musicians were disciplinarians. I assume that at one time discipline and disciplinarian didn't have the relationship is does today with the concept of punishment.

stone mason-tradesman

Your place in society was based on the Greek's perception of utility. A mason was more utilitarian then a doctor. Things have changed. lol

I'm not sure of the ins and outs of this, but the disciplines superceeded the orders of utility. Basically the disciplinarians were the coolest.


Gold Member
If you make money playing drums, then you are professional.

If that's true, then I was a professional drummer in 4th grade, because a local church paid me $10 to play a snare ostenato for their Christmas pagent once. Almost everyone who posts on here is then a professional musician, 'cause everyone gets paid, or gets tips, or whatever. I think there has to be a certain level beyond "if you make money" to call yourself a true professional musician, because without it, the term literally means nothing.

By that definition, I have been a professional drummer, piano player, guitarist (despite not playing guitar, but I learned like 6 chords for live show where I sat in once and got paid), hair dresser (got paid to give two cousins bowl cuts for a while), plumber (got paid $10 to fix a problem with a friend's bathroom), computer technician...I could go on and on. The problem here is that it would be an insult to all those professions to imply that I am a pro simply because I got paid to do it.


Silver Member
The ambiguity seems to be in who gets to, or should get to decide who's a professional. The object, the objects peers, the objects audience or the IRS? Probably never be a consensus on this.

con struct

Platinum Member
A profession is "a principal calling, vocation, or employment." That's according to Webster's, so there's one definition anyway.
So if you make your living playing the drums and someone asks you what your profession is, what are you going to say? "I don't have any profession. You see, I'm a drummer."
What do you do for a living is the question isn't it? I think that to make a living playing the drums, or any musicial instrument, is to be a professional. Of course the same can be said for prostitutes so there you go.


Senior Member
well I see this is a surprisingly controversial topic
I really don't know what I should agree with
I am employed by two film studios for use of my garage studio
I have yet to receive any pay but I have recorded songs that will be in a sitcom and if that sitcom does end up making money then I would make money. technically I'm doing professional work. but I still really don't know


Platinum Member
Exciting times, HeadRush. Sounds promising ... maybe?

As an HR professional (LOL) I'd always thought there was only one valid application of the term "professional" (ie. social climbing isn't it). In human resource planning you monitor your various occupational groups for recruitment drives, in skills audits, turnover, etc to ensure that you hace, as they put it, "the right person in the right place at the right time". Sounds like drumming, doesn't it?

After reading Caddy's post I've found one more use for it. Otherwise, the term really doesn't matter IMO


Silver Member
I've been wondering what exactly makes a professional, professional. does it have to do with the amount of money they make, hours in the studio, how much they have toured?
in the past two weeks, I have spent about 8 or 9 hours a day in the studio (converted garage) writing and recording for a television show being created by my brother, who is a film student, playing guitar, drums, and keyboard. I'm kind of wondering if I might be described as a professional musician. if not, what does it take to be considered such? if so, what about the work I do makes me one?

thank you,
Here's the REAL definition at Dictionary.com. I had a whim to check it out and really, as silly as it is, there's a TON of insight there if you read into it.

If you REALLY read them all, it gives a good insight into what a professional SHOULD be. There's quite a bit that goes into the meaning of the word, and if we all strive for it what a wonderful world it would be.

Pronunciation [pruh-fesh-uh-nl]
1. following an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain: a professional builder.
2. of, pertaining to, or connected with a profession: professional studies.
3. appropriate to a profession: professional objectivity.
4. engaged in one of the learned professions: A lawyer is a professional person.
5. following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional golfer.
6. making a business or constant practice of something not properly to be regarded as a business: “A salesman,” he said, “is a professional optimist.”
7. undertaken or engaged in as a means of livelihood or for gain: professional baseball.
8. of or for a professional person or his or her place of business or work: a professional apartment; professional equipment.
9. done by a professional; expert: professional car repairs.
10. a person who belongs to one of the professions, esp. one of the learned professions.
11. a person who earns a living in a sport or other occupation frequently engaged in by amateurs: a golf professional.
12. an expert player, as of golf or tennis, serving as a teacher, consultant, performer, or contestant; pro.
13. a person who is expert at his or her work: You can tell by her comments that this editor is a real professional.