The Meaning of ‘Professional’

Performing at the Lincoln Day Dinner, 3/10/12. Photo by Carla Rowe.

At a dinner performance last week, a gentleman complimented me on my music and asked if I was a professional. I answered affirmatively, and proceeded to tell him about my upcoming CD and such related things.

As I walked away, my husband questioned me: “I know you like calling yourself a professional, but are you really? You’re most definitely good and all, but you don’t tour…”

Touché.

Let me explain how I see the idea of being a “professional:”

The Merriam-Webster definition is very simple: “one of a profession, one who is paid to play in games, etc.” This is the definition I use to help me define it. I get paid to perform — i.e. I am a professional.

But there’s a little more to it. I was raised to put stock in work ethic. Therefore, I consider myself a professional because I put in the time like I do at my day job. I am as punctual as I can be when arriving for shows; I am as polite and courteous as I would be if I were working customer service; I practice my skills; I stay sober while ‘on the clock.’ Even though performing is extremely fulfilling to me, I still treat it like a business — because, at the heart of it, I want to be worth my fees. I do not want venues to fork over money and then get something half-assed. I wouldn’t be hired back! It is in my best interests to be professional.

My husband was correct, however: I do not tour. The most I’ve done is do a single performance in another city; while I did travel, it was not a tour. I did not have other shows lined up along the way. The venue owner simply contacted me, asked me to come, and I made arrangements. When I was done, I went back to my regularly broadcasted life. No big. This is where I think the distinction lies between being strictly a “professional,” and being a “star.” Stars tour. Stars have publicity shoots. Stars get interviewed in big magazines, fill gigantic stadiums with fans, and are generally well-known. Stars can be professional — certainly many names in the country music field come to mind — but just like being professional does not necessarily make you a star, being a star does not necessarily make you a professional.

I am a professional. I get paid for my art and I try to run my business honestly, fairly, and responsibly. I’m happy with that.