I enjoy working on my car. I can do all the basic stuff—change the oil, replace belts and hoses, and even change the alternator. But when it comes time to do some real work, there is a level of expertise I don’t have. If I were to attempt some repair jobs, I would be very unhappy with the outcome. I need a professional.
Our musical clients are in the same boat. They may feel comfortable hiring amateurs in some situations, but there should come a point at which they realize the quality of the product is also related to the quality of the performer. Those are the times they, too, need a professional.
Yet lately I’ve heard more and more disdain and angry words from fellow musicians about so-called amateur musicians and free gigs. These comments are fueled by newsworthy moments such as Amanda Palmer trying to recruit amateur/semi-professional musicians to play her concerts without pay.* There were a lot of angy words on the interwebs.
But as professionals—with all that word implies—we need to remember our bête noir is not the amateurs. We should applaud them for taking an interest in our art form. They are the people who really appreciate exactly what it takes to do what we do. Professionals should never turn away from an interested amateur. As Seth Godin says:
The best professionals love it when a passionate amateur shows up.
The clarity and intelligence of a smart customer pushes both client and craftsman to do better work.
He’s right. Our real enemy is ourselves. If our audience base doesn’t understand or hear the difference between a trained professional with years of schooling and an amateur who practices in his spare time, then we have only ourselves to blame. We’ve either not educated our audience to appreciate the difference in quality, or we are not performing at a level that will reveal any appreciable difference.
If you’re worried about amateurs playing for free at gigs you used to get paid for, then perhaps it’s time to up the ante. It’s not enough to tell people there is a difference between you (the pro) and the amateur—you have to create a niche for yourself that cannot be filled by anyone but you. Give them something worth paying for.
*To be fair, after a week of negative feedback, Palmer reversed her decision, although I still think it was a valid strategy.