How To Tell If You’re A Hobbyist, Not A Professional Musician

I’ve been working with James for nearly a year now, and we’ve worked together to strengthen our abilities to help bands and entrepreneurs obtain viable exposure for their music and art. James Moore is a knowledgeable independent music industry professional and the founder of Independent Music Promotions. IMP is a publicity and promotions firm and a potent and informative music blog. We at Think Like a Label are supportive of anyone who professionally gives a hand to independent bands with vigor and strategy.

James has contributed this post to Think Like a Label, and we’re thankful for his open and rational knowledge. -j.e.

How can you tell that you’re a hobbyist and not a professional musician? This is something I see every single day through my work at Independent Music Promotions, and I intentionally want to make this article very short in order to concisely differentiate the two roles that independent musicians typically play when they release their albums (on BandcampCDBabyiTunes, etc).

There used to be a general perception that a certain status and professionalism came with releasing a CD. I still see a well-produced and artistic album as a major achievement. However, as CD’s/albums became easier and easier to make, the stakes became smaller and smaller for the artists creating them, and now, most artists releasing CD’s actually do very little to promote them beyond, say, Bandcamp, which, while it’s an amazing site, and one of my personal favorites, it’s pretty much the same as listing a product on eBay.

Gone are the days of grassroots promotion since the death of the CD; and with no risk of having those 1,000 demos cluttering up your basement, there’s less to lose, isn’t there? Bands stir their new releases briefly like spices donated into the greater online soup and hope someone says “Well, I haven’t tasted this flavor before”. Many artists who have discographies and highly professional artistic output are actually hobbyists, because no outward motion is happening. Simple as that.

The key question to ask yourself is; “Is the work getting done?”

That doesn’t mean you need to compare yourself with the artist who plays 300 live shows a year, or has just landed a contract with Honda. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. It just means that effort needs to be put into the outward motion process, which is presenting the product to the public in all forms.

The professional musician invests time and/or money into him/herself and either fills all the roles necessary to build the project, or else he/she outsources the work. It doesn’t really matter which. The key point is; the work gets done.

Necessary roles can include management, booking, publicity and promotion (radio and press), merchandising, licensing/publishing, legal aspects.

If you don’t want to personally spend the research and labor time doing all these things, you can always outsource. And you have options: you can either outsource research projects to students or freelancers to build top quality media lists, be your personal assistant, etc., or you can hire companies or individuals to build a team around you.

If you don’t do the work yourself, in a D.I.Y. manner, OR outsource the work that needs to be done to break a band, then you are a hobbyist.

If you’re putting some effort in, possibly an hour a day or more, and at least covering all the bases, you’re a professional.

The hobbyist masquerading as a pro puts all of their resources into writing, recording, mixing, etc., and then releases the album online with no advance push. There is no promotion plan. They leave it to the winds of fate. They hope someone will find them and put them on tour so they can reach a wider audience. They play the local pub. Once the album is out, it’s a “done deal.”

And a word of advice to artists: the public can tell which one your are. All it usually takes is a simple Google search to reveal how hard you’ve been working, so stay busy. It’s a sad thing to see such amazing art go unrecognized.

Author’s Bio:
James Moore is the author of the “Your Band Is A Virus” book series and founded of Independent Music Promotions, a D.I.Y. music promotion company working exclusively with “music with depth”.

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7 comments

  • All very true! Making music is the easy part; reaching an audience is a whole different ball game and requires a professional approach that is both consistent and determined. Most artists fail in the area of promotion simply because they do not spend anytime working on it.   A focused marketing approach doesn’t guarantee success, but it does guarantee a chance!

  • And no one knows this better than Monks of Mellonwah. Consistency, hard work and determination wins the game. Thanks for the comment!

  • I think that’s a fair statement. There could always be more funds and time allotted for writing, recording, mixing and mastering. My main point is that, and it’s been my experience that over 90 percent of artists do zero promotion for their releases. I’ve heard a ton of artists who have production, songwriting, etc that would absolutely blow you away, but they just do nothing with it. They toss it on Bandcamp. I’m sure you’ve come across it too and thought “Why wouldn’t they try a little?”

  • This is ABSOLUTE truth, and it makes me feel better that i’m becoming more and more professional with every release.

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