Being a pro – or not – doesn't depend on how many shows you perform a year, how much money you earn, or even how talented you are. It is 100 percent one thing: mindset. I've played with amateur musicians who had the heart of a pro and vice versa. The good news is that this mindset can be learned.
If you've fallen short in the past, don't worry – this article will help highlight what you can improve. It can be a tough road and may even go against many of your initial instincts. But it's worth it to get a pro attitude. You will reap numerous benefits in your business relationships and reputation.
A pro is always working
Amateurs do their work only when the mood strikes them. They have a list of priorities and writing or practicing their instrument is way down on the list. They might truly be naturally talented, but they will never actually seek to improve. They want the quick success without all the hard work.
Pros work constantly. They're practicing their instruments, studying hit songs, improving their own compositions, and honing their skills. When not they're doing these things, they're hustling – chasing new opportunities or creating new ones. The amateur sits back and thinks the world will discover him or her, but the pro knows he or she has something to prove every day.
A pro never takes it personally
This industry is difficult. When you create any kind of art, you're putting a piece of yourself out there. When it gets rejected by the Powers That Be, it certainly stings. You wouldn't be human if it didn't. While pros will lick their wounds and learn from their mistakes, amateurs will rail, moan, and whine.
They may direct their frustrations at the decision-makers, openly resenting them for not taking their songs or signing them. (This rarely goes well and almost guarantees a closed door in the future). Amateurs may vent to friends and say the business is fixed or nobody understands their genius. The amateur assesses the situation and gets bitter – the pro gets better.
A pro builds others up
There's nothing wrong with being a little competitive. In fact, it's a trait that's necessary for success. A pro understands, however, that a rising tide raises all ships. Pros are confident of their place in the ecosystem and don't feel threatened by other artists. They are usually willing to lend their expertise; they understand that by helping others, we often grow ourselves. Envying others is ugly, and sniping at them from the background even more so. You'll never see pros do this. They understand that their turn will come around if they keep working at it.
On the other hand, the amateur is willing to step over anyone and everyone to get to the top. Amateurs leave a long trail of burned bridges and wrecked relationships. While they may achieve short-term success, it's often short lived. Their self-centered perspective comes back to haunt them when they discover they've destroyed their own support system.
A pro shows up
Let's pretend you're hiring someone for a job. Person A shows up for the interview early, comes in prepared, and seems excited and focused. Person B shows up 20 minutes after the appointed time, sipping the Starbucks that made him or her late. Also, he or she isn't prepared and keeps checking his or her phone every two minutes. Who would you hire? Odds are, it's Person A.
I have worked with writers and artists who fall solidly into both categories. Many people – especially if they're artistically inclined – tend to be flaky. It's just the nature of that type of personality. But artists who can manage to get their crap together stand head and shoulders above everyone else – even if they aren't as intrinsically talented. I'll choose to work with them every time, hands down, because I know they'll show up, pursue opportunities, and work their tails off.
Take a moment to objectively assess where you are. If you're unsure, ask friends and colleagues who you know will be honest with you. Listen to any criticism they have with an open mind. Remember when I said the pro is always seeking to improve? This is a good place to start. If you find yourself bristling against honest criticism, it's a sign of something you need to work on.
If you act like an amateur, people will deal with you if they absolutely have to – and on the off chance you become successful, they may have to – but your road will be fraught with difficulty. The more you act like a pro, the more you'll be treated like one – and the more successful you'll ultimately be.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.