Artist vs. Professional


Warning: This post might make the artist in you a bit a uncomfortable.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a number of music conferences across the United States in recent years, and no matter where I go there are passionate musicians hoping the world will recognize their talent. I always tell them that simply attending a conference is a good place to start because it shows a willingness to learn and financially back their dreams. Those things may sound like something everyone wishing to make it would possess, but trust me — it’s not.

Still, even the most driven musicians often have a sour look on their face when a speaker or panelist at these events refers to their art as a product and their career as being similar to that of a small business. Artists, by and large, hate thinking of themselves as a business, and they really dislike being told their creativity should be viewed as product. After all, music is one of the most sacred things on the plane. It’s an expression of emotion and thought that has been a part of the human experience since before we had a method of recording our history as a species.

In order to properly navigate the tricky waters of entertainment with the highest likelihood of financial success you need to learn to see your art as work. You need to accept that you are a business and that your songs are the products you produce. This kind of thinking in no way discredits the role creativity plays in your work, but it does make it possible for you to get your creativity in front of the most people possible.

What differentiates the artist’s mindset from that of a professional who sees their art as a product of their business?

An artist believes their art speaks for itself and doesn’t need promotion. A professional also believes art can speak for itself, but understands that marketing and promotion are key to that art being heard.

An artist believes people will discover them in time. A professional believes this as well, but understands the competition is fierce and that being proactive is a must.

An artist believes anyone listening to their music from any source is good because all exposure is the same. A professional also believes in people being able to access their music for free, but encourages the use official channels that aide them in making money off their creativity.

An artist doesn’t care how people access their music. A professional discourages the use of piracy. 

An artist places creativity over financial gain. A professional does this as well, but understands the role money will play in longterm success.

An artist’s sole focus is to create the next thing or complete the next tour. A professional focuses on the next project while working to ensure they can continue their career once that is complete.

An artist relies solely on their creativity in order to succeed. A professional recognizes the need to understand how business works in order for their creativity to succeed. 

In truth, all artists are professionals whether they like it or not. The ones who succeed accept this fact and set to gaining the skills needed to build a successful business with their art. The rest might create equally good – if not better – art, but due to their refusal to look at music as a business the world never hears their talent.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a motivational speaker focusing on careers in the entertainment industry, as well the host of the ‘Inside Music’ podcast. You should follow him on Twitter.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.