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Why Do I Have a Problem With the Word 'Professional?'

I am struggling with the word 'professional' and here is why. I started playing the kanklės at a young age and have not stopped since. I studied music 'professionally' at a music school, then a conservatory, and finally at university. Can I call myself a 'professional musician'? According to Google, no I cannot. As stated by Google a professional musician is someone whose 'performing is their primary source of income.'

It is interesting that for a long time, I did not even dare to call myself a musician. Am I a real musician simply because I can play a musical instrument? (Or three, haha). When I first started university and people around me called me a musician, I had an uneasy feeling that I was not worthy of this title because I was only studying music and was still not in the 'real' music industry. After a few years, I can now call myself a musician, but I am having difficulty deciding what it means to be a professional. If performing is still not my primary source of income, am I only an amateur musician?

Instead of using Google Search, I asked myself, 'what does the word professional mean to me? 'This helped me in discovering the answer, which was not so simple. I was having a hard time finding paid performances after university, which was delaying my start as a stage performer, so I started teaching music. I do not mind teaching, but I knew that if I did not find more ways to get on stage, I would get a little too involved in teaching, more than I wanted. The problem was that I was doing a lot of performances, but perhaps not in the right circumstances, or more specifically, not in the right places, which just did not yield any results.

During these challenging times, I learnt a few important lessons: first and foremost, you must take every opportunity you get; when you are at the beginning of your music career, you do not have the luxury of saying no to collaborations or gigs. Second, create opportunities for yourself: when others did not offer me opportunities, I created them for myself, such as organising concerts for local communities, which provided me with the opportunity to perform while also making it possible for the community to hear new music and learn more about Lithuanian culture. So it is clearly a win-win situation! Finally, and most importantly, don't lose sight of your goal. As cliché as it sounds, even though I was not getting many performance opportunities, I was always very focused on what I wanted, so I rarely went a day without practising, and that is because I never knew when the opportunity would come, so when it did, I had to be in my highest musical shape, which can only be accomplished through dedicated discipline.

With all of that going on in my musical world, you can understand why I had some self-doubt about calling myself a 'performer'. But I called myself that regardless because that is what I want to be and what I spend the majority of my time doing: practising.

Now things are different. I cannot believe it, but in recent months I have been booked for many paid performances, including wedding ceremonies, private events, and recitals. And for the first time, I feel like everything is falling into place, like music is simply becoming my lifestyle, my sole profession.

So, how am I dealing with the word 'professional' right now? It is different in the sense that, while I am now getting paid for playing music, which is one of the best feelings ever, the sense of professionalism came from a completely different place. The factor that contributes to my professionalism is my ability to discover, create, and nurture my own artistic identity. When I see a musician who recognises their unique style and is able to freely express their creative ideas through music, I consider them to be professionals, not just those whose primary source of income is live performance. Although I understand that if you are paid by a venue, you are most likely a 'professional' musician, but I believe there is much more to music than money. Also, we all know that not all bands and soloists who are paid are inevitably outstanding artists.

Finally, I believe that professionalism is a point in your music career that you continuously strive for. As I mentioned before, to me it is the artistic side of music that shows the level of one's expertise, but there are so many other important factors that add up to your status as a starting musician in the music industry, such as understanding the music business, being respectful to your colleagues, developing a strong work ethic and effective communication, etc.

I now consider myself a professional musician, despite the fact that I am far from 'complete professionalism'. What does being professional mean to you?


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