Being a successful professional musician can be quite challenging. Anyone can learn to be a good musician but when you add the “professional” part things get complicated. There are many career options for musicians that include performing, teaching, songwriting, producing, engineering, session work, soundtracks and placements and so forth.
Most pro musicians pay the bills utilizing multiple skills- say teaching and cover gigs or producing soundtracks and doing sessions. However- in my experience performers often seem to have the toughest time finding their way in their business. The biggest problem seems to be finding their audience.
Musicians often appreciate music for its technical aspects. A great guitar solo, a syncopated funky baseline or a difficult polyrhythmic drum part. The audience, on the other hand, tends to like songs for their more accessible elements. Melodies, “catchy” musical parts and so forth are more accessible to the average listener. Entertainers are more keyed-in to what the *audience* wants to hear. This- in my opinion- is a distinct difference in approaches to performing music.
Well-known, influential musicians are usually good- if not great- entertainers as well. Conversely- many great musicians fail to understand that without an audience there is no one to appreciate what you do or pay you to do it. It would seem that great performers learn to “sell it” by discovering what aesthetic elements appeal to their audience including musical styles, fashion sense, even staging and production.
People often like to throw out words like “sell out” to describe musicians who blatantly seek to appeal to an audience. So at what point did performers like Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Miles Davis, Elton John, etc.- all known for possessing flamboyant performing styles- become sellouts? The word “sellout” seems to come from a place of jealousy in my experience. Either a performer has crossed the line that separates performers from the mere mortal audience or “my” favorite artist is now seeking a wider audience and either watering-down or ramping-up the elements of their performance that I was initially attracted to.
The bottom line is that a musician without an audience of some kind will have not only have a hard time being “professional” but also defeats the purpose of performing in public altogether. Learning what appeals to listeners is just as important as the quality of the musical performance if not more so. Art is created to be appreciated. Without appreciation is music truly art?