Professionalism and why it matters
Websters definition of professionalism: "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person." I would like to cover some points on the "conduct and qualities that characterize or mark a professional person".
No one ever said the entertainment industry was easy...or professional. In fact, I remember something the legendary film composer agent/producer and industry pioneer Richard Kraft once said about the entertainment industry "if you don't like the clowns, don't join the circus". Wise words. So, how to not be a clown.
Well the first thing is to realize that the entertainment industry is made up of a diverse group of individuals with varying experiences and expertise or lack thereof. I have worked with people who have MBA's and law degrees from Harvard and Wharton, people who have no more experience than barely graduating college with a worthless degree from some fancy college of music, self taught geniuses, to people who exude creativity and can dream up incredible stories, to ad agencies who are masters of mass manipulation and communication and everything in between. Thats what makes our industry so unique, interesting, and fun. But that doesn't mean they all exude professionalism (outside of being professional and getting paid for the work they do).
So what do I mean by being professional and conducting yourself with professionalism. Well if I were to say to someone I was friends with or mentoring, I would begin with common professional courtesy. Be sure to answer communications (email, text, calls, etc.) in a timely manner. This applies to the janitor in your building to Stephen Spielberg..assuming he calls you. In fact, in my opinion you should treat the Janitor the same way you would treat Stephen. Responding in a timely manner shows that you are responsible, responsive, and appreciative of their time. Everyone deserves respect and if someone takes the time to reach out to you, you should respond timely. That is what a professional does. Not responding or responding late is well...what a clown does.
If YOU reach out to someone, be courteous, clear, efficient, and thankful in what you want, need or are asking for. People are busy...including you. Respect their time. I can't tell you how many times I have reached out to some producer or director in response to their inquiry to me, and never heard anything back. If you are going to reach out to someone and not respond back to them regardless of the reason, it sets a very bad tone for a potential relationship in general and in the future. Plus it just wrong and a dick move. On the flip side, having them respond or at minimum have an assistant respond is appreciated and sets a positive tone for future work and relationship. That's what a professional does.
If you are engaged on a project where there are problems, issues, etc. communication is key. It goes both ways. Working together to solve the issues and communicate is what a professional does. Only good things can come from working together. Effective communication is key, even if its painful. Its hard for creative people to have difficult conversations around issues. I am no exception. But sometimes your approach in a professional manner can make the difference between a bad situation and one that builds trust and confidence even if the outcome is not what you wanted or expected. That's what a professional does.
Another major lack of professionalism is not showing up on time whether for a call, Zoom, recording session, or meeting. Huge red flag for me. You may have heard of the old military saying if your not 10 minutes early, your 10 minutes late. I live by these words. I can't tell you how many times I have shown up early and it has paid off. Whether by meeting someone else in passing that was mutually beneficial, or the other party had a last minute schedule change and was grateful I was there early so we could still meet and move forward. Further it shows you are responsible. On the flip side, I have shown up 10 minutes early or even earlier and the other party was late. Of course there are exceptions, the previous meeting went long, etc. But in general, if you make someone you asked to meet with you wait? Yup... clown. It's important to remember, if you show up late for a session, gig, etc. it almost always costs someone, the project, timeline, other meetings, money, etc. and it will probably cost you in the end as well. Showing up early, ready to go and kick ass is what a professional does.
Budgets. When you commit to a project and a budget. Thats it! Unless there are provisions in your agreement that account for revisions or issues that speak to budgetary and tasking changes, you must work within your budget. Going back to a director or producer because you didn't or forgot to budget the string players you were going to use and now need money to cover the cost of talent and recording? Yeah....clown. Be sure to discuss all these issues before signing an agreement to ensure you have covered everything and budgeted everything in their expectations or production needs. Then ensure your agreement clearly articulates any exceptions and how they will be paid for otherwise you will be eating the cost, and/or get fired. Being responsible is what a professional does.
Presentation. Because of the diverse personalities and constituents we work with, its very difficult to figure out every situation and how you will be received. Aside from your reputation and demo reel which got you in the door, people will look at you and your demeanor i.e. how you carry yourself, and make a judgement. Simple human nature. A judgement on can you do the job, can I trust them with a X dollar production, do they seem responsible, easy to work with, professional, etc. However, showing up like a slob or drunk/high is NOT what a professional does. The days of saying..."well she is an artist so..." or "thats just his way because he is XYZ", is bullshit. You're an adult. Act like one. If someone wants to work with you it means they trust you will deliver. Even if the project has no budget, small budget or big budget. Makes no difference. Someone is trusting you to do a job and deliver. Their whole project may depend on it. Thats what a professional does. Deliver. Now this also works on the other side as well. If you are meeting with a producer, director, A&R, artist, etc.and they are all jacked up, look like a slob, late, never respond in a timely manner, etc. that should tell you everything you need to know about what your in for. Clown.
So much of our industry is based on trust. Trust that you will show up, trust that you can do what you say you can do, trust that you are as good as others say or think, trust that you will deliver on time and on budget, trust, trust, trust. NO ONE is ever going to hire you for a multi-million dollar project or even a passion project if you are unprofessional. Now having said that, do people still hire knuckleheads? Yep and it costs them big time. There are so many films that made bad decisions on trusting the wrong person that ended up costing the studio huge money and delays in time, etc. Same thing with albums, games, etc. Don't be that person. Don't be the clown.
Of course I could on and on about this topic. But hopefully as an aspiring composer, musician, artist, or even an established "pro", this is common sense. But the fact that it is a topic and something I and others come up against regularly sadly shows it is not common sense, only common.
In closing, let me just say this. Be professional and exude professionalism. There is no downside and its not hard to do. Being nice and pleasant, easy to work with, responsible, on time, and courteous. It costs you nothing...its free and anyone can do it...if you try. Trust me. You and your work/reputation will be better for it. But here is a note of caution and should come as no surprise. Not everyone is professional or exudes professionalism. So what happens when your expectations are set high because YOU are professional? Well honestly... you get disappointed and a little frustrated. But that is no excuse for you to lower your bar. Be professional, exude professionalism, and be the best version of your self. There truly is no downside. Aside from it being the right thing to do, it can only help your brand. In the end when all else fails, just remember what Richard Kraft said, "if you don't like the clowns, don't join the circus". Its the nature of our industry and frankly, most industries.
Now go get em!