The Difference Between Being An Enthusiastic Amateur and a Professional

This post has the potential to come across as a piece of moaning ingratitude.  I can assure you it is not that.  I feel very lucky and privileged to have earned, at long last, the opportunity to do what I am doing at the moment.  It’s a dream come true.  However, that said, I have to confess that I underestimated what I was taking on.  It isn’t as easy as I imagined it would be.

When you begin to turn your amateur enthusiasm into something more professional, there are some unexpected things that turn up.  I think the reason is that you tend to mentally classify your hobby as something somewhat trivial, with the effort you put into it not really equivalent to working hard.  Heck, it’s too enjoyable to regard as work.  You mistakenly think everything will be easy.  But it is work, in a very real sense.

After more decades than I care to admit to being a desk-bound employee, the first thing I noticed about spending all day, every day, playing and recording music, is that it is physically demanding.  For one thing, you are moving more heavy gear around (amplifiers, etc.).  Secondly, playing is a full body experience.  It involves your whole being.  Sitting at a desk is not, by comparison.  When you play with your whole body involved in the process, you get fatigued.  Muscles you hadn’t attempted to use in any serious way before are now being called upon to put in the hours.  You find that things that never hurt before begin to hurt.

Then there is the mental exertion that comes from paying more attention to the details of what you are doing than you did before, when it was just a hobby.  When I was playing and making music on an amateur basis, having a guitar ever so slightly north of concert pitch was no big deal at all, so long as it was in tune with itself.  However, when you are recording against other concert-pitch tuned instruments, it matters greatly.  You also have a long check list of things to remember to do to get your engineering and production right, before you play or record a single note.  All of that stuff that you have to remember to do, before you improvise a guitar solo, or write a new melody, puts extra load on your wetware.  Running through all those processes all day, every day, when you are not accustomed to them, places extra demands on your mind and you feel mentally tired because of it, until it all becomes second nature, of course.  I’m not quite there yet.  I’m still “learning to drive”.  Just doing more of what you love to do actually takes more out of your mind and body.  I hadn’t prepared for that, perhaps foolishly.

At the back of my mind is the thought that having now found a way to spend all my time on my art, how can I prolong that period of time?  The answer is to make it pay somehow.  I’m not entirely sure how, at the moment, but I do know that the highest priority is to get a decent body of work together and to maintain a disciplined work ethic, without being so driven and tired, that my creativity flags and my art begins to show it.  It’s a fine line to tread.  You need to make enough of your art for it to be adequately representative of what you can do, but you need to keep the quality and the freshness of it alive somehow, too.  You also need to have some product to sell, but it has to be good product.

I’ve found myself having to learn tools and techniques in greater depth than before.  If I wasn’t motivated to find out how to play something, or use some piece of sound making equipment or software, I could just skip it.  Now, when I have to make a good piece of work, I can’t skate over those gaps in my knowledge anymore.  I have to do the research, study and learning.  Sometimes, that can be quite demanding on your brain cells as well.  Just finding the information is a challenge.

Meanwhile, life goes on.  Things need repairs.  Events come up that you have to attend or attend to.  The children have exams and school demands.  If anything, staying around your house more simply brings into focus all the things you ignored and neglected, because you were too busy commuting and sitting in a distant office for hours and hours.  When those things you were previously able to put out of your mind are in your immediate vicinity, you suddenly remember that you need to fix things, paint things, clean things and so on.  The garden needing attention is not something you can put off and forget, because you keep looking at it.  It’s right there, outside your window.  These time vampires compete with your art for your energy, attention and mental focus.  I didn’t anticipate that.

My writing has suffered.  It has taken second place to making music, but I am still managing to paint and to produce paintings that get a good reaction from my very kind friends.  I used to write for a living, if the truth be told.  My job was all about written communication, specifications, presentations and organisation.  Now, I write less and play music more.  I do have personal writing projects that need attention, but those are not as pressing as getting my body of musical work together.  For the moment, anyway.

If there is a lesson I have learned from this experience it is that whatever preparations you make for turning your art into your life, it isn’t enough.  You will need to dig deeper and find more energy, attention, knowledge, intellect, creativity, whimsy, imagination and physicality than you ever suspected you would need to find.  I thought the only problem to solve was how to fund it all.  That was just the start of it.  Being able to actually accomplish your goals requires more of you than that.

Of course, the only really worthwhile things to do are those that are hard and which challenge you.  All the rest is too facile, glib and uninteresting.  The hard work is the really fulfilling work.

All that said, I am truly relishing the challenge and having some of the most enjoyable moments ever.  They say it’s all a journey.  Hopefully, it leads to somewhere good.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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