Levels of Musicianship
If you'd like to play music professionally or semiprofessionally, you should get a sense of how the music business works. But first it's important to understand the five basic levels, or ranks, of musicianship. Following is a generalized system of ranking. Bear in mind that some gray areas always exist.
Amateur musicians include beginner to intermediate-level players, those who do not get paid to perform, and those who play strictly for fun. Amateurs are often music pupils, and these students can be young or old. There are really two categories for amateurs: the recreational musician and the novice student.
Semiprofessionals play for money but do not make a living as a musician. Semiprofessionals are usually college students or adults who work day jobs (or go to school) and gig occasionally at night. Semiprofessionals tend to play low-profile, localized events. Further, they generally receive little compensation.
Journeymen professionals are highly skilled, experienced, and often extremely gifted musicians. They make their living as a musician, though they still work mostly in a localized setting. Most journeymen are freelance players who usually play a wide variety of styles. This chameleon-like quality keeps them in work. Journeymen are sometimes hired to accompany touring celebrities who come through town looking for local players to back them up. Journeymen musicians also tend to be unionized. Subsequently, they are usually called hired guns or mercenaries. Hired guns are musicians who play strictly for money. They do this because music is their profession and often their only source of income.
Distinguished professionals could also be called semicelebrities. These musicians usually have a small- to medium-sized fan base, and younger musicians tend to admire them for their accomplishments. Distinguished professionals almost always have equipment endorsements and are featured in trade magazines, and their resumes boast stints in bands led by major celebrities. Distinguished professionals make a good buck doing what they do. However, on the down side, they often spend most of their careers on the road.
This category is fairly self-explanatory. Major celebrities are superstars who play only on an international level, and they are almost always signed to major record labels. This, however, doesn't mean that they are necessary more talented (or more skilled) than journeymen or distinguished professionals. Some celebrities are artistic geniuses; others are just talented entertainers. Often major celebrities are singers, and many of them go on to attain legend status. Celebrity musicians are always well compensated and they have a gigantic fan base. Paul McCartney and Sting are examples of celebrity bassists.