Morgan the Musician and Shannon the Chef

After years of music school and uncountable hours of practice Morgan makes a decent living playing jazz guitar in clubs and coffee shops and as a session musician at a local recording studio.

Following a similar path, Shannon studied under a chef who was a family friend and has worked for the past six years in various upscale restaurants.

Morgan, the musician, has always loved to cook. Guests at Morgan’s special dinners have always said “You should open a restaurant!” Morgan just smiles.

Shannon, the chef, took piano lessons as a child and a few years ago, started practicing in earnest. Guests at Shannon’s living room concerts say “You should play down at the coffee shop!” Shannon never took it seriously—before now.

One of Morgan’s friends was hosting a special dinner party for out of town business guests and begged Morgan to cater it. “Nothing fancy, do what you always do, but please, feed my guests!” Though Morgan initially refused payment, the friend insisted.

Without even asking, a friend of Shannon’s booked a gig at a local coffee shop. Based on some recordings the friend had made at a living room concert, they were glad to pay a small fee for the performance.

Since Morgan and Shannon share a network of friends, each is aware of the other’s vocation—and their avocation.

When Shannon was invited to a dinner party hosted by Morgan the musician, Shannon expressed genuine appreciation for the food, for the flavors and presentation. It never entered Shannon’s head to expect a professional presentation at the level Shannon was capable of. Morgan was, after all, a hobbyist, and amateur simply having fun with friends.

After one of Shannon’s living room concerts, Morgan asked about some of Shannon’s original songs, and expressed genuine appreciation for the arrangement of a cover tune Shannon had performed. Morgan wouldn’t dream of critiquing Shannon’s fingering on the fretboard or choice of material. Shannon is, after all, just having fun, an amateur. Music is Shannon’s hobby, that’s all.

Now, though, things are different. Morgan, a musician, is being paid to cook. Shannon, a chef, is making money with music.

Would you expect them to have different expectations of each other’s hobbies now?

Folks who hire Morgan to cater a dinner are delighted with not only the food, but the price. They couldn’t afford Shannon’s highly professional service anyway, so they’re just glad they can get something they like at a price they can afford.

The coffee shops where Shannon makes a few bucks, the living room concerts that pay in generous tips, are glad to have lively music played by someone who loves what they do, who does it well enough for their guests at a price that allows them to have live music instead of prerecorded.

If these clients are happy to pay Morgan and Shannon for what were once only hobbies, should the other be miffed that “Shannon’s guitar playing isn’t studio-ready” or “Morgan’s cooking would never make it in a fine restaurant”?

At what point does it become a professional artist’s right to set expectations for another artist?

When a hobby morphs into a side business does an artist owe patrons the same quality as leaders in their field?

Is an artist obligated to be excellent, world-class, top of their game, before they’re allowed to exchange their art for money?

Or is that between the artist and those who are exchanging their money for that art?

3 thoughts on “Morgan the Musician and Shannon the Chef

  1. It is a matter of expectations for me. If the right expectation is set, then I’m willing to pay an appropriate amount for services or goods provided by someone, even if it’s not their profession.

    If I’m paying for and expecting a world-class meal, then I’d expect that meal to be world-class and prepared by a professional. Same thing with music. I wouldn’t want to pay to see someone of Van Morrison’s caliber perform and then get a garage band performance.

    However, if someone caters a small wedding and we all know it’s catered by the bride’s best friend who does it on the side as a hobby, I’d expect a good meal – just not the same class as some high-class restaurant in Paris.

    Of course I wouldn’t expect to pay as much when it’s someone’s hobby versus a professional. But I am be willing to pay for a good meal or good music – even if it’s not provided by a ‘professional’.

  2. I’m with Sue: I’d be willing to pay for music, a meal, a hike through a forest, even if the server of such was an informed amateur, or enthusiast, or zesty admirer of their art. It all depends on the context.

    Of course, last night, Alice and I ate at one of Santa Cruz’s best restaurants, and I ordered a Boulevardier to drink. Now I can make a good one of these drinks, and have, but this one was demonstrably better than any I’d ever made. (More expensive too, but worth it.) Sometimes when you want to fly high, you have to trust the pros. But sometimes you just want to fly a little, so you can trust the folks that can get their kites in the air.

  3. That matches my thinking. Expectations set by the provider, rather than by the recipient, make all the difference.

    Sometimes even venue sets the tone. If there’s one band playing no-cover down at the pub, and another playing for $45 at the Cactus Palladium, I set different expectations regardless of what the performers my think or say.

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