Kinds of professionalism
Let's look at what professionalism really is. It is a cultivated ability to deliver what is needed in defined contexts. A professional musician in an orchestra can quickly learn to play orchestral parts with clear rhythms, good sound, nicely phrased and responsive to the conductor and do so flawlessly on every occasion. A professional studio musician, the kind that records soundtracks, can read anything at sight and play it flawlessly. A professional teacher of music can teach others to do these things. But look what we are leaving out: real expression. Because involvement with what you are doing, on the personal level, would just get in the way.
Something similar is true of composition. A professional composer these days, is someone who writes soundtracks for movies or television. There are certain procedures that, when followed, will enable you to deliver the goods predictably, week after week. Some professionals seem to do it better than others, but what the job is, is clear.
Let's take a soundtrack, for example.
That does the job nicely of setting up a mood that is both eerie and yet somehow, familiar. Orchestral color from Tchaikovsky:
Done as a Viennese waltz, but with more rigid phrasing. The secret of this kind of professionalism is to have minimal creativity. This example is at the top of the heap, of course. Minimal creativity has made John Williams famous. Way down at the bottom is what we call 'elevator' music: soulless arrangements of vaguely familiar tunes.
This is where the words kitsch and cliché come to mind. This kind of music is absolutely mechanical, with a rigid beat, no phrasing allowed! The arrangements are watered down collections of clichés and the result is kitsch. Doing anything creative in this context would be unprofessional and probably get you fired.
What is cliché in music?
Every genre has its own clichés. The determining factor is the use of a device, harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic, that has been used many times before in just the same way. In the 'elevator' music example the clichés include the Latin rhythm track, the harmonic progression, the syncopated accompaniment and finally the melody. Also a cliché is the length of the phrases: everything appears exactly when you expect. This is professional delivery of the perfectly predictable. John Williams is operating on a much higher level, but what he is delivering is just slightly disguised clichés: the color of the celeste, the rhythm and phrasing of a Viennese waltz and a melody that is foursquare but with just a touch of chromatic inflection.
Is the opposite of the above. Instead of the precise professional reproduction of the predictable and expected--the cliché--you search for the new, the different, the unusual, that which develops its own context and doesn't just give the listener what they expect. Of course, in doing this, you need a highly developed sense of taste, because doing the different and unexpected often means you will come up with something not very pleasing... But sometimes that's ok, too. Some composers have made entire careers out of the creation of unpleasant music. But original. And not a cliché...