I run into versions of this phrase a lot as I coast over music websites and catalogs, surveying the gear. Ads for equipment and instruction promise that if you have this or that piece of pro gear or if you play this or that way you’ll be one step closer to sounding like a pro. Sounding like a pro–which is short for sounding like a professional–is the ultimate goal because it signifies that you’ve arrived at the rarefied altitude at which the pros work. Sounding like a pro means that people will admire what you do and you’ll make money from that transaction. And sounding like a pro means something because, well, not everyone gets to be a pro.
One way of considering a music pro is someone who can play things you can’t and never will be able to. He or she may also have access to techniques and repertoire that will be forever beyond your grasp for reasons physical, cognitive, and social. This means that, over time, a pro comes to inhabit a different world from that of you, the non-pro amateur. Pros make recordings that circulate on a mass scale, they are sought after as teachers of their craft, they concertize around the world, and they have public respect and admiring fans. A pro is also anyone who makes a living from their craft–regardless of whether or not they sound very pro. Yet another perspective is that pros care about their craft to an extreme degree while also being highly reliable. In music, this sense of caring and reliability lead pros to bestowing a lazer-like quality of attention on their work consistently over time, making particular compositional choices regarding how they use what they have and ignore what they don’t have, or how they decide what stays in and what doesn’t, and finally, understanding how their work relates to what is already out there in their field. All this to say that a pro has a perspective which, unlike a piece of “pro” gear, isn’t bought right now, but rather earned over time.