Is buying new music equipment a benefit or a distraction?
Today I wanted to write a little bit about purchasing equipment for making music. This could be anything from getting the tools to start your studio (computer, soundcard, midi controller etc..) to the extra goodies that can make your studio more interesting and fun (upgrades, new plug-in’s, the latest and greatest in hardware or software).
I’ve found myself in circumstances which I have really benefited from buying the right equipment and other times I have purchased new gear as a way of delaying my own creative output.
Lets first talk about buying equipment….
When you are putting your studio together, there are simply going to be neccesities that you can’t get around if you want a good shot at getting the ideas out of your head with ease and enjoyment. The question typically comes up about what you should buy.
*Should you buy the most expensive piece of gear or can you get by with something cheaper?
*Does more expensive really mean better?
*Is this new piece of gear really going to benefit you or are you just buying another toy that you will be bored of within the next week?
From my personal experience I have suffered for not buying the right tools when I really needed them. Sometimes you get so used to shoddy tools that you consider all the extra trouble you go through to just be a normal part of the process. What you don’t realize is that what you are saving in dollars might be costing you pretty heavily in creativity, productivity and inspiration.
When it came to my early productions with a computer in 1998, my production partner and I invested in a pentium 2, 300mhz PC. At the time this was pretty decent but as technology leaped forward, so did the minimum requirements of the software that was coming out. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of crashes, lock ups, and unsaved work that went down the drain.
On the other hand, when I decided to take DJ’ing more seriously, I spent the money and bought the best turntables, headphones and needles for the job (Technics 1200’s, Sony DJ headphones, and Shure white label needles). This made my life much easier, and also put me in the same mindset of the DJ’s I admired because we were essentially working on some of the same equipment. It also made playing live much easier since the clubs were stocked with equipment I was familiar with. (I did however use a cheap mixer, which although I “got by” with, it cost me in overall sound quality and I looked a bit unprofessional when having to ask someone how to properly use the Pioneer or Allen and Heath mixers. I currently use the xone 64 and can’t even explain the positive impact it has had.)
Another thing to consider, although you don’t want to get too hung up on this, is perception. The way you are perceived can have a pretty big impact on your music career. If people see you working on substandard equipment, they may look at you as a person who doesn’t take themselves seriously enough to invest more in themselves. I have found that investing in good equipment has more than paid for itself financially as well as in personal productivity.Using good equipment is simply more inspiring.
There is certainly an angle that I would like to put out there before I take things too far and have you maxing out your credit cards….
There is something to be said about using what you’ve got and getting the maximum productivity from it. Norman Cook (aka..Fatboy Slim) has unquestionably been incredibly successful with his productions but are you aware that he did nearly all of those songs on an old Atari sequencer? This is a classic example of not buying into the hype of the “latest and greatest” and sticking to what works best for him. I’m certain however that he has an engineer that drops his work into Pro Tools or Logic and gives his work that polished finished sound we know and love.
All of this really comes down to knowing yourself and being honest with your purpose for purchasing new (or vintage) equipment. Is what you are purchasing really going to give your productions better quality and give you more enjoyment and productivity? Have you become so afraid of creating that you are using new gear as a distraction from seeing what you are really capable of with what you’ve got?
Be very aware that it’s human nature to be in a constant mode of “wanting”. Having what we want rarely satisfies us for very long. Think of all the CD’s and DVD’s you have bought and haven’t listened to or watched. How many songs or full albums have you downloaded but never got around to enjoying? (I’ve certainly been guilty of this!) If you are in the process of accumulating more often than in the process of putting what you’ve got to use, you might be stuck in an endless cycle and it’s time to pull yourself out.
If you must get more gear (and everyone needs an upgrade at some point), a great idea is to buy one piece of gear and put it to use for 30 days to see if you really get good use out of it. If you don’t, turn around and sell it. If you do really get a lot of use from it, great! Now find something in your collection that you don’t get much use from and pull it off your computer (you can always reload it if you later find use for it). You probably haven’t used the thing in 6 months or more, but notice the sense of loss you feel as you remove it… Strange huh? This is a sign that you might have a kind of “pack rat” mentality and aren’t able to let things go, even if you aren’t using them. It’s almost always a good practice to get rid of soemthing old whenever you bring in something new.
Try something non musical… go through your closet and pull out the things that no longer fit you, or that you simply never wear. Do you still have a hard time pulling it out of your closet and taking it to goodwill?
What are you settling for? Does your creativity call for better tools or are you sinking in a pool of plugin’s and hardware? Are you giving yourself so many choices that it’s stalling your creativity? Give it some thought and then do something about it…
happy music making,