I was reading an article on the Chip Collection blog and it made me smile because it was at the same time true and untrue. Now, the post is a tongue-in-cheek look at gear, out-of-date hardware and soforth, but it brings up something I feel strongly about: It’s so NOT about the gear.
Technology is great- anyone can have access to the same software and sounds that the “pros” use. The good side of this is that the playing field is somewhat leveled. The bad side is that everything sounds the same, and the overall quality of music is decreased. A quick tour of Myspace will yield hours of sub-par programmed tracks that use the same Reason presets. So what separates the good from the bad and the ugly? Creativity. Uniqueness. Individuality. Attention to detail. So, your music sounds like Royksopp? Great, but I’ll listen to Royksopp if I want to hear Royksopp. Give me something I haven’t heard before. Great bands and artists have a unique sound.
I’m a professional musician. Like most, I’m no prodigy, I don’t come from a “famous” music family and I don’t have a wealthy benefactor. The music industry is tough, and I work hard. I love what I do, and I love that it provides for my family. They come first. That means clothes, shoes, food or medicine for my daughter come before the latest plug-ins. It also means my gear list is relatively short when compared to a lot of guys. But that can be a great thing.
How can having no gear be such a good thing? Well, it forces you to be creative (a novel concept these days I know…). In my case, having only a few keyboards at my disposal really forced me to use them in non-standard ways. Instead of simply running a preset through a plug-in, I had to learn how to actually edit and design sounds. In the process, I discovered, quite by accident many times, new approaches, edits and processes that have become a huge part of what I do on a track these days. My favourite things are those that I have yet to hear on other records- things I think (or hope) I am doing first. Wishful thinking? Probably but perhaps no. Lots of gear, while being fun and novel, can be distracting. The other thing about having tons of gear is that, depending on how you came about that gear, it can hold you back.
Consider the chap who goes out and buys a roomful of gear. Now, he must work extra to pay for that gear, often having to do things that are severely draining on time and creativity, instead of being able to simply CREATE. And then, even worse, is the possibility of that gear being out of date and needing to be upgraded by the time it’s paid for. So how much did it really help? Then there’s the guy who has a minimal setup but knows how to make it rock. The limitation demands creativity. Before long, people notice. Not too long after that, he can afford any bit of kit he desires!
I’m somewhere between the two; I’ve made my share of bad gear decisions but I like my setup now. Some days I catch myself thinking “It would be great to have…”, but at the same time, I’m really thankful for a modest studio, because I know to some degree the lack is what forces me to up my game. Now if I can somehow get that modular I’ve been wanting, or that OP-1 synth…