Over the last 6 months, I've been subscribed to the "Super Duty Tough Work" podcast, hosted by veteran independent artists/producers Blueprint and Illogic. Recently, I heard an episode called "The Problem with New Gear" that pretty much stopped me in my tracks, as they discussed the negative effects that an obsession with new gear can have on musicians/producers. They were literally reading out my diagnosis for all to hear!
Like every other musician, we all idolise the new. 'New' equals potential, possibilities, creativity unlocked, limits removed. A whole new world where that next world-changing idea is ours once that vintage valve amp or ribbon mic or analogue synth VST emulation arrives on our doorsteps or in our inboxes. Or at least, that's how it feels to me.
In trying to transition from a record-sampling hip-hop producer to making my own samples, I've been on a quest to find gear that gives my compositions that authentic vintage sound. I quickly realized my budget and bedroom studio space were no match for the analogue synths, vintage preamps and consoles needed to get the sound I wanted.
So, the rabbit-hole of VST plugin emulations were my saviour. I would pour through demo versions and mountains of resources to find the most 'authentic' plugin emulations possible. We're talking countless years of research, YouTube tutorials & gear shootouts, message-board forums and endless copies of magazines like Sound on Sound and Computer Music, just to learn classic analogue studio techniques and signal-chains to figure out the right combination of plugins and techniques to get the sound I wanted.
So why is it that my ever-growing plugin folder currently has more 1176 compressors, tape and console emulations, and 'rare' vintage EQs than I know what to do with?
Once it's sale season, my inbox is flooded with adverts for music gear with familiar buzzwords like "warm", "valve", "analogue", "tube", "tape", "saturation", etc...as if these manufacturers, retailers and search algorithms know an audio crackhead when they see one!
However, when I look back on the amount of music I've actually made over the years, one thing is stunningly obvious. While the amount of knowledge and gear I have has gone up, so has the amount of excuses I have given myself for not finishing or releasing music. They often sound like "well, if only I had *insert plugin/gear name*, I could take this song to a whole 'nother level".
As an experiment, I used Mike's "Finances" function to catalogue all the money I'd spent on plugins and music software over the last 12 months...and the results were frightening to say the least. Let's just say, If I'd made even ¼ of that money in music revenue during that time, I'd consider myself lucky as an indie artist!
One thing is clear, the obsession with new gear caters to the worst perfectionism traits. I mean let's face it, what's sexier – buying that hollow-body jazz guitar I've dreamt of or actually practicing my fairly mediocre guitar technique with my beat-up strat I bought for £50 at a pawn shop 10 years ago? Why spend hours pouring over lyric rewrites when I could spend hours on Reverb or eBay praying that some clueless kid is selling their granddad's Telefunken U47 mic for cheap without knowing what it's actually worth? I could learn the finer points of creating synth sounds...or I could buy the latest vintage synth emulation that I can't figure out how to install properly.
We've already got all the right tools at our disposal, so maybe it's not the gear or lack thereof...maybe I'm just scared of creating bad art or receiving bad reviews. Scared of not meeting the arbitrary standards I've set for myself. Or even overly obsessed with the approval of my fellow artists and producers and faceless critics on social media.
But hey, what do I know? After all, "Iknowmorethanyou97" on the online forum claims my plugins can never match the real analogue gear, so my music's automatically trash [sidenote: they've never heard my music]. Oh well, down the PayPal rabbit hole I go again...the saga continues!