How to tell if you need more gear

Isn’t new gear great? Don’t you love that feeling of getting stuck into a new piece of gear – exploring the range of sounds, cooking up new dimensions or additions to your usual sound, feeling inspired to make music?

New gear feels great – it’s almost like a hit. So much so that it even feels good to browse for gear. You know what I’m talking about – Blogs posting news of the latest gear announcements. Hi-res images and manuals from manufacturer’s websites. Youtube videos of gear demos. Forum discussions about picking the ‘best’ of each category.

The internet is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a colossal waste of time. And new gear can be a huge waste of money if you don’t use it to its potential. And if you get caught up in GAS (don’t pretend you’ve never heard of it…), it actually gets in the way of making music. It’s a trap. Really. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

To avoid getting stuck in the gear trap, it’s important to know when you need new gear – without anyone (especially gear manufacturers!) telling you.

Knowing when you need to gear doesn’t start on manufacturer’s websites or forums or blogs. It starts in your studio. Nowadays music technology is so available that you’re probably not lacking in tools. Whatever you need, you can probably find a version for cheap or free (in the case of plugins). The real deciding factor is workflow. Pay attention to your workflow and pay attention to any tasks that can be streamlined or improved. More specifically, look for these:

  • Tasks that are time-consuming or repetitive. This is where you need to improve first. New gear is sometimes the solution, but not always. For example, if you always waste time fiddling with an eight-band fully parametric EQ, maybe you need to learn to listen, or maybe you need an EQ with fewer controls (My regular track EQ doesn’t have many controls). Similarly, if you find yourself getting bogged down drawing notes in a piano roll editor, it’s probably time to buy a MIDI controller.
  • Tools that make it difficult to express yourself. You’ll know this if you feel like you’re battling with a particular tool (or set of tools) and you never really get the sound that you’re after. Obviously, you should first make sure you’re using your tools to their full potential. Buying more compressors isn’t going to help you if you simply don’t know how to use the ones you’ve got. But if you’ve pushed your current compressor to the limit (no pun intended!) and you still don’t get the smack you’re after, you probably need a different compressor.
  • Gaps in workflow. This one’s pretty easy – it’s when you want to use tools that you don’t have, and you make do with what you’ve got. For example, if you’re frequently running guitar samples through amp simulators, it might be time to buy a guitar and learn to play. Similarly, if you’re always using sampled drums or pianos, it’s probably worth saving up for the real thing.

Ultimately, this is about deciding what you need, based on your actual work. It sounds simple, but how many times have you caught yourself dreaming about gear that you don’t actually need? When you know how to decide when you need new gear, you’ll find it easier to resist the urge to waste time daydreaming or waste money indulging.

And that means you can make more music.

-Kim.

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  1. Fantastic points Kim! I think the only other reason to indulge in GAS that you left off is “when your existing gear breaks or fails.” ;)

  2. @Dave Chick
    True – I forgot about that one! If something dies a natural death, it’s probably time to move up and get something a bit more robust!

    -Kim.

  3. It’s a trap!

  4. Agree with you 1000%. Unless the gear was given to me for free (which has been true in most cases), I’d rather figure out every feature of whatever I’ve got. In fact everything being readily available now tend to stifle creativity and technology becomes a crutch.

    I decided to learn every piece of software I have. And for my DAW, I’ve decided to limit myself to no more than 30 tracks. This will enable me to commit and get moving with creating music instead of trying out hundreds of plugins on a dry track… just because I can.

    The only excuse I should have for not being able to continue my musical projects is family time or my day job and NOT because I couldn’t decide which plugin to use… or because I’m saving up to buy new gear or software.

  5. @@theaudiogeek
    It certainly can be!

    @mgjr73
    It’s interesting that you mention ‘everything being readily available’ actually holding you back from expressing yourself. Tell me more about that.

    I’ve seen it happen both ways. On one hand, unlimited options gives some people the freedom they need to express their unique creative vision. On the other hand, it gets people stuck in paralysis of indecision.

    -Kim.

  6. “It’s interesting that you mention ‘everything being readily available’ actually holding you back from expressing yourself. Tell me more about that.”

    Well, we’ve all heard of the old adage… “Less Is More”. Having all the readily available stuff, sometimes enables one to expressing one’s self but more often than not, it ends up in indecision. I guess it’s different strokes for different folks. The Edge has stacks of doodads to create his unique sound… but he’s The Edge.

    In my case, my expression should be with playing the guitar and not the technical stuff as to which kind of plugins to use on it. What used to be a week needed to finish a song ends up to two or more months… and while that’s happening, I hear another great free plugin and the cycle goes on.

    That’s why I’ve made a conscious decision to limit the number of tracks I will use on each song project and in fact I’m paring down my plugins to certain favorites. Right now I probably have over a hundred to choose from. It will force me to commit after some experimentation of course. I’m a believer in “having less means you have to be even more creative”.

    I guess it’s not as much as technology holding back self expression but it slows down the process of reaching the finish line.

  7. @mgjr73
    I understand. It’s important to know when to draw the line – the point where spending extra time or effort or money doesn’t actually improve the end result in a significant way.

    You might need 16 audio tracks to express your musical ideas. Someone else might need 160 audio tracks. We al have to recognise our own limits and develop the discipline to push on instead of getting lost in Tweaksville.

    -Kim.

    • Nigel Nason
    • February 27th, 2011

    I fell into that vicious trap last year and bought things like crazy, “uh that looks nice I need one of those” and “it’s on sale so I had to get it” were things I might say a lot but a few months ago I was looking through my plug in folder and it felt complete (well.. now I can fairly easily resist the urge cause I know have I something that will do the job just as good).

    Saved a fortune from not buying stuff so can finally upgrade my crappy cheap monitors with some proper ones very soon. Oh, does that still count as GAS?

  8. @Nigel Nason
    That’s another trap! If you don’t have a plan for how you’re going to invest in your studio, it’s easy to bleed money on small things – which holds you back from purchasing bigger, more important things!

    -Kim.

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