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.