To Gear or Not To Gear?
Hands down the single biggest thing I get asked about on a daily basis is Gear. And yes here we go again in the age old debate...is gear worth it?. I get asked what gear I'd recommend for a good vocal sound, I get asked what pre amps are best for drums, I get asked what is my favourite compressor. And my answers may surprise you.
See, I was "born" in the music sense in the 90's. Meaning I began producing records and mixing in that decade. Back then you went to a commercial studio, and you recorded with the gear the studio had. It usually cost upwards of $100/ hour and a typical song took 5-10 hours to do right. Drums weren't edited, if you wanted them tighter, you did the song again. Same for the rest of the band. The best most amateur producers could hope for was that they might be able to rent a 4-track tape recorder, Basically a tape deck that records to 4 individual tracks on a single cassette. When combined with a mixing board you could record a band live and capture it on 4 tracks then EQ those tracks and mix to another cassette deck. What an age to be alive! But today, that's not how a large number of albums are made...in fact neither example is!
So lets get something straight, I don't hate gear, in fact without it I can't do my job which is mix your songs!! The key here is what is essential and what is getting in the way of the truth, that maybe your mixes aren't that great because you aren't a good mixer. It's a sad reality but a truth you must accept if you want to improve. This topic has also been covered before so I'm not going to dwell on it here. The question of gear is best answered with another question " what are you doing with the gear, and what are you hoping it will achieve?" That's the key right there...many get sold on the idea that new gear means better recordings or mixes and that's just plain wrong. And for a newer aspiring producer/mixer, that can be one of the worst things you can think and set you back years!!
What are you hoping to achieve??
that's my million dollar question. Because how you answer it could make you millions and also save you millions well more like hundreds of thousands but you get my point.
If your answer is "I want to improve my recordings or mixes" then I have just saved you money my friend! (Thank me later!). Because truth is no piece, not even that awesome Neve 1073 pre amp you saw at vintage king, or that 1176 compressor , or that sweet Neuman U87 microphone will make your recordings sound better...at least not on their own. It simply is the biggest case of "being sold the snake oil" going today, that expensive gear makes great records. NO, FALSE, LIES.
Great records are made by great people. Creative people, dedicated people, hard working people and independent people. That last part for me is a biggie. Here's why!
IT'S HARD TO NOT BUY INTO THE HYPE. Gear slutz and sites like it are full of audio bullys that will strong arm you into thinking spending $5000 on a mic pre amp will make what you are struggling with sound better. NOT TRUE.
IT'S BORING TO USE STOCK PRE AMPS. Yep it's not sexy to use the preamps built into your $300 Focusrite or Presonus interface. NOT TRUE
MOST OF YOU DON'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO USE WHAT YOU HAVE ALREADY. Now before you click off this site because you are offended, understand that this is a very real statement. The search for new gear is often started because you think you need more than you have.
By being independent in your thinking and approach you are more likely going to buy gear you can afford, learn to use it, make your own choices and learn a ton about the basics of recording and mixing and best of all CARVE OUT YOUR OWN STYLE and set of beliefs. What gear can't provide is FEElL and INSTINCT. Learning how to feel out a song, a mix a production, a performance. The knowledge of when to use a certain piece of gear, plug in or just as important when NOT to!! This my friends is the secret sauce. FEE and INSTINCT. and sadly gear or plug ins can not give you that. The only way to get that is to DO, to Record, mix, practice. Yep I said it (sorry Allen Iverson) practice.
The main message I want you to leave with today is "don't spend money, spend time". Take that interface you have, learn it. inside and out. Some of the limitations it or your computer may have will actually help you! It will make you solve problems, it will make you analyze your productions and determine if you really do need 40 tracks of cowbell or could you just get away with 1?? It may force you to commit a sound by mixing down a series of tracks to a stereo pair teaching you a lesson in session organization and management. It will teach you that you don't need to have every one of the 25 tracks in your session running 3-4 plug ins per track so you have to choose wisely. All these things may seem like limitations but in reality they are practices pro's like myself use daily! I routinely get sessions of 50+ tracks, but when I actually begin mixing they are often no more than 24-30. Sure my suped up Mac can handle 100 tracks but I don't need it to. I prefer the session smaller and more manageable. This allows me to have fun and be creative with the SONG, and use FEEL to make the mix work. By being independent in my thinking I resisted temptation. Sure I watch videos all the time and learn new techniques, but I have developed my own theory and style so I can take what I like and discard what I don't.
Develop your own feel, and instinct. resist peer pressure. Practice. none of this costs money but it costs a lot of time.