January 29, 2013

Okay, so I like gear just as much as anyone else in our industry, but I need to get something off my chest… ready???  Here goes.  The marketing and online forum hype for pro-audio gear is leading to such neurosis that it’s getting in the way of what really matters: making great music!  I appreciate all of the manufacturers coming out with new, “groundbreaking” products every 6 months, but I’m becoming quite annoyed with the incessant need to only use the “mic de jour” or the “compressor of the month”.  Although there can be a huge difference between high-quality, hand-made, pro-audio gear, and mass produced consumer audio products, once you get into a certain level, the differences become less substantial.

Let me give you a real world scenario.  I just finished a session with many high profile producers, writers, engineers, etc.  We had various stations setup ready to record any instrument at anytime.  We had a vocal booth, a grand piano, drum kit, iso-booth for acoustic guitars, etc.  Each setup had a chain patched in and ready to go.  After 2 weeks of recording great sounding tracks, a writer/producer joins the session and begins to question every single piece of equipment that we’d been using… making a suggestion for something “better” at all stages of the conversation.  Being the gear nut that I am, I obliged and said “let’s try it”.  We swapped mics, preamps, compressors and EQ’s and AB’d the old chains vs. the new chains.  Even though each element was substantially different, it was amazing how close the two setups sounded.  And even more telling was that there was never a consistent or unanimous choice for which was better.  However, the writer/producer who suggested the change was absolutely convinced that we “needed” to use his chain, even though he was only batting .500 when choosing which was which.

This brings me back to the fact that even though we should always be conscious of using the right gear for the job, it’s such a small piece of the equation, yet receives so much attention and scrutiny.  In an age where even a $500 Chinese mic can sound pretty damn good, I think it’s time we started to become a bit more objective and face reality.  If we’d only use our ears and not our minds (and wallets) when recording music, maybe we’d actually be able to focus on the stuff that really matters most: the song, the performance, the emotion, etc.  I know I’ve struggled with this at times too.  But the sooner the recording community gets back to “making” great music, instead of “using” great gear, the better the music will be.