Gear Bling And Other Absurdities

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by LSchefman, Apr 5, 2008.

  1. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

    Messages:
    13,449
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    What's easier, buying something shiny and expensive, or working for however long it takes to create music that sounds great?

    You all know the answer.

    How many times on the web do you see a picture of some newb's very expensive rig, and then listen to the execrable clip the guy produced and posted, and shake your head at the waste of money.

    I have a friend who has a couple of grammies and an oscar to his credit, and recently worked in his studio with a vocalist under contract to his company for a commercial project. The guy can buy whatever he wants, if he cares to. I guess he cares to buy other stuff than fancy-ass recording gear.

    So what is his rig? A few nice mics, some good preamps, a PT setup, and a relatively old Mackie 8 bus with a couple of sidecars. Turns out he's produced zillion sellers on the Mackie, and he could give a rat's ass about studio bling. He buys what he needs to buy for his work, and the work is the thing. The guy is a monster player, and can write and produce in any style. His tracks scream, "major label production". The sound he gets is terrific.

    Because it's about his music, not about the gear.

    I realize this is the Gear Page, and all, and that's cool, I'm fine with it, but from time to time I think it's too easy to become attached to the bling and miss the point.

    Just my 2 cents.
     
  2. elambo

    elambo Member

    Messages:
    2,362
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    I don't know if you've noticed this, Les, but you post this type of thing every few months or so, questioning the importance of top-shelf gear. It's no doubt a relevant question, but it seem like you already have enough insight to answer it for yourself. Are you questioning the need for more gear for yourself, or the need for what you already have, or maybe just making conversation? I've heard your stuff - you do well with what you have.

    My take -- yes, quality gear helps, but it's far less important than the skills of the mind which operates it.
     
  3. Flyin' Brian

    Flyin' Brian Member

    Messages:
    29,383
    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2005
    Location:
    K7C 4K8
    I agree Les. It's pretty easy to get hung up on gear and forget what the goal is. And when it comes to recording with simple gear I just remember:
    Sgt Pepper = 4 tracks
     
  4. isfahani

    isfahani Member

    Messages:
    487
    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2007
    No exactly true, though, there were TWO four tracks and a lot of bouncing.

    :YinYang
     
  5. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

    Messages:
    13,449
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    >>Are you questioning the need for more gear for yourself, or the need for what you already have, or maybe just making conversation? I've heard your stuff - you do well with what you have.<<

    Actually, I wasn't asking a question, I was making an observation. And just making conversation

    Basically, I buy gear for myself 'cause I'm a junkie. I was pleasantly surprised that this very successful composer/producer didn't feel the need for the big impressive board, etc. Thought it was kinda cool that he was not into toys, he was using what worked for him.

    And when I say he was getting major label sounds, I mean it.

    but thanks for the compliment!
     
  6. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    7,816
    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2002
    Location:
    State of Denial
    I like having new hotness as much as the next guy, but that stuff costs money :)

    I'm pretty happy with getting a new mic every couple of years to experiment with. Nobody's complaining about the quality coming out of my little studio :)

    Of course, not that many people hear it, but that's a different story!!

    --chiba
     
  7. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

    Messages:
    7,415
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    The Greater San Jose Metroplex
    So I'm a total newbie hack in the studio, very limited skills on either side of the mic, just some enthusiasm and a desire to hear some of the songs I've written since I don't have a band at the moment.

    That being said - I spent a lot of time on the road as a software consultant doing high-stress, high-value work and what I got out of it in return for probably shortening my life by a few years was disposable income. So I've decided I'm not going to let gear stand between me and the music. I'm not going to do work with a paper clip and a bit of string if using some of the cash to buy an easy to use and versatile board plus some software that has a lot of power and ease of use plus a decent mic or two plus a decent pre-amp plus plus plus makes it easy for me to get great sounds. I spent years working as a pro photographer on a budget and I was all about problem solving to get pro images with minimal gear. I haven't got the time for that now, nor the space to spread out to do it now.

    So it's not about gear bling, per se' - it's about not putting obstacles in my own way. So if my recordings suck, I know it's me, not the gear, and that gives me something to work on that I can try to control. It's hard enough to make music - I'm too old to apprentice in a studio to learn how to get great sounds on "tape" too. So I'm doing my best to remove that from the equation. Cool new gear helps.
     
  8. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

    Messages:
    13,449
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    >>So if my recordings suck, I know it's me, not the gear, and that gives me something to work on that I can try to control.<<

    Well yes, that's what hard work is about.

    >>It's hard enough to make music - I'm too old to apprentice in a studio to learn how to get great sounds on "tape" too. So I'm doing my best to remove that from the equation. Cool new gear helps.<<

    Not as much as one might believe when plunking down the money.

    A new mic preamp doesn't help with mic placement. Using a compressor wrong is still using a compressor wrong. Etc.

    But hey, we all fall victim to this belief (or should I say hope?). I'm as guilty as the next guy.
     
  9. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

    Messages:
    7,415
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    The Greater San Jose Metroplex
    Well, I was coming from Digital Performer via the MOTU 828 MkII, plus no preamps other than what was in the board. I found DP to be almost incomprehensible - seems like even on a good day I could get sound in but not out. And the MOTU meant all the control tweaking was on the screen via mouse - not very intuitive or precise. The M-Audio ProjectMix I'm using now gives me knobs and sliders and integration into Ableton Live, which is very easy and powerful. Throw in the AxeTrak so I don't even have to worry about noise and space and a reflective room turning things to mud, life is good. And maybe I'm spoiling myself with the toys.

    My skillset would dictate GarageBand via a 2-hole FireWire box of some sort, so the gear I have would appear to be way overkill and bling-y. I just like knowing I can fire up the interface and the software and in a matter of moments I'm recording with minimal effort.

    Which means that if I mic or mix the vocals badly, it's me. If I play badly, it's me. It's not me getting frustrated because I can't get the software or the hardware to do what I think I'm telling them to do. Not saying I don't need to work on my playing, recording and mixing skills - I do, and now that I'm finally getting comfortable and minimally competent with the gear, that's something that's starting to appeal to me very much. I'm just not into making it any harder than it needs to be, and I'll be working on better gear than I should be while I try to get to the next level.

    And incidentally - it's not just recording setups! There are plenty of guitars and amps and pedals floating around in my third bedroom - er, my studio - that are pretty blingy too! :)
     
  10. holyears

    holyears Member

    Messages:
    246
    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2005
    Location:
    SoCal
    So come on Les, tell us - what are his mics and preamps??!! :) :)

    But I agree - I record with a very simple rig - and then take it to nice studios for mixing and mastering! If you keep buying new toys all the time you never really get to learn how to use the old ones!
     
  11. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

    Messages:
    13,449
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    >>My skillset would dictate GarageBand via a 2-hole FireWire box of some sort, so the gear I have would appear to be way overkill and bling-y. I just like knowing I can fire up the interface and the software and in a matter of moments I'm recording with minimal effort.<<

    I think you made a good choice, but by Bling I meant the very expensive gear, the 10K stuff, etc.

    >>So come on Les, tell us - what are his mics and preamps??!!<<

    His engineer chose a Korby for this singer. I honestly can't tell you what the rest of the signal path was, we were in a huge rush to get a good performance so I could take the track back to my studio for the mix. I saw a few old Neves in the rack. I don't know if we used them. It's possible we did.

    We got a great performance, that's what counts, and I'm still grateful to my friend for helping me out with the track.

    As to the sound of the Korby, it's very hard to know much without understanding the entire signal chain. The vocal tracks I took back to my place were very dry, but the vocal booth appeared to be heavily treated, so that may be why. You're only going to have the mic pick up what it hears in the room.
     
  12. elambo

    elambo Member

    Messages:
    2,362
    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2005
    I understand completely and there's strong logic behind that. There are world-class engineers who can conjure up an incredible mix with mediocre
    gear, but for the rest of us mere mortals, the added spices help the soup greatly.

    A couple of examples -- true, using a compressor wrong is just wrong, but when you've misused an LA-2a it won't sound nearly as bad as a misused Alesis 3630, and I challenge anyone to make a Fairchild 660 sound bad. A U47 poorly positioned on an acoustic guitar will sound much better than a poorly positioned Nady. A Lexicon 960L preset will sound much better than MidiVerb tweaked well. A Neve 1081 preamp will make your voice sound better than a Behringer. BUT, in the hands of a great engineer, the lesser gear in these comparisons could yield a better mix than we could get from the best gear. As a world-class engineer isn't mixing my personal stuff, I'm happy to take all of the advantages as they become available.

    Another example -- I'm not a complete slouch behind the console and I think I do good enough with final mixes, but prior to recording with ProTools HD (ProTools Mix system previously) I couldn't get wide, punchy, open mixes that could compete with the better albums no matter how hard I tried. And I tried everything. Then on the very first day of recording and mixing with HD, it was instantly apparent what the hurdle had been all along. That very first mix was leaps and bounds better than any of my prior mixes and I didn't spend all day on it.

    I also felt a similar leap when switching from an AKG 414 to an authentic C12. I couldn't get a bad sound from the C12 if I put it in front of a boom box and played a CD of bad sounds. Same with Neve preamps after coming from a Demeter. Same with a Germanium for recording guitar cabs instead of an Avalon (a very good preamp in its own right). Switching from el cheapo cables to Mogami.

    My recording and mixing chops don't change rapidly, but by adding better gear (and assuming that I've taken the time to get a grasp on how to use it) I instantly sound better. Given the CHOICE - skills or hardware - I'd choose skills, but until you can directly inject knowledge a la The Matrix, I'll choose hardware, but continue learning simultaneously.
     
  13. decay-o-caster

    decay-o-caster Member

    Messages:
    7,415
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    The Greater San Jose Metroplex
    Ah - got it. Never mind. I'll spend stupid money on guitars and amps, but if I'm looking through the Sweetwater catalog and I see something that gets me all warm and runny, I do have a simple rule - a $3000 item whose use I have no clue about - like, I don't even know what you plug into it - is totally off limits. I feel very strongly about that. Man's gotta take a stand! :)
     
  14. Stevo57

    Stevo57 Supporting Member

    Messages:
    3,400
    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2003
    Location:
    Northern Calif. Bay Area
    " A mans gotta know his limitations"

    I'm sucking on a much lower budget these days.
     
  15. trisonic

    trisonic Member

    Messages:
    13,164
    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2003
    Location:
    NJ out of England
    I agree with you, Les, to the extent that everything that detracts from getting ideas down, well, detracts, D'oh. For me anyway.
    I've been using the cheapest stuff to do a Soundtrack project - I can work fast and the "client" has been happy.
    I'm embarrassed to say what I have been using!
    Les: I sent you an email on 4/4 - basically on this very subject........it's fun!

    Best, Pete.
     
  16. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    3,474
    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2004
    Location:
    MD
    I don't think a $10k mic is any more or less absurd than a $10k guitar. Or to put it another way, a $10k mic is about as absurd to a guitar player as a $10k guitar is to a studio engineer. The lines just get blurred as we have a foot in each arena. I like bling, whether it's guitar or studio bling. I like to think there's an emotional element involved when you're hearing or playing a high caliber piece of gear that makes you want to elevate your performance. We hear about it here all the time with amps or guitars or pedals. Can't a certain mic or preamp do the same?
     
  17. trisonic

    trisonic Member

    Messages:
    13,164
    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2003
    Location:
    NJ out of England
    Yes, but then you'll end up spending as much as Abbey Road does on a room which kind of defeats the object, I think.
    If I do something, say, that is exciting but needs more than I can throw at it then I would hire Studio 2 at Abbey Road for a few hours to do it and have a selection of expensive mics (and everything else they have to facilitate).

    Best, Pete.
     
  18. Butterfly

    Butterfly Gold Supporting Member

    Messages:
    1,627
    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2003
    Location:
    Location Location

    And I thought I was the only one who looking through the thick Sweetwater catalogue would come across contrapions I don't even know what they do...ha ...ha....
     
  19. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

    Messages:
    1,291
    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2006
    C'mon guys, they're just tools....in the hands of a skilled craftsman they can make great results, but in the hands of a rank amateur they can produce crap.

    I think that a bigger issue than the high $ gear vs. the low $ gear is the current trend to having lots of tools. Pluggins, hardware, presets, instant recall...etc. It's really getting to the point where there is option overload. When I was growing up and learning about recording, I had a mixer, mic(s), recorder, and some guitar FX. I cobbled together what I could, and really got to learn the ins and outs of my particular gear. I don't think this is common anymore though...instead, it's easier to just download a pluggin off the 'net, use a preset, or follow some other advice verboten, rather than seeing just how far you can stretch your own equipment and abilities. I think there's a real tendency to search for shortcuts without learning the art/skill of engineering a recording. Holy crap, am I ever beginning to sound like an old man....

    I was way more creative when I had fewer tools....necessity is the mother of invention I suppose.


    Cheers

    Kris
     
  20. MichaelK

    MichaelK Member

    Messages:
    6,479
    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2002
    Location:
    Fort Mudge
    Les, I'm sure you'd agree that sometimes the right piece of gear not only sounds better than any other, but it also saves time. Not that another piece couldn't be adapted to work well, nor that the end result might not be just as good, but to have a track sit perfectly from the first beat means I can have gratifying results much sooner and quit earlier. Time is money, so I call that a real return on investment.

    Sure, new gear feels good... but for me it has to offer a return on investment, because I can't afford to buy a $6k compressor just for kicks.
     

Share This Page