Thinning the Herd (The Great Musical Overhaul, part the 2nd)

They tell me that the first step towards recovery involves recognizing that you have a problem.  I have a problem with rack gear.

The problem at the moment is that I’ve got too much of it.

This may be because I can’t pass up a good deal.  I thoroughly enjoy ferreting out good deals on obscure stuff.  But it may have something to do with the way I learned audio as well—self-taught, for the most part.

Being self-taught has advantages and perils.  The advantage (naturally) is that your course of study is tailored to your individual needs. But the perils are a little more subtle.

Perhaps the easiest way to sum them up is to say that you don’t know what it is that you don’t know.  You might never learn standards—studio protocols, for example, or proper wiring techniques.  This may occasionally be a major benefit, resulting in a unique expression of creative genius.  But mostly it just causes needless hassles.

There are other weird undercurrents of insecurity arising from not knowing what you don’t know.  Consider if you will the process of buying gear.

Compression is more art than science.  Even with Rob at Sound Source using his “little man in a box” analogy, it took me forever to work out a rough idea of what the process meant in context of a mix.  It’s enough to make a guy feel insecure.

If you’re insecure, you’re not likely to trust your own judgement, relying instead on the judgement of other people.  You may wind up in an on-line forum asking questions like, “what’s a good compressor?” and “is compressor X good enough for task N?”   It takes a rare degree of intestinal fortitude to throw down the big bucks needed to obtain Truly Great Gear.

One might have trouble developing a healthy rubric for gear selection, which might lead one to buy a wide variety of cheapish gear.  One might then wind up with, say, Compressor X (for drums), Compressor Y (for guitar), and Compressor Z (for vocals).  One might ultimately have been better off laying out a couple grand for Compressor Q (which sounds good on anything).  But one probably wouldn’t have done that, because one lacks the confidence which comes from formal training.

One might even wind up with 20+ channels of compression for a studio which never works with more than 8 channels of multitrack at a time.

Of course, the opposite might happen as well.  One might also wind up with a quirky setup capable of producing unique and wonderful sounds.  One never knows, when one is self taught.

It’s a growing process.

Yeah.  Growing is exactly what my Gear Pile is doing.  I like my gear, but it’s all a little overwhelming.  It needs to be maintained.  It’s gotta be hooked up to a patchbay.  That patchbay needs to be normalled (whatever that means).  And it’s all gotta have a proper home.  An environment chock full of sharp corners is a place of peril for an unwary forehead.  That’s bad for creativity.  I like it all, but it’s all too much.

So I spent a huge chunk of yesterday writing out how I use each individual piece of gear.  If I can live without it, I might not actually need it.  And if I get rid of the stuff I don’t actually need, I’ll probably get better at using the stuff I can’t live without.  Or at least, I’ll have a fine point on what it is that I need but don’t yet have.

So, yeah.  I’m gonna build me an awesome custom rack for the stuff I can’t live without.  It will be great, and I will be happy.  And hopefully I’ll be able to unload the stuff I don’t actually need.

I intended to detail my efforts at DIY rack design here, but that’ll have to wait.  I can’t design a rack if I don’t know what it’s gonna hold.

First things first.


About andysmash

North Coast punk-rocker/theologian. A good head for gears and an eye on the far horizon. DIY recording artist and frontman for the Rust Belt Hotrods.
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