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Buying the best (fill in the blank): Food for thought


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So over and over we see young new aspiring music producers scavenging the internet and this site for information on how to get THE BEST (audio interface, mic, mic preamp, control surface, you name it).

 

More often than not, those young aspiring music producers like to think that what their favorite older-more-experienced producer-hero uses is probably one of the top ranking candidates on their list of potential "BEST" whatevers. If it's good enough for him, surely it's got to be good enough for me. I know, because I was an aspiring guitar hero in my youth, and when I finally rounded up enough money to get meself some serious axe, I sprung my hard earned $2,000 on a Steve Vai blue flower pattern Ibanez.

 

At first thought, that seems to make sense. If your hero uses something, surely he's researched those things like crazy, and you don't have to do it all over again: just use what they use.

 

Well one night as I came home, I found the door opened, the window broken, my clothes on the floor, and ... my faithfully loved guitar-hero's guitar was stolen. After all the necessary grieving began the search for another ultimate guitar I could buy with the insurance money. Well even though I was more experienced then, and had access to more guitar stores so I could try many various models, after a few months I realized that the guitar for me was that same Ibanez Blue Flower Pattern. So I ordered one.

 

Then it came. Hmmmm. First the design was slightly different: instead of having the pickups screwed into the protection plate, they were screwed into the body. Any guitarist will tell you, that's a big deal, and quite a big change. But really the thing is.. the guitar was buzzing. Fret buzzing. I got it setup professionally, tried all I can, changed strings, etc... nothing I could do to solve the problem: the guitar was buzzing. It never played the same as my old guitar.

 

Now what does that tell us? Well for one thing, purchasing the same as your hero doesn't mean much. Surely your hero knows better, and he wouldn't play on anything but the best. If his guitar was buzzing he would have replaced it. If the design was not exactly what he wanted he would have had it modified.

 

Wake up young people: your heros' gear is not necessarily your dream gear. Maybe they didn't have anything else. Maybe they liked the color. Maybe they needed a drum pad that was less than 2" wide so they could fit it on their stand, but secretly they wish they could have purchase that other pad, that feels much better and that they actually use in the studio. Etc, etc....

 

What inspired me to write this? Well see, I am a huge fan of cooking. I LOVE food, and I love to prepare it from fresh ingredients. That also means that while some of you guys may go to bed at night thinking of what is the best MIDI keyboard controller with drum pads and XY touch pad, I may be going to bed thinking of the absolute tri-ply stainless steel frying pan with copper core and oven proof tempered glass lid. Yes! So when I need to buy something I scour the web for foodie websites and ask my heros. What is the best pan? The absolute best knife? Etc etc...

 

And tonight, I was reading a comment by someone I have in high esteem. Someone who's been a chef for many prestigious events, and who knows SO MUCH about food you always feel like there's not enough time in a lifetime to even get 10% there. So as a parting thought, let me share his words with you all:

 

Eventually, a thought penetrated that block of cocobolo I call my head. The importance of making the “right” decision about the “best” piece of equipment is highly overrated. As a sort of parable, I try not to recommend most of the equipment I actually own and use. There are a lot of reasons, really. A partial list: I don’t want to use my recommendation as a validation of my own choices; I bought stuff a long time ago, and there’s better on the market; and I’m not you.

 

The best advice I can give about equipment purchases is to narrow down the possible options to a set – of all which are good choices. As long as you do this and bear in mind there is no “best,” you can’t go wrong.

 

Food for thought. <-- see what I did there? See? huh? The pun? huh? :roll:

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you make a good point David

 

I'm still starting out, and have an insatiable gear lust, and it wasn't until a few months ago when I sat back and thought, "Hang on, I don't need anything more than I've got!"

 

It hasn't stopped me from admiring "better" gear, but it has given me new focus

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That's a nice anecdote but you still didn't answer the ultimate question: What interface should I GET??????????? :lol:

 

Seriously though, I'd like to add that when The Books dropped me and all my friends (including non-techno heads) were just so impressed by them. Later on when they were interviewed in Tape-Op I learned they just use a bunch of "crap" gear! It only makes me appreciate their craft even more.

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People can be very insecure sometimes. They want magic gear that will make them sound good, or at least will protect them from an imaginary mob with pitchforks and torches coming to lynch them for daring to make a recording with less than "warm" tube analog tape vinyl corksniffing gear.

 

To go with the food analogy, NO ONE KNOWS or CARES if you used high end dishes or low quality dishes, as long as the dishes were clean and the food tastes at least pretty good. Wine tasters go with what they think is the more expensive wine - if someone switches the labels, they're fooled.

 

I FIRMLY believe that, much more often than we think, a lot of the time people believe they hear the quality of a piece of gear when they are really being fooled by the price or reputation. I myself am no exception to this.

 

This whole business is just a laughable "the emperor has no clothes" situation where everybody is just to scared to admit to anyone else - and most are to proud to admit to themselves - that different qualities of gear really don't sound ALL that different, especially to the average listener, and are NOT the deal maker-or-breaker as far as musical success, as long as the gear is workable and the music sounds at least pretty good.

 

Whew. Had that one on my chest for a while. Now, I do not mean to advocate lowering quality standards; instead I am saying that the gear is only one factor, and once you get past a certain modicum of quality, it is not usually the weakest link in the chain, and certainly not worth worrying about in favor of more important things like the performance, the room acoustics, mic placement, and mixing choices.

 

... Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (can't afford that fancy preamp), the courage to change the things I can (practice harder! experiment with mic placement! put up acoustic treatment!) and the wisdom to know the difference.

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i went to an ascap showcase a few years ago; my friend's backing track for a singer was state-of-the art; pro tools, best mics, outboard, etc.

 

the song (and the singer, alas) was nothing special; a great-sounding nothing.

 

right after that, this guy comes onstage, and sings to a lo-fi backing track of...a bass drum and a finger snap. blew everyone away.

 

gear means nothing without a great (or decent!) artist behind it.

 

mac or pc? 16bit or 24? i don't care, i just want to be MOVED.

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i went to an ascap showcase a few years ago; my friend's backing track for a singer was state-of-the art; pro tools, best mics, outboard, etc.

 

the song (and the singer, alas) was nothing special; a great-sounding nothing.

 

right after that, this guy comes onstage, and sings to a lo-fi backing track of...a bass drum and a finger snap. blew everyone away.

 

gear means nothing without a great (or decent!) artist behind it.

 

mac or pc? 16bit or 24? i don't care, i just want to be MOVED.

 

Love it. I was gonna repost with a link and it's the same point: People don't care about the medium, if it moves them, they'll never forget it and keep coming back for more.

 

Here's a recent interview I heard on the AM waves....

 

 

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It is SO true - You want to use what your hero uses so that you can... Well... BE your hero. Play JUST like them...

 

When I was in my teens, my guitar heros were basically Jimmy Page, Dickey Betts and Eric Clapton. While I loved Clapton's playing on the strat, it was really the tone of the LP that moved me the most. And most of my favorite Clapton stuff was on an LP anyway (Bluesbreakers).

 

So then, clearly I HAD to have an LP. But no way I could afford one - So I bought a used Audiovox LP copy. And all was right with the world. Until that one fateful day, Like David, I came home to find it gone...

 

Cheap as I was I had no insurance. I was crestfallen. I never even considered replacing it. I was done. I took my el-cheapo Yamaha classical and used that for a good 3 years. Then one day I walked into a small music store in Burbank and saw on the wall a Les Paul such as I had never seen before. A blonde custom with a maple fretboard.

 

I asked to play it and they obliged. I was immediately smitten. I feared the worst when I asked "How much?". $300 and we will throw in the HSC. Now I am suspicious. This was 1983 and an LP cost a fraction of what it does today but even then $300 was unheard of...

 

They then told me that the guitar had been stolen. The original owner replaced it and then this guitar was recovered. The issue with it then was that the thieves had tried to modify the serial number and had botched it. And indeed, it was screwed up.

 

For me, I had my doubts on the tonal impact of the serial number issue and bought the guitar on the spot. Still have it and it's my primary instrument as I love it today as much as the day I picked it up.

 

Not long after this, I was reading an interview with Jimmy Page and the interviewer asked "What advice do you have for aspiring young guitarists?". Page answered "Use lighter strings...". As a young an impressionable moron, I took that advice to heart, bought a set of 8s, had the LP setup to use the 8s and have used them ever since. But I regret this. Because there is tone that can be gained with a heavier string. But if I try to play with say 10s, I am lost. So much for my hero's advice.

 

And finally, a few years back a friend of mine called me up and said he was rehearsing his band at some studio and would I like to come over and sit in. I was floored. These guys were virtuoso players and I would be lying if I did not say I had some apprehension...

 

So I went to this thing and they had another one of their friends sitting in and I was going to sit in after him. This guy blew me away. Just amazing speed and accuracy in playing. After he left I sat in and played for about 2 hours with them. Had a GREAT time. When we were done, I was gushing about the other guitar player and the guys said this:

 

"While he has technique, he does not have something that you have and no matter how much he tries he will never get that. And that thing is style. You make every note sound important and filled with soul".

 

I was blown away by this comment. I, as purely an amateur, never had the time to dedicate to the instrument that this other guy did. And yet, with a certain style, I still had something valid to say. So MANY times I have run into players that get discouraged when they hear a virtuoso player. And to them, I always offer the idea of Style.

 

Even ole Skunk Baxter agrees:

 

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Speaking of food...

 

A few years ago I spent $165 on a set of 3 Lamson Sharp knives for my wife (who also loves to cook, and is indeed a great cook). Three knives. $165. Nice prezzie, right?

 

She tried them out and she said they were kind of dull. They look pretty, but dull.

 

Ohhhhhhhhh kaaaaaay...

 

So I travel 1 hour back to the high-end cooking store where I bought them to exchange them.

 

Well, it just so happened that their "master sharpener" was at the store when I arrived. He took them in the back. An hour later (gah!) he brought them out. I ran my finger over the edge of each knife but still didn't get that "whoa, now THAT'S a sharp knife!" feeling. I was like, "Ohhhhhhhhh kaaaaaaaay" but the master sharpener said, "Trust me. Take them home. You'll see!"

 

One hour later, I'm back home with the knives and a carrot, the latter to be sacrificed to the gods of sharp edges. Carrot? Meet knife! And... Grunt... Errrrgh... Presssssss down har...der... aaaaaaannnndddddd... CLUNK!

 

Well, that sucked.

 

Repeat procedure with other knives and... same unimpressive result. Now I do realize that I spend a lot of time in the studio sitting in a chair, and as such I'm not exactly bulked up and muscular like I used to be in my younger days. But still... Damn!!!

 

So three hours of time and one sacrificial carrot later, I get out my old whetstone and put an edge on one of the knives myself. Voila! A sharp edge! But it turned out that the steel wouldn't hold an edge for very long, so those knives still sit in a drawer. And to this day my wife preps food with a 10 year-old set of knives from the Boots pharmacy in England that cost £20 (approx. $37.50). The handles are a little ratty but they seem to sharpen themselves!

 

The moral of the story?

 

1) a high price is not always an indicator of quality

2) what works is what's best, because sometimes "the best" won't work... that is, they may work fine for someone else, but not for YOU, and that's OK!!

 

So when it comes to making music, beat your own drum, both musically and in terms of the gear you use. Which brings me full circle to the beginning of the story, as the name of the store I bought those knives from is called "Different Drummer".

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The moral of the story?

 

1) a high price is not always an indicator of quality

2) what works is what's best, because sometimes "the best" won't work... that is, they may work fine for someone else, but not for YOU, and that's OK!!

 

So when it comes to making music, beat your own drum, both musically and in terms of the gear you use. Which brings me full circle to the beginning of the story, as the name of the store I bought those knives from is called "Different Drummer".

 

Applause! :D

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Eventually, a thought penetrated that block of cocobolo I call my head.:

 

I got a thick head too :twisted:

 

Thats great advice David! There is sooo much good choices out there these days it will make your head spin.

 

I have to admit that I get obsessed with gear at times too, well its easy to do. Only problem is that money is very hard to come by, especially for a musician.

 

Time taken to make those first difficult decisions is time well spent.

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Good advice! I like it!

 

Which reminds me...

 

I still use an old Ibanez GRX that I broke in half... (literally, the body was in two pieces). And a friend glued it together for me with professional wood glue.

 

And some people are always wondering what kind of gear I use :roll:

 

Use your ears and stop reading Mix magazine! haha

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Very good post David. I totally understand this mindset. About 11 years ago I scored an American Standard Tele, Black with White pickguard, for a graduation gift. I would say 90% of the reason I wanted this guitar was due to Tom Morello. This turned out for the best, since I still have the guitar(even though I rarely play any longer).

 

Now that I am into house music(I know, far cry from Rage), I am always looking for advice on the best "______" . Now though, it's not so much looking for something that a favorite artist uses, it's more just wanting to make sure I purchase good products.

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I refuse to feel guilty about my Musicman Luke :oops:

 

Ski...didn't I take you to my fav little Chinese place with the chef that uses ONE ancient cleaver on EVERYTHING?

 

David...my wife is constantly looking for great deals on All-Clad. She refused to pay full price. We get stuff for 40-50% off..it usually has a scratch. Big deal.

 

http://www.cutleryandmore.com/all-clad-ltd.htm

 

http://www.factorydirect2you.com/all-clad-sauce-pans.html

 

-

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This is a great thread.

 

I feel like there's a massive catch 22 though. As I feel like this epiphany doesn't strike you until you've already gone through the process of researching and purchasing.

 

I spent the last 8 years of my life building my studio lusting after and accumulation classic synths, samplers etc that I'd read about. Saving and starving for the gear my heros used.

 

I've now accumulated a decent collection that I really love, however, I'm finding myself going hog wild on toy thrift store keyboards. I just did a pretty big score for a videogame in which my go to synths were a casio VL-tone, and a Yamaha DD-5 drum machine. The funny thing being, I'd have passed these up 5 years ago so that I could buy a Moog. I hardly use my moog anymore because it sounds so played out. Everyone uses "fat analog synths". And they cost too much now.

 

-PP

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For absolute top notch gear it is a MUST to have at least

one bag of habanero chili, one bag or can of piri piri and at least

a small amount of ancho, some jalapeno would add flavor to the

mix. Then you need to oil it up and add a piece of butter, not lard.

After that youre ready to groove.

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I have pretty basic gear, Hackintosh, Logic, EMU USB thing, guitar, midi keyboard, plug ins.

 

I still don't quite know how to use Logic very well. Looking through sound on sound, future music, I have no idea what 90% of the stuff does, let alone know why I'd pay for it.

 

Saying this, I still make 1/3 of my income from composing and will probably be doing it full time from 2010.

 

I think if all my stuff was stolen, I'd be able to do the same work with a budget of £1000 easily. I mix and record on headphones, I've done this for so long that I know how to make it sound right. Never had any complaints and have had my music compared to A list composers and never had a bad word about the soundtrack I've released on my own.

 

I think a lot of people think they need the right gear before they get to work. I think they're just delaying the question of whether they can actually make music in the first place.

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For absolute top notch gear it is a MUST to have at least

one bag of habanero chili, one bag or can of piri piri and at least

a small amount of ancho, some jalapeno would add flavor to the

mix. Then you need to oil it up and add a piece of butter, not lard.

After that youre ready to groove.

 

You forgot to add the jalapeno enema for just that slight added touch of speed.

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David...my wife is constantly looking for great deals on All-Clad. She refused to pay full price. We get stuff for 40-50% off..it usually has a scratch. Big deal.

 

http://www.cutleryandmore.com/all-clad-ltd.htm

 

http://www.factorydirect2you.com/all-clad-sauce-pans.html

 

-

 

I love this Forum 8)

It's probably the only site I can think of where you can come to read Control Room topics and end up buying cookware online. :shock: :shock: :shock:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Maybe I'm getting too much back on topic (don't get me worng, I love to cook too and you wouldn't believe the variety the ingredients we have here in Perú) but,

I've been producing music on computers for longer than I'd like to mention and IMHO there are two things that should be taken in mind about keyboard controllers:

1; if you use them day in and day out (i.e. you actually make a living with this stuff) at best they'll last 12 to 18 months. That may make a difference in your thinking when it comes to cost effectiveness.

2; the more buttons, knobs, sliders, etc. your controller has on it does NOT necessarily make it a more effective tool. Most of what you can sequence in real time can easily be accomplished with; keys, mod wheel, pitch wheel, a pedal or two, and maybe 1 slider or knob. The rest of the parameters that you'll want to tweek would probably be better off done on a graphic editor with a mouse. AND all those extra pots WILL get dirty which WILL send all kinds of MIDI craziness to your sequence wasting time and eventually driving you to want to throw your controller out the window.

Now that you threw it out the window, you have to buy another one. Plan on it and save yourself the headache. Buy yourself a good simple controller and plan on replacing it in a year.

P.S. if you really want to experience ecstasy playing a keyboard, play a good acoustic piano. No electricity.

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  • 1 year later...

Excellent post, and thread.

 

The one thing I would add, though...in defense of the inexperienced looking for guidance on the "best" [insert hardware/software of choice]...is that certain gear choices do help in streamlining or efficiences of processing, and ultimately, results. An experienced engineer can make a million dollar sound with less-than-par equipment, because he knows what he's doing. For someone just starting, he (excuse my gender bias!) can get a pretty darn good result with great equipment, even if he doesn't know exactly what he's doing.

 

Those starting out are often on limited budgets, and good advice can go a long way towards maximizing their progress. I know it gets a bit tedious here when first-time members ask what's the BEST mic for rap, or what autotune effect is the rage, but the recommendations to be found here on this message board from an enormous pool of hugely experienced...and generous...members, is simply invaluable.

 

Just my two cents...

 

-Bruce

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