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Learning to do more with less, and not buying what you won’t use.

One of the problems I had when I was younger was a bad case of gear lust. Like a lot of people getting into recording their own music, I went through a whole lot of music gear before I ever actually did anything decent with any of it. When I was 17 I bought a Casio FZ1 sampler. This was a nice bit of technology back in 1989. Coldcut were using one, as were a number of other big name producers. I recorded a number of tracks with it, but all really basic. Just one shot samples and a few loops.

A few years later an amazing new keyboard appeared on the scene, Kurzweil’s K2000, a big workstation style synth with sample play back capabilities. I had to have it! Although at $5995 retail, it wasn’t cheap. Being broke at the time didn’t help. Regardless, within 3 months of learning about it, and only month on from when it was released, I bought one and got it for $4400. How did I manage that with a factory job that paid less than $200/week?

I can’t recall exactly, but part of it was selling the FZ1. As great as the K2000 was, it didn’t make me a better producer overnight. At the same time I also already owned an Akai MPC60 which I sold in 1993. Not to mention all the other gear I’d accumulated such as an Atari ST, Roland MC202 and TB303, an Alesis D4 drum module, plus a few other synths that were bought and sold. In 1994 I bought an Akai MPC3000, then in 1995 I traded in the K2000 for an expensive E-MU e64 sampler. Before then I was sequencing use C-Lab Creator software. And that whole time I was still working that boring full time plastics factory job. Can you see what I was doing wrong here?

Ok, I’ll admit, around 1994 I was doing fairly well. At that point the Brethren had started recording demos in my backyard studio Cytasia (which cost me a bit over $5000 to build in 1992, garage and all). That was my first paid gig from music. They would pay me $10/hour and I would sample and sequence their tracks using the K2000 and C-lab Creator for sequencing. By 1995 I was also signed to the Creative Vibes label and shared their first EP release with DJ Soup. Not to mention being producer for Voodoo Flavor also.

Without having any regrets, looking back things could have been so much better. What if I had stuck with that Casio FZ1 sampler, learnt the thing inside out and never sold it to buy the K2000? What if I had originally bought myself a simple hardware sequencer such as a Kawaii Q80 or Roland MC500 to sequence the FZ1 and used that instead of the software I was using on the Atari ST? A computer I was also using to play games on. What if I had quit my job and found work as a freelance MIDI programmer or used my studio full time to record demos, much earlier in my career? Thinking about it, I would love to go back to owning nothing but that FZ1 and a hardware sequencer. With the knowledge I have now, I know I would be able to do some great work with that gear!

Thinking back to when I was the most productive doing music, what made that possible? It would have to have been around the time I was recording with the Brethren. Although I had already owned and still owned quite a lot of gear, for practically everything I did then I was just using the K2000 and Creator software on the Atari. Just two bits of gear The 80/20 principle was definitely at work there with 20% of my gear being used for at least 80% of completed music. Limiting myself to just using those two most important tools enabled me to get more done and improve the quality of my work.

Look around and you’ll see a lot of successful people doing great work with very little. Not just those recordng music, but photographers, film makers, and writers even. I really admire successful people who just own one laptop and use it for everything, whether it’s music, video, or whatever. And even more so when they hold onto that machine for as long as they can without the need to upgrade, or until the thing dies. That kind of simplicity is something I’m striving for in my life right now.

But right now I’ve found that technology is making things even more difficult. Especially with things like tablet devices and mobile phone apps. When owning a few of these different devices, where do we focus our attention? Especially when all these different devices, phones and so on, are all getting to the point where they’re capable of doing things that would normally only be possible to do using a more powerful computer. Photo editing for example. When I first bought my Xperia X10 phone (that I’m currently writing this on), I went and downloaded a bunch of apps for it. Camera apps, music apps, a photo editor, and so on. Some have been useful but most I’ve barely touched. They work fine, but at the end of the day, will never compete with my 5 year old copy of Photoshop Elements. Definitely the 80/20 principle at work again, but probably more like 90/10 on my phone. With the only apps I find myself using most of the time being things like the browser, calculator and alarm clock.

As long as this post has become, the point I’m trying to make here is to choose your tools wisely. Before buying a new piece of gear or software, spend a few days and decide whether or not it will be something that you will actually use and benefit from. Gear lust can be a major productivity killer. If you’re looking at replacing something you already own, ask yourself if you really need to replace it? Could that money be spent on something else more beneficial? An example being when I bought that K2000. Although it later became an essential tool in my arsenal, if I were to have stuck with the FZ1, I could have spent the extra money I used to pay for the K2000 and bought myself some other studio gear that would have enabled me to quit my job and set up a full time budget recording studio business.

What gear are you lusting after right now? And do you really need it?

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About Avene
Sydney based artist specialising in creating music videos, cinematography, music production & beat making, digital art, sound design & photography.