Not a day goes by where I don’t see someone in an audio forum post some association about talent and gear. Typically, it goes something like this:
“A lousy engineer with expensive audio gear won’t outperform a talented engineer without audio gear.”
Although there is some truth in the premise of this statement, most of the time this is used as an excuse. The takeaway tends to be, audio gear is irrelevant. The huge gaping hole here is that talent and gear are not mutually exclusive.
Could Mario Andretti drive a Yugo? Sure he could, but just think of what he could do with a Ferrari.
Many inexperienced and people just starting out often look at the problem this way. Andy Wallace has a computer, and I have a computer; therefore nothing is stopping me from being Andy Wallace. It is delusional to think that because you and Andy Wallace both use a computer that you are going to mix the new Rise Against album in your bedroom on a set of headphones. It just doesn’t work that way.
But “so-in-so” is all working in the box now! Another favorite statement I hear. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. You aren’t “so-in-so.” They’ve already made their mark and reputation as well as have a consistent customer base.
2. None of these people are working in the box because they think it sounds better.
3. Prominent engineers have started to partner with plugin companies and software manufacturers. They often pimp their signature products and do public appearances with these companies. Just know that their public comments and private conversations can be surprisingly different.
On this last point, I was having a conversation with one of these prominent engineers who is working all “in the box” now. He was telling people how it’s so nice now working at the studio at his house. What he left out was that he gets the mix where he likes it at his home studio, then goes to another studio to print it through their console and mix it down to 1/2” tape. This workflow is hardly all “in the box.” This example is not an isolated incident. Even though some of these people may be in the box, that doesn’t mean they still aren’t working on ways that will give themselves additional advantages that put them ahead of their competition.
Self-Assessment is Uncomfortable
It feels great to say things don’t matter. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to do. Countless others will even agree with you because it’s easy and feels good. Performing a self-assessment isn’t hard, it’s just uncomfortable. The lack of comfort is why people tend not to do them.
A self-assessment is the best way to figure out where you are and where you want to be. These assessments will also help you make the best decisions when it comes to what you need and your career. Going into a forum and asking for advice on a direction for your particular situation isn’t going to get you anything. You are going to run into tons of people who are either regurgitating someone else’s talking points, have no clue but will provide you advice anyway, or are just saying things to make themselves feel better about their situation.
Only you know where you currently are and where you want to be. You already have the start and end of the roadmap. Maybe you don’t want to work with Rise Against; maybe you just want to record your own music, your friend’s, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Don’t let anyone tell you different or say you should be doing something else.
Content creators make money off of telling you things don’t matter often acting in more of a motivational speaker capacity. Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of this, or that you won’t learn anything from them. All I am saying is that their advice for success should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, your success isn’t their priority and their path may be the completely wrong direction for you.
Just think about if content creators were truthful. If they told you that it is going to be a huge grind. That it was going to take a monumental investment in yourself, your time, your patience, and your studio. Even given all this investment and hard work, there is a large potential for failure. Probably isn’t a good recipe for selling those questionable mixing and mastering tutorials.
It’s much easier to tell you:
Five great tips for total engineering domination!
Surefire tips to get more customers for a six-figure home studio!
Gear DOES Matter
Gear absolutely matters in the audio engineering space. It’s the one area where quite often you get what you pay for. Anyone who tells you different is either trying to sell you something or sell themselves on something.
Now when I say “gear” in this context, I’m not talking about consoles, vintage microphones, outboard EQs or anything like that. I’m talking about your room and everything in it. So in this case, “gear” could be the way your room sounds, acoustic treatment, monitoring, converters, etc. I’m not even talking about the preference for mixing in or out of the box.
How much gear matters to you and what you hope to realize from your purchases is a question only you can answer. I’m not saying you need to make a particular dollar spend or anything. I’m not even saying that you need to make a massive investment. What I’m saying is you need to make is smart investments for your goals.
Right Tool for The Right Job
Good gear and a proper setup allow you to work faster and make a better product. It’s about using the right tool for the right job. This means happier customers and more money in your pocket. If you make your living off of audio then this is essential.
You could say that you have a lug wrench and a jack so you can open up a tire shop. This statement may be true; however, it’s going to take you forever to get the tires off the car without the pneumatic wrench and lift to raise the vehicle. Then it’s going to be backbreaking work to get the tires off of the rims. Once inflated you’ll have no way of balancing the tire or checking how much torque you put on the lug nuts when installing the tires. Finally, you’ll have no way of doing a front end alignment which many customers might expect. Ouch!
With the right tools, you could crank out multiple cars a day meaning more money in your pocket and less time your customers have to wait.
In the studio world, it’s really about smart investments. It will get to a point where you are hitting a limit of what you can do with what you have and the space you are doing it in. These limits are both from capability and customer perspective.
Too many people view their investments purely as expenditures. This isn’t very business-like and can be detrimental to the goals you have. Keep in mind, if you are running a legitimate business, then your gear purchases can be tax deductible. So other factors can even out the expense portion.
I see people giving advice all of the time telling people not to take out a loan to get things for their studio. This is horrible blanket advice to give, especially without knowing specifics. A studio is a business and many small business owners take out loans. A small business loan may be the only way you can get the building you need to expand your business or to get what you need to attract more customers. Taking out a loan to buy a 15k dollar vintage microphone is probably not the best decision, but taking out a loan to expand your business to a new facility might be exactly what you need.
Look at the areas where you can make gains and increase your capabilities. If you predominantly do recording, then look at things that would maximize that activity. Same thing if you do mixing or mastering. Maybe you do nothing but EDM and don’t actually record anything at all. All of these situations require different types of investments.
Investing in your studio is investing in yourself and doesn’t go unnoticed by your customers. It says a lot about your commitment both to the seriousness in your craft as well as their music. I know an engineer who used to use a folding picnic table as his studio desk. That can say a lot to your customers about how serious you take yourself as well as how serious you take their music.
Hopefully, this gave you some food for thought about the right investments for your individual situation. Only you can determine where you are headed and the goals you hope to achieve. People in audio forums are quick to provide advice in all different areas whether they have experience or not. In the end, there is no one size fits all advice or direction. Taylor and customize your efforts according to your goals and you will have the best chance of maximizing your returns.