Gear Only Goes So Far

7 Jan

It’s now 2014 and of course that means I’ve been spending some time listening to cassette tapes. Yes, you read correctly. Now my reason for writing this is not to jump on some analog soapbox, as you can already find plenty of similar discussions around the internet, so please keep reading knowing that I’ll keep the preaching to a minimum.

The cassettes I’ve been listening to (while also making digital backups) happen to be some of the first recordings I ever “mixed.” Magnetic proof of the beginning of my audio career. To my surprise, these recordings, despite my lack of experience/gear/money/space/knowledge, are still very listenable today. Of course I have a bit lot of nostalgia associated with the material, but I feel the recordings were very successful in what they were intended to accomplish. We’re talking a few teenagers in some less-than-hospitable environment (think unheated, detached garage in the middle of February) thrashing away into a handful of $5 vocal microphones and a cassette deck.

Without getting long winded, this listening experience made me realize how silly it is when people (myself included) spend too much time, money and effort worrying about what gear they use to record and create. With all the shiny options out there with their thoughtfully coined promises of better results, it is easy to get distracted. However, in looking back over my catalog of personally recorded projects, some of my favorite examples were completed with the most limited of resources. Don’t get me wrong, I love fancy gear and my modern recordings sound more “pro” as my access to such gear (and experience using it) improved, but gear was never the sole force standing between me and a successful take.

Doing a job with the right tool can no doubt make or break the results, just keep the obsession in check. Always take time throughout the creative process to step back, look at the situation and ask yourself, “does this really make it better?”

In closing, here’s a quick snippet of a song my friend Cameron and I (we called ourselves “Allergy Bowl”) recorded for the soundtrack of a short film we created in our 10th grade Latin class. We needed to record a short intro song for the first on-screen appearance of the Roman army. An evening in Cam’s garage, our instruments, a cheap mixer, and three or four microphones was all it took. We didn’t have access to a digital recorder or DAW, so we recorded straight to a consumer-grade Sony DV Handycam. Here we are, ten years later, and while it’s definitely rough around the edges, the recording is still successful in its intent.  Stay focused.

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