Use What You Have


I used to fight this battle on an almost daily basis. Usually the thought is something like this “If I had a…. then I could….” It almost always pertains to some sort of recording gear, or instrument that I don’t have. Some software I can’t afford, some imaginary record deal, or a recording budget that wish I had. Anything really, all I know is that everything I do have isn’t good enough! Can any of you relate to this thought process? So and so used this, I’ll never sound like that if I don’t have that same signal chain! XYZ went to ABC, so for me DEF is impossible! 

It took me a long time before I realized I was doing this to myself, in fact I still catch myself doing it. What a backwards way to think, it’s completely crippling! There are almost a million examples to pull from in the music world, of people who had nothing, and I mean nothing, worked hard, and became legends. Quincy Jones is the first to come to mind, in his autobiography he talks about how he ate rats growing up because his family was so poor. Quincy Jones! THE MAN. If you’re able to read this blog you have more than he did!

I’m not sure how many of you read Tape-Op magazine (if you don’t you should subscribe ASAP). The guys who produced Becks first album were talking about what they used. The mic on the single Looser? A Radio Shack PZM straight to a Tascam 8 track. Done. Why? “Thats what we had at the time”.

Over the past two years, to write and mix music for national commercials, I’ve been using… a Motu Ultralight. That’s it. The mics? An AKG451 (pretty fancy) and an sm58. I would constantly beat myself up over the sate of my “professional” studio. Then one day I realized, f-it! I’m actually doing it, what’s the problem? The only thing lacking in my studio is a positive outlook! This solved a lot of issues for me, and also increased my productivity tenfold. I stopped worrying about quality and started focusing on ideas, songs, and creativity. This of course leads to more success, which leads to more money, which (drum roll) leads you to the door of Guitar Center :)

As cheesy and self helpy as it sounds, the most important piece of gear in the studio is you. Work hard, write good songs, record them the best you can, get them out there, and everything else will follow. I still get excited when the Sweetwater catalogue shows up, but I no longer waste my time staring at some pre amp, dreaming of a better tomorrow..

I always find stories like this inspiring, so please share if you have any!

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7 Responses to Use What You Have

  1. Phil Moffa says:

    Well said my man. P.s. can I borrow ur new compressor?

  2. Modium ? says:

    I’m sorry, but this is blasphemy. Especially when published on a site that strives to be commercial and prove itself to the investors ;-) . We live in a consumer society, and we are made to believe that we are just one purchase away from happiness – in all fields of life. But then you think to yourself, the gear used by the Beatles to record their albums was immeasurably inferior to what is considered entry level today, and still their songs sound relevant, and can still kick most of todays top 40 entries in the butt, at least in my opinion.
    So, no. It’s not that you have the wrong gear, silly, you’re probably not using it to it’s full extent. Over the years I have learned that it is possible to compensate for almost all the limitations my studio may have. usually EQing and overdubbing answer 90% of my needs. For example, once I had to make reggae/dub track but at the time I didn’t have a tape-delay effect for those signature spaced out echoes. So I just used a digital delay and a bandpass filter and nobody noticed the difference.
    Sometimes pieces of gear become status symbols, and you see people purchasing them just to floant them around. They end up having a lot of gear that they only know superficially, while the real trick is knowing, once you have a certain sound in your head, how to turn it into reality using the gear you have, and you can’t do that without intimate knowledge of your gear.
    I’ve said it before, in a previous comment here, having a day job and all, music does not come first as I’d like it to be, especially when it comes to the budget. I usually wait a long while between the time I decide to buy something and the time I buy it. I usually wait for the price to drop or for a second-hand deal. I also tend to buy all-in-one gadgets. And when “If-only-I-had-a” thoughts start to sneak in, I remind myself of the Eurythmics’ Chalk Farm studio – where they had nothing but an 8-track recorder, a few dynamic (!!) mics, and a some of the cheapest synths and drum machines that were around at the time. And still they managed to create one of the albums that influenced me the most: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”.
    Oh, and one more thought process you mentioned that deserves a post of its own: “I will never sound like…” – you don’t need to sound like anyone but yourself.

  3. Too Cool, i remember my first 4 track Tascam. It was the early 90s Some Twacker dude with a bunch of electronics at his weekly garage sales up the street, Just gave stuff away always! Never came with plugs or anything but if you looked you could find them sitting around…. I got this sucker to work and it worked for ever bouncing 3 tracks back to 1 i had went back and got 3 gemini sampler and 1 mixer with a built in sampler.. i would sample a kick, snare, and a hi hat riff hammer it out on 3 record loops on 1.. then after bouncing back and fourth boy it created albums and many fresh mixtapes.. Would always make up sumthing up like yeah i used the sp12 or this and that.. The sound and feeling i get when i hear that old bangers.. its history. now i think its funny when peeps have trouble just putting preset loops in the mix.. Gr8 topic

  4. (My comment disappeared…trying again) I get complimented on the sound of my vocal mic, in my home studio…don’t tell anyone it came with an unsolicited karaoke unit I got as a perk for opening a Citibank account! “the most important piece of gear in the studio is you. Work hard, write good songs, record them the best you can, get them out there, and everything else will follow” is the most true and inspiring reminder…it may be my mantra for low moments. It’s too easy to focus on what you don’t have or can’t do or aren’t…what a waste of time. As a songwriter, I used to beat myself up for not writing more uptempo, rock-type stuff…then my first major label cut was a dark, minor-key, jazz/blues ballad, my first network TV show song, another ballad. In the name of all those jazz cats playing outrageous bebop on plastic saxes and in the name of all those blues guys playing on cheap guitars, in and out of hock, and in the name of great songwriters who started on cheap cassettes, recorded in a garage…let’s all remember that fans don’t buy music or go to concerts because of your gear. They do it to feel what your music makes them feel. Thanks for testifying, brother, I needed that.

  5. Thank you! My equipment consists of a used Squire bass, Epiphone electric guitar, and Fender acoustic guitar, none of which cost over $200. I also have a set of MXL microphones and a Yamaha keyboard from Wal-Mart that cost $100 each. I also have an Alesis 4 channel USB mixer I bought for $60. Only my Mac was somewhat expensive, and it comes with GarageBand. Add free software versions such as Hydrogen and Sample Tank, I can do anything I need. Yes, a $3,000 acoustic or electric guitar or keyboard would be great…and the only person who would know the difference would be me!

  6. JoMaSh says:

    They say a bad workman always blames his tools, yet that can be easily reversed – is there a point to someone who has no knowledge of music yet has all the latest, fancy gadgets that they don’t know how to use effectively? At the end of the day it’s what we are able to produce with what we have that matters. Hell, I used a webcam with a built-in mic and Audacity to record some audio for one of my tracks! It sounded good, low-fi, but that’s the sound I was going for. There’s this place near me called Cold Springs Tavern (AMAZING tri-tip sandwiches! :) and every Sunday a jazz trio plays there. The drummer plays a box with brushes. The different sounds he can evoke from that box are simply amazing. So no, it’s not what you have… it’s what you are capable of doing with what you have :)

  7. King Aleem says:

    Use what we have… Alchemist

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