Everyone in the music industry shares one common passion. The need for new, shiny bits of audio equipment as regularly as possible! Whether it’s a new guitar or a new Neve preamp, we all want to have the best equipment that we possibly can. However, the other common issue that most of us have is a lack of money to spend on these things. But fear not. As long as you follow these four tips, you can make sure that when you do make an investment, it’s worth it.
Will it sound better?
Possibly one of the most obvious reasons, especially for those of you looking to make upgrades. This is never more evident than when you are looking at very specific pieces of equipment. The choice to upgrade your large diaphragm condenser microphone should really only be based on two things. Will the new piece of gear improve on the old? The other thing to remember here is that there is no magical piece of equipment that will make everything sound professional. All too often, people set out to buy expensive mics thinking that it will solve their sound quality issues when really, more considerate microphone positioning and gain staging using a $100 mic would have created better results.
Am I prepared for new audio equipment?
The first thing you need to ask yourself when looking at any piece of gear is “Am I even equipped to handle this?”. It’s all good and well yearning after beautifully crafted 500 series compressors but if you don’t have a lunchbox to hold them, there’s no point. Equally, if you go picking up the latest high-quality interface but you’re PC doesn’t support the right data connections then you’ve had it.
Make sure to do the appropriate research before making ANY purchase. I’ve stopped picking up countless bits of new kit simply because my current situation wouldn’t even allow me to make use of it. Not only must you consider if you are equipped to handle new audio equipment, but you’ve got to factor in another age-old analogy. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. By this, I am referring to the idea that there is no point in splashing out on a $3000 pre-amp if you’re only using $100 microphones or $10 audio cables. Always look to upgrade what you already have before launching into the realms of professional, high-end audio equipment.
Will it save you time?
This might be the biggest consideration of all. Time is money and both seem to be all too fleeting. The idea of outboard audio equipment has always been a big fascination of mine. For a long time, all I wanted was racks and racks of analogue gear. Everything from pre-amps to equalisers. But, the further I got into the industry and the more work I did, the more I began to think. How long must it have taken to do the simplest of tasks back in the pure analogue days of recording!
Now, this isn’t to say that outboard is a complete waste of time. Digital pre-amp plugins are, in my opinion, a truly laughable concept. Very rarely can digital beat the sound of analogue. With that being said, audio equipment like multi-effects units is probably going to be a big waste of your time. Paying clients probably aren’t going to want to watch you choose and process reverbs in real-time. Especially when they find out the parameters weren’t quite right and you need to do it again. Efficiency is key. Not only for ensuring your customers come back but also for saving you time and maximising your earning potential.
Will this make you more effective?
All too often, we are captured by the fantastic new technologies that we are presented with. However, once we take a step back, we find out that we aren’t really being offered anything new. This is never more apparent than within the DAW plug-in community.
I’m sure you’ve got a favourite EQ that you feel comfortable with and gives you good results regularly. Perhaps you even have two or three that offer different results. But, do you really need ten or twenty? Despite the constant release of new EQ plugins that claim to be more advanced and offer more control and ease of use, most of them don’t really give you anything new. Not only this, but you are going to have to learn the new plugin inside and out. Ultimately, it’s going to be a huge waste of your time.
Whether it’s being branded as the new industry standard or not, the only reason to ever pick up a new piece of audio equipment is if it will make you better at your job. If it is going to allow you to provide a better service to your clients then, by all means, go for it. If it’s simply going to be just for show and not really become an everyday occurrence in your work, it’s probably not worth it.
As fun as it is to grab new audio equipment on a whim, it’s not always the best idea. Do your research beforehand and try to work out if it’s something you’re equipped for. Try to make your purchases something that will make you faster and stronger as an engineer. Don’t buy a digital mixer just because of the looks.
Side note – If you’re wealthy, please feel free to ignore everything I have just said. Spend to your heart’s content!