To gear or not to gear?

That is the question.  Isn't it?  I find myself asking that question a LOT.  How much gear is enough gear?  Do I really need another mic?  Do I really need a different mic preamp?  Do I really need another guitar amp?  Do I really need another guitar?  Hence the question:

To gear or not to gear?

It's so easy to buy into the hype that "this will take your stuff to the next level!"  But how many next levels are there?  If the guitar will, and the amp will, and the cable will, and the mic will, and the preamp will, and the interface will, and the computer will, and the DAW will, and the 1000+ plugins will....

When is enough, enough?  At what point is buying more stuff just buying more stuff?

I was in Nashville about a year and a half ago, and something really stood out to me.  All the musicians on the streets and in the bars sounded awesome!  But I kept seeing something in common with almost all of them.  Their sucked.  Or at least that's what you would think by the labels or the condition of it.  But the sound, the sound was amazing.  So this got me thinking...

Is it the equipment or the person handling it?

I think we all really know the answer to that one.  It's the person handling it, not the equipment.  Now granted, give an amazing guitar player and amazing guitar hooked up to an amazing amp and you're likely to hear magic!  Give the same guitar to an newb and it won't be so magical.  But give an amazing guitar player a junky guitar, and they'll likely be able to make it sound a lot better than you ever thought possible.

This concept has been solidified in my mind while roaming the streets of Seattle.  I've seen the same thing.  A guy with a cheap Ibanez guitar and a cheap solid state Peavey amp can sound amazing!  Not knocking either Ibanez nor Peavey here (or solid state amps), just an example.

This also hit me at church recently too.  Since we're traveling and dealing with my wife's cancer so much, I can't run sound every Sunday.  So we've been trying to train up some other guys and gals to run sound, and run sound well.  It just amazes me how different it can sound from one week to the next.  With the same musicians, same instruments, same amps, same sound gear, just different people mixing - 1 week it's amazing, the next it's like a dead fish in the house.  And that can be with the same person on the mixer!!!  It's inconsistent, which tells me they need more practice and more support in knowing when a mix sounds good.

So how much do you need to get started?

Very little.  In fact, I think it's best to start with 1 mic, a 2 channel interface, a basic DAW (like Audacity or Garage Band), and only the stock plugins.  Why?  It's more important to learn good technique and get a good sound with the basics than it is to get sloppy with a bunch of overpriced gear.

Really, if you're just starting out - get a $100 condenser mic, a basic interface and run with it.  Play around with different mic placements to find a good spot to use it.  Go ahead and watch the youtube tutorials and read the threads you found on Google, but take them with a grain of salt and try it for yourself.  Get good sound in, then play with different levels, different EQ settings, different compression settings and get it to sound even better.

Resist the temptation to believe the marketing scheme that "this is the missing link in your music."  It's probably not, and if it is, it probably isn't yet.  When you get there, you'll know it.  But remember, if it's not sounding good, make sure it's not an operator error before assuming it's an equipment problem.  Look everything over, and maybe have someone else look it over with you.  Don't be ashamed to ask for help, we're all learning and we're all learning from a bunch of different people.  If a guy on the street can make that crappy guitar sound good, then you can make your recordings sound good.

** I want to make sure I don't give the wrong idea.  Gear isn't bad.  Having a lot of expensive gear isn't bad.  And to be quite honest, I keep getting better gear when I can too.  What I'm trying to get across is that it's actually a good thing to earn your stripes and learn how to make lower quality gear sound good before jumping into expensive gear.  I just read a post by a guy I follow, who is a total minimalist in recording gear, talking about how he now does a lot more work on the sound before it goes into the box.  Meaning that he does some eq, compression, and maybe some effects before it goes into the interface.  Guess have to have hardware gear to do that.  Gear isn't bad...just don't go overboard, and make sure you know how to use it and use it well.**

Go and make something you love, and remember to have fun!