You can have the latest gear, decked out computer with every plugin ever made, and the most expensive mic of all time and still make a shit record. Yet no matter how many times this sentiment is stated producers and artists are still surprised when they discover some of their favorite records were made in an apartment bedroom. So why are we still having this conversation in 2020 when albums like Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go” was crafted in her brother’s apartment and would later win 4 Grammy’s?[Editor’s note: I do recognize that possible politics may have played a role in the nominations as well the wins themselves but that will be for a different blog post.] Let’s explore a few reasons that are normally given as to why a newcomer decides to open a new line of credit and spend $10,000 on equipment they never needed.
It’ll Make Me Sound Better: True and false at the same time. Yes, a $10,000 mic will make your vocals sound better than if they were on a $50 one but it means nothing if you don’t even know how to EQ them. Some artists actually don’t like certain mics because of how they sound on them. I remember one time recording in a friend’s dorm room and you could hear the people outside downstairs conversation! I almost wanted to go back to the mic we got from RadioShack. Take a Shure SM7B microphone that’s widely used for podcasts, radio stations, and even some recording studios. For a rapper like a Larry June, this mic is great because of of the graininess that it gives on his vocals. However, a country singer like Sam Hunt probably won’t like the sound of it because he would most likely prefer a mic that has no coloration. In this case it wouldn’t be about the price tag of the mic, but the type of mic itself. Erykah Badu has been documented saying that her favorite mic is a dynamic ribbon microphone which sounds insane since most of us use these mics to capture instruments like violins. She stated that because she has a “nasally” voice it gives her vocals a better texture. So a $20,000 Neumann U 48 wouldn’t get the job done in this case. Mics should be treated like any other relationship. It’s not always about the look but about the way they make you feel, or sound.
I Can Do More: This is something I commonly heard back when I was running around Fire Station studios at Texas State University looking to sneak in studio time with the student engineers. Hindsight is 20/20 so the question I ask a decade later is, do more of what exactly? Yes the studio had MPCs, high priced software, and no snack machine in site but what exactly were we trying to accomplish? It’s the same question I ask newcomers now. If you need to make beats, you can pay $99 today and get a version of FL studio to make beats. If you just want to lay vocals, you can do that in Garageband which is already on your MacBook. If you’re on PC, you can download Audacity for free and create your next project tonight. As a whole, we keep forgetting that the reason these softwares and hardwares are priced so high is for two reasons. Brand name and recent release date. Don’t believe me? How many of us bought a plethora of Kontakt libraries just to find out we could’ve saved a ton of money if we waited till Black Friday or just another 12 months? It’s the same thing with hardware. Some interfaces, sound cards, and music production stations will always be expensive because they’re just that damn good and the way they were made. No matter where you go, someone somewhere is still trying to buy an ASR10 for its sampling capabilities. Some pieces of equipment will forever be timeless but most have a high ticket price because of who made it not because of what its made of.
All the Pros Have It: Actually, they do have it but most don’t use it. I’ve walked into countless studios and seen enough YouTube Lives to see most of their equipment with dust on it. With technology allowing us to do more in box why rush to get some external equipment? I myself want a Moog keyboard after working with The APX in their studio in Atlanta but I don’t need the keyboard at all. In fact, between SERUM, Sytrus, NEXUS 3 (you remember?), and SAWER I’m pretty much okay not having any external synths. It’ll probably another year before I get through all the presets before I even find myself bored with any of those synths. So why spend $1,200 or even $3,500 for a keyboard that’s just going to take up space?
In conclusion, please research the equipment you are seeking out as you may be able to save tons of money with a plugin and also be sure to ask why you even need it. Searching on YouTube alone may help you find a free plugin that will allow you to accomplish that same sound. In regards to microphones and interfaces you may just have to watch an online tutorial to help you get the sound you need. Simple audio mixing techniques can improve your sound greatly if applied correctly. You can also acoustically treat your room at a very low cost. Besides, most people actually don’t know how to work their external gear because most of what you need is on your hard drive already.
Leave that $500 interface in that amazon cart. You barely know how to work the $30 one on your desk anyway.