GAS, and Why Your Tank’s Empty

Guitar CarGAS. We all use it to get around in our cars. We need it to get to work or school, make it to the gig, go to the grocery store or cruise down to the local club to check out that awesome new band, right?

Well, no.

Actually, that’s not the kind of GAS I’m talking about. GAS, here at Home Studio Geeks, is a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) for one of the major pitfalls of any home studio owner: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Check this out:


Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

I know you’ve been there. You’re drooling over stuff in that glossy new gear catalog that just arrived. Your inbox says there’s a killer sale going on at American Musical or Sweetwater about some awesome new piece of gear that is EXACTLY what you need and it promises to solve all your problems. And you’ve: Just. Got. To. Have. It.

Step back. Hold on a sec. Breathe…. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into more than a few times and, while I love getting new gear as much as the next guy, it rarely does everything I hoped it would do and it pretty much never puts an end to my lust for new musical toys or shiny new recording gadgets.

I’m left with a nagging feeling that if I just buy that OTHER microphone or one more software plugin or (SQUIRREL!) – Wow, that guitar looks awesome!

But here’s the real deal.

You’ve probably already got enough equipment to make some decent recordings. Maybe not world-class recordings, but solid, decent recordings. I mean, really. You already have a computer that will probably work just fine.  You can go totally on the cheap and use free recording software like Audacity; you can use your computer’s built-in audio interface; a cheap mic that you borrow from a friend and whatever guitar, keyboard & other instruments you can scrape together.

Yeah, it’s not ideal, but it’s probably enough to get your song recorded in some fashion that doesn’t totally suck. It’s a start, dude, and that’s huge! I’ve made the mistake of waiting to start, or (more often) finish, a project because I thought I needed some new piece of gear to “do it right”. Whatever that means.

I didn’t. Not really.

My First Album

Craig Olson ~ Beyond the Cedar MoonMy first album, a folk-rock, trancy thing called Beyond the Cedar Moon, was recorded on an ancient computer with a cheap sound card that only had 1 stereo input and 1 stereo output. I didn’t have any fancy plugins and I was using an early version of Cakewalk Sonar.

Actually, that was before Sonar. I think it was called Cakewalk Pro Audio or something like that. The only mic i had was a Sure SM58. It’s a great live vocal mic but hardly a high-end studio vocal mic. Main thing is that it’s what I could afford at the time.

You know what?  That album sounded pretty damn good. Still does. Not because I had a bunch of awesome gear, but because I had some well-written songs, I used what I had and I took the time to make it as good as I could make it.

So, the next time you’re lusting after some sparkly new musical trinket, or thinking you’ll finish your album AFTER you get <fill in the freakin’ blank>, THINK AGAIN, and just go for it with what you have. Even the cheapest gear today is worlds above what was available to other musicians who changed the world with their music.

Case In Point:

Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd‘s song “Money” from 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon. That album was a brilliant piece of psychedelic rock and I must have listened to it at least a hundred times.  There’s a loop that starts the song & comes back in several times consisting of 7 sounds that have to do with money. Cash registers, money jangling & stuff like that.

With Pro Tools, Sonar, Cubase or even the free program Audacity, creating a loop like that is pretty straight-forward. An hour or three in edit & tweak mode and you’re there.

But this was 1973.  No audio computers then. “Cut and Paste” involved actual scissors and scotch tape. And, for god’s sake, don’t get your greasy fingerprints on the magnetic tape!

They recorded 7 sounds (the song is in 7 / 4, except for the guitar solo). They thought these clips would sound cool and then transferred them to the studio tape. Then they cut these pieces of magnetic tape (with scissors. dude!) into equal lengths that fit the tempo of the tune. Then they physically taped them together. With scotch tape.

Holy Crap!!

The reel-to-reel tape deck wasn’t designed to handle a tape loop that was 30 feet long so…  Roger Waters put a mic stand on the other side of the room, and ran the spliced tape from the machine, around the mic-stand, and back. Bloody Hell, Mate!  The result was/is a cult classic that has enthralled stoners for years and made it into the top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100.

I’m just sayin’.

It’s the Song, Not the Gear!

The content of your song ~ the lyric, the arrangement, the feel, dynamics and vibe ~ is WAAAY more important than the gear you use to capture that song. Not to say that equipment isn’t important. It definitely is and we’ll get into that in more detail later, but for now I’m just sayin’ that GAS is not your friend.

Resist the urge to bust out the credit card and instead try working with what you’ve got. If it ain’t workin’ and you really do need to buy something to make it work, then so be it.

But really, the next time you’re thinking of spending more money on recording equipment or music gear, ask yourself if you really ~ I mean REALLY ~ need it. I’ll bet that 3 times out of 4, it’s something that’s more of a want than a need. Save your money for stuff that you really do need. You know, like a good audio interface, or a six pack and a smothered burrito!

Next time I’ll talk a bit about what equipment you actually Do need to spend some money on. in the meantime, please do us both a favor and throw those gear catalogs into the recycle bin. And feel free to use the “delete” button liberally whenever somebody is trying to sell you something.


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