You have gas

GAS, what most musicians know as Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  That never-ending feeling that you have to have the latest and greatest in gear to make your music better.  It’s something we all struggle with, and it can be both a blessing and a curse.

There’s no denying that new gear helps trigger fresh bursts of creativity, just the mere fact that you’re forced to be in front of the gear as you check out your new toy means that it’s forcing you to actually sit down and do something musical.  New gear means new ways of working, so it’s not surprising that you’re bound to come up with something new, results that you perhaps have not achieved before with things you currently own.

In the short-term, this has the effect of validating the purchase.  You think “hey, this is great, this new bit of gear helped me come up with something I never would have before”.  Well, possibly, but sometimes you really need to step back and look at the underlying cause of that too.  Certainly the newness of it means that it’s exciting, you’re using tools that you aren’t familiar with, so it can be more fun.

Often times this initial discovery period becomes the sole reason for the purchase, that time when everything you do musically seems fresh and exciting.  And it is exciting, there’s no denying it.  But how often has that feeling faded faster than you expected?  How many times have you completed a couple of projects with your new toy, and then your attention starts to wander again?

Not to get too deep here with the comparisons, but in a way it’s not much different than dating someone.  It’s fun and new at first, everything feels great and you couldn’t be happier.  But then the magic fades, your attention wanders, and you start looking at what else is out there.  Sure you could go through life jumping from one partner to another, but many people (myself included) will tell you how shallow and unfulfilling that is in the long-term, and how much more satisfying it is being with that ONE special person.  When you become a team and work together, you’re rewarded with things you never imagined early on.

Musical instruments are the same way.  It’s easy to be tempted by the latest and greatest, but sometimes you need to step back from the marketing hype (and they sure know how to hype their new products!) and re-assess what it is that a new purchase will bring to your studio in the long haul.  All too often I see people get wrapped up in this, asking other musicians “Should I get music equipment x,y,z?”  Or “I have $500 to spend, what should I buy?”.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking other people what they think about a particular instrument, but at the same time realize what you’re doing.  If you have to ask someone else what you NEED, then chances are you really don’t NEED anything at all.  New gear purchases should always be obvious to you, they should fill a real need in your workflow, or add something to your studio that you currently don’t have.

Oftentimes just taking a deep breath and thinking about how your current tools could be pressed into doing the same thing, will cause you to realize that perhaps the need you thought was there is not so great after all.  By re-looking at the gear you have now, and how it could be used in a new way, you’d be surprised at how you can channel that same type of excitement new gear brings.

We all have instruments with features that we don’t use that often, so by digging in and re-evaluating how we use our tools, we not only get the chance to work in a new way, but we also come to master our tools more than we thought we had.  And in the long haul, THAT can be more exciting and fulfilling than a short-term fling with something we really don’t need.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the latest Sweetwater catalog just arrived and I can’t wait to go see what new toys were released recently 🙂

11 Replies to “You have gas”

  1. Agreed, well and truely agreed, I’ve learnt my lesson about GAS *pushes button on new toy* But seriously, time to be responsible and have a happy monogomous relation ship with the few awesome bits of kit I have 🙂

    Awesome writing Mr Tarekith, you always hit the nail on the head!

    Sweetwater? Quick Tarekith, hide shamelessly in the can from the Mrs for some alone time 😀 lol

  2. Yeah, I love the candy in the sweetwater boxes! BTW, I was just kidding about the new catalog arriving, don’t start harrassing Chuck with nasty emails if you didn’t get one.

  3. for me, G.A.S. comes in spurts, pardon the pun.

    If i’m unmotivated or uninspired, i certainly seem to look at new tools more, hoping to get a creative spark. G.A.S. can be great though, as I would not have been motivated to tackle my Live PA this year without Maschine, which was definitely a piece of kit i pined for after using it once.

    Overall, i feel like i’ve passed the days where i was constantly looking for different gear. Part of this has come down to relying more on software for sound generation than hardware, as that cuts out a huge segment of gear. And thanks to Reaktor, i can just try new ensembles without really having to invest a substantial amount of $ for something completely new and different. Most of all i think comfort in my own creative process has kept the urge at bay the most. Occasionally i look to strip away my own production habits and try to grow more as a producer. Its difficult to do that without new kit. But in seeking to do so, i find myself looking inward more and that’s when i make the most progress. So i guess one of the first step towards dealing with G.A.S. is acknowledging what it is and that you have it, and realizing its few strengths and its numerous weaknesses.

  4. It’s easy to start collecting some odds and ends instruments. I started with a Novation X-station61 VA synth, and a few weeks after I bought a Korg EA-1 & a Yamaha DX200 off of eBay. I was in need of a mixer later, but my hours slowed down to a grind, and the $1600 checks I was pulling in were dropping to $1000. So the only thing I could afford was a rackmount Behringer mixer, & 2 Tapco compressors. Then looking around at my local music shop I saw 2 effects units I put money down on layaway for. A old school Electrix WarpFactory, and a Line 6 FilterPro. Then I was let go from my job, and I immediately filed for unemployment.

    At almost the first of the year, I wanted a rompler, and a reverb unit, and somebody offered to sell an Alesis S4+ & a Boss SE-70 for what I could afford to pay. I was in heaven with all the effects, but it’s kind of funny I never really used the rompler much. (Still have it though). I found a job briefly and put money down on a Novation BassStation rack. It was monophonic, but I could live with it, and the fact that it had a built in CV to Midi converter was a bonus. But then I wanted some new grooveboxes, so I scored a old ER-1 & EM-1. I then saw a Electrix Vocoder, and a cheap Behringer Mic Pre & $15 mic, and yet I found I didn’t really care for it’s nasal sound(the vocoder)..

    I needed a mixer by now, because the rackmount wasn’t meant to be used for the long term, so I got myself a used Mackie CFX20 and I had found another small problem. I was running out of room in my cramped bedroom for all these toys. But like a moth to a flame, I was always looking for the next thing I told myself I needed, but like the article says, perhaps I didn’t. I got myself a used Moogerfooger MF-101 LowPass Filter. I love it, but it’s a 1 trick pony until I buy more Moogerfoogers to make it more expandable, and to also try my hand at moving away from MIDI and trying the possibilities of CV equipment, and yet I’m not quite ready to build a Modular synth out of a racked power supply and a bunch of imported german Doepfer modules.

    There’s alot of stuff out there, but it does become one of those things about GAS. It gets a little more tricky to have everything connected, but even with a bigger mixer, I still don’t have the room real-estate for all the grooveboxes. But I don’t wish to sell them all the same. I know I need a more comfortable workstation, but yet I want some more toys in 2011. I have to make sure each new purchase is really necessary, or chances are I’ll just sit on it and not really use it much. But the article is right on the money. It is fun to discover new sounds, new ways of thinking about using what you already have with the new item. But sometimes nothing happens at all, and when the time is right I’m off to try for something else.

    I’ve got GAS, but I don’t want a cure…

  5. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with buying gear, that’s not what I’m really saying. Just make sure you’re buying it for the right reason and not spending many that could go towards something you REALLY need. 🙂

    I have a good strategy for this too, in that I tend to buy things reboxed or when on sale for super cheap. That way if I end up not liking something, I can alway sell it for not much of a loss. Or I buy really well made equipment like the Elektron stuff or my Access Polar, which I can sell for little loss as well. It’s a great way to get a new piece of gear in the studio now and then, without spending much money. Plus it can only happen if I get rid of something in the process, to avoid me from having gear with too much overlap.

    Though that’s likely my minimalist nature more than anything.

  6. I suffer from gear lust often but geneally only make a purchase after a fair amount of research.
    And I really don’t have a lot of stuff.
    I always remember Robert Henke saying when he hears a lot of talk about gear he often doesn’t hear a lot of good music produced as a result.

    As I’ve stated previously I do have a newly discovered passion for producing on hardware.
    But I think I may like a hardware synth or drum machine because they help narrow my focus a bit. With Ableton or other software it is so easy to get so far from your original idea that you forget what your goal was when you started.

    We are spoiled for choice and I still think this is an amazing time to be playing with sound.

  7. ha it is spot on. I’ve had a bad case of gas recently setting up a small home sudio!

    sub for monitor system
    Legal copy of cubase (was running a crack)
    accoustic treatment mic and bass traps etc
    external soundcard for more ins and outs so i can use external hardware
    sherman filterbank 2 (lush distortion, a little bored of plug in distortion)
    marshal jmp1 preamp ” ” ”
    New desk furniture
    Nord rack 2 (cos i really wanted an easy to program outboard synth to compliment soft synths)
    Midi controller with more than 2 octaves (am learning piano and need more keys)

    It was a tidy sum, but hopefully it will be worth it!

    I got most of it seconfhand (but near mint) so it should hold its value, and as mentiond i can sell it if i want, almost like an investment.

    One problem i have found is that instead of spending spare time reading up on techniques, sound on sound, etc, ive been lusting away on ebay and reading up on different equipment which is not so productive!

    I’d also agree with the relationship analogy. Ive head many pro engineers and producers (in books and mags) saying thats it better to have fewer tools and know them inside out than having many and knowing them very little or not at all. The synth that i have owned and used the longest (not that long mind you) is massive and i am getting to the point where i know it well, and it is rewarding.

    Cheers for article


    Do people limit themselves to a certain amount of synths or effects, etc? I am starting to do this.

  8. Every time I start to get GAS, I think in terms of the music I’ve made and will make. For me its as simple as recalling a hot track I did a day, month, year, or decade ago, and simply realizing that I didn’t use whatever I’ve convinced myself I need to have when I made it.

    I have a lot of gear, that’s just the way it is with moore’s law in full effect. So to some degree, you have to learn how to stay productive amid a lot of gear. As a hardware head, I cut my teeth in an era where one keyboard, one sampler, and one four track would cost you over $5000. At the current new and second hand prices, I find it VERY hard to resist (I mean do you have any idea how bad I lusted over the ASR-10 and MPC 3000???). But at the end of the day, as long as I stay productive I don’t see a problem with keeping the gear I have or acquiring more gear…

    Some of the methods I’ve developed:

    1. Don’t feel a compelling need to use everything with everything else all the time.
    – If you have 10 synths/samplers, pick one or two to work with today and get on with it. If it works today, do it again tomorrow, and don’t worry, you’ll make your way around to that other gear. If you don’t, box it up and put it in the closet (or uninstall it if its SW). Do NOT sell it, for two reasons; first you will most likely want to buy it again in a year, and second, you WILL use the proceeds towards more gear.
    – Separate your workflow (and gear) into stages. When you’re feeling creative, break out the 1 or 2 pieces that best complement that. When not, start arranging or mixing an older track. Use certain gear at certain stages of the compositional/arrangement/mixing processes and put it away (literally or figuratively) when you move on.
    -Try moving the actual DLLs or Components out of your plugin folders temporarily. Same with hardware; put it back in the box it came in. Actually having a desk or workspace that’s too small to fit all your stuff can be a good thing…

    2. Start with a great idea, instead of convincing yourself that your equipment can polish that turd.
    – You are the source of that great riff, not the three million presets you’ve collected.
    – Always capture your noodling.
    – If nothing is happening, turn your process on its head. Start with drums instead of chords, or a harmonic structure instead of a melody.
    – DO NOT try to get the sound in your head. Aim instead for the melody/harmony/groove in your head.
    – Resist the temptation to tweak while in creative mode. Get the idea down as fast as you can. When you have it down, immediately save, close, and do it again.

    3. Don’t sit down to make music, sit down and make music.
    – When all else fails, take one piece out of your studio and sit in front of the TV with it (or take it to starbucks if its small enough – you’ll look cool in the process lol…). Of course this is easier said than done with computers (if you can afford it, a great idea is to get an older laptop and load up a small subset of your software) but perfect if you have some hardware. At the very least you won’t be staring at the mountain of gear that’s killing your inspiration.
    – I’ve come up with some great stuff by explicitly intending to noodle around while watching the game.
    – Sometimes your toddler will hit the perfect key at the perfect time. Welcome that distraction.
    – Background noise helps when you’re thinking too hard.

    Anyway, the bottom line is don’t let the music stop. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t consider it GAS. OTOH, if you do, then the GAS wins…

  9. LOL. I just ordered by Maschine and can’t wait to bang those pads like i used to do it to my MPC before I bought reason and Ableton Live. I sold the MPC because of the workflow. Now, that maschine users seems happy with the maschine workflow, i thought of giving it a try. So to me, this new gear is like bringing back my old gear with firmware enhancements. You dig?

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