Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Great Gear Dilemma

So I am sitting here now writing to the blog in one of those states that I can imagine every single one of the artists who read this blog has weighed in upon at least once before. That is the the writers block issue and also to some lesser extent the organization of your studio equipment. Now my philosophy for writing music is that I try to set a musical goal, style or objective for myself each year when writing my music. For example, this past year (2007) I strove to try to write more dance oriented music. Traditionally that has been very hard for me to get into and I have always been a more chillout/ambient type of artist. Now I think I accomplished that task fairly well, but unfortunately I now find myself sitting here trying to contemplate what my goal is for 2008 as a musician.

For the past three months I have literally sat down in front of my gear and gotten nothing worthwhile out of it. I have when all said and done, writers block. Now I have had writers block before in many instances but I have never really had it to the severity that I have it now. It is now almost mid-March and I have not even written a single four bar loop that I feel has been deserving of being saved. Everything just sort of comes out sounding generic or the same.

So this past week I have been really sort of thinking of how I can break this writers block and it sort of dawned upon me that perhaps what I need is really a change of scenery.  A change in musical gear.   Now I will be honest, I have never really gone through the process of changing around my musical gear, selling some of it off, purchasing new gear and in essence starting from scratch.  Moving from software to hardware is one thing because I quite honestly look at software as being disposable. Hardware on the other hand really feels like an investment and letting it go is going to be hard. To be quite frank, I find the idea more than a  little frightening, but perhaps it is exactly what I need to give myself a spur of new musical ideas. So that is the position that I find myself in today. Do I dare sell everything off and start from scratch?

This has also led me down a second path of dilemma's as well. If I do want to mix up the gear list a little bit what gear to I go out an purchase? What gear to I keep?  I myself have always sort of been a fan of the "workstation" pieces of equipment, but have I alluded to other approaches slightly in my post the other day regarding  SP-404 sampler.  I have since begun taking a look at everything from the Yamaha RS7000 and even the much under discussed Roland MC-808. Do  I stick with this workstation formula or instead begin building smaller pieces of kit focusing on standalone synthesizers, a smaller sampler and perhaps grooveboxes?  The whole process is just now getting more and more into the downward spiral as I weigh, analyze and scrutinize the endless possible combinations of gear setups that I could go with. This adding to the headache that I am not even 100% sure if I can stomach parting with the precious gear that I have spent the last 5+ years writing my music on and you can only imagine how numbing this process may turn out to be.   

So with this all laid out on the table, perhaps I am coming to the conclusion that my goal for 2008 is to rebuild, start from scratch and reboot.  I am curious as to what the readers may think. Have any of you out there ran into writers block as this? Have any of you dove off into the deep end of starting from scratch with your studio or live setups.  I would love to hear any thoughts or ideas people have to weigh in on this topic.


decrepitude said...
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decrepitude said...

It happens to even the most accomplished artists. Probably the most important thing at this point is not to beat yourself up about it. Laugh it off and chalk it up to experience. The good thing is these sort of things are cyclical and eventually you WILL be inspired again.

I've been there for sure.

Sometimes a little hiatus away from the gear can help. Go out into the world and forget about creating for a while and LISTEN. Seek out some new artists and formats and let it all soak in. For me, usually this is just what the doctor ordered.

Another problem for the LivePA artist (which enhances writers block in my opinion) is having TOO MUCH capability (tracks, DSP, complexity) and limiting yourself to just a small set of devices/sounds can actually help bolster creativity. (So instead of a big powerhouse like the EMU Command Stations with 128 voices of polyphony[!] Maybe one of the earlier Electribes would be just perfect) Just recently I saw that great interview with Robert Henke (Monolake) who is also one of founders of Ableton Live and he stated that he was "quite surprised" by how much his sets have improved since he has adopted his own self-imposed limitations.

Another recent discovery for me was to no longer compose just 4 and 8 bar phrases, but try 1 and 2 bar phrases as well. There's something really satisfying ( and tribal) about the shorter repetitions.

Unknown said...

jam with some friends. maybe seek out a friend who you wouldn't normally think to jam with... like, say, a punk drummer. you might find some crazy direction you never thought of before.

I also agree with decrepitude... a hiatus will freshen things up. go see some live music/seek out new artists.

JohnTennant said...

Hey MAS,

I'm just coming out of a two year hiatus of writer's block. With the exception of the live shows, I have almost no studio produced music to show for the last 24 months of my life. Ug.

So anyways, maybe it's cliche, but I'm going to recommend a book that kicked my ass and got me working again. Check it out, maybe it'll help put things into perspective for you.

The War of Art
by Steven Pressfield

Also, if you do buy some new gear, make sure it sounds amazing. There's a lot of shite gear lurking out there waiting to jump out and steal your wallet. :)