By Alex Oana
I think “gear porn” is a more accurate phrase than we might sheepishly admit. Pornography on the internet for many is what’s called a “process addiction” in which the hunt is as or more important than the conquest. How different could a $300 custom mod on a $100 Chinese mic really be compared to just buying a $400 Chinese mic? On a regular basis I talk with people who really just need to snap out of it, get down with some gear and make some noise.
And speaking of cheap imports, it’s our own hunger, no, sense of entitlement for cheaper goods that drives production overseas. Isn’t this the same sense that has monetarily devalued music itself? When I think of it that way I start to understand the psychology of the independent music producer who buys gear on price alone. Here’s a group that’s getting the message over and over that their work isn’t worth much. So maybe, as much as entitlement, it’s a lack of self worth that makes it okay for an equipment consumer to ask the equipment producer (usually via a dealer) to cheapen his wares. And the Internet enables price-as-primary-value shopping which can lead to a race to the bottom for dealers and manufacturers.
Maybe it was OK to get gear for 10-over-cost from the Big Box retailer because it was just some corporation. Well, the shareholders of that big corporation finally figured out it’s not a good business model. If the dealers are losing, the manufacturers and designers are losing which translates into worse stuff for you to buy. Chris Dauray of Manley Labs told me on the phone the other day, “I remember shopping for guitars as a kid; the PRS had the same high price tag wherever I shopped. It cements the idea that this product is worth something.” How many of you out there believe you are not being paid what you are worth? Is this correlated to you asking your service providers to devalue themselves?
Much like an independent engineer or producer’s rate structure, most pro audio manufacturers’ pricing structure is not setup for them to get rich. Chris at Manley explained, “As for manufacturing high-end gear, it costs a lot of money to do it right. We're not getting rich building our equipment, we just want to maintain our products' integrity.”
It’s like my friend Mike Caffrey (well-known New York engineer and writer) says, “We don’t need another $10,000 record. We need more $500,000 records.”
It All Comes Down To Value
But it’s the bedroom recordists that this revolution of Pro Audio Plenty is really all about and that the Internet-informed pro audio marketplace serves. For example, my buddy Simon Cote of Focal just told me at AES 2010 in San Francisco that awareness of their very fine, high-end SM line of speakers jumped when they introduced a low priced range of speakers.
It all comes down to value. Some pro audio gear buyers value price above all. Some value build quality, the security of a good warranty, customer support, and a reasonable return policy. Some rely on the expertise of their sales person to break the tie or even suggest the top contenders. “I’ve been engineering for 20 years,” is what my email signature says. I want the people I help to know they’re not just talking to a servant to somebody else’s bottom line; they can get real insight and advice if they need it. After all, selling pro audio gear is a lot like producing a record: the first thing you need to do is listen. Your experience will guide your guidance.
While not a rule, it’s often true: you get what you pay for. There are increasingly more exceptions. It’s incredible that a high quality small diaphragm mic, for example, could be had for a few hundred bucks. Read Rob Tavaglione’s Session Trial in PAR September 2010 (proaudioreview.com/article/31582) for more insights on that.
Focus On The Music?
I just finished mixing a self-produced/engineered record by singer-songwriter Justin Roth, which he recorded on the cheap in his home studio. (Thanks to the talented David Glasser at Airshow Mastering for helping me transform an inexpensive recording into an expensive-sounding one.) Justin emailed for my opinion about some gear and could not have summed it up better. “I'm new to whole discussion groups about gear ... all the threads usually leave me with more questions than answers, but it's good to learn a little more about what people are into and why ... even though everyone's going to have different ears and different reasons. (But) it’s the whole mess I wanted to avoid getting into this studio thing. That's why I bought a set up as-is; I didn't have to research anything, it was just plug and play ... or record, rather. Now for an upgrade, I have to start doing my own research. What a blur it is!”
Justin wants to focus on the music. He valued a turn-key system, which turned out to be an older Pro Tools LE system he bought from a friend. This trusted relationship most strongly influenced his buying decision.
Whether you can mine it from a blog, get it from a friend, read about it in a mag, learn it from a mentor, or hear it from your dealer, informed, experienced, edited advice on gear is more than crucial to a purchase; it is often the most significant factor in what can be a justifiably emotional decision. You consider trusted opinions at a moment of vulnerability -- vulnerability because one’s identity is often wrapped up in their music or work. It’s a beautiful relationship that the writers of Pro Audio Review, for example, hold sacred.
The most important thing to remember is to get a tool -- any tool -- that will allow you to do the thing that compelled you to do exhaustive research in the first place. And hopefully you will use the same barometer as does my friend Jeffrey who is currently shopping for a new car: “I have to feel good when I drive it.”
BIO: Alex Oana has been engineering for over 20 years and selling pro audio gear for Vintage King for 9 months. He prefers feedback over writing in a vacuum. E-mail him: firstname.lastname@example.org