Gear vs. Limits?

  • I've got gear lust like everyone else, and I find myself fantasizing about all kinds of new stuff I want, but each time I do I realize that I have barely scratched the surface of the stuff I have (Ableton, an old copy of Reason, many VSTs, etc.) For example, based on what I have seen and heard the Virus TI Snow sounds awesome, but I have barely learned to use what I have--why get more stuff?

    I think the reason new equipment is alluring is that it is easy to imagine that having the new gear = making new sounds. But I could spend a year with just Ableton's built-in modules--as weak as some of them are--and still not run out of new sound combinations.

    As a challenge I tried making a full track with only my Kaossilator. Cheesy, sure, but I really enjoyed the process of working within the strict limits the Kaossilator imposed.

    So here is my question: how do you guys impose limits on your workflow? Do you find particular synth sounds you like and use those over and over, or do you strive to create new sounds each time you compose? I am feeling overwhelmed and looking for some suggestions. With all of the possible tweaks I am finding synths to be endlessly daunting. I am used to picking up my acoustic instruments which, barring pedals or post-processing, sound the same every time.

    (I did find that the last MCRP project, while personally frustrating, helped in this regard.)

  • Definitely set limits on yourself, Reason is quite a powerful machine if you are willing to spend some time on it, try getting into the back of the racks and patching the cv and gate to different things and see what effect they have. Make some mad sounds, throw them into ableton, and then mess around with basics such as pitch transpose and warping, you never know what weird and wonderful sounds you come up with.

    I spent years with reason, because it was quick and easy to knock compositions together for shows on the fly, and so limited myself to that, bought a couple of sample packs and got into the programing of the machines and the automation, then moved onto Ableton, and then worked through that, still learning, but obviously the limitations with that software is the audio editing, it is that bit slower when coming to build my sequenced tracks up to go in and do certain edits with. But I have decided to stay clear of Logic for the time being.

    The lust thing though goes for everyone, I used to be a complete analogue freak, and had a nice collection of stuff, these days the only hardware I use is a SH101, a Jen SX1000 (my first ever synth, just can't part with it) guitar and bass, and my Sherman, everything else went, and cut right back on my plug ins too.

    You soon learn that the more you buy the less you learn, and you quickly get uninspired by the generic sounds.

    Wow I waffled on some there!

  • I used to be a gear person too. The monome changed that.


    My stuff consists of

    Guitar, bass, three amps, accordion, mac, m-audio keyboard, monome, just added the apogee, and will be getting ableton live within a week. I have a few various guitar pedals. I don't see myself making any other substantial purchases.

  • Sorry to bring back an old thread, but I figured it would be better than starting up another.

    Anyway, I'm looking for some advice. Recently been hit pretty hard with the good old writer's block, and am looking into this whole less is more philosophy to try to break free of it. I need some suggestions on rounding out my "gearlist" for this project. So far I have:

    An extensive 909 sampleset for drums, which sounds very nice.
    A Dave Smith Mopho
    A Waldorf Blofeld

    I'm thinking of including at least 1 VSTi to this group. I originally was considering Massive, but as great as that synth is, I think the Blofeld can handle those kinds of sounds for the most part.

    What would you add to this lineup and why?

    Thanks ahead of time gents!

  • The three are enough. Go at it, my friend!

  • So the gear you have is probably enough depending on what kinds of sounds you like to work with. If you feel you need something more there are plenty of focused (and not super expensive) VSTs such as Native Instruments Scarbee for Rhodes or Wurli, etc. I've also been enjoying PSP Audioware's N2O effect VST lately - very good for expanding your sound.

    Another thing to try (that won't cost you any money) is plugging your blofeld into the audio input of your mopho. Explore both of the synths a little deeper. Wipe out a bunch of patches and build one up from scratch. You may already do this and I apologize if you do but most people are preset surfers and it's easy to get bored quick when that's the case.

    You might also consider buying some sort of effects box - something out of the ordinary that maybe has some depth to it. Strymon makes some great boxes these days. Eventide stompboxes are very nice as well. Moogerfoogers can be fun as well.

    If you have max/msp you can always build something there...

    Go to radio shack and buy the cheapest cassette recorder you can and record to it then play it back through the Mopho audio input.

    Take just one of your instruments away from wherever you do your music. Plug it in and play it completely on its own. Create a sound from scratch and just listen deeply to the intricacies of the unit itself. Set parameters to their extremes and see what they do.

    Lots of options to get you out of the rut. Hope this helps...

  • Nice! Great suggestions there.

    Right after I wrote my post I thought to myself, why not just stick with the two hardware synths and go from that. I suppose it was for ease, but I really should be looking to challenge myself a bit. I definitely need to learn more of the ins and outs of the hardware I have. I have written quite a bit of presets on both, but I need to go deeper (INCEPTION).

    You've given me a lot to think about, that's for sure. Thanks fellows for the inspiration.

    I've also got a Launchpad en route, and seen a lot of cool M4L things to do on the user modes. Should be a fun weekend coming up.

  • For me, music making is all about the ease of use. If something is too complex and takes me too long I just wouldn't use it that much. I'm just lazy and unfocused like that.

    That is why I try to have as little equipment as possible, specially when it comes to vst's. I just can't wrap my head around too many possibilities and different philosophies of creating sounds. It kind of freezes my workflow.

    To make everything more accessible, I went the hardware route in the last two years and every time I'm buying something new, I'm selling something old, too (Also it helps raising the money:). I hate being unsatisfied with my gear, so I trade stuff until I find a piece that sounds good and that I totally "get".

    So, to make a long story short: If you like your gear and feel like diving further into it, you probably shouldn't buy new stuff. If you don't like how your gear works, maybe it's time to ditch it.

    I also believe that having a limited setup helps to create your own sound.

  • when i get writer's block, which is frequent, i find that sitting down and forcing out a few bad tracks is usually the cure. something about just forcing myself to push through it usually leads to something decent on the 3rd or 4th attempt. i guess just getting into the "zone" and "mindset" for writing is key for me.

    it's kind of funny, because i'll put all of this effort and analysis into a few attempts and end up thoroughly unsatisfied. then everything sort of gels and i'll effortlessly start cranking out sounds i really like -- sometimes 4 to 5 hours into a writing session i'll finally hit upon something i'm liking and 2-3 hours later have a nice skeleton of a track done.

    the challenge for me these days seems to be finding those solid blocks of time to focus on it without irl getting in the way :)

    anyone else feel the same?

  • actually ireland but "in real life" fits too! ;)

  • @Str8JacketAviator

    Oh yea, definitely. Wasn't looking to add extra gear, just use VST's I'd possibly already have (which is probably too many, and part of the problem). Hell, I don't have the cash to keep up with a gear addiction. I actually have done as noboter said in the past few years, sold synths or other gear I wasn't happy with or wasn't using, converted that money into better stuff, which is where I'm at now with the Mopho and Blofeld, and an Axiom 49, not to mention an Arduinome. Nice and simple.

    But yea, this sounds like a fun challenge, using the two hardware synths and no VSTi's for this project.

  • I find soft synths and VSTs often have too many parameter controls for my taste. (OK, hardware synths, too.) This can send me down the rabbit hole of fine-tuning, which isn't exactly writer's block--more like writer's distraction.

    A basic stompbox is great because there are usually just a few knobs to tweak. I've had a lot of fun running general MIDI sounds through some distortion pedals until they are no longer recognizable. This limits my sonic pallette to a narrow slice, but it also lets me worry less about the details (at first).

    It is hard to beat the simplicity of an acoustic guitar or piano for composition. Simplifying isn't always the answer, but it helps me sometimes to clear my mind from all the worries of "is this synth sound just right," etc. and get on with actually making a tune.

    Of course if your tune is pure synth, the guitar won't help! ;-] Good luck.

  • from my experience, there is music and there are electronics / acoustics. while they are both intertwined, you can be passionate about each for different reasons. experiment/create/purchase according to the goals you set for yourself and follow through with them.

  • I was a Reason lover for years, there was a lot to be said for that closed environment. I really didn't know how great it was till many years after I had left it yearning for the freedom of Live and VSTs.

    I found it very easy to get creative and finish tracks in Reason, pushing it routing to it's limits. There was no new VSTs to yearn after you just had to get it done with what you had. I still find it difficult to finish tracks in Live. Just too many options, you really have to discipline yourself.

    My monome saved me here. Now I limit myself to a few synths and tools for sound creation in Live write all my bits often using raptor and other monome tools, then bounce down to audio and onto mlr. It's totally liberating.

  • i am considering switching from live to reason. i appreciate the interfacing and 'closed-ness' of reason. limits for the win.

  • I dabbled in Reason before switching to Live, and I sometimes long for the closed-system approach. Maybe this will be the impetus I need to head back over to Reason for a while. Plus the whole "virtual cable routing" thing was quite instructive when I got my first hardware synth. Reason goes deep if you take the time to learn it (which I did not.)

  • I have nearly the same setup as you right now,
    xoxbox, blofeld (best synth ever) xiosynth and a bunch of other crap I don't use.

    I guess how I deal with writers block is changing the instrument in which i write on. Traditionally im just a mouse point click in a step sequencer kinda guy, but changing what type of keyboard you are using, what sequencer you are using etc can really open up new ideas. Getting the monome really opened me up to this.
    Even trying to write in different keys is a good thing.
    I really like the way tunes can be written on 303 type sequencers as a way to change it up additionally. The xox is really nice because it has midi out so you can write on it, but not use the "303" sound. The trick is change your routine.

    I have been writing stuff for electronic music on guitars and accordions, and heavy metal on keyboards and step sequencers. I like everyone else on this forum have a LOT of gear lust, ending up spending a lot of money on stupid crap I end up selling in a month, just in hopes of breaking writers block or preventing it.

    Another good way of preventing it is change where you compose. Go outside, go to the library, go somewhere random and take inspiration from everything. Push your musical boundaries and you'll prevent it all together!

  • "Another good way of preventing it is change where you compose."


    Environment is HUGE for both inspiration, and for dealing with distraction.

    I suffer from a pretty tragic case of GAS as well. I've recently convinced myself that I have more than enough tools to express myself musically. The only purchase I can legitimize in my foreseeable future is a Madrona Labs Soundplane, as it's the realization of a device I've been dreaming about for years.

    Don't think about what a synth can do for you, but what you can do with your current setup. Chances are there's an infinite amount of possibilities already.

    I still really want a Les Paul....

  • Gear is an addiction. I'm an addict.

    "God give me the detachment to accept those things I cannot alter;
    the courage to alter those things I can alter and the wisdom to distinguish the one thing from the other."

    Each synth, pedal, guitar, have a particular sound, character, personality of their own. Each amp, each monitor, each cable you use in the music making process color the sound in a different way; giving different texture, quality etc.

    Today in this digital era it's soooooo overwhelming what's new, what's out and so on that you really don't know what to do... In my opinion, learn the concepts about gear: essentially a compressor, an "analog", FM, etc. synth, a equalizer, etc. all have the "same" knobs and if you know your way around them you'll get the sound you want... So keep it simple, or keep it big, it's your choice, just know what you are doing... Even though I've make some trully good sounding mistakes... I missed my point...

  • Gear lust is not limited to music gear, of course. I have over 50 film cameras--mostly medium and large format--plus an array of lenses because, well, each camera and each lens has its own quirks, its own way of seeing things. I can't possibly use all fifty cameras in a short span of time, so I cycle through. Some lie dormant for years, sadly, until I rediscover them. Does this stop me from wanting more? Nope.

  • good topic.

    personally I do a lot of buying and selling, this way i can continue to get new gear, see what I really like, and feed my gear lust. sure you take a little bit of a loose, but that really just flexibility tax. hard part is getting rid of something you really like, but its good to let it flow, you can always get it again later.

    another good way to feed gear lust is reaktor and maxmsp, i havn't even got into 20% of what is available for these to apps. and in all honesty the monome, any time i feel i need something new, or inspiration i go play with a new monome app, i have only got about 50% into about 50% of what is available. its also whats exciting about the ipad, although not much has actually delivered yet on that platform aside from touch osc which is ok, but still very limited.

    then there is always learning how to code or engineer and make your own gear, nothing more inspirational and original then that. personally i have not gotten there yet, but hope to some day.

    The piece of gear I really need to get my hands on to make better music and get the most out of what I current have is a time machine ... if anyone has a used one in good working order fs or trade message me.