Friday, 30 November 2012

I have GAS

Hello. My name is Christian Thomas. I have a problem with GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I first realised I had this sad affliction when I was a kid and my parents bought me a little Casio keyboard. As soon as I had it, I wanted a bigger one. When I got a bigger one a few years later (behave yourselves and stop giggling at the back), I realised that I wanted something to record the two instruments on. When I got older I wanted a guitar. Then I got a little bit older and got a job as a mechanic. This badly affected my GAS as I had to buy my own tools, and a Snap On man used to come round to our workshop every Friday. There was a lot of snobbery for tools (I’ve warned you) and if you didn’t have Snap On, you were a joker. Alongside all of this, I wanted another guitar. Then a bass. Then another one. Then some pedals. Whether I needed them or not, I wanted them.

And then we got the studio. Buying stuff for the studio is like Christmas. Even buying relatively dull stuff like power conditioners is fun, because it comes all wrapped up in a box and you have to Open The Box Carefully In Case You Have To Send It Back. And then you have to be sad and geeky and plan where it’s all going to fit in the rack. That’s a guilty pleasure of mine that is.

Now, I want to make a comparison with my being a mechanic here. There’s this incredible snobbery about the tools we use in both professions. As I said above, Snap On is THE brand of choice – Facom are probably second (they were when I was in the trade), King Dick and Britool were just about ok. Anything else? Forget it, you’re not serious. There’s a point to this – a crap drop forged spanner from a catalogue shop is going to break pretty quickly. With Snap On or Facom you get a 25 year guarantee. I’m sure they do break at some point, but I never saw it happen. I saw loads of crap cheap spanners break though. The moral – you buy crap, it will fail, you can’t do your job. Ignore the bit about a bad workman here – if a spanner snaps, it’s a crap spanner.

We have the same in our industry. There’s loads of great names out there. Neve. SSL. AVID. Avalon. Pro Tools. Neumann. These are the industry standard. These are the Champions League. These are that bit in Star Trek when Zefram Cochrane is the first human to develop a Warp Drive and the Vulcans show up. These show you’re on the scene and you’re serious.

And this is where the snobbery exists. The fact is, you can do your job without the exciting acquisition of beautiful shiny expensive stuff. A good engineer will get a good sound out of bog standard onboard preamps and a cheap mic. I’ve had to use cheap gear, and it’s done a job. But I wouldn’t want to rely on it every day. I’ve used certain manufacturers gear and it’s failed, or it has put excessive colouring into the sound. It always feels like a bit of a compromise. But the fact is, these things are ok, like those catalogue store spanners. They’re fine if you’re doing a bit of light recording, or you’re tracking some rough demos. But for shooting an album, well, if it was me, I know that I’d want to be using the best gear.

As it goes, when we got our first Pro Tools HD rig, we had the Zefram Cochrane moment and we got approached by the big labels. We had the expansive studios, we had the mics and pres and we had the Warp Speed of the HD (I promise that is the last Star Trek reference in this blog). But for the day to day stuff we had an interesting position…

Our day to day clients simply didn’t care. Either they were just happy to be recorded and be in the studio, or they didn’t want to pay the prices that having the plush studio, boutique mics and industry standard recording rig entailed. These guys preferred to go to backstreet studios down the road and get a cheap recording they weren’t happy with. Then they’d come and complain to us about it!

It’s the clients who don’t care about the equipment that we really love working with. They’re very similar to the top end clients in that way. The big name artistes and labels kind of expect you to have the shiny expensive gear. They come in and just do the thing. The same thing goes for those nice clients who just want to record. It doesn’t matter to them what mic they’re using (or who else it has been used to record). All they know is we help them get the very best sound they can get, they don’t know or care that what they’re being recorded through is the best there is.

But I know. I definitely want more gear. I can’t get away from it. It is a compulsion. It is my precious. It’s good though because it does obviously help me to do my job, and I know that just like a Snap On spanner, it will keep doing the job I want it to, reliably and the chances are it won’t fail on me in the middle of a session. 

Christian Thomas is Production Director of Space Studios. His GAS is a serious problem. If you would like to make donations of boutique preamps, microphones, bass guitars or Snap On tools to him, he would be delighted.

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