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Pascal Gabriel: Music Equipment Product Support

Opinion | Music Production (Production Lines)
Published April 1994

According to producer Pascal Gabriel, product support in the UK can be patchy and often non‑existent. However, there are ways in which a producer can help himself — here he explains how...

I have a studio setup for writing and production work and, as one would expect from a professional user, some of the pieces of equipment I buy are both complex and expensive.

What bothers me is how bad product support can be for the end user in the UK. I really don't think it is fair on the customer and eventually it reflects badly on the companies that manufacture and supply these goods. I would exempt Roland and one or two other companies from this criticism — as far as I'm concerned, Roland UK have been absolutely brilliant. I've got quite a lot of Roland gear and whenever I get problems I call them direct and they come dashing over straight away to help sort out whatever has gone wrong. No doubt this is because I am a professional producer rather than a home user, but even so that is precisely the level of support I need because these are, after all, the tools of my trade.

On the other hand, I recently bought some new software and a lot of other equipment from a major retailer, and soon after I got it I had a few problems with it — the dongle was faulty. I called the distributor of the software just before Christmas and was told I had to post it back to them and that I wouldn't get another until after Christmas. I was not impressed. After all, I could have been in the studio with a band and that delay would have cost everyone money. Luckily, I was working at home but I still felt something more should be done so I moaned and moaned at the distributor and at the retailer, and to their credit they did eventually send a cab over with a replacement. But the point I'm trying to make is that it wasn't easy to get help. I had to battle to get them to do that, and I think the only reason I did get help was because I was a known producer.

Product support is vital. Any piece of equipment is useless if you have a huge problem with it, especially if it crashes when you are in a studio. In that situation you need help immediately. It seems to me that a lot of the companies are only interested in volume sales and not bothered about after‑sales support. For me, the best way of getting after sales support is to use a Bulletin Board System such as Compuserve or PAN, and I would recommend that anyone who has any kind of extensive setup at home should get connected to one. It's the best product support I have found, especially for things like Cubase because there are a few hundred users in the UK who are linked up to BBS's, and worldwide there are several thousand. If you have a modem, you can dial Compuserve, go to the appropriate forum and say I've got this problem, why doesn't this work? You'll immediately be in contact with at least half a dozen people with exactly the same setup as yours and they will be able to help you out. It's not even like dealing with the manufacturer — you're dealing with other end users who understand exactly how frustrating these problems can be.

It isn't expensive to get linked up — roughly £10 a month plus anything from £100 to £400 for the modem — and it's well worth it. You can be in the studio and have a problem and dial in and by the evening you have an answer. The other great thing is that you can get product support directly from the manufacturer, because a lot of them — Emu, Opcode, Lexicon, Steinberg — all have a bulletin board in Compuserve. Most of my product support from Steinberg isn't from the UK distributor, but from the manufacturer — in particular, the actual designer — who is happy to deal with me direct through Compuserve.

Of course, it works two ways. I regularly read through the messages to see if I can help anyone else. It's great if you are working at home and don't have many contacts and it's also a great system for someone who is new to the business because they can get help from much more experienced people. It's professional advice from everyday users — the sort of advice you don't really get from a sales company.

I think bulletin boards are due for a huge explosion over the next few years. Most people will deal with manufacturers through these or through modems of some kind.

There is no doubt that technology is moving forward very fast, especially in the recording business. Even though I have not recorded purely electronic music for some time, I find that guitar‑led bands like Inspiral Carpets and Family Cat are using MIDI at home and have come to realise that the technology is there to help them. I think one of the reasons why most old‑time producers don't like computers is because they either don't know how to use them or the guys they delegate this part of the process to are not fluent enough with the technology. If you are fluent with it, it should help you, not hold you back.

Learning how to use new technology should be part of every producer's training. You have to understand the tools of your trade and if you are dedicated enough, you find the time to read all the new manuals and discover how the equipment works. I waited to get Pro Tools until I had time to check it out. Obviously I wasn't going to go into a session with a new computer system before I had checked it out properly, so I didn't take any bookings for a couple of weeks, got the equipment, learned it and then put what I had learned into practice. If the technology gives you more creative options and saves you time in the studio, those few weeks learning how to use it have been well worthwhile.

I feel that it is important not to be frightened of technology and to be optimistic with it, otherwise you get left behind. Producers who can't be bothered to learn something new are really just being reactionary, because the technology can be used to create really interesting, new sounds. There is no point spending hours trying to recreate Hendrix — that was then. You have to find new and exciting ways of doing things.

The same goes for finding new bands to work with. I'm starting an independent record company with my manager and we are looking for new acts because we believe — unlike many A&R departments — that there is a lot of undiscovered talent out there. I remember when I was doing S Xpress everyone said there was no way the band would take off because there was no song. Dance music was just beginning to happen and yet the record companies were not prepared to take a chance. But when the record went to No. 1, those same people were phoning me and saying how wonderful I was and how they had always known the band would be a success. I'm starting a record label to get away from that kind of hypocrisy. I really think people in this business should be more open‑minded and should remember why they got involved in the first place — for the excitement of the new, not just for the tried and tested.

Pascal Gabriel's recent work includes LPs from Inspiral Carpets, The Dylans, The Family Cat, Chapterhouse and EMF.