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Sounding Off

Adrian Keefe By Adrian Keefe
Published February 2010

Music technology forums: the case against.

I'll be the first to admit that I've learned a lot from the various music technology forums out there, and found new friends along the way, some of whom I have actually met in 'real' life. But on balance I think we should shut them all down, or at the very least completely re‑think how they work; here's why.

Imagine you have a tracking session arranged with an unfamiliar line-up, and you want to make best use of the microphones you have. In the days BF (Before Forums) you would maybe think it through from first principles, do a few test recordings, listen to the results, make changes, learn something. Now you run straight to a forum and ask for advice. Of course, you might be doing this because you want to let everyone know that you are recording a band, but I suspect that it's because you are too bone idle to invest any time in learning anything. You want instant knowledge and instant results. And you have already pretty much made up your mind what you are going to do anyway, based on something you read on another forum. You just want validation. Well, stop wasting everyone's time!

Or you decide that you don't like the way your recordings sound and decide you need a new microphone, or preamp, or whatever. Who knows what random process brought you to that thought when your problem is actually your room, but let's leave that for another time. You want to know what's the best available mic, preamp, or whatever, for your limited budget. Now stop and think for a second and try to imagine how foolish this makes you sound. For a start, your budget is at a level where there are literally hundreds of similar devices available, with almost nothing to choose between them. A quick Google would have told you that. Secondly — and this is the killer — who out there has actually had the time or opportunity to listen to all of these devices and make any kind of meaningful assessment?

So the replies will fall into two categories: those from people who have a HokeyKokey 2496a and think it's the best thing since sliced bacon, no matter what anyone else says, and those from people who once had a NurdMungler Pro, couldn't find the on/off button and therefore think they are rubbish. Actually, there is a third category: those that ignore the budget and tell you that unless you sell your car to buy the new Zircon 192 microphone stand with added valve warmth you might as well give up. Very helpful. The truth is that these days most stuff is 'OK', and is getting better. Very little stands out in the low and middle ranges of the market. Buy something, figure out how it works and how to get the best out of it, then move on.

And then there's the advice you get when you ask a question. You have largely no idea about any of the people who reply (with one or two notable exceptions — Hob Nob munchers mostly). So you're just as likely to get a seemingly authoritative reply based on (if you're lucky) something someone read in a magazine, or (if you're unlucky) something they read on a forum, which of course was based on something someone else overheard at the checkout in the supermarket. It's the blind leading the blind.

Lastly, forums are responsible for promoting wrong‑headed and lazy thinking. Take the whole analogue/digital discussion as an example. How many times have you seen the nonsense about step‑shaped digital waveforms vs 'smooth' analogue ones being spouted? It doesn't matter how many times a Hob Nob muncher refutes this with carefully worded, simplified, logical explanations. There will be another putty‑brain along in a minute who can't be bothered with even the slightest bit of research before posting a question, or (worse) an opinion. Likewise sample rates, valves, what DI boxes actually do, mastering, how DAWs all sound different (no, really), and so on and so on.

But the main thing I have against forums is that they provide the perfect displacement activity for me to avoid doing all those slightly boring things on my list. And am I guilty of any of the above? Absolutely, probably without even realising it. Remove temptation today, I say!  

About The Author

Adrian Keefe is a grumpy old SOS reader who records local musicians in his spare time and sometimes even gets paid for it.