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Sounding Off: JG Harding

Gear Lust Crosses Creative Boundaries By JG Harding
Published July 2011

For a long time now, I've been involved in multiple creative disciplines: at the moment I'm producing an EP for a solo artist, as well as scribbling some music‑video treatments and film scripts for projects I'm due to shoot both for myself and for others. Keeping‑up with two technology‑driven creative disciplines gives me a good insight into the kind of attitudes that are shared between the two.

Each suffers from similar 'trolls', both in real life and online: the fellow who uses his status as a 'pro' to beat down a debate, but doesn't show any of his 'professional' work, the bedroom enthusiast with encyclopaedic knowledge, always upgrading and sharing opinions but never creating anything interesting... but to me, the most interesting phenomenon is one that straddles the trolls and the nice guys: disproportionate gear lust.

I had thought that this parallel was something to do with advancing technology bringing greater parity in the treatment of digital media, or perhaps that it was to do with the thought‑processes of 'inquisitive creatives'. But in reality, gear‑lust is common even for hobbyists outside of the creative sphere. Sportsmen, for example, will complain about their current shoes, racket or set of darts, and lust after the latest update without ever asking if their skills can really match the technology.

In fact, the hobbyist sportsman serves to paint a clear picture of gear lust. Let's say Tiger Woods has had a new shoe designed for him, and the innovative design of the cleats allows him to root himself deep in the turf like a stubborn weed, resulting in an extra 20 yards of precision drive. The shoes are hand‑made and cost £1000 a pair. Meanwhile, out on your local course, a friend (handicap 15, if we're generous) enthuses about the amazing cleats in the new Tiger shoes he's going to buy, before gracelessly slicing a drive into the pond of the 19th.

Which investment will really help this golfer improve his drive? Buying the Tiger Woods MagiCleat shoe, or paying for a month of golf lessons from a good coach?

Back in the studio, the more demos I listen to and the more short films I watch, the more I find the biggest and most common issues across all creative disciplines not to be the level of production 'polish' or the quality of gear used, but the use of appropriate production for the composition, be it instrumental, vocal or visual. Above this, the quality of the performance (musical or theatrical) and writing is far more likely to make a piece of work seem 'amateurish' than whether it's bus‑compressed with a Fairchild 660 or a freeware VST. This is especially true when you consider that the majority of consumers simply don't care how you made your song or what you shot your film on, but do care if it's got a hook or not.

Despite this, the most common discussion among producers is not one about arrangement, composition or appropriate production techniques, but tools.

Would the wooden acting in an afternoon soap‑opera be improved if the series were shot with Panavision Primo lenses, gear so expensive to build that it can only be hired? Of course not; the show would look sharper and more 'cinematic', but it'd still be soulless tripe. Do I switch off Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen because it was recorded on a Portastudio? I don't, I love the album regardless. The gritty sound is appropriate for the material and adds to the feel.

I'm not saying that someone who's been producing for six months doesn't 'deserve' an 1176, but I question how much they'll really get out of it, and whether it's actually the best investment for them.

It's easy to lose sight of why high‑end gear was created in the first place: as a tool for refining the work of the experienced. In fact, it's also easy to lose sight of why recording technology itself was developed: as a way of capturing good performances and spreading them around the world. If you don't have a good performance or composition, perhaps you should start your quest for perfection there, not with your choice of compressor.

About The Author

J G Harding is SOS's Video Media Editor. He also shoots music videos and performs music under his own name. He has only played golf once and was very bad at it.