We all love adding new instruments, effects, processors, computers, mixers, samplers, recorders, display cases, and cables (well really, cables?), but we should all take the time to ask ourselves if we really need more gear!
As musicians, part of the fun in being creative is getting a new tool to express ourselves. There are companies putting out fun and cool new toys competing for our dollar, and it makes it super easy to end up spending a lot of money on gear that you don’t need, doesn’t inspire you, or just ends up consuming your time and taking you away from being productive.
An important factor is just knowing where you are in relation to your gear. Does it make you money, is it just a hobby, or is it somewhere in between? I don’t know about you, but unless you’ve got a lot of disposable income, it is unlikely that you can just save up for some new gear. Also, if you’re independently wealthy, I still think it is worth considering how much you’re really willing to invest because more gear does not directly equate to more music.
For me at least, there’s a balance to be struck between never picking up some new instruments or just setting out to get whatever your heart desires. Some of this can be offset by knowing what you have, what you want, and what you no longer need. There are plenty of secondhand markets to both buy and sell gear, so don’t let too much of your old gear get dusty, but also don’t be afraid to hold onto something that you may still want to take use.
What do you need?
Personally, I am an hobbies musician, I mostly do this for fun… though I did used to make some money on the side producing music. I didn’t survive off of my music though, and didn’t ever transition into a starving artist. That said, feel free to take or leave my thoughts as they may or may not apply to your situation.
One reason to pick up some new gear is that something in your current kit that you have is broken, malfunctioning or no longer compatible with your setup. These are all very valid reasons to get something new, and is usually just a consideration of timeliness.
In particular though, I would like to highlight that when hardware and software that integrates with or is your DAW, if it goes out of date with your new computer, it does become a good time to consider if you want to stay on the “forever upgrade” train. I have countless plugins that I have abandoned in my environment because through the upgrade cycles and changes to new hardware platforms, sockets, and other interfaces they are no longer usable by me. What seemed like a great deal to invest in software years ago, has turned into rubbish that I can no longer use. Consideration is all I am asking.
Another important reason to pick up some new gear is to add something new to your music creation that you just cannot do today. Where to be harder on yourself is to consider does it really add something new, or is the ‘newness’ just a factor to give yourself an excuse to pick up more gear you don’t really need, but it offers a characteristic that your existing gear doesn’t have. For example… you might have a bunch of guitar pedals for various effects, but something new just came out that is basically the same as what you have, but it is portable. Now maybe you are imagining yourself hitting the road, and this would be really helpful, or are you just interested in getting it for whatever reason, but have convinced yourself in the moment that how portable it is makes the purchase worth it?
Probably the last reason for me to consider is if the new gear makes me more effective or efficient. As a monetary consideration, especially for professionals this can be the key between loosing money and making money. As I said though, I am a hobbiest with my music, so I’m going to have a hard time convincing myself that something is saving me money. Your mileage may vary, but I am sure if you are doing this as a business you know how much it will cost you to pick up a specific piece of gear, figure out how much it will save you, and then determine how many jobs you’d have to take for it to break even and then start making you money.
Is your music limited?
I suspect that many musicians are pretty happy to make music with the gear that they have on hand, and can make plenty of compositions with what they have. Even with a guitar you can make percussive sounds knocking on the body. With even a basic sampler you can pitch shift and time stretch sounds into an infinite world of sounds. Sometimes these limits will make you more creative, and when you get the idea to purchase new gear perhaps instead you just need to take steps to reduce your setup and force yourself to work within an even more restricted environment. You’ll learn more about what you can do with your gear, and it might make you crack open a manual or check out a Youtube video for some fresh ideas.
On the other hand, once you really understand what your limits are, you may come to the conclusion that it is time to pick up something new and fresh to give you a new creative spark. I guess my suggestion though is to make sure that you know the difference between the gear you have and your own skill level. New gear will not give you new skills that you have not developed, and it is frustrating to get new gear the you will ultimately have the same problems with if you have not put the time in. The only way to combat this is to just put the time into your new gear.