A change would do you good

Two months ago I took delivery of a new PC for my studio. My first full new tower in over 5 years. Of course, the old PC had a fresh Hard Drive here, extra RAM there; all the usual tweaks to keep it running smoothly. But it was time for the old dog to retire and for some fresh blood.

I don’t know if all professional users feel this, but a new PC brings mixed feelings for me. Of course, new toy syndrome is great! More power than you could dream of ever needing (for now) and new software with bells and whistles galore. But of course there is the cautious, concerned flip side… what will I have to relearn? Which software packages and plug-ins will I have to update and learn from the ground up? Will my soundcard be compatible? Will I get any sleep for the next seven days while I configure the bastard?!

I love me some technology, let’s get this straight. Gadgettery in general is my grown up self regressing to childhood toys, with the added benefit of actual productivity thrown in. But this work/life crossover is also the curse; If my Xbox dies, I can live without it. My Studio PC however, he has to work 100% of the time. So there comes that time when the concern about the current workhorse starting to fail overrides the headache of starting again from the ground up.

So the beast was bought. A processor that could power the entire of 1980’s NASA. More GBs of RAM than my PC ten years ago could claim in storage space. But this is all incidental to the software. The brains to power what I need.

I have updated my Digital Audio Workstation (or DAW, as us geeky muso types call ’em) to the newest build, and my wav editor and mastering suite likewise. Ostensibly, they do the same thing as they ever did. But just better, at least one would hope. The problem I have with updates is that using software is a progressive thing. The longer I use it the better the results I achieve, as I learn the intricacies of each programme. I learn how to get a good sound quicker, and thus free up more time to get an awesome sound thereafter. With new software, even just upgrades, I have to relearn the path to “good”, let alone worry about fantastic!

But let me be honest here. Much of this is talk about leaving the “comfort zone”.

Let’s take effects as an example. For nearly 8 years I have used a set of plug-ins for vocal compression and reverb. They sounded great and I knew how to manipulate them to suit different vocalists and songs. With the newest version of my DAW (Cubase, should you be interested), the plug in crashed and was no longer supported. Bugger.

But here is the thing. Those plug ins are nearly a decade old. Pretty darn ancient in computer terms. Holding onto them was only really due to “comfort zone” syndrome.  With an afternoon’s reading on forums, SoundOnSound and other digital avenues, I have found a better combination of effects with more malleable results. Mostly using built in plug ins rather than after market versions. Software moves on and improves. So should we.

After all; a compressor is a compressor. A sound gate is a sound gate. And so forth. They all do the same thing. They just do them different ways and need different tweaks to get the sound. Sure, some boxes make life easier, but easier isn’t always better. It is important to remember this (in all walks of life really!) Granted, each effect plug-in/hardware console has a signature sound, but as with most professions, a good audio producer can make a naff set of microphones and plug-ins sound awesome, whereas a bad producer can take thousands of pounds of gear and produce an aural disaster zone.

This applies to all creative professions. Recently I read a web blog that followed a pro-photographer as he did some shoots using a “Buzz Lightyear” toy camera. A cheap, $30 kids toy. And the results were better than anything I have ever achieved with my Canon Ixux. The point being, great tools are great. But it is how we use them.

Moving away from the tools we know and the presets we have saved over the years reminds us to use to the skills we have accrued. To take us off autopilot. By doing so we may end up somewhere better than the usual destination, with more satisfaction from the journey itself.

And here is the clincher. New music can come from it! A direct example is formulating right now in my studio…

In order to learn to ins and out of my new software and hardware, I booted up a blank project. Opened up some synths and my new software sampler. And I started noodling. Within an hour I had a bass line, drum pattern and guitar line. All of these will likely be replaced by live versions of themselves down the road. But (a) I am learning new sounds and methods for future client work and (b) I have the foundations of a new song. Hell, I even have a melodic idea and a few lyrics thrown down!

We all like the comfort zone. But sometimes we should all take the rocky road. Good things can often that way lie.

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