I think most musicians and audio professional will be able to sympathize profoundly when I say that I’m a bit obsessed with gear. By comparison to many, my collection of things musical is actually quite small, but I’m catching up… and the pursuit is teaching me things.
First of all, it’s teaching me to repair things, which seems odd… but when buying on a budget the ability to repair a broken piece becomes invaluable, and it’s saved me some serious cash on some cool purchases. Lesson here: get a soldering iron and learn how to solder your ass off.
The second noteworthy ( and I believe most important) thing this gear lust has taught me is that I really don’t need much of this junk at all. Not to say I don’t use it, or that I don’t absolutely love having it and plan on buying much more of it, but I do not need it to get the job done, in most cases. And that’s a good thing, I believe. One should never really need some specific item to be able to make something to be proud of. To want something on the other hand, in order to allow for a new or different way of creating something to be proud of is a different story.
Gear can inspire, absolutely. So can it allow a different perspective, one that otherwise may be inaccessible. Tons of gear will not make a production better, whether it be 2 dozen rare vintage microphones on a drum kit, or an entire wall of vintage analog synthesizers. All these things are merely tools, and the ways they are used along with the performances they capture are where the true inspiration and subsequent creation really begins.
To be clear, these observations and ideas are not necessarily new, or uniquely my own among the artistic community, but are those that I am in the process of experiencing, first hand. Many have had the same realization along the years, and it is my most important one yet, I think. For the sake of an example (a very brief one), in a number of recent mixes that I’ve been very proud of, I’ve been able to identify one or two key components that really made the project come together, above all the other elements. In most cases, that component has been a single (sometimes accidental) room mic, recording the source indirectly. Just one microphone, out of the dozen that may be in use recording a full ensemble or any particular element, has become the entire life of the project. Those individual mics have inspired an entire sound and feel, making many of the other elements far less important, and proving that the correct, or for more fun, “incorrect” use of a couple tools is all you really need. It had nothing to do with which microphone it was in terms of model, it was purely the way in which it was used to capture an already inspiring performance.
The conclusion, if there must be one, is to really look hard at the tools you may have at your disposal, and challenge yourself not to need them to accomplish whatever goal you have, but instead use them to allow you to look at your goal in a new way, and bring to it a new approach. Be inspired by the opportunity an object provides, rather than the object itself. And by all means, keep collecting!