There’s an affliction that affects a lot of us composers, music producers and musicians: buying more gear. For many of us, this takes the form of new plug-ins and samples for our DAW’s, be it a new string library, reverb or EQ plug-in. For others, it may be a new guitar, or additional microphones.
Should we be constantly expanding our options as diligent producers looking to write the best music we can? Or does there come a point where this becomes a false economy?
Let’s look at some of the factors that can help (and hinder) your ability to make more income from your tracks on this front. Here are 3 rules to run any gear purchase past:
Rule 1: I Absolutely Need It. (Like, ACTUALLY need it…)
If we did an analysis of your music over the last year or two, what would be the top 5 instruments that you use? What do you write for the most? For me personally at the moment, it might look like this:
I’m sure yours would vary from that. But take a moment to list your top 5. Do it now, it’ll take about 20 seconds to approximate!
Ok, now you’ve done that, (you did do that right?!) are your best samples representative of those popular instrumental choices of yours? It sounds obvious, but if the number one most common instrument in your tracks are strings too, you should have one of the best string libraries on the market if you really want to take your music into an income generating marketplace. The same applies if you’ve just taken on a new project: If a music library or TV show are going to require a load of Gypsy music from you, you’d be justified in evaluating your Accordion, Violin and Spanish Guitar samples before you begin.
Do your most popular instruments used reflect the best quality samples in your collection?
(By the way, the difference between you actually needing new gear/samples and convincing yourself to buy something that is actually just for fun, is that buying when you actually need something often feels like an unexciting, utility purchase. I’m not saying never buy anything just for fun, but know the difference between the two.)
Rule 2: Be Proud To Keep Things Lean
If you’ve got a big studio and lots of gear, good for you. I make a very good full time living out of my very, very humble, small home studio. Don’t look at the studios of Hollywood film composers and assume you need anywhere near that, and don’t buy anything to impress anyone. I have friends who make 6 figures a year from their laptop driven set-ups. I’ve had executive TV producers round to my apartment to discuss music needs in front of my iMac setup. The days of needing a big studio with plenty of outboard gear to make money as a composer/producer are gone.
Check out this picture of Emmy award winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir. She scored the hit TV series Chernobyl and recent Hollywood blockbuster, The Joker. Look at that humble home studio she works from! If she can pump out award winning scores from that kind of set up, you know you can get some great results with something similar.
If you’re more into pop music production, did you know that the hit track Helena Beat, from American Indie Pop band, Foster The People, was produced only with the built-in plug-ins that come with Logic Pro? Not even one third party plug-in in sight! It doesn’t come more “in the box” than that! In it’s year of release it was Spotify’s fifth most streamed song of the year, and also hit number 9 in the US charts.
Rule 3: Would This Money Be Better Spent Elsewhere?
So let’s say that you have decent samples and gear already and things are sounding good in general. Are you still buying stuff? Why? Ok, yes, new gear can be fun and that’s great! But are you buying it because at some level you feel that this new string library/guitar/etc. will elevate your music? Finally open those closed doors?
Buying gear can be a subconscious cry for faster success.
You hope that by spending that money your tracks will get placements without you having to do anything else different. Instead of new gear, what if you learnt the gear you have?
I want to set you a challenge: What if you took an hour every other evening this week and actually worked your way through some YouTube tutorials on that plug-in you only ever use the presets on? What if you learnt two new production techniques this week? Isn’t that how you got good at your main instrument in the first place? Try it! Start today!
Here’s another way to beat the competition. What if you took some of that gear budget and threw it into education? Of course, I’m going to recommend my Library Music That Sells course here, as it’s made such a difference to a large number of composers and producers, but stay with me for a second: Are you going to buy a bunch of samples or some gear this year that you’ll probably seldom use? What if you diverted that budget into learning ways of constructing your music so it got more placements? It stuns me how many musicians will happily invest in gear, but not in themselves and improving their craft.
Be it Music For Income resources, or those from elsewhere, I’d advise you to trade getting your wallet out for gear and samples and instead to take the time out to learn more about the gear you do have AND invest in the knowledge and business of getting your tracks out there into the world. Those hours will almost always serve you better than additional gear and samples.