IN PURSUIT OF MUSICAL GEAR

Women want shoes. Musicians and composers want gear. The tendency is to want more, more, more, but finding the money and the physical space to store or transport everything can become problematic.

Throughout my career, I have probably spent enough money on equipment that I could have purchased a small house. The unfortunate part about keyboards and recording gear is that, unlike a lot of other instruments, they become obsolete pretty quickly. While the obsession to get the latest and greatest is always present, it’s not always necessary.

How do you know what you really need to get the professional results that you want? Do your homework. In my experience, impulse buying of musical equipment has rarely worked out well. While I usually plan my purchases well in advance and down to the length of cables required, I have also been guilty of some awkward purchases.

At the moment, I’m in the process of trying to unload an 88-note MIDI keyboard controller with fully weighted keys and lots of buttons, knobs and sliders. At the time I purchased it, I was looking for a semi-weighted keyboard. But the alternative was a basic 88-note keyboard with no other controllers. I went for the big, cool-looking one, thinking that I would get used to the weighted action and the other controls would give me more options. I ended up never using the other controls and never got used to the weighted keys.

So how do you know what to buy? Any purchase can be a leap of faith. But you can certainly swing the odds of buying something useful and inspiring in your favor.

Ask respected musicians and composers in your community (or those who have a presence online) about the pros and cons of various instruments or studio tools. Although there are User Reviews of equipment on the Internet, I tend to take those reviews with a grain of salt. You can sometimes pick up tips that relate to your needs, but not everyone has the same needs as yours.

Find reliable retailers, as well. I’ve had a very positive, long-term relationship with the folks at Sweetwater in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The staff there is very knowledgeable. And because I’ve purchased gear for my full-time jobs at various companies and for my own personal studio, they’ve given me fair prices and attentive service. In fact, before I bought the aforementioned MIDI keyboard, I bought another controller only to find out that a key controller function that was important to me didn’t work. They sent me another one and the same thing happened. Sweetwater then tested the function and found that all of the brand new units were like that. They stopped selling that keyboard and made sure that I was able to buy my second choice — at great expense to them. Integrity has always been important to me when making big purchases and Sweetwater has always come through.

Bottom line, there is no easy way to make your purchasing decisions. Define your needs and your budget. Do a lot of research, both on-line and in-person. Buy your equipment from a retailer that you trust and will support you if things go wrong. And remember, you never know when that latest piece of gear will inspire you to write the next big hit.

This was my first solo act, Mr. Christopher, in which I played flute, drums, piano and a synthesizer that I designed and co-built. It was a pretty avant-garde show at the time.

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