Hey folks! Recently I've gotten some compliments on the sound of my guitar. One of them was from a very talented and accomplished studio producer who asked me questions about what kind of equipment, compression, etc. I was utilizing for one particular recording, because he thought the sound quality of my acoustic was exceptional. I'm not saying this to brag. In fact quite the opposite.
I'm going to be 100% honest with you. I'm not operating on a big budget. I'm also not one of those musicians who goes out and spends most of his money on instruments and equipment, and lives in his parent's basement at the age of 30. I'm married, have been for nearly 9 years, I have 2 kids. To say that I have no money would be a gross understatement. What I have is passion and love for making music. To you, I may be good at it, or I might be bad at it. I'm really not concerned either way. It's for my creator and it's for me. If it serves as a channel for you to get into the presence of God too, well then, it's done exactly what I hoped it would do, and I am beyond elated about that, but at the end of the day, if you hate my voice, hate my guitar, hate the quality of what I do, frankly, your objections would be noted and I'd keep doing what I'm doing. I consider myself to be an artist. I enjoy sculpting words and I feel that God gave me a gift to do so. That honestly is the focus of my writing, the lyrics. Most of my songs, honestly, are written in under an hour. Some have been written in minutes. Once I "wrote" one on my motorcycle, tearing up highway from Michigan, with my wife behind me. I came home, grabbed paper, and wrote down what I already knew to be the whole song, music and all. Recorded it the next morning.
The fact is, we tend to complicate things that don't need to be complicated. As musicians, how you might make your art is your business, and how I make mine is mine... but I hope to encourage people that might be a bit scared to start making their own. You see, you can walk into a big box music store and hear all the reasons why you HAVE to have a Fender, or a Gibson, or a Martin... You can hear about all sorts of expensive microphones, cables, amps... You can go into any music store or electronics store and ask to see recording equipment and see the clerk just light up, because quite frankly, anything that will make a decent recording will probably cost you. We have entered a world, a subculture even, that demands a lot of resource to support our participation. Not accepting that seems almost like career suicide if you really want to "make it."
One question, though... Who is it that gets to decide whether or not you've "made it" as an artist? You? Me? A producer? Your fans? Who makes that call? You, will likely never be completely satisfied. You're an artist, you grow, you change, your tastes change, your habits evolve.... making it or not won't change a thing. I don't know you, most likely, and my opinion is invalid. Most of your fans don't know you either. They aren't with you when you go to sleep at night, they don't sit on the floor of your living room at 3 AM as you pour your guts into a song that they might not ever hear. Producers and labels are looking for money. Not for you, for themselves. They don't see you, they see the money you can make for them. At the end of the day, you are an artist, painting your very heart on a canvas, then daring to reveal it to the world. You need to do it. If you don't do it you'll burst because it's who you are. You have to sing, you have to play. It's in your blood to close your eyes, lift your hands and belt it, whether you're in your shower or on a stage in front of 20 thousand people. You have to.
I've seen a lot of kids try to get started playing music and get completely put off by some of the attitudes that surround something so beautiful as the art form we're talking about. The... snobbery, because honestly, who can afford a $1500 guitar? The sales pitch, that if you're serious about making music, you don't need good software, you need the BEST software. The lie... that this $400 microphone will record your voice 100 times better than a $100 microphone. You'll sound terrible if you don't buy this PA system. Honestly, I'm sick of it. There are gifted people not making music because they think they don't have the tools that it takes. So let me tell you what I have. For real.
I play a beat up Fender Gemini II acoustic. My other guitar is a Sega Durango acoustic. Both are full size, full body acoustics without electronics. I did buy the Durango new, from a small mom-n-pop store that is no longer open, but at the time I bought it I could have bought it online for about $300. It sounds amazing, plays beautifully. I didn't buy it because it was cheap. I didn't even buy it because it was pretty, even though I love the design and the attention to detail on it... I bought it because I picked her up and from the first pluck of the strings I was in love. The same thing happened with my Fender. I did not go into the pawn shop looking for a guitar that day. I didn't need one, didn't want one. There were much nicer guitars on the wall... pricier ones, too. I saw a beaten to death, worn out and abused acoustic with a $100 price tag on it... and wondered what stories she could tell. I took her off the wall, tuned her up, and immediately decided that she needed to tell a few more. I ended up paying $80 for that guitar. Two different friends have worked on her to make her play right, and honestly, I love that acoustic as much , if not more, than I love the one I bought new. She's the one I write from these days, the one I take on stage with me when I play. Guitars aren't just made of wood and glue, with bits of metal and plastic stuck here and there. They're made out of love. The wood is just the medium. And you know what? No two pieces of wood are the same. Each one is as unique as you are. So you don't need to go looking for the best guitar, you need to find one that you love. I don't care what the price tag says. Find your grand dad's old Sears Harmony if you have to. Learn to love her and make her sing. Your way, as only you can.
As for amplification and equipment, again, I have likes and dislikes. I could talk about them all day, too. I don't like electronics in my guitar if I can avoid it. Just my opinion. That and a buck or so will buy you a nice cup of coffee at a gas station on your way to your next gig. No, I prefer to put a mic in front of my guitar. Yes, that means that I don't move around a lot on stage. No, I don't always get to do it that way, because sometimes the noise on the stage is too much. For those occasions, I do have a nice wooden Dean Markley sound hole pick up that I use. Sound hole pickups are passive, (not powered, amplified at the source), so they generally require the gain to be up pretty high at the board, but they sound alright for a full band setting. As for a mixing board? I have an older Yamaha MG16/6EX that cost me about $50 at a flea market. It was a steal. I have that running directly into my iMac. Don't get excited, it's not the latest, best, fastest iMac. I found it at a pawn shop too. I use Shure SM58 microphones, one for my voice and one for my guitar. New they'd cost around $100 each give or take, used I've seen them for about half that. There are 16 digital effects on the board and quite a few more on the computer (I use Garageband), but save a little reverb I try to go easy on those. When I play out, I have big PA speakers that can get the job done for most small/medium venues, but they didn't carry a big price tag either. They're OLD Peavey units that were dug up at a yard sale about 8 years ago. They were old when I got them, they're 8 years older now. They've been through a flooded basement, they've travelled across the country with me, they still work and I imagine they will for many years to come. Say what you will about fancy and expensive gear, Peavey takes a beating on the road and keeps on doing it's job. I could go on for hours telling you the things that I like and don't like. I could tell you the reasons why I buy Horizon cables and a laundry list of guitar strings that I DON'T buy... I could tell you about the mixing boards and guitar amps that I used to have, I could tell you about the 20 or so guitars that I've owned... why I bought them and why I let them go. In the end it wouldn't matter, because I want to talk to you about YOUR artwork. I want to help you choose YOUR canvas.
See, the way I obtain gear isn't the way most people approach music these days. But it used to be the norm. Making music used to start with finding someone's old and busted axe at a garage sale, getting together with your buddy's old and busted garage sale drum set, and just making noise till your parents flipped the breaker on you. It used to be about the art, and now it's about the profit margin. It used to be expression, now it's a business.
Some day, I might "make it" in the eyes of the world around me. I truly don't care if I do or not. But if I do, I imagine that a few companies are gonna be mad at me... because I won't sell my name and endorse some specific product. But I will tell a kid with high hopes and a gleam in his eye for making music to hit a garage sale, pawn shop, dad's basement, a trash can, whatever.... find his tools, love them to death, and just make music. You'll learn as you go kid. Just go for it! Don't let some salesman working for commission sell you a bunch of stuff you don't need, just so you'll sound good. Gather up your junk, hit the garage. Sing till you're hoarse, play till your shoulders ache and your fingers don't bleed anymore. FEEL your lyrics, make your joys dance and your sorrows slam you to the ground in tears every time you read them. Your art is for you. The rest of us are just along for the ride! Stay tuned y'all, and keep making music!
Many Blessings and Much Love!