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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Napier

The Deficit of Too Much

Walk into any Container Store in the US. What do they sell?

Most people would say "containers." (D'uh). Or, if you want to get fancy: "Multifunctional, customizable storage solutions."

But that isn't really what they sell. What they sell is the promise of bringing order and organization to living.

When you walk into a Container Store, you see the possibility of creating a clutter-free environment that saves you time, organizes your space and improves the quality of your life. All you need to do is buy the things they sell, take them home, and use them, and - automagically - fragmented disorganization will be transformed into an ordered, harmonious whole.

That is the implied promise anyway. The reality is usually different...

“Potential means nothing if you don’t do anything with it.” Anonymous

For a very long time now, my gear and software purchases have been based on "potential." (Another way of saying "implied promise.") Why? For many, many years I worked full-time jobs that had little to do with music or sound. Even when I turned my career path towards media production, I ended up in "management" because I could lead a team and schmooze with clients. I could translate a client's goals and objectives into actionable paths for the technical team. I could help clients optimize the trade offs between their objectives, available time, and available budget. Producing content was not my best role in the organization. Winning work and managing people was where my value was greatest.

Doing this for a living left very little time for actually doing creative stuff. As life progressed, positions became more demanding. Eventually, I met and fell in love with the woman of my dreams and we had a family. As much joy as that brings, space for creative output shrank even more. It didn't disappear completely, but it was very, very, very limited.

Eventually there came a point where I had no time (or more accurately, no mental energy) to write any music. That terrified me. Creating sound (not always musical as it turns out) is core to how I understand myself and had been for as long as I could remember.

Fortunately at that point I was also making crazy money. So I bought gear. I bought plugins. I bought these things on the promise of being able to use them fully later, on that mythical day when I had more time. I bought them for the potential of creation that they represented. I bought them for when I had the mental space. I bought them because it helped me to feel informed and current on industry developments and trends.

But they didn't help me get more things done. In fact, they often get in my way.

Exploring all the options is not the issue. It’s making one of them work.” Brian Eno

There are three thousand, two hundred, and fifty-seven (3,257) AU/VST/VST3 plugins on my main workstation.

I have 220HP of very good Eurorack gear.

I own several of the latest "popular" synths, some obscure vintage keyboard and rack synths, hard-to-find and obscure reel-to-reel and cassette tape decks, two really decent guitars, a crappy cello, some amazing pedals, controllers, and and and....

A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities ... there are millions of permutations of things you can do. The most useful thing you can do is to get rid of some of those options before you start.” Brian Eno

A few years ago I made a major life change. I got off the corporate tread mill and decided to try to align my day-to-day life closer to the life I wanted to live. I wanted to be more present for my family. I wanted to be around long-term for my family. (My health was beginning to suffer in the corporate gig.) This change meant that I could actually create and write music and not just participate via (shopping) proxy.

But I realized that, until about a month ago, I was still buying things like a toilet paper hoarder at the beginning of the pandemic. I think I had bought equipment this way for so long, it became my default approach. I would buy a plugin not because I needed it, but because it could one day be useful. In the meantime, the plugins I bought before were barely touched much less explored and learned. (Let's not talk about orchestral string Libraries, ok?) There are so many "possibilities" here now, that I don't know where to start. I barely know how to start. It's effin' insane.

It is the Deficit of Too Much.

“In modern recording one of the biggest problems is that you’re in a world of endless possibilities. So I try to close down possibilities early on. I limit choices. I confine people to a small area of manoeuvre. There’s a reason that guitar players invariably produce more interesting music than synthesizer players: you can go through the options on a guitar in about a minute, after that you have to start making aesthetic and stylistic decisions. This computer can contain a thousand synths, each with a thousand sounds." Brian Eno

I have taken a vow of "no new music hardware purchases" in 2022. No keyboards, no eurorack, no pedals, nothing. Granted, I am not divesting myself of existing options, but I am not making it any worse. I am committed during this time to explore deeply the equipment I already have.

I have taken a less stringent stance on software. (I want to be able to upgrade things, and I reserve the right to update existing plugins and DAWs and renew subscriptions.) I won't categorically cut myself off from purchasing new VSTs, but there is a much higher bar now than before.

Lastly, and to be clear, I recognize that I am fortunate in countless ways to be able to complain about "too many options." I am not writing this in the hopes of garnering sympathy or pity. I am writing it in the hopes that I might help someone else avoid a similar - and very expensive - mistake.

Peace and success to you.

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