Patiently pondering the perfect purchase

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When we started out, we tried to make some carefully planned purchasing decisions. Fresh out of recording school, wanting to make a living at this, but not enough cash to go buy everything we needed. Time to get resourceful. I think it was a more realistic route than we intended.

I had enough cash to buy a few things, but I couldn’t get everything I wanted. We had to do some planning and make some compromises. We had to figure out what was critical and what could wait.

In one of my favorite movies, Tucker, the man and his dream, we see man determined to build a business. He has essentially no resources, just a great idea. He ends up selling an idea and creates a business. It was inspirational. We followed his idea. We began promoting our company like we were already legitimate players.

My plan was to turn Soundmind into a primarily live recording service. I hoped to eventually create a venue for live shows where we could launch the up and comers with good live projects. Maybe not the most profitable direction, but it was what I was most passionate about. I still love a great live album. We knew that we needed some essential items and would have to rent certain things.

When you decide whether to pursue this as a business or as a volunteer, don’t rush out and buy everything you can think of. Even if you have the money, it’s going to be wasted. You will become a “gear whore” and feel obligated to have every toy that appeals to you. Take your time. Plan your purchase after you figure out what direction to go. Buy it as you need it, not just because you think you will. Make every move count.

As for the initial purchases, we started out small. I needed a good set of head phones, some multipurpose microphones, basic recording gear and the normal miscellaneous cables and gear. My first shopping list looked like this.

Sony MDR7506 headphones, the industry standard. I paid about $100 in 1998 for these. Worth every penny. Still have them, still use them. Not the most perfectly accurate, but great headphones for live work.

I needed one good primary microphone. Something that worked as a primary vocal mic for recording, as well as a main mic for the choir projects I was already doing. We narrowed it down to the AKG C3000 studio mic. A decision I never regretted. I would do that again in a minute. For the cost vs. the quality, I still consider that one of my best choices.

We needed a pair of small condenser mics. Something that could work as overheads, choir mics and multifunction mics for other recording work. The Octava 012 was the choice we made. Again, great mics. I haven’t found another pair online. The closest thing I found, new, was the MXL-603S, small condenser mic. There are probably plenty of Octavas on eBay, just haven’t looked. They were perfect. The combination of the Octavas and the C3000 made for some great choir performances as well as recordings.

Since I am a little obsessive about my cables, another item I had to have was a cable tester. I haven’t found the first one, but later we ended up using the Behringer CT100 because, basically, it was a cheap replacement. It worked fine. Until I dropped it, face down, on the connectors, on a trade show floor. I think I broke everything possible at once. But, for the price, I just got another one.

Since we didn’t have the budget for a big gun digital recording system, I had to get creative. This became a fairly controversial move to the legitimate recording techs. Nobody really took this one serious.

I needed a portable recording system that could pack up into carry on size luggage. I needed the ability to cut at least eight tracks at once for the projects I already had in motion. I didn’t need 24 tracks to start out. Just eight with editing ability. Now, you young whippersnappers have unlimited options available to you. A decent laptop and a few outboard preamps, boom, portable recording rig. I didn’t get to do that. 1998 was not a good year to jump into computer based recording on a tight budget.

The Roland VS-1680 was the best option at the time. It was small and lightweight. It had incredible effects and tools built into it. It used standard laptop hard drives. ( with slight modifications. ) I loved it.

Now, if I was doing this all over, I would do it differently. But, in 1998, this was the best bang for the buck I could work out. Doing it over, I would probably still choose stuff that appears controversial. Even though I am addicted to my ipad and a recent Mac convert, I am still a fan of Sony Vegas as a multitrack recording and editing system.

I started using Vegas during version 4 and just fell in love with it. It was the most user friendly software I found. Since I am no computer expert, I needed something simple but powerful, considering I worked with both audio and video. Not sure about the newest version, but the previous ones were always good to me.

Since digital mixers, designed to work well in the studio and stage have appeared, your options are almost endless. Mixers like the Presonus StudioLive and the Mackie Onyx would have been a dream for me back then. Either one of those, paired with a decent laptop, and you have way more power for less than I spent when I started out.

One last shameless product pitch that is absolutely necessary. If you have plans for any work that makes live events work with computer based recording, get a backup. I started out with an APC uninterruptible power supply like you see in offices. It saved my bacon on multiple events. Worth every penny.

The last show I worked without it was in Texas. We were doing a find raiser for the prison ministry and I recorded the show. Got some great material, even with only 8 tracks. It was awesome. As I reached for the save button on my recorder, someone pulled the power cords out of the wall. No. I am not making this up. I lost the whole night. Never again.

A week later, with the battery backup, we were recording a piano album in a historic church. Halfway through the best performance, the lights went out. My performer looks over and I motion for him to keep playing. It ended up making the album. Never lost a thing.

That basic rig put us in business and kept us moving for years. It paid for itself a dozen times over. Should have been more, but not complaining. It was a good ride.

As for my live sound system, that’s a different story. Basically, I got most of it for free or really cheap. Maybe I will explain that on the next post.

So. After all that. Just try to plan each move and purchase. Don’t waste your time or money on stuff you don’t need. Pro audio can quickly become a bottomless pit to throw your money into. A little research and some patience will go a long way.

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