Saturday, 14 November 2009

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

At the end of last month Liberal Conspiracy put up an interesting post on file-sharing and the current economics of the music industry, which was all well and good, except some fellow called John Band then came along and made a few silly statements in the subsequent comments. He claimed that since the means of distribution were as near to free as made no odds these days, then it's entirely defensible to adopt a "utilitarian" position, and say that music should therefore also be free, since "writing a song, a poem, an article or a story simply *is* cost-free" and "Recording music on your computer and putting it on myspace is free. The only cost is people’s time".

I pointed-out to Mr. B that there might be certain costs he was conveniently omitting (instruments, perhaps? years of bloody training, maybe?), and someone else demonstrated how the investment in a home studio set-up could easily reach £5,000. His reply? "Aye, and gbp5k is hobby money".

Now that vexed me sorely, since £5,000 is almost 40% of my gross annual income. "Hobby money"?? My hairy backside! It's one of our inalienable rights to parade our ignorance in public, but the casual, patronising dismissiveness of those two words... As I said, ensuing vexation of a high degree of soreness.

But it is, of course, possible to achieve decent results for a great deal less than five grand. Which set me wondering as to exactly how much the gear I've been using actually cost. So I did some digging through my old PayPal accounts...

The actual recording equipment itself certainly isn't exactly expensive. I do everything on a 6-year-old Korg D1200, (including wave editing to get rid of creaky chair noises during gaps in bouzouki parts - which isn't fun on a tiny LCD screen. Note to self - tighten chair before session next time), which cost me £148 on eBay about 18 months ago, and I daresay could be had for a chunk less now. At the most basic level it'll do 6 tracks of 24-bit, CD-quality audio, has a few useful effects - in amongst the reams of instantly rejectable ones - and is a damn sight better than what most of the 'greats' were using back in the 1960's, so I'm certainly not complaining. If what I do sounds terrible, I've only got myself to blame.

Alongside that is another eBay bargain - a Behringer Composer Pro XL compressor, £34.50 of assorted dials and buttons, some of which I know how to use in a more-or-less effective manner. All in a shiny, metal rackmount-able case. Nice.

My 'currently-borrowed from the generous & charming Martin Lennon' microphone is a 'SE Electronics se2000', available for under £80 online. Sounds ok to me, although it's easy to get expensive very quickly with mics, especially if you're trying to be clever and have several different types placed in a variety of positions, so that you can really 'sculpt' the sound of the instrument. Well, you can if you're not me, but someone who knows about proper sound engineering. And has plenty of money to spend on gear. Otherwise just the one is fine for now...

And that's about it for the "high-tech" side. Oh, the only music software I use is the excellent freeware version of  WavePad, and even that's almost entirely as a file format converter to meet the needs of various internet sites (even though it does offer lots of other features which I'm sure are of the highest quality. I just can't say, don't use them.Sorry. Please go and buy the full WavePad Master's Edition, it's great. Probably).

So now we can turn to the instrument side of things...and this is where the costs are perhaps most open to question, since the differences between what a player might actually have, desperately want, and truthfully need can be vast.

I could, for example, quite easily play bouzouki parts with something a little cheaper than a Fylde Longscale Archtop (retailing at just over the £1000 mark...ouch. At this point I feel I should make it clear it was a gift - there's no way I could have afforded this myself). Although it has to be said, its low, comfortable action and solid intonation do make playing some things physically possible - compared with my old, £99 Ozark bouzouki, anyway. That's not to say that the same couldn't be achieved for a touch less, mind you.

My Hohner Pro Jack Bass Custom V (snappy name), however, is a fantastic example of value-for-money. Bought in 1993 for £300 (equivalent to £458 today, according to this handy comparison calculator), it has served long and loyally, taking in a great deal of abuse and a de-fretting along the way.

I've also got an old prototype Bassix Electric Upright Bass, which would cost the best part of a thousand pounds to replace from their current models, but there's a wider range of cheaper E.U.B.'s on the market now, so it might well be the case that a fair whack of money could be saved for a relatively insignificant drop in quality.

There's also a nice Seagull S6 cedar-topped 'folk' acoustic guitar that I'm rapidly forgetting how to play (bouzouki and bass chords and tunings are warping my fragile little mind). That was £190 second-hand back in the mid-1990's (about £280-ish now), but with the Chinese now dominating the cheaper end of the market, similarly-priced 'decent' acoustic guitars aren't hard to find.

Finally, I can't leave out the Legacy SP40 digital piano that's hiding in the corner behind the sofa. It's got a fairly dire sound chip, (aggressive use of eq takes away a little of the worst elements, but only a little - and straying away from "piano 1" is *not* a good idea), but makes up for this with wooden, fully-weighted, hammer-action keys. All for £140 from a classified ad. The kids love it...

Anyway, all told, the equipment I used on, say, "The Mourning Tree", cost me £1,562 to assemble. Over the course of 16 years or so. Which could be worse.

"Hobby money", you might even say.

I'd still be vexed.

p.s. I know, I left out all sorts of sundries like strings, cables, etc...well, I'm a tight git oops, 'hard-up single parent', who changes strings only when I really have to, and I don't use flash cables, just HotLine ones, which are pretty robust and seem to do the job. You can, if you so desire, spend ridiculous sums on cables with all sorts of fancy claims attached to them. A simple wee article suggesting why you shouldn't bother can be found here.


zornhau said...

And the cost of going to work is only your time to. Mr B should #### off.

Utilitarian argument: If you pay people for an art form, it may enable them to spend more time doing it.

Joe said...

£5000, hobby money!?? Bloke's a c**t.
I do particularly enjoy getting instruments/ equipment that sound and play way above their price. For example my Aria LS500VS les paul copy that I wouldn't swap for anything from Gibson. It cost £280 and is lovely