What’s Your Fetish?

Dunno this guy but he's awesome

Not a day goes by that I don’t see at least a few comments across the Able-webs conjecturing about when and how Ableton Live 9 is going to come out. In fact, speculating about Live’s new features and complaining about its release date seem to have become a full-time job for segments of Twitter and the Ableton forum. I, for one, couldn’t give less of a hoot [original expletive deleted].

What, exactly, is so awful about Live 8? Or I should say, Is there really anything wrong with it that’s a total dealbreaker? Probably not, or else we wouldn’t be reading or writing this blog.

TBH, I really don’t think that being able to render directly to MP3 would make me the next Four Tet. It would save me exactly 20 seconds that I would probably use to watch stupid Youtube videos.

Not that this kind of complaining and speculating is limited to Ableton. It seems like a lot of writing about electronic music is actually a kind of gear fetishism: trying to get you to buy or try a new software, plugin, synth, stompbox, DIY controller kit, etc. and so forth.

Anything but sit down and make some actual music.

Now, as someone who spent most of his youth drooling over Bass Player magazine (what’s up, Victor Wooten!), I can tell you that this is not a phenomenon exclusively related to making electronic music. Not at all. But I think that Electronic Music is especially susceptible to this kind of thinking.

Part of what makes Electronic Music so exciting IS the fact that it is closely linked to new developments in technology. An instrument that makes up a key part of your sound could have been non-existent 5 years ago. See: The rise of Auto-Tune (for better or for worse) and AfroDJMac’s Justin Bieber rack. That is really exciting and it would be ridiculous to want to limit that.

But I think that it easy to verge (as I do from time to time) from “keeping up with the newest technology IN ORDER to make music” into “keeping up with the newest technology IN ORDER TO NOT make music.”

That’s right: I mean to say that much gear fetishism is actually just procrastination.

Let’s face it, making art is an act of courage (I’m quoting Steve Gutenberg here, which is telling). It is an act of courage in that it requires commitment. The difference between a schlub and an artist is that an artist puts his or her neck out. An artist has to commit. And sometimes, we’d rather worry about the technical details than jump into the abyss. The abyss is scary. And if your tools are faulty, then you don’t have to commit 100%. I understand this because I myself am guilty of it about 9 days out of 10.

All I’m saying is: keep an eye on yourself and be tough on yourself. We don’t have the luxury of totally closing our eyes to new technology. But we can also easily get sucked in by the newest and the shiniest. Make sure that your tools enable you and don’t limit you. It’s tough, but it can be done.

To quote Flying Lotus, apropos of his extremely rinky-dink production setup (just laptop): “To find something new, I don’t have to update my shit; I just have to update my brain.” [Quote taken from the new Peter Kirn book, The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music]

I’d be interested to know what you guys think: Am I totally off-base here, or do you think that sometimes we focus on our tools to avoid doing real work? Let me know in the comments!

8 Responses to “What’s Your Fetish?”

  1. Warrior Bob February 6, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    For me it’s clear: I look at a piece of nice gear and immediately imagine all the possibilities that could arise from it. That has some of the same enjoyment as producing actual sounds, but it’s way easier.

    It’s kind of like talking about doing something versus doing something. The former is more of an ‘immediate gratification’ situation, and so is very attractive even if it’s not, in the end, what you actually want.

  2. AfroDJMac February 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    Thanks for the shout Anthony, and this is really great advice. It’s so easy to feel like you need something new, especially this time of year with NAMM. But it’s best to master what you have rather than just collect things. I have a lot of stuff I’ve spent precious time and money on that I have no idea how to use or never actually work it into what I do. But it’s so easy and exciting to get caught up in the new advances!

  3. Claude Young Jr. February 7, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Your totally on point on this (as usual) Anthony. I know i’m guilty of wanting all the latest toys to play with be they software or hardware. But recently I have been getting rid of loads of stuff so I can get intimate with a few things the way I did in the 90′s with hardware. Great read!

  4. toby February 7, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Spot on but I really do need a OP-1 and a novation launchpad…………..On the ableton blog the other day – “If you have Ableton Live, you have millions of possibilities,” he said. “Choose a few.” POLE

    And thats just software…..

    • Anthony February 16, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      Yeah, at some point it is more about creative limitations..which take discipline. Something that we often have in short supply.

  5. navarre February 8, 2012 at 1:04 am #

    Collecting and talking about gear is most definitely easier than developing one’s artistic expression and learning to express it through one’s gear. If one’s an engineer then obsessing about gear is probably time well-spent, so I assume we aren’t talking about those career gear fanatics.

    I think it’s problematic with beginning producers who still face the hurdles of developing a musical ear and learning the techniques to polish their musical visions, who haven’t seen the rewards of 8-10 hours of non-stop studio/instrument time with no facebook-ing or chatting. At this delicate stage it’s definitely easier to go on perpetually talking about and purchasing newer better gear that is going to “unlock” the music. And there are many purveyors at the ready with enough Maschine’s and plugin suites and sample libraries to indulge the impulse. I think everyone intellectually knows that music doesn’t get made that way, and that many artists have made very good music with very simple setups. It’s like the satisfaction you get from impulse buying cool fitness equipment and expensive athletic wear that you know deep down will hang in the closet and collect dust in the garage.

    Me personally, I actually get irritable and anxious if I talk about gear for too long. I’m at a point where nothing else matters except spending time in the studio or with an instrument. It just takes reaping those rewards of extended time spent focusing on music to make extended gear-talk and debates seem like a waste of time when one could be probing those unknown depths of one’s own musicality, or upgrading one’s ears.

  6. djm1200 March 4, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

    I LIKED Ableton 7 better max4live is kinda stupid.
    the whole bloated garbage added to ableton 8 is crazy.
    they following all the trendy garbage.
    max4live, sharing, bridge etc all useless as if facebook was added to ableton.
    Ableton was made to be a live performance tool but everyone complaining why its not like stupid Logic? well go buy logic.
    Ableton 9 needs to go back to being PERFORMANCE TOOL AND LIGHT ON CPU RESOURCES.

    AND all this controllerism stuff is stupid as ipads
    trendy garbage ruining djing and music.
    how is Aarabmuzik king on mpc? umm pete rock!

    • Anthony March 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      Do you still use Ableton 7? I remember liking the warping more.

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