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Choosing equipment? Here's how to make the right choice and not waste money.

You can spend a lot of money on equipment. You can WASTE a lot of money on equipment too. Here's how to simplify the decision-making process.

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Question from an Audio Masterclass visitor...

"I have a new laptop. What DO the pros use? I'm setting up a studio and want a synth pack, a midi keyboard and good multi-track software. It was suggested that I buy a Firebox from PreSonus and Reason. I like E-mu keyboards. These were all suggested by a salesman. I don't want to have buyer's remorse. What do I buy? Protools sounds great, but maybe too high-end? What about the interface. I don't want to be obsolete the day after I buy. Don't get me wrong. I don't need to be on the bleeding edge.. I have a PC with Cool Edit that works, but I'm moving from guitar and vocal to midi. HELP!"

David Mellor responds...

'Buyer's remorse' - that's an emotion I suspect most of us have felt at one time or another. Buyer's remorse comes from making the purchase decision in the wrong way.

So how do you decide which equipment to buy? Here are a few ways to do it...

Take the advice of a sales person. WRONG! You may stumble upon a sales person who is honorable and enthusiastic. More likely you'll be persuaded to buy whatever generates the most commission, or maybe something that isn't selling and needs shifting quick.

Live demonstration. Wrong again, although not quite as wrong. Demonstrations are good in that you learn some of the capabilities of the equipment. But you will see a slick, polished demonstration of the equipment's good features. You won't see the problems or limitations. This applies to demonstrations on YouTube too.

Magazine advertisement. Just plain crazy. Manufacturers employ advertising agencies whose expertese is getting people to buy stuff. They will use all their psychological tricks on you, and don't assume that you're immune. Just make a list of all the things you bought over the last week and consider how many were really essential, or more expensive than you needed to get the job done.

Because the pros use it. Yes and no. If people who make music in your chosen genre or style really do use that equipment, then you're onto a winner. You can hardly go wrong there because the equipment is proven to be capable of what you want it to do. But beware of endorsements. Just because a certain guitarist plays a certain instrument doesn't mean it's his favorite instrument. Endorsement deals can mean getting equipment at half price, free, or even getting paid to use it. Sometimes they don't even use it - they just get photographed with it.

I read something on the Internet. There's no harm in gathering the opinions of real users, but you have to bear in mind that if someone says they like XYZ software, it may be that that is what they happen to have and it's all they know. So in their mind XYZ is great and everything else is trash. But they don't really know. Also, just because someone possibly knows a lot about equipment and software doesn't mean that they know what's right for you, or what will help you make music to the best of your ability. They might just be one of those people who plays with the toys and never gets around to doing anything worthwhile.

My friend has it and it works well for him. Yes yes yes! There's nothing like getting hands-on experience with equipment and software before you buy. And if you know someone who will let you try it out in a non-sales environment, you have the best chance of making a correctly informed decision. Hiring equipment before you buy is another good option.

Just buy everything. When you are successful and have money to splash out, this might be an option. It does sometimes look like that when you consider just how much gear some professionals have. If you don't have that amount of money to spend, you can always buy stuff on eBay. If you like it, keep it. If you don't like it, just sell it on and you might even make a profit. Buying equipment, using it on a project, then selling it on is a good way of keeping your sounds fresh.

I didn't really answer the question, did I? Or did I? We all buy things from time to time and wish we hadn't. Being aware of exactly how we are making our choices is important.

Two more points...

You don't have to be 'cutting edge'. Many a good recording has been made on old equipment. Cutting edge equipment and software often comes with cutting edge problems too.

Don't worry about equipment being too 'high end'. Professionals prefer equipment that is easy to use. Home studio equipment, and particularly software, is often far more difficult than anything that would be used professionally.

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By David Mellor Wednesday February 23, 2011
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