Obsession with gear, something inherent to electronic music?

Ok here’s my theory, let’s see what you think about it: the obsession with gear has a lot to do with the technical level of the instruments used by the musicians.
People who play instruments that employ a rather basic technology seem to be less obsessed than those who use highly technological once.
Someone who plays a flute less than someone who plays synths for example.
You also can compare musicians to other creative fields. People into photography are nearly as gear obsessed as the synth crowd.
I think there is two factors at play here: the first is the continuos advancements you can find in this field. The more advanced the technology, the more it will spit out new variations and iterations (you get a new synth on the market every month right now, how many trumpets have a similar update frequency?).
The other thing is the illusion of endless possibilities. Why do people (rightfully) remind the gear obsessed that they should make more music and talk less about gear? because often that’s what happens. I noticed that people (like me) that have little time to make music, tend to think more about gear than those who are active musicians (but I’m open tobe proved wrong of course). The less we make music the more we take refuge in the realm of possible things we could make, if we only had the time, and since this is the realm of endless possibilities, the hunt for gear can potentially be the same… endless.
Maybe one could add a third factor. We are into synths because we like technical stuff, so it’s natural to have a certain interest for the object itself, besides its musical application.
or what do you think?

I don’t think see this as being inherent to electronic music.

People suck at things and their self-esteem drive them to think they are not the one to blame, so they blame it on the tool and fetishize it… dreaming of the tool that will truly unlock their potential and will reveal the world that they don’t suck at what they do.

Athletes with shoes, artists with their favorite brand of brushes, writers with notebooks, baroque musicians with period instruments, engineers with the latest machines test equipment or dev tools… I see it everywhere.

There are three types of song IMHO.

1. Musically brilliant song, the actual composition of the music is really good

2. Sonically/rhythmically brilliant song where the notes aren’t important.

3. The above two combined.

A lot of dance music falls into (2) above. Listen to a chiptune version of well known Prodigy songs and you soon realise their songs are all about sounds and rhythm (which I doubt even they would dispute).

This NIN chiptune album shows that some songs of theirs are good musically and others rely on good sounds:

Pretty 8 machine

You tend to find that the more “unplugged” music gets these days the more the actual notes come into question.

So I think much of the obsession with sounds is either because people are compensating for lack of song writing ability or they want nice sounds to inspire them.

These are just my opinions :slight_smile:

I dont think it is just a compensatory thing. I have resolved to myself that I enjoy building synths (and bicycles, beer etc.) and ‘playing’ with them as much if not more than seriously making music with them. It used to worry me that that was the case, but I couldnt care less now. A hobby (which is what it is for me) is just there to let you enjoy your free time. If I enjoy making, collecting, reading about, lusting after musical instruments, that is a valid use of time as long as I am enjoying it.

I guess what I am suggesting is that it is a personality things. I think some people are inherently, engineers/builders/collectors whereas there are other traits that are artist/musician/creator. These groups are not mutually exclusive so someone can be a collector/musician.

In actual fact, people probably have all of these characteristics in varying degrees.

I’ve always had a gadget problem, and have all sorts of former and current hobbies under my belt. For me, I get bored easily, I suppose I’m either really shallow or fall into Olivier’s description. I also like to really get into something when I do actually get interested. When I was into bicycling, I learned to repair all sorts of bikes, did work for myself and friends and rode all the time. I picked up a used Cannondale mountain bike that cost a fortune back then, still have it. When I got into motorcycling, I did the same thing, and I still have one bike, a 1991 Suzuki DR650, that I have also done all sorts of work on (pipe, fenders, handlebar, carb, tuning, forks, etc.). I hate to leave anything alone. Same with model railroading (learned to make my own swtiches in HO and G scales), slot car racing (building car chassis’, painting bodies and making a wood track from scratch) and photography (bought a Nikon D7000 last year, don’t try taking an 18-200mm lens apart to fix it yourself, trust me). The two I always seem to return to are motorcycling and music. Music for me started in 1964 and motorcycling in 1970. On the upside, both of my kids are great musicians and my son has developed a huge interest in photography. I can’t seem to get them interested in bicycling or motorcyling 'though.

I do find 'though, that it is important to get back to my own roots now and then, and just sit down and play acoustic piano or Rhodes for a little while. Grab the fakebook or some classical music and just play. No buttons, no technology, just keys.

People who play instruments that employ a rather basic technology seem to be less obsessed than those who use highly technological once.

Couldn’t disagree more about that. Look at your guitarist friend, he’s probably obsessed about this vintage guitar and probably has a rather big number of them, if he’s quite old. Actually, I would even say that the less “technophiles” the people are, the more they tend to be looking for the holy grail thing, the right pickups and wood assortment. I spent a full week to pick my folk guitar amongst dozens of them in the shop. Actually, i tried all the guitars in the shop, some of them several times (once a day) during a full week, to end up with my ‘perfect’ choice. But if I had the gold, I’d instantly go into some guitar shop again to pick a different folk guitar so I got more choice at home. My mother is a professional violin player, and needed to buy a ‘new’ violin a few years ago. She tried dozens of 200 years old instruments and ended up with one priced 30.000 € (yes, really. She took a loan for this). Does something less ‘technological’ than a violin exist? My girlfriend must have 50 pairs of shoes, and she still wants some more. I wouldn’t say that shoes are a very technological item.
On the other hand, no one would spend a whole day trying every MPC available in a music shop to pick the right one.

I believe the GAS is totally independant from your passion. Are you a photographer or an electronic musician or a fishing amateur, it’s a matter of personnality, not of which passion is involved or not. But I’d say that it tends to be related to your gender : male people suffer more from it than female people, I think.

People suck at things and their self-esteem drive them to think they are not the one to blame, so they blame it on the tool and fetishize it
I wouldn’t say that, either. Well, sure this self-esteem thing happens. A lot. But it’s mostly a matter of passion and of taste. My mother could keep playing with her previous violin in her professionnal environment without a problem.
When you invented the shruti, I don’t think it was because you sucked at playing your other synthesizers.

>>>>People suck at things and their self-esteem drive them to think they are not the one to blame, so they blame it on the tool and fetishize it… dreaming of the tool that will truly unlock their potential and will reveal the world that they don’t suck at what they do.

Fuuuuuu /mind blown

I think electronic music depends on its sound sources. If you want certain types of sound, you have to get the gear. I spent a year pretending I could get rich deep bass from an Alpha Juno and software synths - it just can’t be done. When I admitted this I invested in an SH-2, and the bass blew me away - no effects, no compression, no EQ, just mighty power ready and waiting. Limp-wristed tracks suddenly became robust.

If the sounds aren’t good I can’t get inspired to develop the tracks. A bassline on a tinny software synth will not spur me on to layer melodies and finish an arrangement, but some analogue destructo-bass will.

But yeah, I use gear buying/building as an excuse to dodge writing music. I find the challenge (and dealing with any failure) of starting with nothing and ending up at a good track absolutely terrifying, so I kid myself there isn’t any point starting until gear/effect/module X is built. Why start to write a tune with a crap phaser when someone on Muffwiggler has just announced a new DIY phaser project?

>I dont think it is just a compensatory thing

Maybe not amongst us synth DIY nuts, but it can be amongst some electronic musicians. The need to stand out by having noises few others have or the need to develop techniques that stand out.

There are those who are obsessed with the notes too and they can often do some quite brilliant things that go over the heads of most people. The TV composer Ronnie Hazlehurst did a theme tune for an 1970s comedy show called “Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em” where the rhythm of the theme tune spells out the name of the show in morse code, that is sheer musical brilliance.

Maybe we also have to distinguish between what I’d call a healthy interest for the tecnical aspects of electronic instruments (like what piscione said, the taking apart, understanding how things work) and the obsession for possession.
I think the first one is really a good thing. I myself like to take things apart, understand how they work, and the more I understand thing, the more I get intrigued by new “solutions”

Though I can get pretty excited about new things coming up, I tend not to collect them. All the contrary, when I have too much stuff I feel oppressed by them, they block my creativity. Possessing many things makes me waste a lot of time trying to learn how to use them all, and in the end I don’t do much with them.
You need time to get to know an instrument, to really get to the point that you can make something interesting with it.
Some people are after the perfect sound, I’m more after an aesthetic of sound. I know what a synth has to sound like so I can do something with it, and I also know that the synth will only give me 10%, the rest is up to me.

My biggest complaint about a lot of electronic music is that a lot of it mostly sound design porn, so once everyone gets sick of a dubstep drop or a acid wiggle, that genre is dead. I want songs dammit!

Here its overcompensation: i will never forget the Moment i was in the MusicStore in Cologne some 25 Years ago allowed to play a bit with this Blue Monstrous Synth. My Father wouldn’t buy “such a Crap” and even some years later this Blue RackSynth that made similar Sounds was way out of reach. I sometime stopped makin music while i was studying and then 4 years ago i was in Cologne again, a Meeting was cancelled, i had some time to spend, dropped in the MusicStore and saw the Prophet 8. I quickly discovered that all the Dream Machines from back then were available for Pennies (compared to my purchasing power back then) and i got them (nearly) all, one after another just for having them. So in regards of ownership I’m more of a Collector. Im totally aware that i only use a fraction (4-5 on a regular basis) of my collection and could go with even less if i wasn’t to Lazy to use Multimode ("Hey, why should i learn programming the Multimode when i just can buy 2nd Microwave?) but i love sitting surrounded by these Piles of Machines that in former times i couldn’t dream of affording.

>People suck at things and their self-esteem drive them to think they are not the one to blame, so they blame it on the tool and fetishize it… dreaming of the tool that will truly unlock their potential and will reveal the world that they don’t suck at what they do.

>Athletes with shoes, artists with their favorite brand of brushes, writers with notebooks, baroque musicians with period instruments, engineers with the latest machines test equipment or dev tools… I see it everywhere.

Yes and no…if that tool inspires some new creative output then it’s not a waste, even if it wasn’t strictly necessary to accomplish the task at hand. In the end talent is always the decider. I think of three guys with enormous gear collections-Vince Clarke, Trent Reznor and Hans Zimmer-each one of those knows exactly how to use those tools to best advantage, and has a track record to prove it.

It’s definitely not electronic music alone. Look at the amount of jazz/rock/metal guitarists pining over amp stacks and rack gear and boutique effects pedals to achieve ‘that tone’ that will suddenly make them the next best thing. I am a blues harmonica player and you should see the arguments people get into at the forums over the best combination of harmonica, tube amps, NOS tubes for the amps, impedence matching hardware for the mics etc etc etc. Even discussions on vintage microphone elements gets ridiculous sometimes.

and let’s not talk about audiophiles :slight_smile:
No anyway I agree, maybe it’s not just the technical crowd, maybe it’s really a personal thing, some people just like owning things more than others. Some people like collecting some don’t.
Still I wonder when it gets pathological, where that comes from…
Btw. I wouldn’t say that a violin is any less technically advanced than a synth, maybe it’s even more advanced, it’s just a different technology.
And it’s true that it’s not just musicians, a friend of mine who is a photographer and filmmaker has collected over the years hundreds of vintage cameras (super8, 8mm, medium format, polaroid, you name it) and still buys these things. Most of them he’s never really used.

>Look at the amount of jazz/rock/metal guitarists pining over amp stacks and rack gear and boutique effects pedals to >achieve ‘that tone’ that will suddenly make them the next best thing.

I think much of that is them wanting to sound vintage and warm. Which of course isn’t just to do with the gear but the recording process as I keep pointing out here :slight_smile: Analogue recording methods colour the sound.

I find myself looking for new lenses to put on my DSLR all the time, much of the old “vintage” Russian and DDR stuff can be had fairly cheaply now, and delivers stunningly good image quality… Do i need them ALL ? Nah, but like the violinist collector, I want to at least try them all :smiley:
For some reason i really like the idea that lens x that nobody uses anymore is both older than myself, and has had a fascinating life (a shame it can’t tell me about it) at some point+it is probably still a really great lens that was just forgotten about…
I feel less of this with instruments, mostly because they are often big, bulky (ever tried asking someone to ship a 61 key metal (often steel) case synth to Europe? They usually don’t take you for a serious buyer…)& for some reason get “rediscovered” every now and again, driving up prices every time they do :confused:
(Of course i still want them, i just know i can’t afford any of them)

Depends on the sort of work you do. At least the vintage stuff is collectable.

But I find that landscape and scenic photography is more about going somewhere nice and having good light. Some people seem to think that a good camera somehow makes everything better.

I tend to wonder when someone passes from an interested enthusiast to a collector/hoarder. I have a fair bit of stuff but not so much that it doesn’t get used. In my other hobbies, slot car racing and model railroading, collecting just for the sake of collecting has become rampant. There are guys with hundreds of model locomotives or a thousand slot cars. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. I started to get close, having over 100 cars and 100 locomotives but a few things happened to keep me sane. First, I ended up out of work. If I wanted to buy anything new, I had to sell something I already had. Around the same time, a cousin of mine started to sell some of his collection of very high-priced locomotives, and although a few sold for close to what he paid for them, many others sold for less. This showed me that, although many of these people try to convince themselves that these toys are investments, that is an excuse. One last thing that happened was that we started to help out a number of refugee families who had started coming to our church, and I realized that the price I pay for a few slot cars could give these people groceries for a week.

One last little story, for rumpelfilter to tell his camera hoarder friend. A local model railroad retailer told us about going into the house of a collector who had not been seen in quite some time. He had died, alone with his trains and his cats, and nobody realized it. The retailer was asked to come in and assess the value of the collection. Much of it was garbage, full of cat urine and feces. In fact, the cats had started munching on the guy’s body. Many thousands of dollars of trains went into the garbage.

Although it’s really none of my business and I certainly have no right to judge anyone, I think if you’re going to hoard a bunch of stuff that for some reason you think you must have, at least be honest with yourself.

i have a pretty strict policy on synths and whatnot - if it doesn’t get used on a regular basis, it’s out the door. also, i have a little table in the study/spare room/studio. if stuff starts spilling over off that table, it’s out too. neat and tidy. so at the moment i have a dark energy synth, a midi controller and a few nice pedals.

that said, i love building synths! i just haven’t kept any of them…

all that said, i’ve just bought a little 3u rack to fill with eurorack stuff. lol.