I’ve had a long week. I’ve just been reminded that I need to follow my own advice from Killer Home Recording. In short, it goes a little something like this.
A buddy of mine in high school didn’t do what everyone else did. (I seem to remember a slew of brand new 1997/1998 Chevy Cavaliers in our school parking lot.) His first car was a Corvette. It was a Corvette that was 15 years old. This means it was at it’s all-time lowest value and would soon be going up. He bought the car for $10,000 and sold it for $11,000. He did have some upkeep bills that were certainly higher than my Honda Civic. I’d say he spent $3,000 on it.
The moral of the story was he got to drive a classic Corvette for six years for $2,000. I remember most of the Cavalier people paying $13,000 and selling them for $3,000 in that same time frame.
Why in hell would a person pay $10,000 to drive a miserable Chevy Cavalier when they could drive a Corvette for 1/5 the price?
This sort of thinking is quite common in circles of people with money. Why the hell I can’t remember it is beyond me! (Besides the obvious fact that I DON’T HAVE MONEY!)
What’s Magic Worth?
After going to Disney World, the largest digital camera vacuum the Earth has ever scene, I’ve really gotten into this “value of magic” idea. The bottom line is magical items are priceless. An otherwise poor recorder will pay $2,000 for a microphone that is going to give him the magic. The wife can’t see (or hear) this magic and will tell him it doesn’t sound any better than his $400 mic. However, most of us in recording land believe in this magic and can generally hear it, too.
Cubase 5 costs $499 (the upgrade is much cheaper). It has more automation, features, total recall, and convenience than many consoles costing over $100,000. We all know that there are many records out there these days that are mixed in the box even though it’s probably safe to say the big consoles sound a little better. But why do people buy these consoles? Because there is magic in them! If you don’t believe me, take a picture of your studio and then take a look at these pictures.
THAT is magic!
Where I’ve Screwed Up #1
I had a rack full of stuff I never sold on Ebay that I found this week. I had forgotten all about my Presonus M80. It’s an 8-channel preamp that was a heavily marketed 10 years ago back when I was first starting. It sold for $2,000 originally, but I snagged it for $1,000 used on Ebay. That should have been a clue! If the preamp lost half it’s value in a year or two, what’s it going to be worth in 7 years?
I can answer that question because I watched a few of these on Ebay just to see. The answer is $350! Great. So this preamp has handed me a loss of $650. A person could argue that I got to use it all this time. They wouldn’t be wrong. However, if I would have bought anything used with MAGIC in it, I could easily see that I had lost zero. My Vintech 1272 costs on Ebay now what I paid for mine back in 2001. (Ignore inflation, that’s a political issue I’m choosing to ignore for your sake!) My Vintech is a superior product, too. So, because I chose to CHEAT myself out of a high end product and the improved sound that comes with it, I’m rewarded with $650 subtracted from my net worth. Great!
Where I’ve Screwed Up #2
Two years ago I was low on cash and my Delta 1010s, which had served me very, very well for 7 years, were toast. I decided to save money and take a chance with a Presonus Firestudio, a $700 interface, knowing there were some presumably fancier options out there. The Firestudio is fine on many levels, but always seems to get buggy when I don’t want it to be buggy.
I did the math on a few recent sessions to calculate how many billable hours I had to take off a clients bill because I was restarting my computer 10 times to get the dumb thing to sync up. It became obvious that if I could get an interface that ran well pretty much every day, it would easily pay for itself in only a few months.
I’ve decided to try out the Steinberg MR816 CSX interface. If it doesn’t offer bulletproof reliability, I’m off to RME. If that can’t do it, I’ll spend big bucks and just make credit card payments. Interest will be cheaper than refunded hours!
These Firestudio interfaces are going for about $350-400 on Ebay right now, so that means it’s lost half it’s value in just 2 years. Not good!
Long story short: The Presonus Firestudio bugs cost me A LOT of money AND I didn’t get to have the fun of a “magical” interface AND the damn thing has lost half its value.
Where I’ve Screwed Up #3
After I got up to #8 I decided to simply say, YOU GET THE POINT!
Is Paul999 Screwing Up?
Paul999 runs a full blown studio with a big ol’ console and a stupid amount of hardware most of us would give our left wife for. He was using the kind of logic that I don’t seem to ever follow but am well aware of in this thread:
I’ve got to say that it seems a little counter intuitive to think that a $2,000 compressor would be CHEAPER than a plugin. The idea of $20,000 in hardware compressors being cheaper than plugins is so extreme that a person MUST take a second look. Either way, Paul999 may be on to something!….or totally out of his mind!
Who Are You?
Guys like Paull999 and I may have different needs than you do. We’ll be recording music until we croak. Thinking 2-30 years into the future changes the way a person looks at most of this stuff, and there are certainly savings to be made with a bit of strategy. Paul999 and I are also guys that want high end gear. Is it NEEDED? No. But it makes my job easier and I’m cool with making huge investments that give me 1% benefit.
The idea of buying magical gear because it is CHEAPER may not occur to you or you may not be in the position to invest so much into these magical items. However, if your needs change you find yourself going a little fancier, it may be cheaper in the long run to treat yourself to a big, ol’ dumb purchase!
When Just Getting Started
When a person is just getting started, rarely are they thinking they are going to surpass X big boy production on the first try. Just finding the bare minimum gear for their needs is a total pain. (See the Killer Home Recording: Setting UP freebie ). It’s when people start upgrading to marginally better that that things can go wrong in the long term.
Winners and Losers Is The Long Term Value War
– Magic hardware items (mics, preamps, and compressors) with big time names (Neumann, Neve, API, SSL, etc)
– Specific magic items (LA-2A hardware compressors) that people SPECIFICALLY search for.
– Super hyped items. When Musician’s Friend has a high end product, that product becomes an instant celebrity. I get asked by clients (who don’t even know what a compressor is) if I have any Avalon gear. Why? They saw it in the catalog. This definitely spills over into recording land. I expect Avalon products to maintain their value for a long while. Then again, if Musician’s Friend and a few other dealers pull the plug, the could be forgotten. Regardless, hype generally sticks when it comes to perceived value in recording land.
– Anything You Can’t Afford. You already know you can’t afford a full-blown Pro Tools HD3 system, right? No need in looking, right? This whole “no need to look” thing is a big reason guys like Paul999 and my buddy with the Corvette have fun toys and get to play with them often for profit. Basically, this “can’t afford it” business is a lie, more or less. While Pro Tools HD3 isn’t going to be tip-top for 20 years, it may actually be less expensive than a “decked out” typical home recording setup. Maybe not. The point isn’t that I’m pushing Pro Tools HD3. (Most people know my views on Pro Tools.) The point is that the very fact that everyone THINKS they can’t afford something is why that particular item is so inexpensive, both in the long term and maybe even in the short term!
– High end brands that come and go or may take a quality hit – My Soundelux U99 ain’t worth the $2,600 I paid for it anymore. Much of that has to do with the fact that Soundelux is long gone. The mic is still the mic, but it’s value is not what it used to be. A Neumann U87 would have held all of its value for sure.
– There are many high end companies that may or may not be around in a few years. As much as I like to buy “fringe companies”, some of them won’t be around in a few years. Even worse, people won’t be talking about them. The magic will be gone even if the products are stellar.
– Ultra value companies. I’m talking about the current crop of mega bang-for-the-buck gear that is attempting to run with the big boys at a for cheaper price. Off the top of my head Peluso, Sebatron, and Chameleon Labs come to mind. These brands are cheaper to get your hands on, are very very effective, but don’t have the pizazz of the magic gear. It’s hard to say how the market will deal with them. These are the “Bud Light” of magic. I suspect the kid using duct taped adapters into his laptop that will be getting an Mbox for Christmas this year thinks a Peluso 47 is some serious magic. So….for the low end, there may be this “affordable magic” thing going on. We’ll see.
– Budget gear. Gear that is a bargain always seems to lose its value quickly. It has zero magical value. You’ll see quite a few 8-channel preamps that cost $600-800 that end up going for $200 on Ebay in a few years. As a rule, the bottom feeders tend to have to reinvent themselves and their products constantly. Brent Averill doesn’t need new products. In fact, he’s built his business on racking up really old products. Regardless, find a budget 1980s Peavey 16-channel mixer and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
– Budget Companies Making Mid-Level Gear. This is where my Presonus M80 comes in. $2k for an 8-channel preamp isn’t cheap. It’s not exactly budget-gear. It may not be Mercenary caliber, but it’s not cheap. However, the budget name automatically kills the long term value.
– Computers. Have you ever had a buddy who went to the Mac website and did his “dream computer” for $16,000? This does qualify as what I’m calling “Marriage Magic”. In other words, it seems really good at first, but it won’t be long and the magic will be gone. Until you’ve been ultra excited about a computer and then 10 years later smashed the thing into a dumpster, you won’t quite get this one.
It’s a given that computers have horrendous resale value. We all know they are disposable. The reason I’m emphasizing it here is I see practically EVERYONE feeling the need for a brand new computer every two years. A person buying a new computer every four years, in comparison, could add quite a bit of magic gear to their rack and their net worth.
Not everyone is a position to blow big bucks on the magic gear, but for those who can scrape up the cash now, there could be tremendous savings in the long haul. I’ll be hitting 10 years of recording before too long. I suspect 20 years is only 2 or 3 years away. Plan ahead! If you are addicted to this stupid craft, adjust your habits for maximum domination.