June 17, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Loser With the Wrong Tools
Succeeding with What You Have
This last week I was watching an interview with a very successful music producer. He was being interviewed in his studio surrounded by amazing gear. He had the latest digital tools and a small warehouse of amazing instruments and classic equipment. His vast array of technology and tools made his philosophy about recording even more interesting.
He repeated numerous times during the interview that the equipment you use doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. He said it really has more to do with what you do with what you have. Ultimately your skills and creativity are far more important than the equipment you use. He proceeded to tell the experience of the first giant hit he worked on. It was the song “Loser” by Beck. The song was a massive hit that kicked off the career of one of the 90s most successful solo recording artists. This producer was standing next to an old Tascam Reel-to-Reel 8 track recorder, something that most people would have considered just barely above consumer grade recording equipment. He explained how the song had actually been recorded on this particular tape machine.
People in the industry would have considered it laughable to use such a piece of equipment. The tape machine and the outboard gear they used was anything but professional and yet they used it to record one of the biggest and most iconic songs of the 90s.
Often times people in the audio and video production business get bogged down in using the “right” equipment. But that alone doesn’t guarantee anything; not even good results.
In another example, Eddie Van Halen, one of the most iconic guitarists in history in known for his striped “Frankenstein” guitar. He recorded many of Van Halen’s biggest hits with the guitar and toured with it for years. It is such an important guitar in rock history that a replica was manufactured and distributed. But his guitar wasn’t a Gibson, it wasn’t a Fender an Ibanez or any “professional” electric guitar. It was a hodge podge of parts from numerous guitars all put together. It’s such a Frankenstein that even some of the wires and electronics are exposed.
I also watched an interview with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine who also played a guitar he built out of pieces of other guitars. The neck itself was just something he found. Almost all their songs were recorded with that guitar. He even still uses it in concerts.
We often fool ourselves into believing there are right and wrong ways to do things. We hold firmly onto this belief until someone shows us it’s not true – which happens all the time. Although there are certainly preferable ways to do things, and there are generalizations that are worth recognizing and following, we should never allow ourselves to be stifled because we don’t have the right thing.
In all three examples I just gave, they broke rules for one primary reason; they didn’t have the resources available to do things “correctly.” So in each case they used what they had. And in the process they each set new standards. It’s possible, even likely, that the success they had wouldn’t have happened at all if they had the resources to have the “right” equipment.
Throughout my life as a musician I have seen countless people fall into this trap. Doing things the “right” way becomes almost a dogma for them. It has led to a lot of people never finishing or even starting projects. It creates paralysis.
This paralysis happens in business as well; having the right office, the right software, the right communication tools, etc. start to get in the way of having the right people, the right skills and the right focus. Many times small hungry businesses have brought down empires. Giant companies that once ruled segments of the economy end up on the trash heap of fallen empires. In my opinion, successful people and companies rarely get caught up in doing things the “right” way. In some cases that tendency is actually a symptom that you have become too successful.
In much of life, if you don’t lose sight of what’s really important, you will find a way to succeed with the tools you have.