Jeff Finley

Finley Fridays #7 - Your Gear Isn't The Problem

Published 3 months ago • 8 min read

Hey Reader,

Jeff here on this rainy cold Friday in Dayton. Hope you've had a good week as we settle into the 7th edition of the Finley Fridays newsletter. I'm writing from a local coffee shop and got my cold brew and my laptop. My happy place.

I woke up today not sure what I was going to write about, but then I saw this video by Venus Theory entitled Your Gear Isn't The Problem. He speaks about something all creatives I know struggle with and that is the dreaded G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

It made me reflect on my own experience with G.A.S. and how over the years I've had cycles where I got really excited to buy new gear or plugins with the expectation that it would inspire a load of new creative work. But they'd end up just collecting dust and be forgotten about. I always feel bad when this happens but it's worth looking at.

Prolific Creativity is Social

Think about the times when you were most creatively prolific? What were you doing? Who were you with?

Was it the gear that enabled this? Or something else...

When I think back to my most prolific times, it usually had nothing to do with gear. But more to do with the social context and purpose.

When I first downloaded a cracked version of Fruity Loops back in 2001, I made a TON of music. It all kinda sucked and I had no knowledge of music theory, sound design. But it was fun!

What I did have was a circle of friends who geeked out over my tracks, even if they weren't professional quality. They sounded amateurish and dumb, but we laughed and danced to them in the basement of my friend's house.

They'd ask me when the next BOXOMYLK track was coming out. They'd invent awkward dance moves as we attempted to breakdance. I would sample my friends voices and make songs about them.

This encouragement from my friends was worth way more than any new piece of gear. And it was free.

video preview

When I think about my most prolific part of my art/design career, it was probably between 2006 and 2009 at Go Media. Most of the best work in my portfolio is from that time. My gear was fine -- just Photoshop and Illustrator with a Wacom Intuos 3 drawing tablet on a Dell OptiPlex PC. Nothing fancy.

The killer ingredients to my creative output?

  • Several talented designers around me making cool shit on a regular basis
  • A few reliable clients feeding us consistent work designing t-shirts and gig posters
  • A supportive community of fellow designers on our blog, Myspace page, and various forums such as Emptees

What does all of that have in common? Other people. The social aspect to creating. Both in person and online.

When You Suck But Create Anyway

In 2007, I was going to DIY punk shows regularly. I met a guy at a Brent Simon show who wanted to start a band and we had similar music taste. I used this as an excuse to finally learn to play drums.

I bought a kit off Craigslist for $300 and I had so much fun. We sucked but we were making songs every week. I still didn't know how to tune my drums or even fix my hi-hat if it broke.

Gear was the last thing on my mind.

I was just so excited to keep a beat going and hearing all of us gel together. Recording our sessions with a Zoom H2 and listening to our practice tapes every week was so addictive.

Again, extremely prolific and fun. But crappy quality.

We played one actual show before breaking up when our singer had to move away for work. But we formed another band and our sound got more polished.

The singer for my new band introduced me to the concept of gear lust. He was an up-and-coming music producer with real equipment and he nerded out over the recording process. He built himself an actual studio in the warehouse space underneath Go Media's office and was always buying new gear and finessing our sound in Reaper. Zooming into the sound waves and nudging EQ curves ever so slightly to get rid of phasing issues or that weird honky sound.

I couldn't hear it, or care that much. I focused more on playing my drums, composing fun and catchy songs, and "having heart" whatever that meant lol. But I knew I also wanted to sound good too. We wanted to sound like a real band, not amateur. Even though we had this intention, we still had a lo-fi, organic sound because we were actual humans playing our instruments. We hadn't crossed the threshold yet into overproduced perfection.

The Curse of Trying to be Good

Even though we still sounded like a DIY band, we still wanted to sound better. Even in my solo music, I got more interested in increasing my quality, focusing on mixing, mastering, and sound design. I wanted to sound more "legit" and professional.

I used reference tracks and modeled my songs after others that inspired me. I dove into music theory and read books on songwriting. I took courses on music production.

As I grew, my perception and taste for what was "good" also grew. I started to become aware of all the other gear and plugins out there that could make my sound that much better.

My sound got more polished. My tracks got tighter. But they still somehow sounded worse than what I could hear in other people's tracks. I was comparing myself to popular EDM artists and always feeling a bit behind the curve. So I'd look into more courses to teach me the inside secrets.

Along the way I'd lose track of that youthful, ignorant playfulness. Music production wasn't as fun. I was alone in my room spending hours tweaking plugins trying to dial in a perfect bass sound. Or endlessly switching presets or watching YouTube tutorials trying to solve some dumb problem that felt so important in the moment, but minuscule in the grand scheme of things.

I got better but I didn't get faster or more effective. Instead my perfectionist tendencies started controlling my sessions.

My ability to finish tracks began to decline. The tracks I did finish, nobody really listened to them. Even though I was now using Distrokid to distribute my music to streaming platforms, it felt harder getting people to listen to my tracks. The novelty of Jeff creating beats in the basement has worn off and now I'm just like every other musician who grows past the initial beginner phase.

In 2004, I was burning mp3 CDs every other week full of new tracks and ideas. Handing them out to friends at parties and dancing in the basement. But in 2020, I was on Spotify and iTunes and everywhere else. The quality was 10x better. The tracks were 10x tighter. But I had no real audience that I knew of. Just a vague number of listeners on Spotify or likes on Soundcloud.

Sure I was motivated by my own intrinsic desire to learn and create. I'd be like, "Gee, why does this song sound so good to me?" I'd study it and break it down. Learning about the theory and song structure. I'd recreate it myself in my DAW. This was rewarding in and of itself but it would lead me down the git gud path that's fraught with comparison. Never feeling quite good enough.

This would lead to seeking out more gear and more courses to help get me over the hump. You see where this is going?

Making music started to be less fun. I stopped producing.

But soon I'd be reinvigorated by a new plugin or Black Friday deal. I'd excitedly feel the rush of possibility. This new product would light up my creations and fuel a new phase of creativity.

And it would! Honestly, getting new gear would always kick-start a resurgence of creative output as I learn and experiment. But it wouldn't last. I'd have a folder of ideas and half-baked tracks that would soon be forgotten by the allure of creating something new.

My taste for quality was higher now. But my ability to create it was less. That's why new gear and new courses would be so appealing. It offered another step in the direction of sounding good.

Sounding good became the priority.

I wonder if this is the case for others?

Now that everyone can be a bedroom producer with access to pro-level tools and samples for relatively cheap, the bar is set so high for what people expect. Sames goes for other creative industries.

You feel like you need to have a professional camera and lighting rig before you even write your first script. You feel like you need the "best" drawing tablet before you get started with digital illustration. Or you need to optimize your desk setup before you can get started creating. You spend hours researching and going down the YouTube rabbit hole exposing yourself to even more and more aspirational content. Widening the gap between you and what you want to create.

And that's not even mentioning how AI is going to affect our creative process. They are literally making text-to-music tools where you can type in the kind of song you want and it will spit out some garbage that resembles it. Is this actually satisfying beyond the novelty of it all?

Be Prolific Again

So to sum it up. Being prolific sometimes involves buying new gear, but it can't really be done without the following:

  • Supportive social scene with a positive feedback loop
  • Being around other creators and riffing off each other's ideas
  • Peers at a similar experience level
  • Lowered expectations on quality
  • Less seriousness, more fun and play

Were your most prolific creative years when you knew less and had worse taste? Where you had less to compare yourself to? Where you were part of a supportive social circle or creative community?

Something to think about.

So that's my reflection on gear acquisition syndrome. I currently have some gear I bought on Black Friday that's waiting for me to use it more. Right now it's just me derping around in my DAW tinkering with my new toys, but nothing worth releasing yet.

Here's a link to my mp3 folder where I output my what I do create. Just bits of ideas, no full songs. Most of this won't make it to anyone's ears other than my own. If any musicians or producers out there hear anything they like and want to collab or sample, hit me up.

That's about all for today.

What Else I've Been Up To:

  • I attended the Ali Abdaal's 2024 Planning Workshop with over 16,000 others via Zoom. It lasted 4 hours! Here's the Google Doc we used with lots of prompts to get you thinking about what matters to you. Pro-tip: When you fill out the "The Obituary Writing Prompt" put your answers into ChatGPT and have it write one for you. Try not to get emotional!
  • Started this 30-Day challenge inspired by the book Money, Your Friend by Tim Grimes. I can't really speak on it yet until after it's over so stay tuned for that.
  • I booked a couple's massage and float tank session at a local spa for me and Cara thanks to a nice Christmas gift from her mom. If you haven't tried floating in an isolation tank, I highly recommend it. It can be a trippy experience!
  • I read this insightful post from Unicole Unicron about money and where it comes from. Pairs well with my post from 2016 where I had a conversation with money and what I learned was heartbreaking. Really gets into the metaphysical aspects of the essence behind money and what it represents to us.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!✌️


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Designer, Author, Mystic

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Jeff Finley

Personal Growth for Creators

I'm an artist, designer, music producer, author, and mystic with a passion for truth and personal growth. I like to share what I'm working on and working through each week, highlighting my creative pursuits and providing tips, tools, and resources for fellow creators.

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