“Time & money – these seem to be the two things of which we never have enough, but for contemporary composers our relationship between the two is becoming ever more warped.”
We’ve seen the composing profession, particularly in the media world where I spend much of my time, turned into an opportunity for terribly smart and tangentially ethical companies to sell us things we don’t need. And they’re really, really good at it.
In some ways, I view the growth of the music tech sector – plug-ins, samples, hardware and software, mics and monitors – through the same lens as the rise in social media use. It’s like there has been a systematic exploration of our trigger insecurities as composers, clustered around that central imposter syndrome we all experience. And now it’s refined, systematised and targeted precisely at us, whenever we engage with the online world.
I wonder what you, yes, you, dear reader, spent on everything music tech related in the last year. Depending on the depth of your gear addiction, and the funds at your disposal, it could be tens of thousands of pounds or dollars. And I’m prepared to bet you an under-used piece of vintage outboard that however much it was, it was more than it needed to be.
Speaking for myself, I’m trying to not buy stuff I don’t need for a whole year. That many seem laughable to those who’ve visited my studio, or seen pictures online, as clearly I’ve already got much more gear than anyone could use in a lifetime of fiddling, but once you make a decision to try and do that, it’s extraordinary how many advertising messages for new plug-ins, samples or hardware seem to fill your inbox. The legacy of having bought things online in the past is a lifetime of follow-up ads, however careful we are to unsubscribe.
Now clearly, it’s none of my business how you spend your own money, and you may feel that everything you buy is absolutely essential (really, though, are you sure?) but what I’d like to do is to try and sell you something back, that you already used to own. Your time.
The vast majority of media composers are effectively freelance, whatever their tax structure, and as such, we’ve usually got some sort of handle on how long it takes us to earn a certain amount of money. We should know what our time’s worth, at least roughly. If you honestly take the amount that you spent on gear last year, and divided it by an estimate of what your day rate is – or more interestingly, how long it would actually take you to make that amount of money, if you’re counting all the days we’re not making money – you’ll come up with a number.
That’s the number of days you can have back by not buying more gear, THAT YOU DON’T NEED.
So what are you going to do with that time?
It might be just one day – to do something beautiful with your family, or sit in the pub with a book, or do whatever it is that makes you feel better.
It might end up being a week – a week in which you don’t have to generate money that you immediately send to one of our well-known plug-in companies, because they have a sale on. You could go walking in the countryside for a whole week. When everyone else is working. Or practice your instrument. Or learn a new one …
For some people, it wouldn’t surprise me if they spent considerably North of a whole month’s worth of the value of their time on pieces of hardware and software that at the very best are just a bit different from things they already own. I’ve done that so often.
Just try stopping – for a month, 6 months, a year or longer. Then really earmark the money that you might have spent, and see if you can convert it into reclaiming your time. If there’s one thing that will make you a better composer and artist, it definitely isn’t another SSL-clone EQ plug-in. I think it’s respecting and valuing your time, and the self-nurture that comes with that. Time for your health, your nourishment, inspiration, family and fun.
What have you got to lose?
(first published on Film Scoring Tips in 2019.)