synth close-up side angle

Pensado’s, Tools and Takeaways

Synth close up knobs

photo by Peter Gorges

Christmas came early. I woke with a free VST (software synth) offer on my Facebook wall, some friends know the right gifts. Within 10 minutes I was downloading and my eye wandering the Facebook page. An Arturia Virtual Instrument post touting half price VSTS sat smack in the middle of my page. Underneath it sat a debate I forgot still took hold of some producer’s minds.
This seemed a carry over from a little law that exists on many a music producer forums. Thou shall not make an approving post about VSTS without being reminded of the sanctity of knobs and voltage.

Without flare or hesitation, one person started immediately, “I’d rather have analogue any day than the whole set.”

In quick succession comments rolled out:
“Ha! a tune up of just one analogue synth would cost you as much as the whole package.”

“Outboards are more fun, if you can get it to work”

“Thanks god for plug and play.”

I had spent so much time this past year listening to Pensado’s Place, YouTube’ s masters of audio showcase where top producers, audio engineers and musicians talk music and mix, I completely forgot people still made these types of comparisons. They’re probably in the same family with people who keep articles about wav file verse mp3 alive.

I am the last person to dismiss anyone’s preference for tools or medium. Use what you like as mix master Dave Pensado says. Spend your money where you like, I say. If you want to throw $10,000 on dedicated circuits that carry all the dust, power and flavor of the 80s, I say drop the cash. Me, I’m the girl with turntables centre stage in her living room, who spends most of her songwriting time on an acoustic piano before cracking open Ableton. You don’t have to sell me on analogue. I spent this very morning pounding a djembe. Goat hide under my skin, if I had less imagination and a narrower definition of what constitutes audio life, I’d try and take your pads and circuits down a notch with words about the authentic power and primal superiority of hand and heart beat.

The sonic palette is too subjective to be worthy of debate, too subjective to give it a hierarchy. Timbres and tones are too many and too diverse. Alternating ones and zeros neither trumps nor stand below the throbbing circuitry of vintage gear. The range and possibility of sonic combinations can find a home for every sound including noise. The only concern to have is what feels good to you, what sounds good to you.

Reading that debate this morning crystallized for me probably one of the biggest takeaways from Pensados Place. Hearing the masters talk about what they used, loved and almost never discarded, eradicated any kind of gear prejudice that had been in my head.

Right tool for the track – producers, composers, musicians and mix engineers alike, pros with 10 to 50 years in the business, almost all seem to have virtually no prejudice against any sonic tool. Most had every piece of studio gear available to them but let the song dictate. Most of them would wax on as much about a free VST they discovered as any piece of outboard gear that is beyond the imaginary budgets of any of us. Everyone had their trick, tools and talents; everyone had their preferences depending on the track. Still the better they were the less ego you could see was invested in those things. They could find a place for everything, and they were just a little giddy about every piece of gear, analogue or otherwise. It was in fact the highest achievement to defy what supposedly sounds”bad,” something “I didn’t like,” and make it the perfect fit for something that sounds so good. Those men and women it was clear loved sound. They appreciated it in every distinct character and would make an enemy of no tool. They  wouldn’t forsake what you had access to, what your had imagination could achieve and how far our musical ideas could expand. They  were artists and craftsmen who saw no hindrance in an infinite tool bag.

synth close-up side angle

photo by Peter Gorges