No Excuses

This post is a years-later re-post of an article I wrote on a syndicate that’s been discontinued. I updated a couple phrases, but mostly left it the same. Some things that could be expanded on is how things have changed with the huge improvements in music creation capability on mobile devices.

The original post was circa 2010, but the basic gist is still a relevant kick-in-the-pants for using the gear you have to get started with whatever artistic endeavor you have in mind.



Have you heard the song “Fireflies”? It’s a synthpop tune off the album Ocean Eyes by Owl City. In my mind it is a soundtrack that accompanies the idea that I have no excuse when it comes to producing great music… at least I can’t blame my equipment.

In an interview with propellerhead, Adam Young (a.k.a. Owl City) talks about the equipment used to create most of his early music:

I ran Reason 3 and a freeware single channel recording program called Goldwave on an old Dell with 255 RAM. I used a friend’s borrowed Behringer C-1 condenser microphone and an 8 channel analog mixer to record vocals and a bit of acoustic guitar in Goldwave. I then cut them up into samples and fired them off in [Reason’s] NN-XT.

Reason is a great program and often used in studios to supplement other tracks. But the rest of the gear would be considered subpar by any professional studio. Also, since Reason 3 doesn’t support direct recording of audio, he had to creatively record his vocals in another program and import them to a sample player in Reason. That’s quite a workaround, especially for vocals, and it appears the recording was going straight to the line-in of the computer, rather than through even a low-budget audio interface.

Minimal, low-budget equipment. Very Creative.

For those wanting to rush out and get his setup, I priced it (circa 2010 pricing):

– Reason 3: $30,
– Goldwave: no longer free, $19 for one year license,
– An old Dell computer: $105 for a laptop
– Behringer C-1 Microphone: $36
– 8 channel analog mixer: $40

That comes to $230. Let’s add in $120 for shipping, cables, cheap headphones, computer speakers and a mic stand. This brings us to $350.

Let’s make a couple modifications.

If you already have a computer, you can strike the Dell. Substitute the Goldwave program with the free Audacity audio editor. Skip the Mixer and opt for the $60 Behringer C-1U that connects via USB. That also eliminates the need for additional audio cables. Add $30 for a used copy of Reason 3 and $20 for total shipping. Since headphones and computer speakers usually abound we’ll also leave them out. This totals about $110. Quite a studio! I’m being sarcastic because to most audio pros this setup would be a joke.

Did I mention that the album Ocean Eyes sold about 18,000 copies its first week in digital downloads alone? In less than a year since the physical album was released it sold around 609,000 copies, hit the top 10 albums listing in the USA, and had tracks that topped the Billboard Hot 100 twice.

For some of us in the creative field, it’s easy to spend too much time admiring the gear that we wish we had, rather than making full use of what we already have. While I am interested in upgrading my equipment, the truth is that I already have the tools I need to get started. In fact, my greatest creative asset and liability is not the equipment, but only myself.

Today, I give props to Adam Young. Thanks for jumping into the creative process with the tools at hand. No more excuses.

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