The reach - ideas and inspiration for getting the most of what you have

on another thread a few of us have been lamenting the lack of gear or funds we wish we had to help us make the sounds we want. as amazing as it is to fantasize about finding 20,000 in a used pedestal (THIS HAPPENED TO A FRIEND!!!), i find it super inspiring to talk to people about what they do to get their sounds with what they have.


what are you doing to get the most of your setups?


I’ll watch this with curiosity as I’m trying to slim down my set up from my four hardware synths down to mostly an ITB set up. Inspired by artists such as Losci, who are more or less completely software with field recordings.

With Ableton Live Suite and a Sony PCM-D50 I should have an unlimited source of sounds to work with and manipulate them.


Lately I’ve been getting back to my “elder days” when I was forced to make do with what I had…a simple sampler with a microphone. Too many options for me lead to non-productivity…it’s like being nibbled to death by ducks.

So I’ve been sampling a lot. Just wandering around with my phone and recording things here and there, then dropping them into a sampler and mangling away till I have something that is fun to play with. Maybe a little ambience added with reverb.

After that it’s layers…sample some more…add a layer…repeat. It’s not for everyone, but for me it’s bringing back a feeling of making something new each day. I guess you could say my setup is a recording device and a sampler. All the bells and whistles can be added later, but those two items go a long way to letting me do something I enjoy.


I like having lots of choice and probably do have too much gear. But, I find I rarely use it all in one “mega patch” preferring to focus on a more restricted palette at any one time. Then move on to something else.


I come from the world of guitar where a $300 distortion pedal is a relatively new phenomena so paying $500+ for a controller was a big deal for me. In guitar, nothing was patchable and everything was pretty cheap but the guitar being such a tactile instrument lends itself to morphing into many different things if you learn/handle the instrument long enough. Nels Cline is one of my favorites for this. His setup includes everything from cheapish Boss pedals to relatively rare/vintage EHX and a Klon with an egg beater thrown in. His setup evolves but his essentials stay constant because he knows them inside out. Nels Cline will sound like Nels Cline no matter the instrument he plays. I don’t think finding your identity in electronic music is any easier or any more mysterious - it requires the same discipline and requires you to start small. It makes me rethink my approach to synthesis and think about the end-result and not about the tools. Trying to stay out of the weeds so to speak and get the idea out of my head and recorded, using my time more wisely.


one thing i do once in a while is pairing up a couple of somewhat randomly selected devices, figuring out how to integrate them with each other is a good way to find new ways to use them, and some combinations can be inspiring in a completely unexpected way. a variation of that is just limiting my table space so that it forces me to create a smaller set up and try and study and play with that for a while.

a more recent specific example was getting for my modular - i used to see it as a standalone instrument but being able to have 8 inputs and 8 outputs just feels like i’m getting so much more out of it now that i can, say, easily run a vst plugin through 3 sisters or something.


i have this pedal i got for free, i’m sure many of you are familiar with it. the heavy metal distortion from boss. i would put it on things and could never get a sound out of it i “liked”. then, at a friends studio, he pulls out a “modded” version, in a non-descript box. it sounds killer on EVERYTHING and all the guitarists that i bring through that studio we pull it out for. and on keys. and vocals. finally, i take it apart to see what the mod was.

the switch was replaced with a double tap so you don’t actually trigger it onstage. that was it. now with that preconceived notion of heavy metal destroyed, i find uses for it all the time. it turns a really crappy synth string or brass patch into a super funky and gated stab.

it shouldn’t, but often the look of something changes our perception of it. and it can be hard to get rid of that. but i’m glad i didn’t throw it away, because it is super useful. i just don’t show my clients the name of it :grin:


Love this. Reads like an oblique strategy!


i totally love that pedal. i’ve had the same one (not even sure how i came to have it, definitely by accident and definitely free). sounds amazing on a juno arpeggio.


I’m still in such early learner mode on everything except my ukulele, so I’m focusing on one at a time, rotating through when I hit walls.


Well I’ve bought and sold a bunch over the years, but my setup is pretty simple these days. ITB stuff like the DAW and Max/MSP are staples. A few excellent preamps, microphones, an excellent EQ and compressor, A/D/A, monitoring, and that’s about it. Now days, I feel monitoring and room treatment are the most important links in the chain.

Interestingly, many of us are speaking of simpler musical setups as a return to a previous way of life.

When I asked my music composition professor why the other faculty members wrote music that felt (to me) like they were searching for a meaning to life, he told me that was a normal place to arrive at once a person had all the tools to musically say anything he/she wanted to say.

In that spirit, don’t we all periodically miss moving out on our own for the first time? Even though the parameters we lived under were more constrictive than what we grow into, the element of discovery is so often a greater benefit to our creative selves than what we possess physically.

What is composition if not the journey from not knowing to knowing? These days, I feel new things will never bring us as much as new discoveries. And I have been the king of (mistakenly) thinking that discovery lies in the acquisition of a new synth, preamp, etc. But hasn’t GAS has gotten the better of most of us at one time or another? It’s something most of us go through. Respect to anyone smart enough to see through it without spending many thousands of dollars to learn the hard way.


I would view your setup as fairly simple but not minimal - especially compared to mine. I do NOT mean this in a bad way. I don’t have a single piece of recording gear that I would consider to be excellent - everything beyond the actual instrument in my case is budget/value oriented. My modest collection of instruments is generally nice but it can be overwhelming putting them all together in a system. I think this begs the question, in the context of the thread, where is that magical point on the efficient frontier for investment in your equipment vs. utility? And furthermore, how do you not become a slave to it?

1 Like

I’ve gone through a couple studio iterations in the past 10 years in which I amassed too much gear and used too little of it. I bought a lot of gear, sold a lot of gear, and barely put in enough time with most of those objects. In the end, my most productive stages—those in which I actually recorded and released an album—involved using very limited amounts of equipment: a sampler, a couple of effects and a mixer; a guitar and computer; guitar, a couple effects, and a loop pedal.

My first piece of electronic music equipment was an MS2000. I just had that and a Gateway PC. I would build whole worlds just multitracking that synth. Not the best music in the world, but I don’t remember being distracted, hitting creative blocks, or feeling like I needed more gear. Then, as my blissful ignorance of other gear eroded, I began to think, “I need that thingamajig to really make professional music.”

I like this idea of “returning” that’s been mentioned a couple times. I’m now returning to a very simple setup. Selling off most of my gear. I now have a couple small synths, a computer and soundcard, monome, a tiny but powerful guitar amp, a guitar, and some effects pedals. It all fits on a table (except the guitar).

I now look at my workspace and see welcome restraints. It’s manageable. I don’t need or want a hulking studio. I want a simple canvas and a diverse but limited color palette.

I don’t claim to be an expert in much of anything, but here’s my recommendation for getting the most of what you have: Treat your electronic music gear as would a classical soloist. A violin has only four strings, yet the sounds that can be coaxed out of it are plentiful. Approach your synth, sampler or what-have-you and explore just one of the sounds it can produce. Make a whole song out of that sound by moving it around in space and time. Ignore everything else.


i was reading a forum at one point and people were sharing modular patch ideas. someone suggested sending an lfo to a vca, and then the output of that to a source to be modulated. it’s a simple concept, for sure. but oh man that blew my mind wide open.

i’ve been meaning to send drums to melodyne and destroy them in there. anyone play with this yet and have any real world results?

1 Like

This has (for the most part) been my approach.


And it has been a fruitful approach for you. I should post your music in the “What are you listening to” thread because your albums have been on repeat in my apartment and during my walks to work.


Wow. Thank you! You’re too kind :blush:

Been sitting on a lot of stuff that is all hopefully coming out before the end of the year (bar more setbacks) - excited for it all to get out there. :hatching_chick:

1 Like

I decided to buy some more music theory books after thinking about the money spent on gear compared to music education!


That has been the most important question I asked myself since I started music when I was 14. Never had a lot of money, poor family, crappy jobs…

I only played guitar before, I had 21 when I had my first REAL guitar, and then I waited to be able to buy cheap pedals, one by one…

Now I’m into all that electronic stuff, it’s getting harder. I have a cool guitar, I know I won’t be able to buy a synth that costs so much, so I wait.
It’s cool my guitar pedals can help me in my synth Work, and it’s really cool that the music software is so inclined to FLOSS software. Pure Data helped me a lot, and now I own a Volca Keys and a Volca Beat, an APC mini to control Ableton lite,can totally see the limitations of that gear, but whatever, I can try to synthetize more fun sounds with pure data and my free plugins …

Anyway, I like this restraining, I like making music with my 2007 Macbook that crashes when I got too much tracks on an Ableton Lite project, because I feel obliged to think through all the crap to try and get cool tracks with that setup. Helps to keep creative. I feel like when I’ll get a decent stuff, I may be able not to lose myself in possibilities and “too much gear syndrome”.


i love limitations! if i could only work on tape and not a computer it would be amazing.

“are you happy with that performance or do we erase it and try it again?”

also, i just found this book, The Seven Secrets of Jazz & Soul by Ed Landsberg. it’s small but has some really cool harmony stuff!

1 Like