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TMI Tim: An Analogue Analogy

I'm a lefty and often feel I must look at the world upside-down and backwards from the majority. Too Much Information (TMI) Tim will examine issues in music making that deserve a closer look from a different perspective. I've got a great one to start this off!

One of the most common questions I've been getting since I started Everyone Can Play Music, is from people who feel they are ready to stretch their wings and challenge themselves with hardware synths. These guys have read somewhere that hardware is going to sound so much better than software iPad apps, and they ask me if this is true.

Rather than retreading the old Hardware Vs. Software arguments, I want to give you an analogue analogy.

In the world of competitive video games there is a similar lust over keyboards. There are those who will tell you that you simply must own a "mechanical keyboard", with Cherry MX switches. These have a physical component to detect key presses, as apposed to the membranes common to most keyboards. In fact the holy grail for these guys is an ancient bit of IBM technology.

These "vintage keyboards" aren't even compatible with modern computers, but enthusiasts will use adapters to get them working. Musicians lust for a unique sound advantage in old gear, and gamers are looking at these archaic devices for a competitive advantage. Both are just marketing and hipster hype.

Hardware manufacturers play on the idea of mechanical (analog) keyboards being so much better than the convenient conventional keyboard that came with your computer. These mechanical keyboards are a premium, priced 5-10 times the amount of regular keyboard! The manufacturers want you to feel like the keyboard you have in front of you is shameful, but if you pony up for the premium you're going to be so much better in competitive games. Hipsters perpetuate this by bragging about their status symbols. They've bought and paid for the right to snobbishly say, "Oh you have a Dell, well... I guess that's fine for playing Farmville."

The truth is that the real Professionals in competitive gaming use cheap $30 keyboards! No shit, watch a game of the Global Star League in Korea. The guys making serious cash, playing for $100,000+ prize pools, are using $30 keyboards that are like any other (digital) membrane keyboard.

Pictured here, to the right, is the keyboard used by the guy who has made the most money from professional gaming. It's a $35 Qsenn DT-35. His team is sponsored by SteelSeries, makers of a keyboard that has "18K gold-plated mechanical switches" and retails for $150! SteelSeries would gladly give him one for free, just so it shows up on TV when he's playing, but none of these guys give a damn about mechanical switches.

This whole notion of some advantage to analog switches is complete bullshit. We have the same competitive advantage silliness in the music realm, from manufactures that release new synth models annually. Members of the community who fall for the marketing will then try to justify their investment on forums. This is a never ending cycle of nonsense, as more people buy into the hype and perpetuate it themselves to brag about their gear.

Ignore the hype. It doesn't matter which is better. It doesn't matter which is cheaper. Just learn to use what you have in front of you.

Reader Comments (7)

This kind of BS exists in every facet of life and it really is, usually, just BS. Sometimes the hype is dead on (like my CHP-170 wire cutters, that I bought because of the hype and LOVE) but it all, at least for me, comes down to one thing:

Put your hands on something. Whether it be softsynth or hardware. Play with it. Let me use Addictive Synth as an example. People love this thing. And I just don't see why. I bought it and gave it a go, and I just don't like it. This doesn't make it a bad app though. It's a taste thing. I had the chance to sit down at a Nord Wave and twiddle the knobs and press the buttons. I want it very badly. Not because of some media machine or the fact that I'll get to empress anyone (you gotta have friends before you can show off!), I want it because I played with it and it was just infinitely fun.

Besides, who wants to be cool? Have you seen the "cool" kids nowadays? Ugh, no thanks.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFritz Charleston

Thanks for this great post! Really enjoyed the keyboard analogy. It reminds me of people who buy very expensive hardware romplers that can be easily created/used via software. Connect with what you have.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarlow77

+1
The trouble is nowadays, people don't see any value in learning, or practacing to get good at something; they want instant results, and think that by buying the new, or most expensive stuff is the way to achive it.
They'll just looking for the 'one ring', LOL.

July 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBlebhead

Tim, I've observed that so much self-dissatisfaction in music derives from being unclear about your own intentions — thus holding you to someone else's standard. When one is not pleased about being themselves and expressing themselves as only they can, they pick the tools (and methods, and soforth) that lead them away from their unique voice.

I adore my mechanical keyboard, but that's only because I discovered it was right for me.

Recently, I found this quote from sage Vangelis, from an interview @ http://bit.ly/Mj0Owe

"It’s difficult to explain sounds by words. And, again, all those things are personal to me in connection with my technique, so whatever I might have built for me would be completely irrelevant for other people."

Related and recommended, head over to http://www.reddit.com/r/howtonotgiveafuck/

I've found now that I'm a year short of 50 in age, that I care far less nowadays about the amount of 'bling' that something has, as compared to it's quality of manufacture, functionality and ease of use. I'm more often skeptical now as to a new company and it's product until it's been 'out in the field' for awhile. It seems nowadays, more often than not, the quality isn't there.
This itself can affect the product's desireability as well. It could be full of easy to use functionality. But if it's going to break or be unreliable more so than not, then it's worth can drop immensely.

Another angle thats been troubling me moreso as I get farther into me ol' fart years ... cost per product. Most of the modular synthesizer manufacturers out there have very high purchase costs. What you get from each of them, varies greatly in manufacturing qualities as well as functions.
Then there are many software versions of similar available for computers and mobiles - a completely different UI enviro. in most instances. (Nord, being one of the partial exceptions.)

All of this can come back as well to the age of the user. Reflecting back to my later teenage / early 20's years - I had to have the most impressive device visually and functionally for my bragging rights. Reflecting on all of it - did it affect anything? Over time lasting - barely. Reputations in various ways but only minorly.

To try and diminish my impression of wandering around thought-land aimlessly - I agree with the above posting: go with what you're most comfortable with, in working with and creating, that which you're happiest with - no matter what area / field in life. :)

At least I can afford to experiment with many of the products being released for my iPad3 but hardware wise? Rarely I chance. That's ok though - I'm able to design and build most, of what I'm unable to afford. :)

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRicharius

I bought one of those original IBM keyboards at a flea market in the late 80s. It was, in fact, a pleasure to type on. Noisy, but it had exactly the right level of resistance. Let it go when I couldn't find a connector for it on my next computer.

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdswo

Yea, they do feel "right" if you started typing on a type-writer. In exactly the way a keys on a MIDI keyboard have to feel like the ones I had on the Yamaha I learned to play on.

July 18, 2012 | Registered CommenterTim Webb
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