Quick Thought: Far Ends of the Chain
I believe when it comes to investing resources, the biggest bang for the buck typically comes from investing in the far ends of the signal chain and working your way in towards the middle from there. By the far ends I mean starting with the source or the delivery system.
When I talk source, I’m talking about the instrument and/or even player itself. Before I worry about upgrading to the greatest kick drum mic ever, I’ll get a great kick drum to begin with. Before I drop loads of cash on the coolest boutique guitar amp for the house I’m gonna make sure I’ve got guys who can really play guitar through it.
The delivery system in our world is typically the loudspeaker system. The delivery system is so important because EVERYTHING comes through it. It’s the master gate-keeper on our sound. It’s also typically the largest expense and hardest thing to get changed. But it is generally the largest limiting factor in how good things can sound so if the PA needs work, it’s one of the first places I try to invest.
So what if I need to make changes but can’t do anything about the far ends of the chain? For example, a new PA is out of the question due to cost, and I can’t even approach the musician side of the equation. The next step, in my opinion, is to look at the next thing in the chain on either end. Maybe some training for myself or an engineer is the answer. Maybe a new console would make a difference. Maybe the greatest kick drum mic ever would help.
And by the way, processes generally go hand-in-hand with the people. Maybe our soundcheck process needs work. Maybe our rehearsal workflow isn’t right. These are things on the far ends of the signal chain where the people tend to also be.
The audio and musical experience can sometimes seem like a nebulous thing to try and make better. If you break it apart into all of it’s components, it can be much easier to see everything involved and to decide where to focus your energy on improvement. So take some time and draw out your signal chain and all the stuff in it. Not everything always needs changing or work. But if I’m trying to make something better, I start on the far ends and see what I can make better there first before working my way towards the middle.