I’d rather have a proton pack than a Megazord
Wait, where are you going? No this is serious, I was about to use those two things as a clever framing device for a lesson on how to make amazing creative work without expensive equipment and a massive budget! I can do it, I was an English minor in college! I have a master’s degree oh god please come back I’m so lonelyyyyyyyyyyyy
Oh…oh you’re…you’re still here. Oh god thank you. This means a lot. Having someone to listen, I mean. You can only give so many impassioned speeches about the power of community or the creative spirit to the lady ringing up your plastic bottle Canadian scotch before they slap your picture on a wall and ban you from Fred Meyer, you know?
I wanted to talk to you this week about a phenomenon every creative professional must face. It’s that feeling that you can’t really make something truly great until you have that shiny new toy. That the only thing holding you back is that your equipment isn’t nice enough, that you shouldn’t even bother starting on any of the great ideas you have because without that expensive mcguffin, whatever you’d make would be trash compared to everyone else’s.
This phenomenon is called Gear Lust, and it is the bright red Kia Sorrento of the creative world. It seems harmless, and might even get you places for a bit, but eventually, it’ll leave you stranded in a ditch, on fire, with hillbillies groping around in your mouth trying to pull out your fillings.
To prove that as a creative, you can (and should) make amazing stuff without first investing hundreds in top notch gear, I’m going to reference pertinent examples from real-life professionals to put everything into a tangible, grounded context that anyone can relate to.
Nah, I’m fucking with you, let’s talk about Ghostbusters and Power Rangers.
Both are amazing super teams of kind-of-but-not-really ethnically diverse professionals keeping America and parts of a soundstage in Japan safe from supernatural jerks. But while one is an excellent example of being scrappy and inventive with the equipment on hand, the other one tends to blow things out of proportion.
No really, I’m sticking with this metaphor. I’m gonna beat this dead horse until I either bring it back to life or animal control has to deploy bald eagles with stinger missiles to stop me. Buckle up.
Power Rangers? More like . . . like Power Dangers of . . . of buying. . . of when you, when you buy too much stuff . . . ?
I LOVED this show when I was a kid, and not just because it was essentially created in a lab to target childrens’ brains and shoot a beam of pure capitalism into their cerebral cortexes. Every toy store back then sold replicas of the butt-ton of weapons, robots, and characters featured in every episode, all of them hastily assembled, all of them lead-based. Like, holy shit, so much lead. If a nuke had fallen on my house, all I’d have to do was hold my dragonzord above my head and I’d emerge from the flames unscathed like some post-apocalyptic child-god.
So, predatory, kid-targeted merchandizing empire aside, the show was a treat. For those of you who never got into it (WHAT) or if it was beyond your time (GO BACK IN TIME THEN), Power Rangers was about 5 teens who get bestowed with superpowers by a giant head in a jar and his buddy, a robot costume with a little person slowly suffocating inside. And by “powers” I mean the martial arts they already knew how to do for some reason, coupled by a Dragoncon’s worth of crazy anime shit. Bows that turned into guns, guns that turned into bigger guns, and in one very special episode, bigger guns that turned into an MRI machine because Billy had brain cancer. It was . . . misguided.
Anyway, every episode followed a specific curve: Rita Repulsa, who lives on the moon and has nothing better to do than fuck with five specific kids in SoCal, makes a crazy monster and sends it to town. Power Rangers stomp it’s ass, at which point Rita hurls her crazy staff to earth by hand, which she can do because under her weird astro-frock she’s yoked as fuck, and it makes the monster super-sized.
The Power Rangers hop in their separate, prehistoric-themed giant robots, which they then plug together into a larger robot because they already color-coordinate their everyday outfits to their power ranger suits, so fuck it, we passed any modicum of restraint forever ago. They get their asses kicked while destroying half of Angel Grove, until they suddenly remember they can SUMMON A GIANT GLEAMING SWORD FROM THE CLOUDS LIKE ANY TIME THEY WANT. They light that bad boy up and then this happens.
You see the problem here? The Power Rangers have insane tech coming out their butts, but they only use it in this incredibly rigid, limited way. Whenever a problem comes along that they can’t solve with the above routine, they freak out and bring in even more equipment because they’re not using what they already have to it’s fullest potential. Instead of needing to get a second giant robot involved, what if you tried intercepting Rita’s monster-enlarging staff and snapped it in two? Before you add a sixth ranger who’s a total dick to everyone off camera, have you considered letting NASA know that crazy horned space witches aren’t just for Yes album covers, but that there’s actually one living on the moon?
Instead of shouting “It’s Morphin’ Time!” whenever they transform, the Power Rangers might as well scream “We Are The 1%!” because they are incredibly privileged but unable to adapt to change in any way.
Bustin’ (Preconceived Notions of How Much Fancy Equipment A Creative Professional Really Needs to Succeed) Makes Me Feel Good
Now let’s discuss a team that handles their business the smart way, and I’m not just referring to the fact that they decided to hire Ernie Hudson, with all of his smoldering “I’m a New Yorker and I’ve seen it all” sexuality. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
The Ghostbusters, by the end of the movie, have created a successful business, gone to and gotten out of jail, gotten a recommendation from the mayor, saved New York City from destruction, and created a situation where a ton of budding young teens in the 80s had their sexual awakening while watching Bill Murray bat way out of his league with Sigourney Weaver and crush the shit out of it.
They achieved all of this with the following:
A. Car to get to where ghost is at
B. Blasty Thing to trap ghost temporarily
C. Portable Boxy Thing to trap ghost for longer
D. Bigger Red Boxy Thing to trap all ghosts forever in a freaky purgatory where they never rest and are never reunited with their loved ones in the afterlife
The Power Rangers, as much as I love them, punk out if a big rubber guy doesn’t fall down in three hits. The Ghostbusters fought a literal god and, instead of running back to base to invent anti Gozerian spray or an Ecto Catapult or something (note to self, patent pending on anti Gozerian spray and Ecto Catapult), they pushed the equipment they had to the limit with clever problem solving. And by clever problem solving, I mean risking ending all life on earth and all of our molecules exploding at the speed of light.
As creative professionals it is very tempting to give into the idea that we can’t do our job to our fullest without top-tier equipment, but the fact is that almost no one starts out with that stuff. Name anyone you look up to or respect in your field, and I almost guarantee they got where they are by cutting their teeth on cheap, crappy, or minimal equipment, and only upgraded after they had a higher understanding of what they could do with less.
I’m not saying upgrading your gear in order to solve unique problems is bad. I’m saying doing it in that order is. The next time you run into an obstacle, or a client makes a request you don’t think your current tech will allow, try to find a creative way around it first before giving in to that need to upgrade. Hire a friend who plays that instrument you don’t have in your library. Borrow a colleague’s gear in return for buying them a drink. See if you can find a creative solution in the software or equipment you have now to meet your needs.
If you work this way, I promise that, when you do upgrade your gear, you’ll make smarter choices, and be a thousand times better at your job. Because you fooled everybody into thinking your shitty, free music writing software sounds like the New York Philharmonic.
That’s it for this week, but I’d love to hear from you! Any examples of times you’ve given in to Gear Lust? I know I have. What about times you overcame a tech or gear limitation creatively, without buying something new? How bullshit was Power Rangers Turbo?
P.S. Those free sounds I posted are leaving Dropbox this weekend, so grab them here if you haven’t yet!