Something that’s been on my mind lately is the concept of what is “real” in terms of professional audio gear, people and procedures. What do I mean?
Let’s start with gear. I think there comes a point in anyone’s career when they realize what kind of stuff the pros are really using. The shocking part is usually based around what that kind of equipment costs.
The same is true for photographers, musicians, graphic artists, and so on. Really good tools, no matter the trade, cost good money. But what are the thresholds separating real from the “wanna be” tools?
First, why does most real gear cost so much? Probably the most obvious way to tell if gear is meant for true professional use is that it wasn’t made specifically to meet a price point.
Instead, it’s made to meet requirements for performance, durability, and usability. Further, it’s sometimes simpler (in certain ways), because reliability is one of the most important aspects of pro gear.
Complexity can not only add cost, but it also tends to reduce reliability. Want some hyper-expensive gear? Just get the complex, reliable stuff. Ask the military about that…
That said, in some categories, pro gear must have most, if not all, of the latest features. For instance, a digital mixing console meant for top-level touring must have the details, functionality and features needed and desired by the house and monitor mixers running those kinds of tours.
This brings up another criteria: real gear must have a certain amount of flexibility so that pro users can set it up and use it the way they work, rather than working around a rigid, limited format.
What about simple stuff like microphones? Real microphones are almost always tough, ready for the road, consistent between units (that is, before they get a lot of dents) – and – the manufacturer must support the product in the way that touring professionals expect.
So whether or not the gear is “real” depends not only on the product itself, but the type of company behind that product.
Resulting from that, real gear is often specialized to certain markets. For instance, in the wireless microphone world, to which I’m pretty close, there’s one make that has long been known as the touring brand, another as the theater brand, and yet another as the brand for TV and film production.
Of course there is major crossover, as each brand has a significant foothold in the other markets. But these companies have deep roots in their main markets of interest, and the products and company philosophies reflect this.
Let’s briefly explore what makes certain equipment “not real.” For starters, it’s easy to see that the very low-budget stuff isn’t particularly suited for pro touring. Products made for a basement retail price point are great for getting started, but lack many of the criteria noted above.
I remember trying to do a show on a supplied mixer that was aimed by it’s company of origin at a very narrow market segment, specifically musicians playing coffee houses. The hoops I had to jump through in order to meet certain requirements for the functionality and sound I wanted still gives me shudders.
I could go on and on when it comes to these types of products – and I’m sure many of you can as well. Suffice to say that they have their place, but let’s be real (pun intended) and leave them at home when we’re heading on the next tour or renting out a sound package.