This article first appeared in Recording Magazine. I reprint it here with permission, and I encourage you to subscribe to that publication, as they are a stand up bunch of folk!
When I was 16 years old, my mother bought me a 4 Track Tascam Portastudio – the kind with the cassette tape (yes I’m that old). She did it so I would stop commandeering her dual well cassette deck to make pause loop tapes. Ignoring for a moment the slippery path she set me on, the plan didn’t even work. Quickly I learned, and she learned with me, that I would still need to “borrow” that stereo deck to mix down my creations. I used that Portastudio, and that “mixdown” deck, for a surprisingly short time before more “things” were “needed” and quickly things ballooned past anyone’s ability to surprise me with studio presents. I think that Portastudio may have been the last piece of studio gear my family attempted to buy.
The point is, it’s DIFFICULT to give gifts to a recording enthusiast and as recording enthusiasts we should pity our loved ones.
First of all, let’s not pretend what we do is even remotely accessible without money. Recording gear is expensive, and there’s no way around it. Sure, a person can cruise E-Bay and probably find an SM57 for around $60 but unless their recordist is new or relatively mic-snobby, there will already be a glut of 57’s in their possession. So the loved one is faced with “the person who has everything” syndrome for anything even remotely affordable. Guitar tuner? “I’ve got two.” Mic stands? “20.” Little adapter thingies? “Drawers full.” If the family knows about it, we’ve probably got it in spades.
Alas, the family’s gift giving woes don’t end there. If your doting loved one decides to spend a little more, they have to know what to get, where to get it, and which brand to go with. And do they? Of course not! You must understand, dear recording guru of the neighborhood, to normal folk, your little room looks like a lost Star Trek episode. Knobs, buttons, neon lights, wires, inexplicable wall coverings, floor gadgets, desk gadgets, lava lamps if you’re old enough, razor blades and reels if you’re awesome enough, and the darkness – oh the darkness! Even a seasoned veteran would have trouble navigating your highly customized studio scenario, admit it! How is Aunt Maggie supposed to know what’s missing in this quagmire, or what you have been hoping for?
Well, you could tell them. You could say “for Christmas, I would like a Manley Tube Pre”, and your Uncle Dave might ask why you want to be stuck in a tube and what it needs to be manly for anyway. Your spouse might Google it, but then you’d spend your evening in the ER treating sticker shock. You could be less specific, but then you’ve doomed your loved one to a year of research and looking lost in music stores. You might say, “I need a new set of monitors,” but that’s really just a mean thing to say to someone you like! Heck, even YOU don’t know which pair you want!
They could just take a risk, go to a store and pick something up they think matches the look and feel of your space, and that works just fine if the store has a great return policy.
But let’s face it, it’s kind of awkward when a bass player gets a guitar as a gift. “Yes…yes I see that it has even more strings…uhm…yes…that’s wonderful. Yeah, more…more notes. Thank you.” Ok, that scenario may be a bit hyperbolic, but you get the gist. It may be, even, that your family DOES know the difference between a Fender and a Martin, and in fact, you may even be shacked up with a fellow recordist. If so, your gift giving woes may be less severe, however there is another problem there. If you happen to live with a recordist, how do you know that the presents they give aren’t really for THEM? In this situation, I advise continual and open sharing!
If you’re like most of us, and the lone recording artist in the family, it’s clear you’re not likely to wake up on your birthday to a balanced patch bay with a bow, and you’re probably never going to find a power conditioner under the tree. But don’t be disappointed. Have compassion for the trouble you’ve caused your people by being a genius of sound and audio. Love them anyway, and ask for little. Try, if you can, to understand what they want for presents (even though wanting anything that doesn’t go in a studio does seem insane) and you be the giver. Remember also that you are probably no better at gift giving, seeing as how you tend to give earplugs as stocking stuffers and surround sound for your anniversary.
There may even come a day when your stocking is full of XLR cables, or each day of Chanukah has a different color Y cable but be patient. Until that day, when holidays, birthdays or anniversaries roll around, smile, say thank you, give big hugs…
… and use E-Bay to sell your gifts and get more gear!
I mostly do my own studio purchasing and I’m trying to be a better gift giver. If you want to exchange gifts with me, reach out on my socials… @AaronJTrumm on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.