Tell me something about that fancy new plugin or microphone you want to buy: how well do you know your current gear? If you’re like many people, you probably have only used your current gear for one or two projects and you already want to buy something else. You’re looking for that elusive magic bullet. Instead you should be learning your gear.

Owning Does Not Equal Knowing

Here’s something to consider. Just because you own a certain piece of gear (hardware or software) doesn’t mean you really know it. Just because a certain mic preamp or plugin has been sitting in your studio for two years does not mean it has been put through its paces. And if you don’t really use your gear enough, how can you ever know what it truly is capable of?

You can’t, that’s the issue. Just simply buying a set of studio monitors doesn’t mean you will know how they sound in your room instantly. Or how they will affect your mixes after an afternoon. It takes time to learn gear, which means you really aren’t in a position to give an opinion on something unless you’ve used it enough.

The 3 Project Rule

Something that I’ve loosely been following in my own studio adventures is what I call the 3 project rule. Simply put, until I have used a piece of gear on three complete projects (generally EPs or albums) I can’t come to a conclusion about its worth in my studio. This goes for audio interfaces, studio monitors, plugins, microphones, etc. I try to use any new piece of gear on at least 3 projects before I have an official opinion.

This does two things for me. First it keeps me from buying something to replace something I already have. If I’m feeling the itch to replace my audio interface I ask myself the question, have I used my current interface for at least 3 projects? If the answer is “no”, then I’m not educated enough about my current interface to know whether it needs replacing. This is true whether I’ve had it for two months or two years. If I’ve only used it to record one album, then I still don’t know squat about it.

The second thing the 3 project rule does for me is it forces me to take my time when becoming familiar with gear. If I get a new plugin and use it somewhat unsuccessfully on a mix, I’m not worried. I know that I need at least 2 other projects worth of trial and error to learn it and get it comfortable with it. By the third time of using a certain piece of gear I feel a lot more confident knowing what it does and does not give me in the studio.

User Error

If you don’t know your gear very well, then your lack of success with said gear is likely do to user error and not your equipment. If you don’t know much about a tool, then you shouldn’t go out and buy another tool to replace it. Learn how to use the darn thing well (by actually using it), become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, and  you will be better for it.

Gear gets better overtime as you become more comfortable using it. Know your gear inside and out and your music will benefit.