The anxiety of choice

The anxiety of choice
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Each day we are bombarded with options: at the local coffee shop we get a chalkboard of variations; on the way to work there's an onslaught of stimuli selling us everything we could ever need; in the supermarket we’re offered ten different varieties of milk; even our homes are inescapable with TV and social media selling us a company's unique take on that essential item.

Having choice is typically thought of as a good thing, but of late I feel fatigued and less productive when faced with it in the workplace.

I never used to be an anxious person regarding gear choices or purchases, but the reality of that is when I first started sound recording, mic choice aside, my budget was limited but more importantly, so was my choice of gear. Radio microphones were Micron or Audio LTD, a mixer was an SQN, and HHB was the DAT of choice and that was it. I’m not nostalgic about that gear and in many ways I feel liberated from its constraints. But lets be honest, think about buying a new pre for example, doesn’t the choice blow your mind?

Boutique audio manufacturers now cater to every variant of pre or EQ, and multi-track devices are released as often as new iPhones.

The same thing happens when I’m working in my home studio. The plug-in list drops down and I get lost in what to choose from – spoilt for choice sometimes in the most stifling of ways.

And lets not even bring forum shoot-outs and online chat into the equation.

It’s all very exciting, but man can it do you head in….

To help guide myself out of the quagmire of choice I’ve developed a six-step plan that I apply to purchases. (As a bonus, some of the steps are also very useful when trying to make mix choices!)

1. Think about what are you really achieving by keeping your options open.

By asking this, hopefully you can see that the time and stress invested to keep a wide range of options open isn’t likely to outweigh the benefit of just making a decision.

2. Cast your net small.

If you’re buying a compressor, think about what you want to achieve with it and choose one or two that will help you reach the desired result. If you’re looking for a new microphone, pick three in your price range and leave it at that.

3. Let the other choices go.

Don’t dwell on how the things you didn’t choose might have been and don’t regret not choosing them. Make that microphone or that mixer/preamp work for you irrespective of how much it cost. Once you’ve made your choice don’t just read about it on forums, use it.

4. Stand firm.

Don’t allow yourself a safety net of being able to take it back or exchange just because you’ve changed your mind. I also like to apply the same philosophy to my work; bounce tracks with plug-ins in-line or just mix with only radio microphones. Once upon-a-time EQ and compression were printed to tape and that was that. Try and work with that agenda, it’s liberating.

5. Trust yourself and your ears.

You know what you really need and what is right for you. Be happy with your choice when you’ve made it and know that the world will not stop spinning if, by the slightest chance, this was the wrong choice. Trust your ears, not forums.

6. Do you really need it anyway?

Only cater to needs when they actually become needs. If you already own several large diaphragm microphones, how will another one affect your work? Focus on what improves the quality of your work, let need and budget dictate your choices, not your G.A.S

Allan Hill has worked as a professional Sound Recordist since 2000 and over the course of his career has filmed on boats, in helicopters, cars, up mountains, in deserts, down caves, and occasionally just in London. Keep up to date with what he's current working on at www.alifeinheadphones.com.

He also plays guitar, bass, and writes music for The Lovers.

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