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I expect to get very few responses for this one because it's such a personal and difficult topic, but I think the experiences of the people here could be very informative.

While there seem to be many well established SDers on this board, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are just as many who are kicking on doors just trying to get a foot in. Even the established guys/gals were once out trawling for XP, so although we're at different paragraphs, at least we're all on the same page.

Gear, gear, gear, gear, gear. Love it and hate it and covet it, we all do. I like it, I want it, I need it. So many wonderful toys, and people use words like 'essential', 'must have', 'makes those noisy recordings sound like an angel's tear falling from heaven to land on the silk ribbon tied through a unicorn's hair' ; Izotope RX2, Sound Toys, MKH-416s, SD788s, Scheopps this, and Waves Platinum that.

While part of my brain is able to read conversations and reviews of these sexy sound objects from an abstracted, wouldn't that be glorious? kind of standpoint, there is a still larger part that feels that I'm somehow less able to do good work than the dudettes who have all that stuff.

The real problem is that you need something to get started with. You wanna make a sandwich, you're gonna need some bread. But a $1 item when your bank account is $0 might as well be worth a million times more.

Enter the Credit Card or the Line of Credit, and voila, the toy chest opens and the world is your free-money oyster.

So, as a young person who is just beginning to plant his feet, my question is: Have you ever gone into debt - heavily or otherwise - for the sake of buying gear or renting space? and was it worth it? Did you make it out ok? or did it all go terribly wrong?

Horror stories and hero stories are welcome in kind.


EDIT: You guys are awesome! I really didn't expect any answers at all. This is all extremely helpful. Keep em coming.

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13 Answers 13

I'll echo much of what Tim said in that you really need to eval the specific gear you're looking at for it ability to hold value before you borrow money to purchase it. The reason being that if you need to suddenly make a life-change you can sell gear that holds its value and get out of that debt quickly, but you can't do that with gear who's value plummets quickly.

IMO good debt would be things like

  • used mics
  • used preamps

IMO bad debt would be

  • computers
  • software
  • plug ins
  • disk based recording devices
  • headphones

Also,

IMO a person who is starting out should acquire a basic minimal recording rig and upgrade the components of said rig over time.

This means that someone just stepping in could do very well with a rig that consisted of:

  • an h4n
  • a pair of NT5s
  • an NTG2
  • a comp running osx and audacity

As that person progresses the components of that rig could get replaced and augmented in pieces, and the future rig could look like

  • a 744t
  • a pair of schoeps CMC6 mics
  • a few blimps for wind protection
  • a sanken CSS-5
  • a decked out comp with PT, plugs, soundminer, etc.

The point being that you can gain a lot of basic functionality relatively cheaply these days, and can up the quality in part and pieces as time wears on without incurring any new debt.

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Replace Audacity with Reaper, and I totally agree with you. –  Dave Matney Aug 16 '11 at 13:22
    
reaper too. anything free/cheap and functional. ;) –  Rene Aug 16 '11 at 16:09
    
The only thing I wonder about that there is the original buy. I've heard so many times that you should buy the most expensive mic you can afford and then some. Thats what I did but now I don't have enough money for a boom and lav and another mic. –  ChrisSound Aug 16 '11 at 23:27
    
I wonder if I should return the mic (Sanken Cs-1e) and get a pair of Rode's plus lower quality gear. I was happy enough to have found a used sound devices mix-pre on Ebay for $400 to run into my zoom. –  ChrisSound Aug 16 '11 at 23:36
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IMO: step 1 - get into the game. step 2 - get good. step 3 - upgrade gear. –  Rene Aug 17 '11 at 4:55
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Hi G.A. (what's your real name, btw?),

Personally, i've never want to get into debt with someone or something. But I have done it a couple of times and i certainly don't regret it. One of the rules i've learned to follow is this: "Will spending this amount of money on that thing allow me to work better/faster/for other people? If the answer is yes, do it. If in doubt, seek advice and reconsider.

Here's some background as illustration of my rule:

During college at art school i loaned a 1000 euro's to buy a decent sound card (a RME Multiface) and saved up money for the matching preamps myself. If I wouldn't have done that I never could have done a lot of things, most importantly sync sound to picture and foley. Back then it was impossible to do this with cheaper hardware and I learned a lot about routing and using outboard gear, which i could finally hook up and actually use whilst composing songs. I still own the Multiface and it rocks!

My other big loan was when I started my studio and needed to build a booth/room and I had to pay the rent upfront including a guarantor for the studio. I was very nervous about this, it was a lot of money back then. And I remember thinking/doubting about a week or so, going all the way from 'I need to do this!' to 'I'll never get enough work to pay this back!'. In the end, everything worked out fine. I payed my parents back 3 years later and the studio gave me new opportunities and a decent place to work.

Good luck with your decision!

Arnoud

ps. i forgot to mention my school loan, which i'm still paying for... no hard feelings though

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The only times I've got into debt for gear, it has been short term eg when I made the leap to a ProTools HD2 rig I had a decent budget film with 6 months work confirmed, and I borrowed the money to buy it, but I did it knowing I would pay it off within the duration of that job. As a freelancer that is the only scenario I would ever do something like that...

I cringe when I see ads on TV for interest free loans for 24 months for technology - a lot of that technology will be worthless within 24 months, who wants to be paying off something worthless in the last months? So that would be my criteria - will the item have any resale value at the end of the loan period?

Another thought - a bank loan means you can shop secondhand, which eg for mics is a valuable approach, whereas HP ties you to buying new... And just like cars, when you drive that car off the lot you just lost X% of its value instantly. (unrelated but re cars, whats that saying: 'buy the cheapest car your ego can afford')

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@tim - HP? All I can find is references to mediocre computers. –  g.a.harry Aug 15 '11 at 22:15
    
Ah, HP = Hire Purchase = Rent to Own, yes? –  g.a.harry Aug 15 '11 at 23:04
    
yeah Hire Purchase/rent to own etc –  user49 Aug 16 '11 at 7:10
    
I worked at a music store for a couple of years when I was in high school. Learned all about how those schemes work. You usually end up paying 30-50% more, depending on your term. –  g.a.harry Aug 16 '11 at 10:15
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I think it's important to assess your needs and priorities re: gear. Personally, I've never takend a loan to purchase equipment/software. I've saved up and forked over the cash in lump sums whenever I've made a purchase. It hurts, but it costs less in the long run. That waiting/saving period forces me to constantly evaluate that planned purchase and how it is going to affect my work-flow. I still maintain a prioritized list of gear and software that is kind of like a roadmap for future purchases, but it remains a mere guideline.

As Tim mentioned, I think that it's important to look at the used/pre-owned market as well, and this is partly where knowing your priorities comes into play. There have been multiple occassions where a deal that was "too good to pass up" pings my radar. Referring back to those priorities helps me to decide if it really is too good to pass up, or if I can wait a little longer and stick with the next planned purchase. Case in point, a Waves Diamond bundle for $700. It wasn't next on my list because of it's price "new," but knowing what projects I had in the queue and how that would help me convinced me to pull the trigger and ammend the list slightly. For more than $1000 under list, it was worth it.

Would I consider going into debt, perhaps. Will it affect my next project in a positive manner? Does the project require it, and will it be paid for in the course of that work (ala Tim's point)? Those would lean me towards yes. Regardless, at this moment in my life, I would not consider going into debt for something that I could not pay off within a year and a half, at most. Maybe if I had people knocking down the door to work with me, and I could be certain that the cash-flow could sustain living expenses plus the debt...even then, it's still just a maybe.

My 2 cents.

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I follow a similar philosophy - saving so I'm able to pay cash, reevaluating during that time, and making strategic purchases if the opportunity arises. –  James Bryant Aug 16 '11 at 11:20
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Thankfully I've never had to get into debt for equipment. I've bought two systems in my career so far and each time has been bought so I can do a particular job I've got. I agree with Tim that you need to be careful as a freelancer but there are times you have to have the tools for the job.

Do you need something vs do you want something?

That said I have bought a few toys recently that I didn't need but were in various sales and at a price I could afford, their normal RRP being way too high.

Others here also mention (and I agree) that you get an awful lot for little money these days. I'd love some of the recording gear others use but as I don't need to do a lot of recording for work I am happy with my extremely cheap H1 for now. I also find that limitations force you to approach problems with a healthy attitude. Throwing money at a problem isn't always the best option.

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It was a giant leap of faith...but when I first started out and was living paycheck to paycheck I decided one day that I had to have my own Pro Tools system. I applied for 3 credit cards that day, got approved for all of them, got the cards and maxed 'em all out to build my first Pro Tools system. I learned so much from having my own system available any time I wanted in my apartment. And that was when you got very few plug-ins included...and by very few I mean, like 3! I think my first external drive was a 9GB that cost me $900!

The debt was well worth it. For me that 24% APR was the best investment I ever made.

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Since I sort of instigated this question, I'll go ahead and answer - YES. I made purchasing decisions that have put me in debt, maybe not heavily, but definitely in a way that stretched me beyond my means.

When I first got in to film, I just went headlong in - did a purchase through a local vendor for a nice pro-sumer camera (Panasonic DVX-100), shotgun mic, tripod, lights, bounce, etc. with grand dreams of renting it out, doing weddings that would cover the monthly payment, and making my own slew of films.

Eesh. Not only was the payment augmented with a number of fees and insurance costs (ended up getting a little back because of a class action suit against the credit provider for those reasons) so it was higher than expected, but I was not making the money I thought. I did lots of those "free, but more work will result" gigs that were fun and all, but didn't bring in any cash. After I realized that camera was really not my strong point (I'm no slouch, but I'm not a DP either) and there was a huge void for sound, I put all of my focus (and money) in to that.

My sound purchases have been a little more sane - bought my recorder with cash, a nice pole, and went from there. Every time I had a paying gig, I bought a little more. Now that my wife is also part of the sound team, we get more work and are able to build our little sound pile further. Those purchases have been paid for over and over again with rentals and gigs, without a doubt.

Moving forward, we are tempted to dive in to bigger purchases - 8 channel Sound Devices recorder, Lectrosonics mics, IFB system, timecode, etc - but are trying to find the middle ground. We'd make more if we had wireless over renting - that purchase makes sense. IFB - while it's nice, most indie shoots don't use it and I can rent if I need to. Sure it takes away from my pay, but losing a few hundred on a shoot is better than losing thousands on a system I never use.

I am just a few months away from being 100% debt free, including my school loans. If I could do it again, I'd have purchased my sound gear, and that's it. I'd have been debt free years sooner if I had, and would have had the peace of mind that goes with it. If you're thinking of making the plunge in to debt, ask yourself "Will it cost me more to buy this than to rent it in the long term?" and also "Do I want to have this kind of pressure to make money, to pay the bills, to make money..."

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Instigate you did, and well done. Great answers so far. –  g.a.harry Aug 15 '11 at 18:54
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I'm avoiding debt at all costs, and I feel it's hurting my short game. I don't have the gear to compete even on a local level, so I'm stuck giving away handouts, so to speak. Take in mind my financial situation is a lot different than a lot of people starting out, too; I don't have a degree, and I'm the sole-provider in a single-income family of 3.

Staying out of debt is all I can do to keep my head above water, some days.

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Good gear doesn't make a good sound designer, but a good sound designer can make up for bad gear. . .

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This is really difficult, and I know I stuggle being a gear head and always feel like getting a new piece of gear will complete my set-then something else comes along.

I think I learnt an important lesson though when I started buying lots of music gear that it's so much better to buy good/expensive gear from the off-set. Then if you really need to you can pretty much always sell it again (if you have looked after it well) for a good price.

I bought a V-Synth XT a while ago for £900 and sold it recently for £800, i'd had it for 2 years so it effectively become a £50per year loan-which is more than manageable+ plus i got to have it/learn it properly etc.

I also buy all my gear used if they are in good condition and never really had a problem with that.

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I've never gone into debt, but then never had a lot to throw around either.. All major purchases were made as an investment and everything was bought 2nd hand, saved a heap of money by lurking in the consignment pages and online groups. (I'm a location recordist and like bargins!) Over all, If I was to sell my kit tomorrow I'd get back cent spent because I bought the best, at a great rate. Put aside $XX a week and soon that $XXX item is closer.. Not sure if that helps?

Regards, Grant.

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I'm pretty poor, but I've managed to build up kit.

In this world, do NOT go into debt. It's not worth it. Beg and borrow until you can afford it.

I got a job recording some interviews, I asked them for half upfront, and then used that money to buy a TASCAM DR-100. I then did the job on that.

So I used the job to buy the equipment to do the job.

I know it isn't always that simple, but from someone who IS in debt, don't go into it.

That said, if you buy equipment, make sure you can retain it's resale value, AKA a quality mic looked after will always be a quality mic.

Good luck, and I'm still lusting after my first Sound Device recorder. I'll get there one day :)

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I've done the "use the job fee to buy the gear for the job" strategy before. It's a good one. –  Joe Griffin Oct 14 '12 at 0:21
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I've learned to really utilize my system. I have a Mac book pro 17" which I upgraded to 8gigs of ram, with sound miner, protools 10, and a control 24. In total I spent 4k on that set up and I also rent a 24/7 studio lock out for 600 a month, cus it can be so damn hard to work from home.. But I usually have atleast 4 drives going, my work G drive and my 3 D2 LaCie drives. 2 of them are for FX and 1 is strictly video playback. My point is I haven't had the heart to take a plunge with a better machine because literally I'm just maxing out my MacBook but it does the job I need it to. So I guess the theory "buy the cheapest car your ego can afford" is how I look at it as well. It's not always about having the best gear, it's about using what you can get to your best ability. If you open a line of credit and buy all kinds of crazy stuff then you'll never really learn to perfect one piece of gear inside and out. Pick exactly what will help you on a day to day and ask if it'll help your workflow, chances are if it doesn't then it's more of a want then a need. And that can be a thin line cus we all think we need the latest and greatest. Used gear FTW.

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