Can you have too much of a good thing?

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It’s been a while, but I think it’s time for another post that’s not about gear, but rather how we think about our gear. Today’s inspirational post is a rumination on a study that essentially says that given fewer options, people tend to feel more satisfaction with them than given the opposite, or too many choices.

For those of us that have been around the gear communities for a while, we know that the large vs. minimal gear pile debates have gone on forever with no clear answer in sight. Yet this study seems to plainly state that fewer choices increases satisfaction, so does it seem that we can never come to any sort of agreement on the issue?

The construct that was being examined in the study was satisfaction which was qualified through measuring the amount of quality and productivity in essays or the satisfaction of a choice of gourmet jam by four groups of test subjects; two in each group either received 6 choices of jam or essay topics and the other, 24 or 30. As we can expect, the groups with fewer choices marked higher on their essays and were also more satisfied with their choices of jams.

In terms of musical or artistic productivity, I think there’s a few things we can pull out of that. First, I do though, at this point think that it’s important to recognize that most of us have vastly different needs and situations. Quite obviously, a sound engineer or studio manager is going to have quite different needs than a part time, home based musician. But in terms of the latter, simply having too much can easily take away from us our time and our money; especially if you’re wanting to sculpt your own unique sound. It’s also normal to go through an experimental phase where you’re constantly either buying or selling something and we’ve all been in that situation where we find ourselves with some free cash, only to spend it on a new synth or effect and not something we really needed, like cables or a patch bay. But eventually, we should come sort of gear consensus and become more productive after that point.

But few of us actually manage to do just that, even if science now tells us that we should be happier with less gear. So why is that? I think there are two main issues that are buried in there that we can relate to within our own little microcosm.

The first and the easiest to grasp would be, how exactly do you define satisfaction? There are perhaps many people that derive a sense of satisfaction that is intangible and can’t be measured in terms of output. And then there are perhaps others that sit down with a specific goal in mind. So I think in this case, it’s not as easy nor appropriate to simply equate satisfaction, or for all intents and purposes happiness, with fewer gear choices.

However in contrast, if your goal is specific, that is to say wanting to create a song, album or remix etc, I think the issue becomes a matter of time management rather than satisfaction. When given fewer choices, it’s easier (and faster) to make up your mind and to dial in the sound you want. Productivity increases and then so does satisfaction.

So in this case, satisfaction is directly tied to productivity. Productivity is begat by having clear goals in mind for your particular project, under which gear selection is a critical issue. Limiting yourself to a minimal gear selection does not increase happiness, satisfaction or output merely by itself. But rather it’s one component when you have a specific goal in mind.

What I’m suggesting is that it’s quite possible to have both large and small setups and to be equally happy with both. As it pertains directly to productive output, you need to know when to experiment and to have fun, and then on the other hand, how to limit yourself to a few items to get a specific project done.

Through your periods of exploration and experimentation, you should be learning your gear and getting to know the ins and outs of it. And then when it’s time to produce, you’ll know what you need.

In conclusion, I don’t think it’s enough to simply say that having less gear makes you more productive or happy, but in terms of music production, it’s only one half of the equation.

Orginal study “When choice is demotivating” via Synthtopia on FaceBook.

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