5 Important Lessons Musicians Can Learn From Custom Gear Builders

Guts of an amp

Lessons From The Solder Soldiers

Music, and the way we make it, is ever-changing. Technology has opened the playing field for makers to turn their ideas into reality faster and at a lower cost than ever before, and as a result there are now more guitar pedals, software synths, FX plug-ins, boutique guitars, analog synths, and drum machines than ever before. It’s not just technology, though, but a culture of openness, support, and enthusiasm that has enabled the boom of creation. Here are a few lessons musicians could learn from the people making their tools.

FOLLOW YOUR PASSION – MONEY’S NEVER GUARANTEED

Every pedal maker I’ve ever met started in their spare time while working another job, and none of them started doing it because they thought they could get rich. They started building pedals because they thought it was cool, and made it a full time job once enough people started saying they wanted one, too. There are many pedal makers who never make it their main source of income, and most of them are okay with that.

DON’T FEAR A NICHE

We live in a big world, and only a very small part of it is needed to make a company or band sustainable. By finding their niche, companies like Qu-Bit Electronix, Twisted Tools, and Metasonix have been able to thrive and innovate. They prove that there is an audience for the forward-thinking, but only for those courageous enough to find them.

BE MORE OPEN

Most makers, like many musicians, are self-taught and love encouraging others to start learning. Guitar pedal maker Devi Ever posts her schematics and parts lists online for anyone to use and sells BIY (“Build-it-Yourself”) kits that just include the parts for a pedal. Giving away her intellectual property gives her greater interaction with customers and expands her community, who can spread the word about her great products. It also allows casually interested people to learn more about what she does. Bands that release remixes, sample packs, share their favorite tips and tricks can likewise gain new audiences and influence the next generation of musicians simply by sharing some knowledge.

Building a board

GET INVOLVED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Fans of bands and brands alike love getting personal attention and will keep coming back for more. Audio Damage, a software and Eurorack module maker, is very active on social media, posting and responding to fans, the casually interested, and other makers. This drives traffic and interest in their site and products and, combined with great customer service, leaves everyone with a great impression of the company.

MAKE FRIENDS OF THE ‘COMPETITION’

It’s hard to find ill will in the maker community. Spend time on any maker’s Facebook page or Muff Wiggler forum and you’ll see that the people behind each brand openly use and recommend products from their “competitors.” This is because most makers have realized that music doesn’t get created in a vacuum, and have embraced the fact that personal music rigs made from many sources are the best way to suit individual needs. If a competitor’s synth sounds amazing through my FX rig, it behooves me to let my fans in on the secret. Similarly, if I find that another band fits perfectly into a playlist with my band, letting people know helps expose both bands to new audiences and gets more listens for both of us.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Every musician should to go to a maker fair or tech meetup at least once to experience the DIY builder and hacker culture. In contrast to the stereotype of lonely, isolated geniuses working in dark basements, makers are usually friendly people who are excited to share their knowledge and passion with all who will listen. Spending time around enthusiasm is contagious, and that’s a bug worth catching.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Garrett Frierson wrote the ‘Meet Your Maker’ monthly column in Performer Magazine for three years. He has a BA in Music Electronic Production & Design from Berklee College of Music and currently works as an engineer and producer in New York City.

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