Round Two with the Universal Audio Ox and Insights into Gear Choice and Musicianship

About a year ago, Dan & Mick kicked it at One World Studios with the goal of exploring the prospects and potential of the Universal Audio Ox. (Check out our blog coverage on that episode for a full rundown of the Ox’s brilliant design and sonic potential). But tinkering with the Ox wasn’t all they were up to that day. They also spent the day recording an original song each. Mick’s tune is entitled “All of Me.” For Dan, the track was simply called, “Blistered.” Both blew the doors off of One World and set a new bar for YouTube gear creatives.

The episode this week was a bit of dissection of each song, with discussion on how the Ox performed in comparison with direct miking techniques and traditional gear. Yet the episode also brought to the fore how enjoying and exploring gear isn’t an end to itself: it should always lead to some musical application. Gear should be a catalyst of creativity and a motivator to grow as a musician. As I watched and learned, it struck me that Dan & Mick might have been talking about amps, guitars, pedals, and the Ox, but some of their most poignant words had to do with musicianship.

Whether you’re new on the journey or stuck in a rut, here’s three takes on how engaging gear can enable and improve your growth as a player, writer, and performer.

  1. Musicianship is about hearing gear in context.

Being a home musician or playing in a small band means you have many jobs. From being your own roadie, to headlining act, to social media manager, to merch table clerk, it’s a busy gig! One hat that’s often difficult to wear, especially for us gearhead guitarists, is that of the Producer.

As Mick reflected on the experience, “I don’t think I would have been able to produce myself when recording in that way as [our Producer] Tom did.” Why? A good producer helps your hear what you can’t or, even better, challenge you to experiment in ways that might not make sense until your hear them in a full context.

Take a guitar track. You’ve written a song, heard it in your head and tirelessly laid down a set of tracks. Then after a quick mix in your DAW, it sounds like a mush. Hmmm…

Dan experienced a bit of this with his song. When listening back to an isolated track of his Telecaster, Vox AC30, Keeley D&M Drive, and Mooer Elec Lady, Mick commented, “That’s fascinating because when you hear the solo guitar track it just sounds all angular, honky, and weird but in the context of the track, it just sits in there perfectly.” To which Dan responded, “That’s what a Producer does. If you just end up putting massive, fat guitar sounds in a track, it ends up being a mess.”

The lesson learned? Make sounds that inspire, write songs that matter, but use gear strategically to ensure that the parts play well together and don’t get lost in the mix, literally. If you don’t have a Producer in the room to guide you on this, get used to asking yourself tough questions and being open to experimenting with sounds that complement others in your songwriting.

  1. Musicianship means keeping creativity front and center.

One of the reasons this week’s episode set a whole new bar for all of YouTube’s gear-focused creatives, is because Dan & Mick reminded us all that guitar gear is about enabling creativity. It can be a ton of fun and very educational learning about how this item of gear stacks up against another, but if this doesn’t help you make better choices when engineering sounds for songwriting, performing, or recording, what’s the point?

Mick noted,  “We sit here week-in-week-out, chumming on about guitar sounds, which we love dearly to our hearts, but it doesn’t have very much to do with music…we’ve started a new journey, and in this instance, weirdly, it’s the Ox that has enabled us to think differently, try something different, and have a really interesting experience making music.”

So what does this mean? Any job needs tools. If music matters—and that’s probably what got us all into this in the first place—then don’t forget that your gear are the tools for that job, not the job itself.  As for TPS, it seems we’re on the cusp of a new type of adventure that not only highlights gear but explores how we as guitarists, singers, and song-writers collaborate with it in the creative process of making music.

  1. Musicianship is about your evolution as an artist.

I’m sure we’ve all felt this. You spend time and energy on a song, think you’ve really got something, and then are less than enamored by the somewhat finished product dispatched back to you through the monitors. It’s not the gear, probably not the mix, it’s you feeling like your creative juices turned sour and the finished product shows it.

As Mick disclosed, we can be our own worst enemies in this regard. “Honestly, one of the reasons that I stopped making music is I didn’t sound like all the best rock music ever made. I listen to the music I make back and go, ‘Well that doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin!’ And you just beat yourself up about your creative output because it’s not better than the best thing you’ve ever heard, which is insane!”

Of course, you want to be encouraged and feel accomplished at the end, but you’re never done growing as a guitarist, songwriter, or musician. If you think your song sucks, it probably doesn’t and you’ll always get better so long as you keep on the journey. So keep forward movement!

No matter where you’re at on your journey as a guitarist, having the right tools to inspire, create, and communicate is essential. Whether it’s gear for writing at home, recording your ideas, or performing on stage, connect with us over at Riff City so we can journey with you!

TPS Song Pedalboard Rundown:

Mick’s Track: Fulltone Octafuzz, Kingsley Maiden, Analog Man/Maxon OD9 with Bad Bob, Analog Man ARDX 20 Dual Analog Delay, Hamstead Signature Analog Trem.

Dan’s Track: Analog Man Bad Bob, Keeley D&M Drive, Mooer E-Lady Flanger, Analog Man ARDX20 Delay, Strymon TimeLine, TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2.

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