Flip Flops in the Windy City: Gear

TC Konnekt 48 Audio Interface

Before I started at Columbia College Chicago, I was very light on the gear side of things.  That has since changed, but I wish I had gone into the graduate school experience already understanding the necessity of gear.  Hopefully this can help some people out…

The Computer

Before graduate school, I ran with a 14″ iBook laptop with 1GB of RAM and less than 100GB of memory.  The only thing I ran on it was Sibelius 4, so this wasn’t really a problem.  But once I realized the technical requirements of most DAW’s and sample libraries, my iBook wasn’t going to cut it.  Lucky for me, a friend who had a desktop found himself going the other way, moving from film editing to screen writing and no longer needing a powerful computer.  So he sold me his iMac 7,1.  I put 6GB of RAM in it and 350GB of memory.


I prefer desktops to laptops for many reasons: power, bigger screens, more inputs.  But most of all, the fact that my computer never leaves my desk means that it will last longer, since it’s not going anywhere.  I don’t care how careful you are–your laptop will eventually get dropped or have something dropped or spilled on it.  Those just aren’t risks for desktops.  Plus they look cooler.  The only downside: you can’t put stickers on them, but that’s probably a good thing.


As I said earlier, my only DAW was Sibelius 4.  I collaborated frequently with another composer that had Logic.  But not having a powerful DAW meant that I couldn’t produce my own work.

Logic screen shot

While I prefer orchestrating in Sibelius, I don’t think it’s much of a debate that having the option to sequence MIDI and audio simultaneously like in Logic or ProTools is a must.  I now use Logic as my primary composing and production DAW, and I use Sibelius (now upgraded to Sib6) for score prep and orchestrating larger ensembles.

The Sample Library

I didn’t have a sample library before coming here.  Now I have a pretty kick-ass one from East West, including Orchestra, Piano, Choir, Stormdrum2, Ministry of Rock, Gypsy, and Silk.

Gypsy sample library

Without these libraries and Logic, I wouldn’t be able to produce my own work!  These are a must.

Outboard Gear

The only piece of outboard gear I owned before graduate school was a 120GB hard drive. Now I run a dbx1066 analog compressor through the TC Konnekt 48 audio interface.  This allows me to do awesome compression on anything, as well as record using a Rode NT1-A condenser microphone.  These three pieces of hardware have kicked things up a notch as far as production quality goes.  While they are not an absolute necessity to start with (I only got them at the end of my third semester), you’re going to have to get the interface and microphone eventually.  How else are you supposed to record air guitar?

Rode NT1-A condenser microphone


You can have the awesomest outboard gear ever.  But if you have crappy cables, their power and capability will be completely lost in the transfer.  There are plenty of high-quality cables out there, so just bite the bullet and get them.  Seriously.  Do it.


Don’t believe me?  Here are what some other people have to say on the topic:

“Many problems with my work have been with production (like mixing and stuff) so I wish I knew more about mixing, audio effects, basically anything involved in making a good-sounding final product before coming here. I also would’ve liked to know more about gear (specifically audio/recording equipment, sample libraries and any logic/pro tools type software) because that’s part of the reason why my final mixes aren’t as good”.


“I had literally no idea about gear until I came here and started meeting other cats. I had a good sample library (Symphobia) but upon coming here, quickly realized I had no idea how to effectively use it. I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned so far is effective mixing/production techniques and getting what I’ve written down on paper to sound as good as it should, if that makes sense”.

So here’s what to take away from this.  You are going to have to get all of this gear and more, and it is going to cost a lot of money.  That’s just a fact we all have to come to terms with.  The sooner you get it, the more you’ll get out of it and the faster you’ll become acquainted with it.  Just make sure you talk with the right people who can point you in the right direction.  And buy a good set of speakers.