Buy or Hire?
The Benefits Of Hiring Equipment
Hire companies may provide your only means of obtaining equipment for a gig or session, or give you hands-on experience of potential purchases. Zenon Schoepe looks at what you get for your money.
Music is an expensive hobby, and an expensive way of life. You've always got your eye on something new, admit it, from the sound card that will breathe life into that flagging synth, to the CD player for the sample CD that was such a bargain. For many musicians and home recordists, equipment rental has always been something that the studio and the real pros do — and besides, it's terribly expensive, isn't it? In fact it isn't, or certainly needn't be if you view it in the right way.
Rental can be an extremely smart way of maximising your resources, and allowing you to adapt to the changing face and pace of your music. Faced with the interminable scraping, saving and going into debt to own the one keyboard or item of hi-tech gear that you believe at the time to be the single solution to your frustration, rental represents a sensible way of expanding your set up to suit your circumstances.
If you're recording in a studio, hire in the very latest synth module for the day and enjoy the initial rush of inspiration that accompanies a fresh purchase. Hiring can mean a new piece of kit each time. Perhaps you're producing the most ambitious home recording project of your life; if it really matters to you, hire in a decent mic for the vocal overdubs, or a class reverb for the mix. The price of the rental has taken you closer to giving it your best shot.
There are also educational benefits. If you hire wisely you will develop a far better all-round perspective of the available kit than you could ever glean entirely from the pages of this magazine, simply because you will have used it in your own time, in your own environment, and not in a shop crowded with salesmen keen to illustrate their own mastery or clinch a deal.
Do not underestimate hire's potential in your buying decision process — compare a rental fee, the cost of checking whether you're making the right choice, with the frustration of getting your rush purchase home only to discover that it doesn't actually do everything you thought it did. Nick Dimes, Manager of hire company Dreamhire, echoes these sentiments.
"A plethora of sound modules and keyboards are released every year. For a player to keep spending thousands of pounds on new synths is unrealistic, especially as they might then be out of date in three months. Spending a little on hire before making a decision makes sense."
Dreamhire, a supplier of Mitsubishi digital machines and all associated paraphernalia to leading studios, along with other large established hire organisations, is challenged and undercut at the lower end of the market by small (often one-man) hire companies as found in the classified sections of the music weeklies. Dimes comments, "We try and keep our rates as competitive as possible because we realise that not everyone has record company budgets, but we could never get as cheap as some of the small ads you see in the music papers. We can't afford to offer the range and type of service that we do for that sort of money.
"Compare a rental fee, the cost of checking whether you're making the right choice, with the frustration of getting your rush purchase home only to discover that it doesn't actually do everything you thought it did."
"More than anything else we're offering support to the customer. Because we have considerable buying power we're also far more likely to carry the very latest version of anything you'd want, and it'll be tested and flightcased properly with all the leads and a manual. Because things will go wrong from time to time, we are also far more likely to have a spare, and we can fix things as well."
Notwithstanding its considerable portfolio of studio products, Dreamhire can also supply anything from a drum kit to an entire backline for local venue The Mean Fiddler "at very short notice on a Saturday afternoon" according to Dimes.
Richard Goldblatt's Audio FX hire company serves the pro sector and has branched into rock'n'roll rental with the establishment of Backline FX. "An increasing proportion of our work is now done with people working at home. Our Backline side is thriving for people who don't want to store three Marshall stacks in their bedroom. I've always had the philosophy that we don't turn anyone away no matter how small their request is, providing they can pay. The small guy may one day be a big guy."
While agreeing with Dreamhire's Dimes that competing with the music paper small ads hire companies on price is impossible, given the level of service they offer, Goldblatt draws attention to the fact that the home recordist and gigging semi-pro represents the high risk sector of the hire market with a reputation for theft.
"As a result of having equipment stolen over the years we, along with other hire companies, are now ultra-cautious. Maybe too cautious. But there have been too many instances of people renting things and the police just managing to catch them on the dock at Harwich. If you can convince us that you live at the address you say you live at, and that you're not going to run away with the equipment, we will hire to you in good faith."
The possibilities afforded by rental are considerable, but basic mathematics and economics tell you that there is a finite number of times that you can hire a given item before it starts to make more sense to have bought it in the first place. Spreading the load across many different items, however, swings the equation firmly in your favour. And while you are enjoying the latest that the industry has to offer you, will be forming your own opinions on what you like and, perhaps even more importantly, what you don't.
The SOS Guide To Going Live
Feature by Zenon Schoepe
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