It’s not about the tools

rusty spanner (or wrench if you're American)

It still works

There is an easy tendency in most discip­lines to fetishise the state of the art tools, endowing them with the magical power to make your work (whatever it is) wonderful. Tools are important. If you create things with them and spend a lot of time using them the minutiae of their good and bad points magnify in your mind, but the quality of your work has little to do with the quality of the tools you use.

There is an obvious caveat that the technical quality is defined by the limits of the tool. You can’t shoot HD video on a 1.2 megapixel kids camera, but you can make a good video with one.

There’s a video of Dave Grohl playing on a child’s drum kit after signing it for some promo shindig and the drum kit is a toy but he makes music with it. Sure if he was playing a Drum Workshop custom shiny wonderkit it would sound better, but you can make music on a child’s toy.

Of course it helps if you’re great at your discipline and there is a threshold of quality that helps in learning a skill. It is a lot easier to learn to play guitar on an instrument that stays in tune and you’re not going to play Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song at much of a tempo on a piano with sticking keys but you can make music on poor instru­ments.

Moaning about the tools seems to get louder the better the tools get. Well, perhaps until you have the absolute state of the art and there really is nowhere to go, but that might be an imaginary land as there’s always something to improve even if it’s your chair or the paint on the walls. Yearning for, faster computers, bigger monitors, more plugins, better lenses, or whatever it is that sticks in your craw that you don’t have is just getting in the way of doing whatever it is you do.

I would love to have an orchestra ready to play every little theme that pops into my head or a DigiBeta camera shoot a film with, but the lack of these things shouldn’t stop me making music or making a film. I might make something different but I can still make things perhaps even wonderful things. The constraints of lower quality resources can even be a boon. It can make you think hard about what it is you want to say and value what you create all the more.

I am as guilty of this as the next person, perhaps more (I want some new monitors for my studio) than most, but the tools have never been the reason I haven’t made something. There was always a way to record sounds or capture images. The perceived lack was just a way to excuse inactivity. As soon as I really had something to say I could find a way to make what I wanted to.

This is the core of the issue for me. It’s about what you want to say not what you say it with. The ingenuity required to overcome obstacles is fired by the desire to artic­ulate something. It isn’t about what you use to say it with. It is about what you have to say.

The image wrench rust by Hernan Vargas is used under a Creative Commons license

About Ruben Kenig

I used to play punk, then jazz. Somehow I went to music school to study composition. I wrote music and made sound design for theatre and studied film music. In the interstitial spaces of this I made websites as a content manager and project manager. I sometimes publish articles at
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