Why buy gear from people in cubicles?

Recently in an industry magazine (I'll leave it to you to figure out which one), Mercenary Audio posted this ad:

"Don't buy gear from PEOPLE IN CUBICLES, buy gear from ENGINEERS IN STUDIOS."

When I first saw this ad, with a picture of a guy relaxing in his cubicle juxtaposed to a picture of Mercenary's studio, my reaction was probably similar to most people's. I laughed a bit and thought that it made sense. Why talk to some kid in a call center about high end gear when I can talk to a "real" engineer in a "real" studio? Then I started to think about it a little bit. I've dealt with online/phone based retailers for a long time. Living in the middle of nowhere and trying to build a career out of music there, pretty much necessitates getting my gear from a non-local source. So I've dealt with them all at this point, from Musicians Friend to Full Compass to Vintage King. I've even spoken to Mercenary a few times, although I've never done business with them. I have nothing against them, but the opportunity just never presented itself to buy anything there. One thing I learned from dealing with all of these companies is that each one had their place in the world. Places like Musicians Friend or Guitar Center Online (which are the same company now) are decent order takers. I go to them expecting no better service than I would expect from any minimum wage worker, and they deliver that level of service every time. My order almost always gets to me correctly and relatively on time. If I have questions on gear, they are not the ones that I'm calling. Places like Vintage King, Sweetwater, GC Pro, and even Full Compass can provide some decent insight into the gear, and even offer recommendations and opinions. These places also carry some higher end brands (API, Tubetech, Chandler, etc) that the other guys don't. BUT...they are still call centers, right?

Thanks to the wave of telemarketers that have cropped up, and the fact that Tech Support is now a Middle-Eastern term for call center, the words call and center (when placed together properly) have become blasphemy. We imagine a bunch of college students trying to pay for next semester's books and who don't give a rat's ass about what they are selling. I've learned from the aforementioned "higher end" call centers that this is not always the case. I've encountered guys who really know their stuff and are very enthused about it too (which I like)! This begs the question, in my cynical brain, "If they're so enthused about it, why don't they go work in a studio and get out of their cubicle?" Well as I've learned from many many years as a starving musician/engineer, that's easier said than done. Sometimes the gas bill determines your fate more than your dreams do. I've eaten my fair share of Ramen in order to fund that next gear purchase. Hell, my wife has probably eaten MORE than her fair share of Ramen in order to fund MY next gear purchase. Eventually you say, "Enough is enough." My kids don't like Ramen so much, so it's time to get a "real" job right? I imagine similar motivations are what have driven most of these engineers, musicians, and producers into the land of cubicles and out of their studios.

So we should all pity them and buy gear from them so that they can get out of the cube and back into the studio, right? No, of course not. I've never been a fan of pity or of people not making their own way. I'm just saying that we shouldn't avoid them simply because they are in the cube. I think it's time to take a look at this a bit more objectively. Let's imagine two scenarios. In the first we have our guy in the cubicle, and we're going to assume he's working at VK, Sweetwater, or GC Pro and has a somewhat decent knowledge of gear (as most of them do). His sole function from 9-5 (or something similar) is to work on getting you gear, getting you the best deal on gear, making sure your gear got to you, and making sure that you like your gear. His gas bill is depending on it, and that's all that he's doing all day long. If you need to get in touch with him, he's there. Any issues come up, he's there. If you need someone to teach you how to mix, or how to use your gear, then find a mentor, or pay someone. If you plan on learning how to mix over the phone, with someone across the country, then you're delusional.

In our second scenario we have the "engineers in studios" that apparently line the hallways of Mercenary Audio (I'll try to keep the sarcasm to a minimum). Their day begins, they grab some coffee and head into the studio. They bring up the mix that they were working on yesterday and start listening. They edit, they adjust, they tweak, and they get into the zone. That glorious place where you could mix for days and everything you touch turns to gold. Their phone vibrates and tells them that they have a new voicemail from YOU (presumably to buy gear). They'll call you back eventually, but first they've got this record to mix because a manager, or band, or some client is breathing down their neck to have it done by some deadline. Their paycheck, or at least the larger portion of it, is dependent on them finishing this mix and it sounding great, so they keep going on that. Eventually during that day they will probably get back to you but it will more than likely be several hours, or possibly even days (if you read the customer feedback on Mercenary's own website it points to this possibility). By that time your need for gear has either passed, or already been filled by someone else, and you were hung out to dry.

Further down that rabbit hole, let's say they actually do finish a mix that turns into a hit. They've got a hit record to their credit and now more and more clients are beating down their door. Suddenly the person that you're dependent on to supply you gear so you can do YOUR mixes, has fallen off the map because they've got more records to mix than they know what to do with. Now you're stuck dealing with someone else at that company who DOESN'T have a hit record and therefore has an "inferior" opinion, so you're just as well off trusting one of the people in the cube who also doesn't have a hit record. I won't even get started on the fact that their "engineers" in their "studios" are competing in the same studio market as you are presumably, and all that that implies.

My point after all of that ranting is that I wouldn't buy a car from a professional race car driver. I'd buy it from the person who gets me the best deal and provides the best service. I wouldn't buy an oven from a professional chef, I'd pay them to cook for me. I wouldn't buy a...well, you get the idea. If you want someone to mix your record, it sounds like the guys at Mercenary would be perfect, but if you want someone to take time with you on purchasing gear, and following up afterward, you may want to go with someone who IS trapped in a cube all day and has nothing else to do for that time. Sure they're opinions won't always be spot on (whose are?), and they may not know how every piece of gear out there sounds, but that's why you have ears. That's why you have friends. That's why we have this glorious cesspool called the internet. Guys like me can spout their opinions on everything all day long! Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to making some music with the gear that I bought from cube dwellers. Sounds fantastic!!!

Halogen Moon
Check out my other rants on the industry:
Being a Songwriter, Engineer, and Producer in your Home Studio | Home Studio Corner

Do I have to go to college to learn to be a recording engineer? | Home Studio Corner

Or my rants on everything else under the sun
The Random Rambles of Fathomless Regression