Earlier this week, musician and synthesizer enthusiast Noah Nichols shared an essay on Reddit describing a spiral into a life consumed by the relentless pursuit of new synths, samplers, drum machines and music-making gear. Titled “Why did I let myself spend 20k on shit I don’t even use to make music?”, the post candidly portrayed the dark side of a phenomenon so common that it’s earned its own nickname: Gear Acquisition Syndrome.
Noah’s confession evidently struck a chord, receiving hundreds of comments within just a few hours from many who related all too closely to his cautionary tale. With his permission, we’ve published an excerpt of Noah’s story…
I’m 22 years old, and since high school I’ve been recklessly spending every spare cent I have on synths, modules, effects processors, cables, sequencers, keyboards - all of it. It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had. I've always had a deep love and respect for electronic music.
I worshipped Daft Punk and MGMT as a kid. I bought four Moogs before I bought a car. Now I have my dream studio at home loaded with thousands of dollars of high-end gear. I'm incredibly proud of how far this collection has come, but one huge problem that becomes more glaring as time goes on is that I absolutely cannot afford any of this.
I am not wealthy or financially secure. I bought everything I own with hourly wages. I have student loans to pay off and I'm instead using the money to buy the latest over-hyped Teenage Engineering product. I have such an unhealthy obsession with music gear that I think it's making me a worse musician and probably a worse person.
I spent the last two years working full-time as a commissioned sales associate and manager at a major music retailer. I could say more about working there, but for the sake of getting to the point, I'll just say it was somehow both incredibly rewarding and possibly the worst job I'll ever have.
Most of the reason I stayed employed at that morally bankrupt daycare for grown men was the employee discount. Anything in store was significantly marked down (sometimes as much as 30-40% off), but sometimes you could just order gear straight from the manufacturer for retail cost, which could be up to 50-60% off. We all half-joked that it was the only actual benefit of working there. To be fair, I technically did save a couple thousand dollars on gear that I otherwise would never have wanted or needed. But I have a new job now, and I'm never going back.
I still live with my grandma and I don't pay rent. I know that I could just get my own place instead of buying all this shit. I know that I have no excuse to feel sorry for myself. It's eating me alive. I need to go out and experience my life, and the world, and its people, really just anything besides than my current job and fucking synthesizers. I can't keep living my life like this - it was time for me to grow up and pull my own weight a long time ago.
The worst part about all of this is I don't even make any music. I'm too busy calculating exactly how many hours I need to work to buy a new module, or watching YouTube videos about patch ideas, or endlessly rearranging my desk and Eurorack, or troubleshooting every single cable and power connection to find where that hum is coming from, or scrolling Instagram, or scrolling Reverb, or scrolling ModularGrid, or dreaming about some magical new piece of tech that's gonna come out and finally pull everything together and complete my collection.
The only time I'm actually practicing or making any music is when I sit down with just a keyboard and play. No tweaking, no sequencing, no patching, just loading up a piano sound on a keyboard and trying to create something new.
I've very carefully curated a collection of modules, effects, samplers, and synthesizers that "fit my needs" without ever stopping to think about what my needs are. Somehow I thought if I was having a problem with creativity I could just throw more instruments at the problem and it would go away. I don't really experience buyer's remorse, as I continue to love how cool and innovative all this stuff is, but sometimes I find myself wondering if I'd be happier if it all just went away. There are really only two pieces of gear I own that I would take to a desert island or save in a house fire. Everything else I bought in service of some imaginary type of music I could theoretically make if I had the willpower.
So what do I do? Just sell everything? Do I find strangers on Reverb just as gullible as me to hand off the problem to? Should I just sell most of it, or maybe just half? How do I pick what to keep? If I just keep that one keyboard and that one sampler and maybe a couple modules, will that then be enough to still make music? Is it all just a skill issue? Maybe I just need to get better at using all these synths and then I'll record a universally beloved experimental-neo-industrial-ambient-techno-drone-whatever-the-fuck album. THEN I'll have won. It'll all have been worth it… right?
It sounds ridiculous. It should be easy for me to just stop buying things, but I'm genuinely starting to think I have an addictive personality or some sort of attachment disorder. It definitely wasn't caused by synthesizers, but it's the thing I've clung onto the most. It’s becoming more apparent to me that my interests may not be as detached from my mental health as I previously thought.
I do truly love synths. There’s something captivating to me about the concept of using hardware in clever and interesting ways to create an open world of sound with limitless potential. That was my biggest draw towards modular especially. It reminds me so much of playing with Lego as a kid, having a box of random bits and pieces and learning their mechanics so well you can use them to build anything from scratch. All you need to create a jaw-dropping patch is your imagination (and enough money to remodel a kitchen).
But to what end? How did I even get here? I had years of experience with ‘real’ music and I was good at it! And I ignored it all to focus on an aluminium box with a few hundred 3.5-mm jacks and knobs? At what point did I decide it was more valuable to pursue whatever this is rather than composition, or performance, or anything else? Musicians are people who make music, and I'm not doing that. I've locked myself out of being a musician by buying so many musical instruments that I couldn't possibly have the attention span to master. I can design a really cool drone, though, and that's enough to keep the wheels turning.
I've been trying to figure out what being an "artist" means and part of what I've realised is that to be an artist you have to both be a master of your craft and have a fresh and meaningful perspective to offer to the world. I struggle identifying myself as an artist now because I sold my chance at having a meaningful perspective for some Eurorack modules. I don't go out much anymore, I can't afford to. I barely eat. I can't bring myself to do my laundry. My friends are vanishing left and right because I'd rather be at home focusing my attention elsewhere. Something is very wrong here.
Real adulthood is approaching at a breakneck speed. I have actual problems to worry about very soon, whether I like it or not. I'm not made of money, and instead of saving any of it I've spent it all on toys so that I can look impressive on Instagram. There's a reason I don't know anybody my age as deep into this as I am. I feel paralysed and overwhelmed and instead of doing anything about it, I sat here all day frustrated because it's been five days and my EP-133 K.O. II hasn't shipped yet. And I just have to have it. I need a way out.
A few days ago, I published this post on Reddit. Since then, I’ve experienced an outpouring of support, kindness and sympathy. I spent all day reading hundreds of comments offering advice and telling similar stories, and I'm speechless. I’ve decided to start letting go of most of the gear and focus more on what made me love music in the first place. I've got a lot to work on, but I'm grateful that the kindness of the online community pushed me to take that first step.