You can tell how much time a person has invested in a particular subject if you listen close to what excites them. When it’s something they’re passionate about, watch their minds open up; watch how effortless the conversation becomes.
My Toolbox: a living list of weapons I use to change the world
I’m constantly being asked about my recording equipment, and what kind of computers or devices I’m currently using. Answering these questions have always seemed difficult to me. There’s a story behind each tool: these items aren’t just things I use along the way. Consider each one a sidekick. Imagine them with real souls, and super-powers. Imagine them having conversations with me, guiding me along the way to build out my dreams.
As a carpenter, my dad carries around his tools with him everywhere he goes. Open up his van and you’ll see everything needed to build an entire house. There’s shelves with extreme organization. On the ground, there’s toolboxes with the most intricate little tools to solve whatever problem needed for that particular job. Though they all look the same to me, each one varies in ways that completely set it apart from the others.
It took years, and even decades, for him to get these toolboxes as full and complete as they currently are. With every new problem he faces, a new tool is purchased and placed in the box, allowing him to never hit that roadblock again.
Over the years, I picked up his meticulous habits. But instead of hammers, drills, and saws—the necessities of a writer fill up my toolbox.
I’ve been writing and recording music for over a decade, and even though I started out with a very complicated setup, just like my dad’s toolbox, my equipment has evolved and simplified over the years.
When I was a kid, I started with a huge computer (Gateway) that sounded like an airplane taking off. The tower was almost as tall as my desk. The screen for this computer was box-shaped and extremely heavy. The mic was a Shure condenser microphone that I bought with my first paycheck from McDonald’s. The mic-stand stretched out several feet. Just these three objects covered half of my bedroom. Compared to my current setup, my initial recording studio was far from ideal, but it was my introduction.
This was my first toolbox.
Nowadays, I’m constantly considering each tool in my toolbox. I believe each item has an expiration date. Therefor, anything I mention here, is likely to be cut at any random moment. The next time you reload this page, I’ll have already searched and discovered the next-best-thing. And on this updated list, there will be a brand-new, shiny toy to brag about, as if it was always there—and the old toy will vanish, as if it never existed.
This message was brought to you by Andy’s Birthday scene: Toy Soldier Recon.
GR Echo: I’ve spent years trying out many different bags to carry all of my tools in. I was never completely satisfied with any of them, until I found the GR Echo (even the name is awesome). With Special Forces-grade material (and even a bombproof compartment next to my back), this bag had my name written all over it. I needed something that was durable, compact, and looked good in any situation. The Echo was designed by a former U.S. Special Forces operator, and as soon as I stumbled upon his website, I knew that this was the bag I’ve been searching for. I use it daily, and I feel honored each time I put it on.
iPhone 5s: I own a brand new car, I have my own apartment, and have many other possessions that are more expensive than the iPhone, but I’ve yet to own anything in my entire life that is more valuable to me than this device. As much as I seek for the best tools in my toolbox, I can confidently say that this tool is the gold standard. The power of the world is in my hands every day. Every new thing that I learn, every book that I read, every picture I take, every song or story that I write, and even my website (a website!) has one single device to thank for its existence: the iPhone.
Mac mini: the Mac mini is my safety net. Consider it a truck that I use when needing to move furniture from one location to the next. If there’s something that I can’t do on the iPhone or iPad, I’ll use the Mac (I can even use my Mac from my iPhone or iPad, by using an app called Screens). It’s what I run Garageband on to record my albums. I also use it as a media server for all the movies and music that I enjoy. The Mac mini doesn’t come with a keyboard or mouse; it doesn’t even come with a screen: it’s simply a little box that plugs into a television through HDMI, turning my 32″ TV into a computer monitor. Explaining the Mac mini is way too nerdy for me, but it does play an important role in my toolbox. It’s the power source for everything (Side note: any Mac can do the things I explained here. I chose the Mac mini because it’s the cheapest one and gives me just enough power to feel unstoppable).
Field Notes: this is a small notebook that I keep in my back pocket everywhere I go. I never leave home without it. There’s only 48 pages in each one, so I fill it up quickly, which always gives me a satisfying feeling.
The Confidant: a simple, gray notebook, with a yellow ribbon to bookmark the current page I’m on, is known as “the notebook for thinkers”. I use it when I’m focusing on bigger projects. There’s pure quality here. Every detail is considered, and I feel proud to write my thoughts inside of it.
Foray 1.2mm: even my ink pens are important. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed collecting pens. I tend to lose them quite often, so I never buy the nice, expensive ones. Luckily, it’s not hard to find quality pens at reasonable prices. This pen here has been my favorite for awhile now.
Blue Yeti Pro: I didn’t know much about this mic before purchasing it. I only knew that I wanted the best USB microphone. I was tired of having to plug my previous mic into an audio interface, and then plug that interface into the computer. It all seemed a bit excessive. Also take into account that the previous mic had a mic stand that stood next to my desk. So comparing all of that to the Blue Yeti Pro, an all-in-one setup, you can see why I instantly fell in love with this one (plus it looks like R2-D2). Once I finally got my hands on it, I soon realized the best feature of all: the sound quality is better than any microphone I’ve ever owned, so I recorded PlasticSky.
Apogee MiC: I recently purchased this mic after noticing the new possibilities in front of me. Owning an iPad gives me the power to create music at any time. The Apogee MiC plugs directly into the iPad, making it very simple to record on the go. So far, the quality is right below the Blue Yeti Pro (here’s one of the first songs I recorded with this mic). I haven’t mastered this setup just yet, so those results aren’t 100% accurate. This mic stays in my GR Echo bag, and I use it when I’m away from home and need to record music. I’ve even taken it to a friends house so he could sing on an upcoming song.
Dropbox: Dropbox is at the core of everything I do. Whether it’s on the iPhone, iPad, Mac mini, or any random person’s computer: everything I write, record, read, or need to reference (scanned bills and important documents) is all in Dropbox. I can get to anything I need from anywhere. It doesn’t matter what I’m using, my files are there for me.
Garageband: all the cool kids use ProTools to record their music, but I use Garageband. It’s so simple that it’s fun. I don’t need tons of features to make a song, I only need a simple, multi-track recorder. I drag the production into Garageband, and then layer that beat with my vocals. It’s not rocket science. I’ve seen artist with very expensive setups, and have no clue how to make a good song. It’s not about what you use, but rather how you use it.
Cubasis: this is the most expensive iOS app I’ve ever purchased, and it was worth every penny. It’s the best DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for the iPad, allowing me to record full-quality songs on the go. Eventually, all of my music will be done on the iPad, and this was the first step to making that possible.
Marvin: I absolutely love this app! It’s the app that I read my books in. It’s not for everyone, but the way it organizes my library of books, and the way it keeps track of how many pages are left in each chapter, and so many other little things that it does to enhance my reading, I couldn’t be more satisfied with an application.
Doxie Go: a simple wireless scanner that turns physical papers into PDF files, and then syncs them into Dropbox for me. This scanner takes the real world and shoves it into my digital world. From lyrics, to bills, to any important document—they’re all hiding in Dropbox, waiting for me to search for them.
Markdown: the best way to explain markdown is that it makes writing easier for me. If you’ve ever admired how clean and simple my writing looks, then thank Markdown for that. Before markdown, the best way to write blog post (or any other writing for that matter) was to learn HTML. Thankfully, I’ll never have to worry about that again.
Ghost: as soon as Ghost was introduced, I knew that it would be the next platform for my site. I was blown away by its simplicity. Now, I don’t spend all of my time customizing and tinkering with how my site looks. My time is now spent writing stories.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’ve just studied my toolbox wizardry. As you can see, I enjoy the process of finding the best items to create art with. This is about accountability: if each tool shows up to the job ready to do its best work, then I have no excuse but to do the same.
These are writing tools for me to do great writing, but maybe your skill isn’t writing. Maybe it’s something that requires a completely different set of tools. No matter what your skill is, make sure that the tools you’re using not only allow you to do a great job, but they also find ways to delight you. Make your process interesting and engaging.