In a Ted Talk in 2005, psychologist and author Barry Schwartz talked about “the paradox of choice“. Put simply, the paradox of choice states that the more options you have, the harder it becomes to make a decision. So when you have lots of options, rather than leading to happiness by enabling you to pick the option which is going to bring you the most satisfaction, you instead feel stressed, anxious, and struggle to make a decision. Furthermore, the paradox of choice also states that when you do make a decision, you’re less likely to be satisfied with the results than if there had been fewer options to choose from. That’s because you’re more likely to regret the choice that you made over the many other options that you had.
The paradox of choice in your home studio
The paradox of choice is a fascinating observation, and one that I really feel holds true in the home studio. There have been many times that I’ve loaded up an EQ plugin and started to EQ a track, only to remove that plugin and load up a different EQ plugin. I’d experiment for a while, but then I’d start to wonder how this might sound with another of my EQ plugins. I’d audition plugin after plugin and find it really hard to decide which one I should use. And then, when I finally settled on one, it wouldn’t be long until I started to think about how much better things would have probably sounded if I’d used something different.
The problem is that in studio settings, having tons of options is usually seen as a positive thing. And due to the nature of DAWs, we can now have hundreds of plugins at our fingertips. In a way, having tons of plugins can make us feel like we have a fully stocked home studio set-up that’s ready for every eventuality. But this can quickly get out of hand. Is having endless numbers of EQs and compressors really beneficial? When you consider the paradox of choice with relation to the options you have for plugins, or anything else in a home studio whether it be mics, mic placements and so on, it’s easy to spend tons and tons of time deliberating over the many options you have, only to end up disappointed with your choice.
Limit your options
Of course, having some options in your studio is still beneficial. For example, only having access to a spring reverb would mean that you’ve got something that will work really nicely for guitar, but not too well for drums. Nevertheless, I don’t think that means that you need access to 50 different reverb plugins. The key is to start to limit your options. Personally, I’d rather have a few options that sound fantastic, that I know the sound of really well, and that give me enough variety to achieve the different results that I’m looking for, rather than an endless number of reverbs. The same goes for things like compressors. Not all compressors sound the same, so I’d rather have a handful of great-sounding compressors that will work well for different instruments, over an endless amount of compressors that I’m not as familiar with.
Having only a few tried and tested options helps you to overcome the paradox of choice. It helps you to stop being indecisive, and it means that you’ll be happier with the end result.
Why not try limiting your options on your next mix and see if it helps?
Do you have any go-to plugins or pieces of home studio equipment that you stick to using rather than having tons of options? Leave a comment below.