A while ago, I purchased an Elektron Octatrack from Alessandro Cortini. Alessandro is a prolific musician who regularly creates albums upon albums of his own music, and spent 2013 and 2014 performing live with How To Destroy Angels and Nine Inch Nails. He used the Octatrack in dozens of shows with both bands.
What the Octatrack does is secondary to the lessons I learned from this deal. The Octatrack is probably one of the most interesting and powerful sequencers and samplers currently on the market, although pigeonholing it in that category gives short shrift to its true capabilities. But don’t take my word for it:
The important thing is how some comparatively uncreative lawyer managed to buy a really cool piece of equipment off one of the guys in Nine Inch Nails.
It was easier than you might think.
#1 Know What You Want.
My interest in electronic music started in 2013 when I was looking for a guitar effects processor. I encountered the Teenage Engineering OP-1 and, after a few minutes of playing with it, lost all interest in the guitar. I began reading and learning more about electronic instruments: drum machines, sequencers/samplers, and a huge world of modular synthesizer equipment.
After reading reviews, articles, forum posts, and everything else I could find, I settled on a few pieces of equipment to buy over time. Among them were the Elektron Analog Keys, a longing that was superseded by the Dave Smith Instruments (“DSI”) Prophet 6, an Octatrack, and a drum machine–probably an Elektron Rytm.
YouTube was another fruitful source of information. Numerous videos show all of these items in action, as well as many other items I considered. These videos were about as influential as forum posts in narrowing the list of equipment once I identified the broad thrust of what I needed. Watching the work of people whose work you enjoy is a useful way to see what tools are appealing, or aren’t.
Using YouTube, I could search for what I wanted without the distraction of neat stuff that did not fit my immediate needs. And there is a lot of really cool stuff in the latter category.
#2 Know Where To Look.
I didn’t start calling talent agencies in LA saying that I wanted to buy X instrument from Y artist. I also don’t want to give myself too much credit here, either, because this largely happened by accident. But there is a valuable lesson in my experience.
Once I got serious about electronic music, I began reading, and later posting on, one of the premier forums for the subject. Shortly after Christmas, I ran a search to see if anyone was parting with a keyboard before the new year. Nobody was selling an Analog Keys, which was well enough in light of how enticing the Prophet 6 wound up being, but I clicked through a few threads and saw someone selling an Octatrack. One thing led to another, and here we are today.
I’m not going to post further details. The Internet is a small place, particularly if you have niche interests. Message boards, blog comments, and other places where the like-minded congregate are a surprisingly good place to meet people above your power level. My Octatrack purchase actually is one of my less notable experiences of bumping up against (and even becoming friends with) interesting people over the Internet.
#3 Be Flexible.
In point #1, I mentioned having a list of equipment I wanted to buy. The Octatrack was last on the list; logically, a sampler and sequencer and needs source sounds to build upon. However powerful the Octatrack is, it is an empty vessel and needs sounds, whether from a synthesizer, a drum machine, or any other source.
My priorities were flexible. I could always purchase and beg for samples to load onto the Octatrack, and I would always have time to create sounds to put on it later. But the chance to buy Alessandro’s would only come along so often.
I had to scrap my planned order for buying instruments and jump on the opportunity that presented itself. In return, I have not just any Octatrack, but one with a cool origin story.
#4 Act With Audacity.
My first contact was limited to asking if the Octatrack was still available. From there, it was just a few brief exchanges about logistics and payment. I assumed the sale from the beginning.
This had a few advantages. Absent a bidding war, nobody is going to turn down a buyer willing to supply cash. Rather than an elaborate dance of compliments and trying to force some kind of friendship, I was to the point about what I wanted and what I’d pay for it. This made it easy to keep advancing the transaction even after some delays, as discussed below in point #5. It also eliminated the possibility of anything seeming “weird” about the deal and causing it to implode.
I doubt I’m alone in declining to meet or do business with people who seem off to me via phone or e-mail—something that normally can be ferreted out by discussing topics other than business. On an unrelated note, this is why golf is still valuable and relevant today. Be blunt; be concise; do not be supplicating.
You can read more about using audacity in your own life here.
#5 Be Patient.
Two things resulted in my purchase process taking about one month from first contact to receiving my Octatrack. First, the site I used for the transaction had massive outages and downtime. This was nobody’s fault, and the site’s administrator worked tirelessly to get the site back up and running, with its records restored. But without the site being up, it was impossible to communicate and keep advancing the deal.
Second, and more universally, people who are better than you are busier than you. Define “better” as you wish; the point remains the same. When you’re a stranger who only has money to offer, you are a low priority to people who established relationships with high-level colleagues. You are the outsider, you are the parvenu nobody, and you are on their schedule. But if you accept this, the rewards can be gratifying.