It goes without saying that today's music production technology, advancing as it has from the days of tape and consoles through to the formidable Audio/MIDI workstations many of us sit in front of (for increasingly worrisome chunks of our lives), presents a very different creative paradigm to us than was on offer to musicians in the past.
When I began working in audio, much equipment was expensive, fickle, and limited. Not limited by the standards of the day- these tools were already worlds cheaper and more powerful in many ways than those of the previous generation- but compared to 2008, they were primitive. They were a means to an end- these blunt instruments helped me make my ideas tangible. I learned their ways, I bent them to my needs, and got the job done.
They did have their inspirational moments. The rush of ones' first arpeggiator, the promising smell of a new keyboard, a really game-changing new signal processor, another 4 tracks to work with- these all came with their own motivational magic. However, a lot of times they yeilded a "Right on! I can finally do that thing I've been wanting to do" breakthrough, rather than a push past the idea in one's minds' eye.
Fast forward to today. Virtually every DAW system comes with near-petabytes of loops, pre-sequenced drums, preset effects and virtual instruments of every stripe- more sounds than the entire pro audio department of your local music store could have mustered in 1999. A relatively small amount of money will get you anything else you need, and I won't even get into what loose morals and a Bittorrent client are capable of.
So, in the face of this embarrassment of sonic riches, many people sit and trawl through sounds for hours, searching for that magic bullet to inspire them. It's a bit like sitting down to write the Great American Novel, but first flipping through the entire Library of Congress. Even if someone steps to the plate with a well-formed idea, they'll often spend hours in the thrall of their endless options instead of mentally "writing" each part to fit an instrument they know well. That spark has a short expiration date, and nothing snuffs it like hours of technical bureaucracy.
To combat this, I use two studios. One's in a commercial space, and one's in my 2nd bedroom. They are set up very differently. The bigger place is awash in gear- processors, mics, keyboards, guitars, drums, turntables. It all centers on a Pro Tools HD DAW system, and *shock horror*, a lot of my MIDI work is done on an old, beige Akai sequencer, for the sake of speed and keeping edititis to a minimum. Most of what I create there starts with something physical. Even MIDI sequences are recorded and manipulated as audio as soon as possible. I've lived with this equipment for years, so I know how to get the best from it. When I go to that studio with a head full of ideas, something switches on. I bend the gear to my needs, and get the job done.
My home studio's much smaller, and is based on Ableton Live and a raft of MIDI controllers. There, I use all the tech I can get. Live's an incredibly fluid writing tool. It draws things out of me I didn't know I had, and sound-warping and variation over time is so simple that I sometimes wonder who's running things- me, or the computer! With its ease of sound design and wealth of available content, limits are few. When I work there, it often feels like playing a video game- lots of intricate technical stuff happening, hunting down the "best sounds", diving deep into editing. When I'm in flow, hours start to disappear and cool parts stack like firewood. Then, once I snap out of my trance, I have a song, somehow.
...but when it comes time to finish that song, I often take it back to the big studio and get the job done with a modicum of distraction. My editing and mixing skills are fastest in PT, and it sounds best, too. Even without those pluses, the big studio feels like a workshop full of hand tools, rather than a blossoming mind-melding experience. That gives me the power to say "That's it, that part is how I want it, and the tweaking ends here." Sometimes a hammer beats a CNC machine.
However, for the lack of either, the other would suffer. Keeping a couple of separate ways of working available can be a huge boon- and you don't need two studios to do so, of course- just a willingness to shift gears and juggle file formats.