Are you here because you’ve been planning to make electronic music? I will try to cover the main questions I get on a regular basis about electronic music equipment for home studios.
Get ready to produce
I recently received an email from someone who wanted my advice on what he needed to start making music. Usually, people want to know if they need a specific sound card or which DAW is the most appropriate. But this email had a never-ending list of gear, monitors, laptops, sound cards, VSTs, mixers and so on.
People tend to think that if they have the perfect studio set-up, music will pour out and things will get easier.
That’s pretty much a myth and I’ll explain why.
Electronic music equipment: facts vs myths
Bigger studio, bigger problems
While it’s easy to see how much fun there can be with more toys to play with, this comes with a bunch of problems. The best way to start is to get the minimum needed to get rolling and then slowly add to it. For instance, if you start with a DAW, which is pretty much the centre of everything, your first task is to get to know it by learning the terms and technicalities, and by understanding how it works — its logic.
As soon as you feel you need to add more things to get somewhere, you’re falling for distractions and getting sidetracked from your main objective.
If you add something new, you’re then stuck with 2 things you don’t really know of and you multiply the chances of getting lost. Then you will wonder where to start to troubleshoot an issue.
Too many options, too many choices
In other words, the more options you have, the more you get lost in choosing your options. If you have fewer options, you’ll eventually run out of ideas and you’ll have to get creative to get elsewhere. When you have fully exploited your samples by playing with them, modifying them and so on, then adding new sounds will be a giant new addition to your toolkit.
The illusion of ease is counter-productive
Thinking that if you have the best studio, you’ll finish more songs is not only wrong, but also a good excuse not to sit and work. With the huge interest for modular synths/equipment in recent years, people have been frantically buying new modules thinking, “That one will get me that sound.” People buy, then resell, then buy again, and eventually they have that giant rack of equipment that produces a few bleeps. Well, it’s great — but the process to get there is costly.
So, where to start?
There are basically two main scenarios, if you’re starting:
- A good computer, with good headphones and a DAW.
- A tablet, such as an iPad, with audio apps and headphones.
Don’t fall into the trap. Buy analog gear to start with.
You may expand if you want, but then you might run into some issues, such as being stuck with what you have. You might not be able to record what you do or edit it. The option of finishing songs becomes a bit tricky.
My suggestion for you is to have a cycle of acquisition for electronic music equipment. You can get little upgrades for one before moving on, or cover one completely and then move on. But since technology evolves really fast, if you cover one quickly, it might be outdated in 6 months to 1 year.
Here’s a good cycle to respect that I’ve found helps me not to get overwhelmed:
1 – Computer
2 – DAW/Software
3 – Monitoring
4 – External equipment
How it works. We start with the bare minimum and then as you get comfortable (and at ease with your budget), move to the next step.
1 – Computer. To me, this is where you gain the most returns on your investment, both in the short term and even long term. You can be self-sufficient with little programs that range from free to professional all-in-one solutions. On top of that, you can use it for communications or personal use. Things to focus on are a blazing fast hard drive (nowadays SSD is the best thing ever), a lot of RAM, and a fairly solid CPU. If you don’t have money for a DAW yet, there are many kinds of freeware or demo copies you can explore in the meantime and even record with. I know some producers who started with really laughable setups, but managed to do mindboggling productions. It was mainly because they didn’t have the bias of technical knowledge, and because the less you know, the more daring you are with trying new things.
2 – DAW. With a solid computer comes a DAW. This is where you take a step into the world of production on a more serious level. With your DAW, you’ll be able to record your jams, explore sound design, and compose your first songs with flexibility. I can’t point you to a specific DAW in particular, but I’d encourage you to use demos and pick one that you feel most comfortable using. Most of them also come in different bundles, so you can upgrade as you learn. Personally, I use many for my productions. Ableton Live is my top one because it offers me tools that are close to what I need the most, but for sound design I love Reason, and when it comes to mixing I like Studio One.
3 – Monitoring, both sound and video. As soon as you can, invest in a pair of good headphones, a sound card, and monitors, preferably in that order. For monitors, not many people will tell you this, but I suggest renting before buying. Sound is a very personal thing, and I might recommend something that wouldn’t work for you. This is a huge investment and keep in mind you might have your monitors for 10 years so be careful. If you can, get a dual monitor setup. They are very practical for helping you produce with ease.
4 – External Equipment. This part alone could be an entire blog post, but this section involves gear, synths, mixers, MIDI controllers, and so on.
Let me know if you have any questions! I’d be glad to give more details.