If you are new to music production and want to get started, you’ve arrived at the right place. By viewing this site we’ll take a guess that you already own a computer and these days, that alone can be one of the most powerful tools in the music production process. While music creation will always be a personal journey, there are many great tools and resources to help you get started quickly. It can be easy to trick yourself into thinking that you need the latest music hardware or software but the truth is that you can produce music these days with a few very basic tools along with a lot of hard work and dedication. So now the big question: “Where do I begin”?
Choose A DAW
If you own a computer, you already have one of the most powerful tools for creating music. Now you’ll just need a specialized program called a digital audio workstation or “DAW”. There are a variety of DAWs available and each one has it’s own unique features but nearly all of them have the ability to sequence audio on a timeline. Some of the most popular DAWs for producing and even performing electronic music include Ableton Live, Apple Logic Pro, Image-Line FL Studio, Steinberg Cubase, Bitwig Studio, Pro Tools and Propellerhead Reason.
All of these DAWs have unique features and over time, you may begin to work in different DAWs depending on what the situation calls for. For example, Pro Tools can be a great canvas for editing audio but it doesn’t include nearly as many virtual instruments (synthesizers generated by your computer) as FL Studio or Logic. If you think you may also want to perform your music at some point, Ableton Live or Bitwig have features that specialize in live performance.
In terms of versatility for non-linear composition, ease-of-use and even the ability to create your own instruments or effects, one of the the most popular DAWs of choice among many producers is Ableton Live. With almost all DAWS, including Ableton Live, you can download a free trial version to explore workflow and find your DAW of choice before you purchase. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that music comes from you and not the computer; so the right DAW is the one where you begin to feel most comfortable and are able to easily translate and capture your ideas.
Audio In / Audio Out
One of the other things you may want to purchase for your studio early on is an audio interface. An audio interface is used to bridge the gap between the analog world and your computer. It typically features at least one microphone input and one line input but some interfaces have greater than 40 inputs and outputs. In recent years, numerous companies have begun to manufacture audio interfaces at a wide assortment of price points to accommodate a variety of needs. Interfaces vary greatly in quality for converting analog signals to digital and vice versa. The quality varies when an interface converts the digital signal from your computer to your speakers (which we cover next).
When choosing an audio interface you’ll want to consider how much recording you’ll be doing with microphones, live instruments and “the outside world”. If you are producing electronic music, chances are you won’t need many inputs. You will, however, always want to focus on the quality of digital to analog conversion. If you choose to work with more high-end, transparent speakers, you may hear a big difference in subtle details while producing music or mixing. Be sure to read reviews before you buy an interface to get a sense of what people are using it for and how others rate the sound quality. Typically for a home studio where you’ll be producing electronic music, you’ll want to set your budget around $150-$900 for an interface that will suite your needs.
“Monitor” Your Spending
One of the other essential things you will want for your home studio is a pair of speakers so you can hear what you are working on. If you already have a pair of home stereo speakers, you can get started with those, but eventually you’ll probably want to purchase a pair of dedicated studio monitors. The biggest difference between stereo speakers and studio monitors is that many home stereos have settings that artificially boost certain frequencies. Settings like ‘mega bass” are really just adding a different EQ curve amplify low frequencies. When you are creating music, you typically want to work with speakers that are as “flat” or transparent as possible. These speakers or studio monitors will more accurately reproduce the sounds coming from your DAW through your audio interface.
As you get deeper into the music creation process, you’ll probably also eventually dive into the world of mixing which is generally the second or third phase of production once you have a full arrangement. You’ll be glad to have good studio monitors for this part of the process. The average cost for a wide variety of home studio monitors is around $500-$600/pair but this can increase significantly depending on what you choose. If you don’t want to spend the money on studio monitors at the moment, you can always work with headphones or your stereo speakers. The most important thing is to know the sound of whatever monitoring system you are working with so you can get an idea of how your music will sound on different systems.
Setting up your workspace is an equally important part of the music creation process. In addition to creating a space that you feel comfortable working in, you may want to consider “treating” your music production room. As you develop a more critical ear, the sound of the room itself can make a big difference in the way sound interacts with your space when coming out of your studio monitor speakers, making its way to your ears. Different frequencies travel at different speeds and certain surfaces will reflect sound where as other surfaces may help absorb it. In general, you’ll want to have your speakers placed at ear level with surfaces that will absorb sound. There are all kinds of expensive room treatments but you can usually stop sounds from bouncing around your room by adding a rug, hanging sheets and generally avoiding working in spaces with lots of hard, reflective surfaces like concrete or glass.
While all of the above can help you on your journey, the most important thing is that you are actually spending time making music and enjoying the life-long learning process. For more help getting started producing electronic music, be sure to check out Creative Live’s online courses in Music & Audio.