In this article, I want to talk about what you can do when you’re new to the field of music production. I will suggest what studio and production gear you could buy and how to approach the overwhelming selection of VST/plugins, sample libraries and some of the best ways to start learning without getting overly saturated with information. This is my opinion and what has helped me as a bedroom producer so, when it comes to buying studio gear, I do advise that you take the time out to do your own research before spending any money. This is a pretty in-depth article so I hope you enjoy the content.
Start with your basic needs
When you’re starting out, it’s important to know exactly what you can get away with to start producing music, before spending big dollars. What you need to identify first is finding out if you are even going to like music production, and if so what DAW (digital audio workstation) would you choose. When beginning as an electronic music producer, all that is needed is a laptop computer or desktop, whichever you have available to use, and also a pair of headphones. This is just to get a feel for what music production is all about and whether you can see yourself enjoying the process of creation.
I would suggest trying out the demo versions of Ableton Live 9, Logic Pro X, Cubase 9 or FL Studio to see which one you would prefer to work with. I have always been an Ableton user, as I personally feel that this is the most straightforward and easy-to-use DAW. I may sound biased but it’s a dream to work fast with. It’s not about the program, it’s about how you use the program best to make your music with. Each program has its pros and cons, so don’t buy into any rumours that a certain program will make your music better than another. It’s all about being creative and applying your skills.
DAW Options and Pricing
Ableton Live 9 is the vehicle I use to create music. I personally found it pretty simple to get my head around with the help of a few tutorials and reading the manual. Perhaps the most popular DAW that has developed into something great, it can also be used to DJ live with too. It is pricey but well worth it.
Logic is also very popular, especially amongst Apple users, while being very well priced if you are a Mac laptop user. I have tried using Logic before and personally found it a little complicated and more so that what it needs to be, but that’s just my opinion. Its little brother is a program called Garage Band on Mac; you can experiment with this to get a taste of what Logic X will be like.
This is a program I have yet to experiment with. However, it is a very powerful DAW that is used by Trance Producers like Marlo and Stoneface & Terminal. It is up there with the rest and it all comes down to personal preference at the end of the day.
This is a very popular program and has been claimed to be pretty easy to start on in comparison to programs like Logic Pro X or Cubase 9. It’s also the cheapest of your options and it offers a professional sound, which is why many great producers turn to it.
Once you have made the choice, it’s time to work out what you can spend on studio/production gear. If you don’t have much money at the present time, don’t stress, as building up a good studio takes time and is always a work in progress.
PC or Laptop?
This question can often come up: which is better? It all depends on your budget and availability of room you have to work with. Some people don’t really have the space to set up a studio and, as a new producer, you shouldn’t worry about this too much. Just work with what you have and can afford for now. Only my opinion from experience but, when it comes to choosing either a PC or a Laptop computer, a PC will always be able to handle more tolerance with CPU than a laptop in most cases. A good quality PC just seems to handle the loading of many programs/plugins without crashing, compared to a laptop, which is fine for a beginner carrying a light load of VST plugins. However, as soon as you start going crazy it can take its toll on your Laptop – just something to think about.
A good quality pair of headphones is a must for all producers; you want to be focused on studio monitor headphones not DJ headphones, although they can work. However, monitor headphones, in most cases, should offer a clearer and distinctive midrange sound and are not quite as bass heavy as a DJ headphone. This allows you to hear and focus better on sounds, sound designing, EQing and mixing your track to fit tight overall, the clearer the better.
Here are some options that will help and have a great reputation when it comes to selection.
They have been around forever and have such a great quality sound, so it’s always hard to go past these, as they can also be used for DJing too. The only thing I found a little bit irritating is that they feel a little to flimsy and are not as comfortable as some other headphones out there. It all comes down to the user.
A more comfortable and better fitting pair of headphones in my opinion, that allow more flexibility than the Sennheiser. Are they better in terms of sound? Maybe not quite, but these headphones are very popular amongst users, get the job done and are well priced.
A great all-round studio headphone with both clarity and comfort, which is a great alternative between the previous two. Beyerdynamic are also a trusted brand that have stood the test of times.
If you are going to have the money to invest in a soundcard, I highly suggest that you do. If you only have enough money for the DAW and a set of good quality headphones, then fair enough, the focus of this is to buy what can get you started making the tunes first, then later on expanding as time goes on.
When investing in a Soundcard, you want to spend in accordance to your production level/experience. There’s no need to go out and spend thousands on a Universal Audio Soundcard if you can’t finish or mix your own music to a presentable and playable level. Work your way up over time.
Great Soundcards for beginners are brands and models like:
You can’t go wrong with the Focusrite range. These Audio Interfaces work flawlessly with all DAWs on either PC or Mac and are ideal for both beginner and intermediate producers. This is a USB bus-powered Soundcard with 2 audio inputs and 4 analog outputs. These interfaces have lower latency than any other USB audio interfaces within this price range.
Check out more options from The Focurite range here:
There are other great brands like M-Audio and Motu to check out too. I currently use a Motu Ultralite Mk3, which works awesome but is very pricey for a beginner and probably not necessary at the start of your studio expenses. I would lean more towards a Focusrite, as they are hard to go past for a quality product with a reasonable price tag.
If you’re setting up a studio then speakers are a must. A laptop and headphones are great for when you are on the move but, when it comes to building a sanctuary where you can create in a studio environment, the sound plays a massive part. Because, when it comes down to mixing your music and hearing the music you make for what it is, you need to hear it on some great quality speakers that will give you a taste of what your music could sound like in the clubs.
For speakers I recommend my top 3 brands: KRK, JBL and Yamaha.
The KRK Rockit series are amazing speakers for both sound and value for money; they are perhaps the most popular and widely adopted amongst both DJs and music producers, and I own a pair for my DJ setup. Prices range from $400 to $700 AUD.
The JBL LSR305 studio monitor speakers are ideal for your average home studio setup and are also great on price. These speakers have great deep bass and smooth high frequency response beyond the range of human hearing, which will indeed get the job done. They look really awesome too. Price range is around $450 to $500 AUD.
The Yamaha HS5 5-inch monitor speakers are another option and are without a doubt the most purchased speakers on the market. The Yamaha HS series are Iconic for the reason that they are simply the best out there as an alternative to the KRK series. They have room-control and high-trim response controls, which give you optimum response in any room along with dedicated power amps that are perfectly matched to the woofer and tweeter. Yamaha is the most trusted brand out there, so you can’t go wrong. Prices can range from $475 to $700 in the 5 and 6-inch range.
I would also like to mention that you don’t need anything more than 6-inch speakers in a standard size room; 6-inch are big enough with plenty of power and sound. I made the mistake of buying 8-inch monitors that are simply just too big for my room and I never use them to their full potential. Remember that, as a producer, most of the time you are going to be writing music at levels that shouldn’t be loud and are as low as possible, to avoid the room reflecting the sounds thus helping you control your mixing and EQing better. So stick with either a 5 or 6-inch pair of monitors for a normal size room.
As a new producer, you may be more inclined to stay away from buying a keyboard in the beginning stages, though it all depends on your music background too. If you have some piano or keyboard experience, it may be in your best interest to buy one in the beginning, because you could feel more comfortable playing around and putting together melodies than using a mouse and the midi roll. My point is that I personally feel, in my opinion, that if you are to get a quality studio setup going, that perhaps you make sure you have all of the above before getting a keyboard.
Speakers, soundcard, then a Midi Keyboard if you have the money. You will only ever need a 49 or 61 key Midi Keyboard – all depending on studio table space, of course. I would spend no more than a couple of hundred dollars on a Midi Keyboard to begin with; you don’t need to spend any more than 400 dollars, otherwise you’re wasting your money, and ideally you would want to have some money left over to buy at least one VST plugin or soft synth. Great brands for Keyboards are M-Audio or Novation, to name a few.
Soft Synths and VST Plugins
As an entry-level producer, I recommend using one soft synth to begin with and learn to become good at that one synth first before buying another. I am a big advocate of Sylenth or Serum to learn from. I find that Sylenth is the easiest to learn from as it is very user friendly and affordable. The range of presets and sound banks you can use are endless and it’s a very widely adopted and popular synth. The next is Serum, which is a more complex synth to learn from, but I find it has a richer sound and much more power behind it to create thicker and fuller sounds. It also has a lot more to offer for your dollar. For as little as $9.95 a month, you can pay it off over 24 months by instalments instead of paying around $200 straight up.
Which is ideal for the producer that is short on cash and wants it now. I believe that most VST synths will go this way, making it more affordable to get what you want faster in the music world. The website that offers this is Splice; they also offer sound banks and sample banks that I highly recommend.
Now, when it comes to EQs compressors and other plugins, I recommend using what your DAW has to offer, for at least the next 12 months. There’s no point buying the whole Fab filter bundle and different compressors if you don’t know how to best apply the standard tools that come with the DAW. Once again, it will not make you a better producer within the first 12 and perhaps 24 months. You will be throwing money down the drain, which would be better suited to maybe buying more samples or presets for your soft synth. The stock EQ and compressors are really good and you want to master and learn all the basic instruments that your DAW has to offer before jumping the boat – the fundamentals are so important in the beginning.
Samples and Presets
When you buy your DAW, depending on what package you purchase, for the most part you should have enough samples to get you going and making your first track. However, I do recommend adding to your collection as you go, as this does not have to cost you much. When it comes to samples, I like using splice samples, as they have a massive range of samples to choose from in all genres. For as little as $8.00 a month, you can get up to 100 samples or, if you spend $30 a month, you can get up to $1,000. Perfect for slowly building and looking for the samples you want individually.
The other option is to buy well-known and trusted sample packs like Vengeance, Freshly squeezed, Cymatics and Producer loops. The only slight downfall with buying packs is that the upfront price is dearer and there might only be 30 percent of the samples you actually like and use, as you can’t pick them individually. The same pretty much goes with presets, though splice gives you the ability to pick individual sounds or bundles with soft synths like Sylenth, Serum or Spire. I love using presets because they save so much time and you can get a professional sound and tweak it to make it into your own.
This is a big-time saver and perhaps the best way to fine tune a sound instead of spending hours and hours on initialising a patch and starting from the ground up. I still do this myself to this day and I most definitely recommend you do the same, because finishing music is the number one priority for getting better faster. Beginners need to focus more on creation and completion, not spending hours on sound design.
Best ways I found to learn music production
Learning never stops as a producer. Even after 7 years I am always learning new ways to do things. It is safe to say that I will never know everything – I think no producer will. You could spend a lifetime learning new things and still not know it all; you simply only need to concentrate on where you are in the current moment as a music producer. Focus on the step or two in front of you without getting caught up in all the hype of wanting to find your own sound immediately or becoming a master at sound design. These things take many years of trial and error.
As a new producer, I recommend a few things like:
1. Only watching YouTube tutorials to find out the very basic fundamentals to get you going with writing music. Examples like how to use Midi and Audio tracks in your DAW and finding out the differences between them. How to create your own drum loops that include kick, snare, hi hats and any percussion elements. Learning how create a basic baseline and melody riff, how to apply audio effects and also to understand what side chain, EQ and compression do and how to use them.
I also recommend that, once watched, you apply the techniques one by one as quick as possible, so that your memory retains the knowledge but, most importantly, don’t live on YouTube tutorials. For every 30 minutes of tutorials watched, I recommend you produce for at least 3 to 4 hours. That’s about a 1/8 ratio. The problem I find is that there’s too much content out there and new producers and myself, on occasions, can have a tendency to procrastinate by watching too much and not doing enough practical work.
The best way to learn is to roll up your sleeves and put in the hours so you can finish more music faster. That’s the only way you will ever close the gap and become a person that achieves his or her dreams quicker.
2. After you have learned the basics in music production, I highly recommend you find a mentor or a coach to take your skills to the next level; this is the best way to learn quicker when combined with application. I learned so much from my mentor in a year of one-on-one lessons, and I even had my first track signed because of it. It makes a world of difference because a coach will find your weaknesses and tell you what you, as the producer, need to focus on to move your music forward.
3. Write music every day. The fastest way to learn is to create the habit of making music daily – you are your habits! I have personally found this the hardest part because I don’t always feel like making music, but if you are to just sit down for at least 30 minutes and do something, even when you don’t feel like it, you will start to build momentum and learn the process faster by getting tracks done. I make sure I get 90 minutes in a night because it can also take time to get into the zone and find the flow, so I highly advise it.
4. Become a master at one synthesiser/plugin. It is so easy to become a consumer and want to buy all the new fancy plugins that get released just because the big name producers use them. Mastering a soft synth like Sylenth or Serum should be something that a new producer should aim for, because you eventually want to know how sound design works and also make your own sounds. If you buy 4 or 5 different plugins, you will never master anything and become mediocre at creating sounds later on down the track. My main point is to know your tools and minimise your arsenal of plugins so you can speed up your work flow by finding, selecting and processing sounds faster, as well as by creating an audio rack or template to use for the majority of your tracks.
5. Set realistic goals? Boy doesn’t that suck…?
I am going to say it straight out: music production takes years to get any good and be happy with what you make, let alone trying to aim to be the next Martin Garrix in 12 months. That’s not real. Many things have to come into play to be a superstar and most of those have nothing to do with your music either. Set goals to finish music fast is what I would suggest, make a game of it, and make it fun. You can’t control what the music industry wants to hear, but you can control your output of finished music and, to be honest, it is the only thing that is going to make you close the gap from where you are now to where you want to go, truth be said.
Books and resources to help producers
- Dance Music Manual: Tools, Toys and Techniques
- Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio
- The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook
- Your DAW Owner’s Manual (whichever you choose)
Videos and tutorial websites
The Final word
I hope this article has been a great help to you, remember these tips are based on my previous experiences as a producer and I hope you also conduct your own research. I would like to know how are currently going as a beginner and feel free to ask any questions below.