Here is a blog that is designed to help those individuals who are starting with zero experience and want to learn the foundation steps to becoming an electronic music artist.
The first thing you will need is a computer. It can be a laptop or desktop. The higher specifications the better as the software needed can be somewhat demanding on the processing abilities of the computer. Apple Macintosh are a popular option when it comes to choosing a computer as the operating system is known to be more reliable and easy to use. They have dominated the media industries for quite some time as the best option. However their reputation is changing due to the lack of ability to upgrade and of course expense. Microsoft computers have the benefit of being cheaper and also you can customise completely your setup and for a lot less money have the same specifications of the latest Macintosh computers. Due to this I personally now favour Microsoft computers. I have a Macbook Pro at the moment and it has served me very well and is still running strong but I cant upgrade so is now becoming outdated. For my next computer I will customise my own Pc and pay a lot less money and also have the benefit of upgrading whenever certain components become outdated. Macintosh computers are becoming less and less upgradable and I simply can’t afford to keep buying a new computer every time technology advances.
The next thing you will need to get are some speakers or decent headphones designed for production. When I first started making music I made the mistake of thinking I could produce everything on an old pair of Hifi speakers. The reason why this was a mistake is because Hifi speakers “colour” the sound and emphasise certain frequencies. I played my first gig in London and the music sounded super bad and nothing like it sounded at home. I did some research and bought myself some studio monitors and started again. Studio Monitors and the headphone equivalent are designed to give a “flat frequency response”. Nothing is boosted or cut so what you hear is a true representation of what you make.
There are some distinctions to look out for when shopping so you don’t become overwhelmed.
Far-Field Monitors– Designed for larger commercial studios where they are mounted multiple feet away from the mixing desk. Suitable for louder volumes and larger spaces.
Near-Field Monitors – A solution for the bedroom producer. Designed for smaller spaces. Situated a metre or so away from the walls and the same distance from your ears. They are angled towards you usually also. Because they are close to you the volumes are lower and the sound will not be as affected as much by the acoustics of the room.
Passive– This means you need an amplifier to power your monitors.
Active– The monitors are powered by themselves so you do not need an amplifier.
I would recommend active, near-field monitors. There are cheap and effective options on the market.
Commercial headphones will just like Hifi speakers be unsuitable for making music. This is because the sound is coloured and certain frequencies are emphasised to make the music appear brighter or more bassy. You want to buy studio headphones to be sure you are getting a true representation of what your creating. There are generally two types of headphones you need to know about when shopping for headphones.
Closed back are called this way because they don’t let any sound leak out. The pads seal completely around your ear creating a true immersion in the sound. That makes them a great option for tracking when recording instruments or vocals as you can’t hear anything other than what your listening to. This means also they are ideal to use in noisy environments. The downside is that the bass frequencies are emphasised which isn’t a good thing for mixing.
The sound drifts in and out of these headphones which means they cannot be used in noisy environments. However in a quiet environment the sound will be more natural and you can spend longer periods producing. This is a better option for making music because the sound is more honest.
If you are serious about becoming a music producer an external audio interface is a necessary component you will need. Your internal in built soundcard will not give you an accurate translation of the sounds you are making. External audio interfaces have in built digital to analog conversion chips that will give you high definition translation so you will hear all the details you will need to hear to create professional mixes. In addition to this it an audio interface makes it possible to record instruments at a high quality without any latency or without any unwanted noise.
Here are some factors you will need to consider when shopping for an audio interface.
What connection does your computer have?
Audio interfaces come with different ways to connect them with your computer. Find out what connections your computer has and make sure you buy one with the corresponding connection. Here are the usual options.
usb – usb 3,0
Audio Interfaces come usually with some kind of software that will act as a control centre. Be sure to read reviews and make sure you are not going to buy a soundcard with annoying or unnecessary features. I am personally put off with soundcards with standalone virtual mixers with lots of onboard effects because I am only interested in only using Ableton so when I am looking for a soundcard I will want the most simple software control.
Confusing terminology to understand
When shopping you will no doubt notice the terms bit depth and sample rate in the specs. It is important to understand what these terms mean. When a soundwave is being converted from either analog to digital or digital to analog there is a process that is measured using these terms. It can be compared to pixels when measuring the quality of images. The less pixels the more fuzzy and undetailed the image. The same apply’s with bit depth and sample rate. If you imagine a soundwave the definition horizontally is measured with bit depth and the definition vertically is measured with sample rate.
Bit Depths – Number of stages are available to approximate a waveform. 24 bit is the standard and give you about 16 million horizontal lines of which the waveform can be rounded up to which is more than enough.
Sample Rate (how many times per second (khz) the soundcard will take a scan of the waveform. 44.1 khz is the standard and anything above is kind of humanly impossible to notice the difference.
An audio interface with 24 bit depth/44.1 khz sample rate will be ideal and are the optimum specs. Don’t be fooled through marketing you will need higher than this.
Inputs and Outputs
Some soundcards will come with traditional MIDI cable input and output which can be useful with maybe some equipment you have but most midi controllers these days will be connected through USB.
How many preamp imputs will you need when recording at home? If your recording a drum kit you will need quite a lot of inputs. The same will apply if you are recording a band where everyone is playing at once. Also at this point check how many headphone outputs the audio interface has. But if your only ever going to record a bit of singing or a guitar then one or two will be fine. Do you need phantom power for a particular microphone? What kind of input connectors (XLR/JACK/) would you prefer? These are important questions that will help you pick the perfect audio interface.
DI – AN Digital to Analog Chips
The soundcard converts this digital audio signal from your computer into analog of which you hear coming out the speakers. Some soundcards have better conversion chips than others and it really makes a difference. However on a budget some of the £150 plus cards will be good enough to not notice a considerable difference in quality.
AN – DI Conversions
When recording instruments the conversion is the other way round. The analog audio signal is converted into digital. An audio interface will make sure you don’t have any unwanted latency or noise. An additional option at this point is an active DI box. This helps boost your recording in volume and in spirit as I found recording directly from the preamp of a soundcard can be naturally a low volume. Getting the active DI box really made a huge difference to my recordings so I would recommend the same to you if you are interested in recording instruments at home.
SOFTWARE (DAW) DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION
This is the software you will use to make your music. You can download and use the trial versions of each software to see which one suits you best. I would say from experience the most commonly used programs are
Ableton Live (my favourite – the “god” daw)
Logic ( exclusive to apple computers)
These are the four most popular DAW’s for electronic music production in general. There are quite a few more than this which you can easily learn about but through experience it is very rare I meet anyone using anything other than these four. Each one has its own look and feel and workflow functionality.
All of the digital workstations are capable of achieving unlimited results. There is no DAW that is better than the next it is just through subjective taste you may prefer one to the other. If you have some friends all using the same DAW then maybe it is a good idea to get the same one so you have a strong support network.
Ableton Live has the benefit of being originally designed for live use. Now it is a fully functioning DAW for all purposes but has a performance view which is perfect to play your music live eventually. It is an industry standard now and huge names like Skrillex, Jon Hopkins, Fourtet , Orbital and millions others are all using Ableton to play their music live. This makes it a popular DAW because it is very convenient to use for production and for performance. There is also I think the greatest online support when browsing for YouTube tutorials.
Their are two things you will need to finally wrap this list all up. These are essential components.
A Comfy Chair – Getting a good chair can prevent getting back problems from spending too much time sitting down, very important.
I hope you enjoyed my post and can benefit from the contents. If you are interested in learning about how to use Ableton then please check out my page for Ableton Lessons. You can learn from a professional in the field the productions secrets to becoming a sonic jedi.