Music production at homeTools you’ll need to start your own digital music production.
Thinking about making your own music? Want to pick up that old guitar you’ve been ignoring all these years? Want to experiment with producing your own music? The pandemic has given us a lot of time to try new things and to resume hobbies on hold. Digital music production has opened many doors for musicians, from the versatility of instruments to distorting sounds with effects. Much of the music of today is recorded digitally on a computer, and if you want to try your hand at making music, here are some of the tools you’ll need to populate your empty desk with and start experimenting with some tunes.
A decent computer
As with all digital production, a good computer is at the heart of this setup. While audio production isn’t as demanding as video production or 3D modelling, it still requires a good CPU and plenty of RAM. Mixing usually consists of working with multiple sound clips that are loaded on RAM, and the bigger the project, the more RAM you’re going to need. So, invest in a computer that is relatively fast and has plenty of RAM and storage space. The M1 MacBooks are excellent choices for music production, and also the only option if you want to use Logic Pro. If you’re not married to the Apple-exclusive software, the Dell XPS 13 is also an excellent choice, considering portability and power. While these are some good options, you’re not limited to them, and any desktop or laptop would work well if it’s relatively modern with plenty of RAM and storage.
To be a good musician, I believe everyone has to start with learning to play an instrument. Learning any musical instrument will introduce beginners to basic music notations, composition techniques, and musical progressions that will all be vital knowledge when you work with digital instruments and sounds. If you want to sing or rap, there are some really good mics that you might want to consider for your setup. The Audio Technica AT2020 is a really good condenser mic that goes for around Rs 15,000. But since the AT2020 is a condenser mic, it will be far more sensitive to background noise, which means that you’ll only be able to use this mic properly if you’re in a quiet room. For around the same price, the Shure SM-57 is another option if you don’t have a quiet environment to record. The SM-57 is a dynamic mic and thus will deal better with unwanted background noise. For other instruments, going to music shops in person and getting a feel for the instrument, and considering your budget might be a good idea.
Digital audio workstation (DAW)
A digital audio workstation is your central audio software where you perform all of your mixing and mastering. If you play instruments, this is also where you record your riffs, bass lines, or drum beats and mix them together with each other and/or digital instruments. DAWs are really powerful software that can also change audio in countless different ways, and most of them also support third-party digital signal processors (DSP) for musicians to add audio effects. The most popular DAWs would be Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, FL Studio, and Cubase. Logic Pro and FL Studio are some of the easier-to-understand programmes if you’re a beginner, but can easily handle pro workloads. However, music professionals advocate for Ableton Live and Pro Tools to be the best. This comes down to personal preference, but make sure you look at a few tutorials for all these tools if you’re a beginner because while they do the same thing, there are differences in the way they function. You might find one best to cooperate with your workflow.
If you want to plug any of your audio gear into your computer, you’re going to need an audio interface. An audio interface is basically a translator between your instrument’s analog signal and the digital signal expected by your computer. Audio interfaces also have professional audio inputs that work with instruments and professional audio gear. Guitars usually use 6.35 mm (1⁄4 inch) connectors, which are analog plugs similar to but bigger than the 3.5mm audio outputs found in computers or smartphones. These jacks can’t usually be plugged into a computer directly, unless you have a 6.35mm to 3.5mm or USB cable. These converter cables aren’t the best to use though and will create a lot of noise and latency between your instrument and your computer. The best way is to invest in a USB audio interface that supports a 6.35 input and XLR inputs (these are the circular three pronged connectors usually used by professional audio devices like Mics). These audio interfaces can be expensive depending on the model and the feature set, but for beginners, the M-Audio M-Track Duo is a good deal at around Rs 9,000. It’s not as expansive as other audio interfaces and comes with only two input slots and minimal features, but for the price, it’s a budget solution for better synchronicity with your computer.
Making professional music means that you also need some killer audio output devices that let you experience all the nuances of your music through high-quality output. Studio monitors are speakers that reproduce music in their truest form, without any post-processing or bass boost, and for the longest time, Yamaha has remained the king of studio monitors. But because Yamaha monitors are so good, they also cost an arm and a leg. The Yamaha HS8 studio monitors cost around Rs 100,000, which might be a pretty steep price tag for many beginners or home studio setups. For people looking for cheaper but good monitors, the M-Audio BX5 D3 is not a bad choice. It won’t have the sound clarity that the Yamaha has but will still perform well. If you want a more private experience, there are some good headphones as well. The Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is an excellent choice at Rs 20,000 with good clarity and music response. They’re also closed back which means that you’ll block out most of the background noise while using them. If you want to go a bit cheaper, you may also want to consider the Audio Technica ATH-M30x. They’re a decent pair of studio headphones that come cheap at Rs 12,000.
Since you’ll be creating music on your computer itself, in addition to your instrument, a device that works well and interfaces with your DAW would be a great addition. Your DAW will come with a plethora of sound effects, digital sound banks, and instruments, and while you can control them with your keyboard as well, having access to a MIDI keyboard or a launchpad will make it easier for you to control these instruments. Just like naturally playing a keyboard, drawing musical compositions and having access to drum pads will provide the versatility that the keyboard cannot. Many MIDI keyboards also come with pitch blend features, programmable buttons, and even beat pads. Much like keyboards, the larger and more keys a MIDI keyboard has, the more expensive they become. For a beginner, the 25-key Arturia MiniLab MkII would be an excellent choice. The keyboard is very simple but comes with two banks of eight controller pads and 16 rotary encoders. If you want to go full size, the Arturia Keylab Essential with 88 keys is an excellent option. The Akai MPK Mini Mk3 is also a good alternative to the Arturia MiniLab at 25 keys.