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Music production equipment for beginners you REALLY need

Music production equipment for beginners you REALLY need

Written by: Dexxter Clark, 21-12-2019
I get it, music production can be pretty overwhelming when you first start.
What equipment do you need when you start producing?
What is essential and what is just fun to have?
I’ve consulted multiple readers in consultation calls over the last few months about studio equipment.
In this video I will article all the questions you asked me.
I will tell you step-by-step for the beginner: what you REALLY need, without the fluff or BS

In this article I talk about general equipment you need for music production.
You can find a list with all my recommended-equipment here.

1. Computer

You absolutely need a computer.
You don’t necessarily need to have a new computer, although it can be handy to use a separate computer.
But that’s more a luxury than an necessity.

You can probably use your old computer.
Almost every computer that is less than 8-10 years old will suffice.
Mac or PC, doesn’t matter that much.

If you do want to buy a new computer, I recommend you read read my article about computers for music production and laptops for music production.

An optimal configuration will cost you 1500 dollar without screen, a better one 3000 without screen.
Cheaper models will also let you make music.

2. Software

The other thing you absolutely can’t do without is music production software.
That software is called a DAW, a Digital Audio Workstation.

Before you choose a DAW, make sure you check the technical requirements for your computer on the site of the software maker.

There are commercial DAWs and free DAWs.
I suggest you start with a free DAW, then if you become good, you can switch to a commercial DAW.
Commercial DAWs tend to have more features than free DAWs.
Check out my article on 18 free DAWs for more information.

There is no such thing as “the best DAW”, it’s a matter of taste.
If there was, everybody would use it.
That is simply not the case.

My preferred choice of DAW is Studio One, but there are a lot of good DAWs out there.
Famous are FL Studio, Ableton Live and Logic.
Personally I’m a huge fan of Ableton (view price on Amazon) and Studio One (view price on Amazon).
Studio One is my preferred DAW.
My artice about commercial DAWs about commercial DAWs will go into more detail about different DAWs.

A lot of beginners mistake an audio editor like Audacity or Adobe Audition for a DAW.
Both software packages process audio, but their goal is different.
An audio editor is meant to record and/or manipulate existing audio.
A DAW is targeted towards creating music with a software synthesizer for example.
Most DAWs have integrated audio editing features.

For example:
An audio editor has no knowledge of BPM, a DAW does.
A DAW allows you to place a high hat on the off-beat of a song easily.
In an Audio editor it takes you some tricks to determine the off-beat.

Technically you could make music with an audio editor.
You also don’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail into the wall.
Technically you could, but it’s not the right tool for the job.

In my article about Audacity I’ll explain in more detail.

A link to Ableton you can find here https://www.ableton.com/en/live/
A link to Studio One you can find here https://www.presonus.com/products/studio-one/
A link to Logic Pro you can find here https://www.apple.com/logic-pro/

The prices of DAWs vary immensely: 200 - 800 dollars.
Price is not a measurement for quality or features in this matter.
Logic is 200 dollar, Ableton live 800 for the same amount of quality and features.
Studio One is 400 dollar once and Pro Tools is 1500 dollars per year while Studio One has more features.

3. Monitor speakers / headphones

The third item on this list you can’t do without is something to “display” sound.
You need some kind of high quality speaker or headphone.
The speakers you have have next to your computer (and especially the ones that are build-in) are bad.

In music production it’s all about sound and you being able to hear that sound.
Most regular speakers (especially built-in speakers) miss a proper frequency range.
Most (if not all) laptop speakers won’t be able to create sound below 200 Hz, so you can’t hear bass properly.
You miss essential information about your music.

Monitor speakers are so called: near field speakers.
They are designed to be listened to at close range and generally lack the power to fill a big room with sound.

Speakers for music production are designed to give wide and flat frequency response, meaning that they are built to display a wide range of frequencies with all frequencies ranges in the spectrum represented equally.

Monitor speakers are big, not because of the volume they need to produce, but they need to be able to generate “all” frequencies.

Of course the expensive speakers generally tend to do a better job than the cheap ones.
The more speakers cost, the flatter the response and wider range.
Professional speakers like the Genelec’s can cost you easily 1500 bucks per speaker (I’m not kidding, view price on Amazon).

A headphone is not a replacement for monitor speakers, but an addition.
It’s the tool to use when you don’t want to disturb your neighbors after ten o’clock or your girlfriend sleeping in the bedroom.

A headphone gives a perfect representation of the sound in the stereo spectrum, which is never the case on regular speakers.
In real life, your left speaker always “bleeds” a little bit in your right ear and vice versa.
Headphones also tend to display sounds that are otherwise lost on regular speakers.
This is why creating a melody with headphones is fine, but mixing is a bad idea on headphones.
It’s just not how the real world listens to music.

There is some software that emulates this bleeding effect, but it’s still not the real world speaker deal.

There are two types of headphones: open back and closed back headphones.
Regular headphones have a closed back so your sound is closed of for the environment.
Sound is contained in the headphone.
A open back headphone has no closed back (duh).
The person next to you on the couch can literally hear what your are listening to.

An open back headphone has a better representation of sound than closed back headphones because the sound is not contained.
This is why open back headphones are more suitable for mixing than closed back headphones.
But a open back headphone is still not a monitor speaker.

Personally I have the Tannoy Reveal 802 speakers (view price on Amazon)
I choose these speakers because they are very precise in the high end, but lack some punch in the low end.
Another famous brand is KRK, which lack that clarity in the high end, but they are too bassy to my taste.
Other good speaker brands are Pioneer and Yamaha.
And of course the Genelec if you have too much money.

One thing you have to look out for when buying monitor speakers, monitor speakers are always sold separately.
A good speaker is 200 dollars a piece, amazing ones start at 1500.

4. Sound card (optional)

There is a common misconception that you need a sound card to produce music.
That’s simply not true.
A sound card is totally optional for beginners, the on board sound card is just fine to start.

The reasons why you DO want to have a sound card:

Connection
Only if you want to connect monitor speakers that only have Jack connection.
Some monitor speakers, like my Tannoy Reveal’s have also a mini-jack connection, those you can connect directly to your onboard sound card.

Volume button
For a physical volume button.
For example, the Apple onboard sound card is only adjustable in steps and sometimes lags 2 to 5 seconds.
A physical touch of a button is quicker.

You need to listen to sounds carefully, so you change the volume a lot.
Yes, you can do this in software, a physical button is more convenient and quicker

Recording vocals
If you want to record a condenser microphone. Those microphones need extra 48V power that only external sound cards can give you
[show rhode mic]

The makers of regular sound cards don’t have the music producer in mind.
They sometimes boost or cut certain frequencies.
Sound cards designed for this purpose don’t have that problem.
They never had low latency in mind when designing a sound card

If you advance, I advice you to get a separate sound card.

Good sound cards are:
Apollo Twin One of the more professional sound cards.
Used by many producers around me
Price on Amazon
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd gen) I personally own the 2nd gen and I`m really happy with it.
It`s simply the best affordable sound card on the market
Price on Amazon
RME Babyface Professional sound card with less latency due to RME`s own USB drivers Price on Amazon
Arturia AudioFuse Professional little powerhouse with everyone`s dreamfeatures, a lot of negative reviews on the internet about the support or Arturia Price on Amazon
Audient ID14 Very good sound card with professional pre-amps. I owned one and was very happy with the sound quality Price on Amazon
I also owned a Steinberg UR28, but I was not satisfied with the build quality.
It all felt very 10 dollar plasticy for a sound card of a few hundred dollars, that’s why I sent it back.

A good sound card will cost 130 dollars, an amazing one 800 and up.

5. software plugins (optional)

You can expand functionality of your DAW with third-party plugins.
If you need third-party plugins, depends entirely on your DAW.

In full versions of DAWS like FL-Studio, Logic, Studio One and Ableton Live are pretty packed with stock plugins that will do most of the heavy lifting.
Professionals use third party plugins because they are easier to use, have more functionality or provide better sound.

My recommended plugins:
(in the last column “beginner” I marked if you should buy it when you start producing)
Maker Name Type description link beginner
Fabfilter Pro Q equalizer Simply undisputed the best equalizer / analyzer on the market. Everything is visual and has the best tools to shape your sound fabfilter.com yes
Fabfilter Pro C compressor I like the visual style of the plugin fabfilter.com yes
Fabfilter Pro L limiter I like the visual style of the plugin fabfilter.com yes
Fabfilter Saturn saturation great plugin, I like the visual style of the plugin fabfilter.com -
Xfer Records Serum synthesizer One of the most used synthesizer plugins on the planet. The reason: it’s simply the best synthesizer there is xferrecords.com yes
Lennar Digital Sylenth 1 synthesizer Used by a lot of electronic music producers lennardigital.com -
Reveal Sound Spire synthesizer Used by a lot of electronic music producers reveal-sound.com -
ReFx Nexus synthesizer Used by a lot of electronic music producers refx.com -
Native instruments Komplete (Kontakt) synthesizer Komplete is a package of different amazing sample based (and non sample based) instruments.
Make sure you include synthesizer Kontakt native-instruments.com -
Waves Miscellaneous waves.com -

An article with my top 10 favorite plugins you can find here.

The prices of a plugin can vary, from 10 bucks to 1500.

6. Microphone (optional)

Only necessary if you want to record vocals.
Use a condenser microphone for the best results.

I own the the Rode NT1 and am a big fan of the sound quality.
The NT1 is a condenser microphone.
These microphones are super sensitive and have an amazing sound quality.
This is why they are in a protective cage, because they are so sensitive, they register every single minuscule sound.
These things are heavy and you need a stand for them.
You will hear your hand shaking when you hold them.
Check price on Amazon.

Be aware you need a sound card with a 48v phantom power connection for condenser microphones.
They are connected via an XLR cable to your sound card.
Be aware you need a sound card with a 48v phantom power connection.

A good microphone is about 100 dollars, an amazing one 300.

7. Midi keyboard (optional)

A midi keyboard is optional.
You can create melodies in your DAW without using a MIDI keyboard, but using a keyboard is handy to transfer melodies and rhythms from your head to the computer.

There are computer keyboard simulators in some software like Logic Pro, but the touch and travel of a computer keyboard doesn’t lend itself for that purpose very well.

A full size piano keyboard has 88 keys.
It’s easy to have all the keys available to you to work quickly, otherwise you have to switch octaves with a special key.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that much space in my house, so I opted for a keyboard with 25 keys.

In the good old days, midi keyboards were connected with a midi plug to your sound card.
Nowadays midi keyboards support the MIDI-over-USB protocol, so if you buy a keyboard it has always a USB connection.
Most sound cards don’t have a MIDI connection anymore.
If you want to connect an old school MIDI keyboard, make sure your sound card has a connection for it.

A proper MIDI keyboard has touch sensitive keys, most cheap keyboards don’t have that.
Touch sensitive keys allow you to play on your MIDI keyboard and register the velocity of key presses, this way your music sounds more human, less robotic because not every key is pressed equally hard.
You can always adjust (or disable) the velocity in your DAW after you played on the MIDI keyboard.

The other touch related technology which is nice to have is: after touch.
Besides the keyboard registers velocity it also registers the velocity after you touched the key, in other words: when you hold the key it registers the velocity over time.
When you hold a key you can press harder or less hard.
This way you could trigger a course pitch (a wiggle in the pitch) for example in your synthesizer, the harder you press, the more the pitch shifts.

I have the CME X-Keys, but I’m not very happy with it.
The keyboard had a dead key within a year.
I wouldn’t recommend it.

A good midi keyboard costs around 100 dollars.

8. Midi controller (optional)

Some music producers have midi controllers on their desk with beautiful glowing big buttons.
They can help you to make a drum pattern quickly for example.

Ableton Push or Native Instruments Machine are one of the more famous examples.
Those are handy machines because it gives you some shortcuts which saves you time.
But for a beginner, don’t bother yet.

Those are completely optional.
I don’t even have one, it’s still on my christmas list.

A controller will set you back 500-600 dollars.

If you are serious about music production and want to take it to the next level,
download my free music production e-book.
Besides information about music production basics and computers for music production, the book gives also a unique perspective on the world of DJs and music producers.

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Author

photo author dexxter clark
Dexxter Clark
Music Producer / YouTuber

Read more about the author


ableton live
computer
daw
fl studio
logic pro x
soundcard
studio one

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