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Now more than ever, music production and technology go hand-in-hand. These days, the key to making good music is having just the right pieces of tech gear. And thanks to these software and hardware tools, song production is easier than ever. If you’re an aspiring music producer, you must invest in these pieces of equipment.
Here are the most important pieces of equipment you should have to start your music production adventure.
1. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A digital audio workstation or DAW is perhaps the most essential tool for music production. This software performs various functions, including recording, editing, mixing, and mastering music. A DAW is where the magic happens as it gives music producers access to digital instruments, allowing them to add audio effects to a song.
In terms of availability, there are many options in the market. However, two of the most popular ones are Logic Pro and Ableton. The former is only available on macOS but has better editing features, while the latter is available across multiple devices and is best for simple productions. Other comparable options include FL Studio, Studio One, Cubase, and Reaper.
Many DAWs have free trial versions, so it might be worth trying them out first to determine if they meet your long-term needs before buying. The paid versions for some FL Studio and Ableton packages will set you back $500 to $1000. However, at $199.99, Logic Pro is a good value for money.
A computer, be it a laptop or desktop, is indispensable for music production as it helps bring all the other equipment (hardware and software) together. This means you need a computer capable of coping with all the plugins and programs running simultaneously.
Personally, I’d recommend an Apple silicon Mac (M1 or M2) with 16GB of RAM and a minimum of 500GB of storage capacity. But you can also opt for other computer brands with similar specifications.
To make things easier, you could have a separate computer for music production, but that’s not necessary. Also, as a newbie in the industry who doesn’t have a studio yet, you could go for a laptop since it’s cheaper and mobile, allowing you to record in different locations. You can choose one from our list of the best laptops for music production.
3. Studio Headphones/Monitors
Music production requires listening to your recordings to make necessary edits. You have two options: a studio monitor or a pair of studio headphones.
Monitors are more suitable for experienced producers who can modify them extensively to get clear sounds. So, as a new producer, you may want to opt for headphones as they are portable and more affordable than monitors. They’re also better options if you have a home studio or live in a noisy neighborhood.
Remember, studio headphones aren’t the same as regular consumer headphones. The former is mainly used by producers and artists and is equipped with tools to help you hear sounds you wouldn’t hear with the latter. This, in turn, lets you make necessary edits to the song as you record.
There is a broad range of studio headphones, but you should consider qualities like clarity, audio isolation, and durability when shopping for one. The most popular models with these qualities include Audio Technica ATH-M50x, Sennheiser HD-280, and Beyerdynamic DT 770.
4. Recording Microphone
A recording microphone is another top-of-the-list piece of equipment for music production. It captures vocals and instruments, which you can convert to electronic signals using a DAW.
Microphones come in different types; however, condenser and dynamic mics are the most popular. Condenser mics are best for capturing vocals and other sounds, but dynamic mics can also get the job done.
Recording mics can cost anywhere between $100 to north of $10,000. But as a newbie, you don’t need to break the bank to buy one, there are many quality options with reasonable prices.
Examples of fairly affordable recording mics are the Rode NTIA condenser microphone, Audio Technica AT4040, and Shure SM57 dynamic microphone, all with prices ranging from $100 to $300.
5. MIDI Controller
A Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controller is a device that sends software instruments to MIDI-enabled software like a DAW. In other words, it doesn’t generate any sound independently but can send MIDI data to your DAW, which then plays the sound in the data.
Depending on your genre, the MIDI controller can speed up your workflow by immediately integrating new melodies into your DAW. You can use the MIDI controller by linking it to your computer with a USB cable. After that, open the DAW software on your computer, check for active MIDI devices, and connect it to the controller.
Technically, you probably don’t need a MIDI controller, especially if your genre doesn’t require many chord progressions and melodies. But if you must get one, models like Arturia KeyLab 49, M-Audio Oxygen 61-key, and AKAI MPK Midi are good options.
6. Audio Interface
A multi-channel audio interface is essential for music production. This gear takes in audio signals from microphones and instruments like guitars and keyboards and sends the electronic output to your DAW. Think of it as the conduit between analog sounds from live instruments and the DAWs’ digital audio.
Audio interfaces vary in the number of channels or inputs they have. The higher the number of channels, the higher the number of instruments you can record simultaneously. As a newbie with a simple studio setup, audio interfaces with one or two channels can suffice until you’re ready to use more instruments.
Some of the most highly regarded audio interfaces include the Focusrite Scarlett series, Apollo Twin X, and Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2.
7. External Hard Drive
Granted, most DAWs have a plethora of inbuilt samples and instruments that may be more than enough for your production needs. However, you may need to expand your options over time by exploring third-party Virtual Studio Technologies (VSTs).
That is where an external hard drive comes in, providing sufficient space to safely store extra software or sound bites you may use for music production.
External hard drives typically come in two types—hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs). HDDs are usually less expensive, but SSDs offer the best value for money as their transfer speed is much faster.
8. Cables and Adapters
To get your studio up and running, you’ll need cables to connect a variety of devices. The three most important cables to get you started are:
- XLR cables – To connect a microphone to an audio interface.
- Interface cables – To connect audio interfaces to a computer.
- MIDI cables – To connect devices like keyboards and controllers to a computer.
Cables can impact the sound quality of your recordings as they transmit audio signals from instruments to the audio interface, and from the interface to the DAW. So, only buy original cables from reputable retailers like Amazon and Walmart.
Lastly, it is important to have multiple adapters, especially when you’re on the road. A powered USB hub is a must-have adapter as it allows you to connect multiple instruments to your laptop. It also helps conserve your laptop battery as connected devices like the MIDI controller or audio interface will draw power from it instead of the laptop.
Equip Your Music Production Journey for Success
To become a professional music producer, you will need more than the equipment on this list. But one thing’s for sure: you can get your career on the way by first investing in the essentials.
Reward yourself with better gear when you start growing and making some returns. This should expose you to better tools and perhaps make you more creative and expressive to produce better music.