After listening to music for your whole life, you’ve finally decided to start making music yourself. Wohoo! But after looking at your favorite music artist's studios, you start wondering... what music gear do you need to make music?
That’s a very good question. By looking at the all crazy spaceship looking studios (like the studio of PML's Attila Hanak above), it’s easy to assume that you need similar gear to make excellent music. Luckily, that’s not the case at all.
Even though high-end gear with sexy lights and functionality is a ton of fun (trust me, it is), musical results come from your ears and mind, not your gear. It’s the same as painting. A person excellent at drawing can still draw fantastic with your everyday pencil. High-quality pencils are not necessary.
Ok, back to the topic at hand. What music gear do you need to make music? It’s a lot less than you think – thankfully suiting lower budgets as well. Let’s dive in.
The first thing you need to make electronic music is a computer. Maybe a bit obvious, but there you go. And you don't just need any computer. You need the new Electronic Banger Maker 2000™!
Sorry, I’m kidding. You don't need that great or expensive of a computer to make awesome music. It all comes down to having a computer that meets the specifications of your DAW (more on that soon), which thankfully are quite low.
However, having a fast computer does help. It reduces your lag times, allowing you to work interrupted even with tons of sounds, effects, and CPU-heavy virtual synths.
To get a grip on what you need, let’s see the specifications for Ableton Live 10.
Recommended System Requirements of Live 10:
- Windows 7, Windows 8, or Windows 10
- Intel® Core™ i5 processor (or faster) or AMD equivalent
- 8 GB or more recommended
- OS X 10.11.6 or later
- Intel® Core™ i5 processor or faster
- 8 GB or more recommended
The recommended specifications are higher than the minimum requirements, allowing you to have enough power to start Ableton and work smoothly in it.
So while you can go below the above specs, it’s not recommended. But thankfully, these are the standards in pretty much any average priced laptop nowadays (except for Mac laptops, which are quite expensive.)
Specifications To Look For In A Laptop
There’s a reason why Ableton only mentions operating system, CPU, and memory. The rest just isn’t as important.
But there’s also one we’d like to add to the list, making the most important laptop specifications:
- Hard Drive
A faster multi-core CPU is vital to ensure your computer can process the heavy load of audio information from your DAW. Together with memory, this is what you want to invest in the most.
✓ Aim for an Intel® Core™ i5 processor (or faster) or an AMD equivalent.
Computer memory lets you store and access data from running applications in the short term. With plenty of sounds, virtual synths, effects, and other memory gulpers, having enough memory is important. Following Ableton’s recommendations, go with at least 8GB, but don’t overspend.
✓ At least 8GB. You don't need to go as high as 32GB. Invest in a faster CPU instead.
Not surprisingly, making music takes up a lot of space on your hard drive. Sample libraries, recorded sounds, virtual synths can be gigabyte after gigabyte. For example, the popular virtual synth Omnisphere requires around 60GB of hard drive space. So make sure you get enough because it’s an absolute pain to run out.
If you hate waiting for things to load, look for a hard drive with SSD in its name. SSD means much faster booting and loading times but is more expensive and has less space than your 'everyday' hard drives.
✓ Get at least 250GB, but preferably at least 500GB. Get enough space for your DAW, sounds, and plugins. Get an SSD, if you can afford it, for faster booting and loading times.
When you’re making music, you will have to connect quite a few things to your laptop. If you’re using an external mouse and keyboard, which we recommend (it just feels better), you need two USB ports. An audio interface needs one USB connection, and if you do get a MIDI keyboard, you’ve guessed it – you need one for that too.
✓ In total, four USB ports are necessary. But luckily, that’s the standard for most laptops nowadays. But make sure you double-check before you swipe that credit card.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A digital audio workstation, or DAW, is vital to create music on your computer. It’s a music production software used to create, arrange, mix, and master your sound, just like in the studio.
Most of the many DAW’s out there do mostly the same thing, but comes with varying functionality, look, and feel. Which one you choose is completely up to you, but we have a few tips which might help you on your way.
The most popular DAW’s include:
- Ableton Live
- Pro Tools
- FL Studio
Which DAW do you start with?
A very popular option (and our personal favorite) is Ableton Live 10. It’s easy-to-use, powerful, and extremely versatile – allowing you to warp, loop, and shape your sounds in the exact way you want it.
It’s also what most producers use when they want to play live because of their great interaction with hardware gear and the ability to do advanced live sets on to fly.
There are three versions of Live:
These three differ quite a lot in price, but what we recommend (and most producers agree) is the Suite. Containing everything you need to make music, it’s a solid one-time investment.
Besides having everything you need to make music on your computer, Ableton includes free updates, ensuring you always have the latest version.
There’s a reason why you don’t produce music on regular speakers, and that’s because they try to sound good. Hear me out. I know it sounds weird. Standard speakers are designed to highlight certain aspects of sound to make it sound more impressive to your ears than before.
They might have increased the bass, toned down the mid-range, or amplified the highest of highs. None-the-less, the fact is that they change your sound into something you don’t want. And that’s a big no-no when making music. You want accuracy.
To accurately arrange, mix, and master, you need speakers that playback exactly (or as close to as possible) what you put into the computer – meaning a flat response.
A flat frequency response means that you hear the sounds “as is,” in the most natural way possible – allowing you to make accurate decisions when shaping your tracks.
As a beginner, you need to be aware of two things when choosing your first monitors. And that’s the words “passive” and “active.”
Passive monitors are modular, with no built-in amplifier to power them. Without an external power source, an amplifier, they can't make a sound.
The upside is that they are generally cheaper, but you need to know your electronics to make the best use of them. If you match the wrong amplifier to passive monitors, they might break because the load is too high.
Active monitors do have a built-in amplifier, making them good-to-go from the start. Just connect them to your computer, turn them on, and you’re ready to make music.
Beginners and intermediates alike will find that active monitors are the easiest and most convenient choice.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing Monitors
Choosing monitors nowadays is fairly easy. Many of them come surprisingly cheap, at around a hundred dollars for a pair of active monitors.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that no monitors sound alike, even though that’s their goal. There are still sound differences, even though they aim to have a flat response curve.
Therefore, the best thing you can do is going into a music store, listen and compare monitors to find the ones you like. If you’re in quarantine, you can read reviews, watch YouTube videos, and decide that way.
You don’t have to spend much money at all to get a decent pair of monitors. What’s more important is how you treat your room. If you have a very large room, with nothing to dampen the sound, it will bounce and echo, affecting the way you mix.
So if you can, get an absorbing carpet and put up acoustic panels (or even fabric) on your walls to make them sound as great as possible.
Headphones are semi-optional. If you live in a forest all alone with a house for yourself and have a pair of solid monitors, you don’t really need a pair of headphones.
But if you’re like most music producers, living in an apartment with other people or producing music late at night, headphones are necessary.
Remember what we said about regular speakers versus studio monitors? Well, it's the same thing with headphones.
They can either be ‘positively’ distorted to make the music sound better or have a flat frequency response.
Which one should you get? You guessed, right. You want headphones with a flat response. If they have it, it’s often marked somewhere on the specifications or the box. Look for "studio" or "reference" headphones, and you should be good to go.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing Headphones
Keep this in mind when choosing your perfect pair of headphones:
- Chord Length
- Open Or Closed Back
You want a chord length that suits your studio setup. If you end up getting a lot of hardware gear, like synthesizers, you want a long enough chord allowing you to get up and move around.
Open or closed back are two types of headphone designs. Open-back headphones are airy and generally sound better. Closed-back covers the ears and removes outside noise more, giving a more boxed-in sound. Go with open-back headphones for producing and mixing purposes.
Impedance is a big one if you plan to listen with your smartphone or use your computer's stereo connection. A higher impedance rating (ohm) needs more power to give enough volume. Audio interfaces can play most ohm ratings, but there might be an issue with other devices or connecting methods.
Audio interfaces are two things. They’re both an external audio card that gives you better sound quality and connects your monitors, microphones, and other music gear.
In music production, they are an essential piece of gear that makes it possible to get great quality wherever you are. Since most audio interfaces are very portable and easy to connect, you can take it along when traveling or playing gigs.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing Audio Interface
If you invest more money into your audio interface, you get better sound quality and possibly more or different connections.
But as you don't need that much gear when starting, you can spend around $100 and still get great audio quality with the connections you want.
The most important thing is that they can connect your monitors and your headphones. If you use a microphone, a microphone connection is also needed.
Of course, to connect your monitors to your audio interface, you need the right cables. And which ones you need ultimately depends on which monitors you end up buying.
To be sure, double-check in a music store, or see the specifications for your monitors.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing Cables
While it might be tempting to save a couple of bucks and get cheaper ones, trust me, it’s not worth it. Cheap cables make nasty noises, break quickly, have glitchy connections, and generally give you headaches.
Get high-quality cables, and if necessary, ask your music store for help to choose the right ones. You will not regret it.
MIDI Keyboard (optional)
A MIDI keyboard looks like a synthesizer but does not play sounds by itself. It needs a DAW to trigger MIDI notes, which can then play your virtual synthesizers' sounds.
Why do we list it as optional? Well, in the case of Ableton Live 10, you can trigger MIDI notes by pressing keys on your normal keyboard (the keys A to L.)
For some that mostly draw their notes with their mouse, your normal keyboard works fine. For others, they want a more realistic feel and play the chords on a real thing to get in the groove.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing A MIDI Keyboard
MIDI keyboards' choices are many, going from very basic keyboards to massive ones, with buttons, knobs, and several octaves worth of keys.
When starting, you don’t need anything fancy, and most do pretty much the same thing. Better ones can have trigger pads, allowing you to punch out drum grooves. They can have sliders and knobs, which you can route to effects and record in real-time.
As a recommendation, I’d go with a MIDI keyboard around $50, with a few keys and some knobs. That’s all you need to make music, at least for now.
A microphone is another piece of music production hardware that’s purely optional. It comes down to whether you want to record the sound of something or not. If you do, you want to invest in a solid microphone that does the trick.
If you want to record vocals, instruments, or other things in your tracks, you can find microphones quite cheaply (around $100), delivering great results. They’re not the best in the world, but for a home-studio, they work fine.
What To Keep In Mind When Choosing A Microphone
Remember that there are microphones for different purposes. If you plan on recording guitars or drums, you have to look for other models to record vocals.
Also, make sure you can connect the microphone to your audio interface for the best possible audio quality.
The Next Steps To Start Making Professional Music
Setting up your studio is your first step in a life-long commitment to creating music that impacts people all over the world. But, after activating and opening your brand new Ableton Live 10 license and starting the program – what buttons do you click to make music? How do you even begin?
That’s not all…
More questions arise, such as:
- What are chords and progressions?
- How do you make melodies?
- Which sounds do you use?
- How do you mix and master your tracks?
… and more.
Learning to produce music on a professional level takes years of blood, sweat, and tears. Even learning to create your first track takes time. It’s normal.
However, there is a very effective shortcut to making professional music faster.
Starting from zero, we show you exactly how to create your first professionally mixed and mastered song – in just 24 hours.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Core Bundle, the Production Music Live premium pack contains all the courses, sounds, presets, and templates you need to become a music producer.
Our biggest pack ever includes:
- 29 Complete Online Life-Time Access Music Production Courses
- 90+ Full Templates In Techno, Deep House, Pop, And More
- 25 Top-Class Sample Packs With Drums, Synths, And More
- 26 Presets For Your Favorite Synths Including Serum, Diva, And Sylenth1
With the Core Bundle, you will:
- Learn To Produce Professional Tracks 80% Faster
- Finally Understand Music Theory In An Easy Way
- Arrange Your Tracks Like The Pros
- Mix And Master Your Tracks
Check out this comment we got on one of our YouTube videos:
Premium Bundle: Core
Click here to get the ultimate start in your music production journey.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.