Updated: Aug 4, 2019
So you've decided that you want to start making music, cool! What's the next step you might ask yourself. The next step is to get the things you need in order to start! This means spending money. If you're like me and don't like to spend a lot of money on things you don't fully understand you're in luck. Just follow this checklist or guide of recommendations and you'll get your home project studio up and running with the perfect beginner studio gear.
For someone who wants to work with music production, songwriting, recording or just working with audio in general, there are around 7-8 pieces of equipment and software that you're going to need. To acquire all of these things in one go is expensive and may be impossible for you. I've had several friends coming up to me asking what they need in order to start recording themselves singing or producing their own songs and that's why I decided to write this, let's call it a checklist, for anyone who wants to begin making their own music but don't know what equipment they need.
This checklist is specifically made for the beginners that don't have any equipment at all and want to have quality gear and at the same time keep the costs down as much as possible but also for people that have a few pieces of equipment and wants to complete their home project studio setup.
Note: Some software come with the hardware.
So what are the 8 things that every new music producer needs?
(I tried to put these in order of importance, but depending on whether you are a singer, guitarist or neither the order might change for you.)
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Microphone & Instrument
External Hard Drive
All prices mentioned in this post is taken from the day it was written and may have changed since then.
Don't feel like you have to go out and buy all of the equipment at the same time to be able to begin. Work with what you have at home. If all you have is a computer and headphones and all you can afford right now is the DAW software, start there. I do mention this at the end of the post but I feel like I should also tell you this before you start reading.
The estimated price with a small budget for this list is 532€, excluding the computer, in this estimation of the cost, I'm assuming that you're going to use the DAW-software Logic Pro X (However that is all up for you to decide).
Logic Pro X DAW Software (200€)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio Bundle (Audio Interface, Microphone,Headphone (174€, Discounted).
Akai MPK mini Mk2 MIDI Keyboard (79€)
LaCie Rugged USB-C 1TB Hard Drive (79€)
We're going to start off this checklist with the centerpiece of every home project studio, the computer.
The computer is the heart of your studio and if your computer doesn't work the entire studio shuts down. Recording and producing music requires your computer to be pretty decent. I had a MacBook Pro from 2016 up until one month ago. My old MacBook started to struggle with some of my larger projects of around 60-80 tracks.
Buying a new computer is going to be the most expensive purchase of this list, my suggestion is that you start with what you have at home, but if you are buying a new computer make sure that it has at least 8gb RAM and an I5 processor.
Also, decide what DAW (found in the next part of the post) you're going to be using and make sure that it can be run on the computer you're buying. (Mac or Windows)
I can't really give you an estimated price here, it's all about how you build your windows pc or how you decide to configure your MacBook Pro, but as long as you follow my recommendation of at least 8gb RAM and an I5 processor your going to be fine.
2. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Software
The DAW is the program you're going to work in. Everything from recording audio, structuring your song, mixing and mastering are done within the DAW so it's important that you like how it looks and operates since you're going to spend countless hours using it.
Just like there are different brands of Headphones, there are different DAWs, I'm going to write the pros and cons of a couple of DAWs that I know of and can recommend, but there are others that won't be covered in this post.
(I'm excluding third-party plugins in this checklist so big focus of the pros and cons will be put on the plugins that comes with the DAW.)
FL Studio 20 (189€)
+ Pros: Quick workflow for Producing, Cheap, Lifetime Updates, Mac & Windows
- Cons: Complicated to record audio, Limited Mixing Capabilities, Bad Stock Plugins.
Cubase 10 (500€)
+ Pros: Mac & Windows Compatible, Good Stock Plugins.
- Cons: Expensive, USB E-Licencer Required.
Logic Pro X (200€)
+ Pros: Good Stock Plugins, Cheap, Quick Workflow for producing, mixing & recording
- Cons: Mac Only, Lacking Audio Editing Workflow.
Ableton Live Standard (349€)
+ Pros: Mac & Windows Compatible, Good stock plugins, Quick workflow for
- Cons: Expensive, Difficult overview when mixing.
+ Pros: Mac & Windows Compatible, Very Quick Workflow For Audio Editing, Very
good for recording audio, Free test version, Payment via subscription. Decent stock plugins(Depending on version)
- Cons: Production becomes complicated. MIDI Functions are not as good, Looks very boring
Don't worry too much about the choice of DAW, they all do the things you'll need in order to work with audio, some of them do some things better and faster than others and some do it slower, but they're all viable to create songs worth millions of dollars!
I suggest you do some digging on your own and look up a few youtube videos on how the different DAWs look. I'm using Logic Pro X and I might be a bit biased when I'm saying that I believe Logic Pro X is the best choice if you have a Mac.
If you are someone who is going to record yourself maybe playing the guitar and singing I would recommend looking at ProTool due to its superiority when it comes to recording and editing of audio.
3. Audio Interface
Next up on the list is the audio interface. So what is an audio interface and why do you need it?
An audio interface is a piece of hardware that is needed to convert analog signals to digital signals and digital signals to analog. Simply put, it records audio into the DAW and sends audio from the DAW to the Studio monitors or headphones connected to the audio interface.
If you plan to record yourself singing or playing an instrument this is a crucial piece of equipment to get. The interface will give you the ability to set the right amount of gain and give your microphone v48 phantom power if needed.
There are interfaces that can record up to 16 microphones at the same time, but for the purpose of this checklist, I recommend something much cheaper like to Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
Scarlett Focusrite Solo 2nd gen (83€)
This audio interface will give you a clean signal both in and out, ability to record both microphone and a line signal at the same time. It's a very good entry-level audio interface for its price.
Alright, so, unfortunately, this step might be a trial and error for you. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to headphones, closed-back, open back, on-ear, over-ear, the bottom line is, there's a lot of options and it's just best that you get a pair and see what you like, or better, go to an actual store and test them out.
I should mention that headphones and studio monitors all have different frequency response curves, which means that they all sound different from each other. Generally, flat frequency response curves are preferable for studio headphones.
I'm using Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro 80 ohms (113€) and I can honestly say that they are the best pair of studio headphones I've used so far. They're very comfortable to wear for long hours and blocks much of the noise in the room and outside the house and gives you a true representation of what the audio sounds like.
If you're looking for something cheaper I can recommend Audio-Technica ATH-M30X (60€), they are on-ear, closed-back which means they block outside noise very well. The material does feel plastic and fragile due to the lower price but sound quality wise they’re still pretty good.
If you only want to produce electronic music using plugins and software synthesizers, mix & master skip to part 6.
If you are a singer or playing an instrument you’re going to need a microphone to record yourself. Since this is an entry-level guide I'm not going to dive too deep into the world of microphones. The goal here is to get you a cheap microphone to get you started with.
There's one microphone that particularly comes to mind here and that is the Shure SM58 (92€). It's one of the cheaper high-quality microphones you can get and what makes this microphone special is that it works for recording pretty much anything and is very durable, usually used for live performances. So for someone that wants to start recording and not worry about destroying the microphone (because that happens very easily with poor handling), the SM58 is a perfect purchase.
If you still want a more budget option for the last three parts (Audio interface, Headphones, Microphone) you could get the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio Bundle (174€, Discounted).
This bundle consists of Focusrite Scarlett Solo Audio Interface, a Condenser Microphone CM25 mkII, Headphones HP60 mkII and an XLR Cord for the microphone going to the Audio Interface.
Keep in mind that you should probably look for some sort of a stand for your microphone and a pop filter if you're going to sing. The XLR cords are usually sold separate.
6. MIDI Keyboard
In your DAW you can load up piano and other synth sounds that you can play using a MIDI Keyboard. A MIDI Keyboard can also control other parameters if it has knobs and faders on it. I do recommend getting a MIDI Keyboard, but if you have trouble financing all of the different equipment on this list, I'd suggest waiting with getting one. Never the less, I'm going to list a few ones down here for you to look at if you want to.
Akai MPK mini Mk2 (79€)
This is a 25 key MIDI Keyboard that will help you with your productions and songwriting. It has 8 drum pads that you can load up drum samples to and jam out together with the rest of your song and to top things off it also has 8 knobs that you can use for mixing and plug-in control. It's a very basic MIDI Keyboard but a very good starting point for beginners.
Swissonic EasyKey 61 (99€)
If you're looking for a MIDI Keyboard that has more keys making it easier for you to play piano pieces and you're willing to sacrifice the drum pads and knobs, this MIDI keyboard might be for you.
Just like most things on this list it much up to taste and needs, and these are just recommendations for you to get a starting point when deciding what you need.
7. External Hard Drives
When you're working with audio you're quickly going to realize that you have to handle a lot of files on your computer. A rule that I follow is that I never have more files on my computers hard drive than I need and only the projects that I'm currently working on is saved on the internal hard drive and all of my previously completed projects on external hard drives.
One thing that I have learned the hard way is to backup all of your files on (if possible) multiple hard drives. You never know when one of your hard drives will fail and corrupt most of your files.
I have two hard drives, one that is stationary (WD 4TB Elements Desktop Hard Drive (83€)) which I'm very happy with. On this one, I keep all of my completed projects and files that I don't require to have on my internal MacBook Pro Hard Drive.
I also have one portable hard drive (LaCie Rugged USB-C 1TB (79€)) which I can take with me wherever I go. On this, I keep some of my projects, all of my sample libraries and samples, so I have access to all of the things I need to produce a song whenever I'm traveling.
If you only have the budget to get one I suggest getting the LaCie due to its portability and shock production.
8. Studio Monitors
Before I start writing about the last step of this checklist I just want to thank you for reading this far, and for some of you this might be as far as you're going to read, let me explain. Studio monitors are not a necessary purchase for beginners because your headphones are sufficient enough in the beginning. I started out myself only working in headphones. I produced 3-4 songs before getting a pair of monitors and one of them was to this day my most successful song with over 3,5 million streams. So don't worry if your budget doesn't allow the purchase of studio monitors yet, but if it does keep reading.
Just like headphones, all studio monitors have a different frequency response and they all sound different. Just like headphones a flat frequency response curve is preferable. The big difference between headphones and studio monitors is that the room you're in has a big impact on how the sound coming from the monitors sound, but that is a discussion for another blog post.
I can't give you too many recommendations for studio monitors because I've only really used two pairs since I started producing music. Yamaha HS5 and M-Audio Carbon BX8.
Yamaha HS5 (Pair 316€)
These monitors are very popular among home project studios, they're small and sound good. They do however lack that sub-low-end due to the small size, but Yamaha does have a subwoofer made specifically for the HS series that you can purchase if you need to extend the low-end.
M-Audio Carbon BX8 (Pair 465€)
The BX8s have a very good low-end with a clear high-end and out of the two mentioned monitors, my favorite. They are however heavy and rather big, which might be a problem if you have limited space to put them in.
Remember that most of the time XLR cables are not included and must the purchased separately.
To conclude this post I would like to say that you should work with what you have. Don't feel like you have to go all out and buy everything on this list. If all you have is a computer and a pair of headphones (doesn't have to be studio headphones could be a pair of gaming or beats headphones) and your budget only allows getting a DAW, start there. Maybe you can buy the audio interface next month, or the month after that.
Anyways, thank you for reading and I hope this helps all of you aspiring artists, songwriters, producers, mixing and mastering engineers in any way.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if anything wasn't explained well enough.