Music Studio Equipment For Beginners
Software has largely taken over the world of music production, but some music studio equipment is still necessary. In this final section of our three part series for new producers, we will explain the hardware you need to start producing music.
The first piece of equipment required is a computer.
Make Sure You Have an Appropriately Powerful Computer
As a beginner you’re very fortunate because you’re not going to need a particularly powerful computer. Modern production software is pretty light when it comes to processing…at first anyway.
Why is this? As a new producer you’re going to spend your time making beats, playing with some synths, and putting your first songs together.
Fast forward a few years and you’ll be using the software very differently. Suddenly you’ll have a large number of instruments and effects which require additional processing power.
Here’s a screenshot of a highly complex EDM track created in FL Studio:
All of that complexity demands a lot of RAM and processing power. To create a track this complex you would need a high end machine.
You will not need that kind of computer for quite some time though, and depending on what you’re doing in your DAW maybe not ever. Pretty much any laptop or desktop built in the last five years will be more than able to handle your needs as a new producer. You’re probably already covered and won’t have to spend a cent on upgrading your computer. Awesome!
Studio Monitors and Headphones
Let’s avoid some confusion: Studio monitors are speakers, not computer display monitors. They’re a touch different than most of the other speakers on the market.
They look like this:
Studio monitors and production quality headphones play sound at a very high quality that is regarded as being “natural.” Most consumer-grade headphones and speakers “color” the sound by modifying the frequency to make songs, movies, and whatever else people are listening to sound better. To producers this sound coloring isn’t ideal, and so they use studio monitors and production quality headphones to hear their music as perfectly as possible.
However, as a beginner and won’t need this kind of equipment right out of the gate. If you already have decent headphones or speakers you can hold off buying production quality gear for a while.
It is important to have quality speakers or headphones though, as you need to ensure that each instrument and effect in your music sounds good – if you have a low quality speaker (like a laptop speaker) you’ll need to upgrade quick.
A MIDI Keyboard is the Handiest Thing
A digital piano is almost a must-have if you’re using a DAW to compose music, though it is technically an optional piece of equipment. While you can play notes on the screen using your mouse or even with your regular keyboard you use for typing, connecting a MIDI keyboard to your computer is a great idea.
A MIDI keyboard will save you a monumental amount of time through the creative process.
When you’re producing you are not always going to know which notes to put into a song. Creating a song takes a good amount of experimentation, and if you’re clicking notes one at a time with your mouse this is going to be a very slow process.
Say you want to put two chords that have three notes each into the DAW. Without a MIDI keyboard you’ll have to click each of those six notes to enter them in the system and then press play to make sure they sound right. If you’re using a MIDI keyboard you will simply play those two chords, hear that they don’t sound quite right, play another two, realize those sound perfect, and then enter them in the DAW. This streamlined process enhances your creativity.
With a digital piano connected it becomes much easier to play complex melodies and harmonies. You could, for example, loop two bars of your music, riffing over it with the piano until you find the perfect melody.
So…what if you don’t play piano? We still recommend getting a MIDI keyboard.
Many DAWs revolve around use of piano as a primary way to enter notes. FL Studio, for example, heavily features something called Piano Roll where you will enter notes using a virtual piano. Since you’re going to have to learn anyway, you may as well equip yourself with the best tool for enhancing your creativity and productivity.
It doesn’t hurt that MIDI keyboards are some of the cheapest music studio equipment available. There are plenty on the market that cost under $100 and will last you for years. It’s a small expense that you won’t regret making.
Grab a Microphone or Two
If you want to record vocals or a variety of other instruments then you’re going to need a good microphone or two.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend an insane amount of money to get a good microphone. You do however need to do your research and make sure you’re buying right mic for the job. Here are a few things to look out for:
There are different microphones for different uses. Some microphones excel at recording vocals while others are at their best when recording drums. If you want the best result from your recordings, you’ll want to make sure the mics you’re using are adequate for the job.
Buy microphones for studio recording, not stage performance. One of the most popular microphones in the world, the SM-58 by Shure, is something you have almost certainly seen on stage. It’s an amazing microphone that is incredibly durable and we couldn’t recommend it highly enough…unless you want to do studio recordings. Do some research and make sure you purchase the right microphone (hint: begin your search with condenser microphones).
You don’t have to spend a lot but you do need to spend enough. Don’t even think of trying to spend $50 on a microphone! Likewise, you won’t need to spend thousands of dollars. There is a sweet spot in the $100 – $1000 range, depending on how much you want to spend.
Try a bunch of microphones to find the one you like. As if the search for the perfect microphone wasn’t complicated enough, each mic makes recordings that sound a little different. If you’re recording vocals of any kind it is particularly important that the singer tries several to make sure the selected microphone works with their voice. If the singer can’t try a mic, be sure to listen to sample recordings done by a vocalist with a similar voice.
Connect Everything to Your Computer with an Audio Interface
An audio interface links your music studio equipment (including electric guitars and basses, microphones, and MIDI instruments) as well as your speakers and headphones to your computer. Its job is to convert analog signals from your instruments into digital format.
Your computer has a sound card that may allow you to plug in some instruments (such as some microphones), so you may be wondering why you need an audio interface. There are a few reasons:
First, an audio interface has many input and output options, giving you a lot more connectivity than your sound card will. Sound cards don’t tend to have MIDI connections, won’t let you plug in a guitar, and the best microphones use something called an XLR connection that your sound card will almost certainly not have.
Second, consumer-grade sound cards in computers weren’t designed for professional quality recording and come with all kinds of shortcomings. They cannot, for example, provide phantom power to your microphone (which is an extra bit of voltage required by some mics to function).
Audio interfaces will also give you higher quality input and a lot more control over your recording. You can turn a dial to increase or decrease the mix, control input levels, visually see when peaking is happening (a technical term for being too loud, which corrupts the recording), and more.
Finally, if you want to record vocals direct monitoring is one of the most crucial advantages of an audio interface. You wouldn’t expect it, but audio recording is impacted by latency (lag).
A standard recording set-up involves a singer’s headphones playing both the song and their own vocals back to them. Without an audio interface the vocalist will hear the music correctly but there will be a delay from when they sing into the mic and hear their voice, making it almost impossible to continue singing. An audio interface with direct monitoring will eliminate this problem completely.
You should look into buying an audio interface if you want to record or if you need the enhanced connectivity these devices provide. If you’re only looking at a basic production setup you might be able to get by without one, but check that your MIDI keyboard has a USB connection and that your monitors will be able to connect to your sound card.
Next Step: Get Started
You’ve reached the end of the guide and are now familiar with what you need to start producing music. The next step is to get started!