Getting Started: How to Make Electronic Music
If you want to start making electronic music or have even just begun—you've come to the right place. It's always helpful to have a guide to help you make the right choices when it comes to buying music software, hardware and other creative production gear.
There's a lot of temptation to spend money on the latest tech, but the truth is you can produce awesome music using just a few basic tools.
In this article, we'll let you know exactly what you need to get started making electronic music.
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is one of the most powerful computer tools for creating, arranging and mixing music. To begin your journey into music production, you'll need DAW software to organize and sequence audio on a time-based grid.
There are tons of DAWs out there, and for the most part they all do just about the same thing. But each one has a set of unique features that benefits certain styles of music production more than others.
Here are the facts:
- Powerful recording and editing tool for producers of all skills levels
- Lighting fast and intuitive workflow and creative sequencing capabilities
- Solid sample library and FX
- Move between 'arrange' and 'session' view for a cleaner, more organized workspace.
- Doubles as a live performance tool
- The industry standard for commercial work
- Used by some of the world's top producers and recording and mixing engineers
- High learning curve, but worth it—nearly all pro studios are equipped with Pro Tools
- Routing, bussing and returns are well-organized
- Good workflow when recording multiple takes of a live instrument or vocal
- Based off of emulations of hardware samplers, signal processors, synths and mixers
- One of the best built-in VST libraries and stock drum selections
- Powerful processing capabilities and reliability
- Can be integrated into another DAW as one instrument
- New this year to Reason: using external VSTs
- One of the most widely used DAWs on the market
- Great tool to quickly jot out musical ideas
- Expansive selection of synth presets and effects units
- Free lifetime updates to anyone that buys the program
One thing to keep in mind is that a DAW is a vessel for your creativity. Choosing the right DAW is about finding where you're most comfortable and capable of expressing your musical ideas as best as possible.
An audio interface is the bridge between your computer, external instruments and monitors. It allows you to record high quality audio into your computer and then output it through your studio monitors.
Audio interfaces connect via USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt to your computer and are easily portable. Some require additional software installation and may only work on specific computer operating systems, so always double-check audio interface specs before purchasing. This is what a basic setup with one external instrument (Juno-60) should look like:
When choosing an audio interface, ask yourself "what do I want to record?". Some audio interfaces have just one or two inputs (for example for a microphone and guitar), and others can include up to forty ins and outs.
Even if you don't plan on recording any external instruments, an audio interface is still a good idea. The sound quality of an audio interface is far superior than your computer's built-in sound card.
Without an audio interface you will likely experience jitter and noise interference. And if you plan on using a MIDI controller or keyboard (more on that later) there can be a latency effect when you play notes.
Take a look at these classic audio interfaces before making a decision:
Most interfaces use a combination of XLR and ¼ inch TRS cables. If you're not sure which cables you need, reference this helpful guide.
A good pair of studio monitors allow you to hear your music in detail and produce high quality mixes. Studio monitors are different from regular speakers (what you have in your car, what you hear in a club) because they produce a flat response. This means you hear your music exactly as it is. Regular speaker systems tend to boost bass and treble frequencies to make music sound better. This works well for a party or hanging out with friends, but it will not give a proper representation of your sound.
That's why choosing the right pair of studio monitors is one of the most important aspects of your production setup.
These are some of the best beginner monitors:
Feel free to choose from this list or head to a music store where you can hear a range of studio monitors in action. Play your favourite track on a few different pairs while standing in between the two monitors. Do your best to determine which monitors reproduce the most accurate version of the track and buy those.
With time, you'll start noticing how the sound coming from your monitors interacts with the space you produce in. Room size, shape and even the materials used in the walls and ceilings will dictate how sound travels on its way to your ears.
For starters, you'll want to place your monitors at ear level on surfaces that absorb sound well, and cover wood floors with a rug. If you want to dive deeper into acoustic treatment, follow this in-depth guide.
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a communication tool for computers, musical instruments and hardware. By sending information like pitch, note length and velocity, MIDI can be used to sync up studio equipment and improve studio workflow. It doesn't transmit audio.
A MIDI controller will send MIDI signals to your computer (and vice-versa). Using MIDI controller knobs, faders, pads, and keys you can control what's happening in your DAW. A MIDI controller is basically a hardware version of your DAW. It also creates a nice bit of distance between you and your computer, keeping screen time to a minimum and encouraging more spontaneous creation.
Some producers are happy drawing in notes and automation, which can work well too. You should only buy a controller if you think it will speed up and improve the way you work.
Here are some of the best budget MIDI keyboards out there:
MIDI controllers usually connect by USB to your computer. A basic connection should look like this:
Getting started making electronic music can seem daunting at first. Remember that you don't need the most expensive gear right away, and that your studio setup should suit only your needs. More importantly, make sure you're actually putting aside time to work on production, and that it's something you enjoy doing!
With this guide and a little more research you'll be able to build a perfect setup that allows you make some next-level music. Start your next music production session off right with our free starter drum kit sample pack.
Do you have any tips for beginner music producers? Or hardware/software suggestions that weren't on this list? Let us know in the comment section below!