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What you have in your studio is extremely important. You can always make beats with just a simple drum machine and sampler, or your favorite beat making software program, but you should always try to have the best possible setup, as it will make a huge difference.
Here are some of the most important things you need in your studio.
Gone are the days where you had to record everything to tape by using a huge mixer and lots of outboard effects. Now it’s all about computers.
So what do you need?
You can use your laptop or desktop, whichever is more convenient for you. It’s what’s inside that matters.
The CPU must be powerful enough to run some of the newest software out there, along with many other things like the operating system itself. RAM plays a big role in that too, so the more RAM you have, the better. Most operating systems are run at 64-bit nowadays, which means that you need a good amount of RAM to run them anyway, so that should be more than enough for music production.
Even though the RAM is very important, the CPU must be solid. If you bought a computer already assembled, then most likely the CPU is very good. It’s if you have an older system, or if you’re building a system yourself, you must make sure you have enough processing power.
It’s possible to use the onboard soundcard inside the computer that is part of the motherboard, but I highly recommend you do not. For years I used the Soundblaster (remember those?) card that was part of my computer, but once I finally upgraded to an audio interface, it made a big difference. The fact that it connects via USB cable is really good because I don’t have to worry about a card inside my system that can be affected by noise and dust. With an interface, it also has inputs and outputs that you’ll never get with an internal soundcard.
I once was at a point where I couldn’t even afford a basic keyboard controller, so what I did was use my computer keyboard! There was a program (there must be others out there now) that allowed you to use your computer’s keyboard to trigger sounds from software, just like a regular MIDI keyboard. It wasn’t great, but it did the job.
But today there are many controllers you can get that won’t break the bank. You can go with something like the Akai MPD which has pads on it, or an actual keyboard that has a USB connection. Some people prefer to bang at the pads, others prefer keys.
Some controllers though, are not just controllers. For example, Maschine and the Akai MPC Renaissance are controllers but they also have their own software, which acts like a DAW of sorts.
If all you’re looking for is something basic, then I would recommend a small, compact keyboard, just as long as it has USB, which makes it so much simpler to plug in and play.
3. BEAT MAKING SOFTWARE
When it comes to software, there are tons of options. First you have your DAW, then there’s also editors, virtual instruments, and effects.
With the DAW, Pro Tools is the industry standard for recording studios, but if you want something simpler then there’s Ableton Live, Bitwig, Propellerheads Reason, Cakewalk Sonar, Cubase, and many more.
For editors, you can always rely on the free Audacity editor, which always does a great job. I’ve been using Adobe Audition for years (which used to be called Cool Edit Pro), and there is also Sony Soundforge. The thing with audio editors is that in my opinion, they are not needed as much as they once were. The reason for this is because there has been so many features added to today’s DAWs that you don’t necessarily need an editor to do certain things, although they still come in very handy.
4. HEADPHONES / SPEAKERS
One tip that I always tell beatmakers and producers is to never mix your tracks through your headphones. The best way to mix is with studio monitor speakers, as they give off a flat reference sound, which is exactly what you want when mixing. Headphones are okay, but they’re all different. Some have extra bass response added, and others, well, just sound like crap.
But headphones are great if you just want to make beats. For years I’ve used mine because I didn’t want to bother anyone else, like my neighbors. Plus with headphones it’s sort of like you’re in the zone where nothing else matters but the beat.
5. PROPER LIGHTING
I’m guessing you didn’t expect to see proper lighting on this list, did you? Most beatmakers forget that lighting is extremely important, as it sets the mood. I once wrote this article about making beats only at night, but that’s because it really does make a difference. If you think about it - making a beat in the morning with the sun blasting through your windows would most likely result in you making sunshine beats! Your beats could possibly sound like something for the resurrection of PM Dawn.
However, making them at night with the lights dimmed and colored lights behind your gear could make a world of difference.
Ikea has some good light sets that would look great. I have the ones that change colors and I mounted them behind my desk so that when I’m making a beat, it really sets the mood.
There are plenty of other important hardware and software that can be added to your studio, but with the above mentioned, you should be making dope beats in no time. Good luck!