The 5 Things You Need to Start Making Beats
Why is this important?
Are you thinking about getting into beat making? Most beginners make the mistake of purchasing way more gear than they actually need to get started. By reading this article you’ll be able to avoid the number one bank-account-emptying mistake that leaves most beat makers broke before they even get going.
I’m about to show the five most important pieces of gear that you need to start making quality music on a budget. By the end, you’ll also understand the reasons why it’s so important that you start small, and then slowly grow your studio over time.
The problem with gear lust…
I understand the reasons why. You’ve seen the pictures and YouTube videos of the producers who you admire. Their studios are decked out in thousands of dollars worth of gear. They have the expensive speakers, the audio interface, turntables, vinyl collection, expensive hardware processors, microphones, cool studio desk, acoustic treatment, etc. You can’t help but think that you need all of that stuff to get start making good music.
Gear lust is a mistake that most beginners make. I’m included in this criticism, I had gear lust in the beginning. We all think that by purchasing pro gear, we’ll be able to make music like the pros. The reality is that in the beginning you don’t have the experience or knowledge needed to operate any of this stuff.
Like you, I had at least $2,000 worth of gear picked on eBay out before I started making beats. Mainly because I didn’t know any better. I assumed that because that’s what the professional guys had, that I would need to buy all of that shit too.
Why you don’t need a truckload of gear in the beginning…
So many people make the mistake of purchasing too much gear in the beginning. It’s not easy to get started learning a new skill. You only make it harder on yourself by forcing yourself to learn eight new pieces of gear at once instead of just focusing on mastering one thing at a time.
By purchasing so much gear in the beginning, you’re making it hard on yourself. You’re spreading your focus too thin. It makes more sense to master one thing at a time. Spend time focusing on learning once piece of gear like the back of your hand before you move on to purchase anything else.
What equipment do you need to start with?
You can save yourself a lot of money and time in the beginning by just starting small and then slowly growing your studio as you gain more knowledge and experience. Building your studio this way makes the most sense. Purchase a piece of equipment, master it and then move on to the next thing.
Instead of starting with eight pieces of equipment, I recommend starting with just a Maschine. It’s a really good combination of software and hardware that will allow you to create professional quality tracks.
To help you get started, I’m going to tell you the exact gear you need in order to get started (without emptying your bank account). If you want to spend the least amount of money necessary, start with just the essentials:
Computer : In order to make the most out of your setup, you’re going to need a solid computer. Why? Because your computer is going to be the center of your studio. If you have an old/slow computer, your whole setup will be compromised. A slow computer won’t run Maschine (or any other software) like it should. You’ll get hiccups and glitches while recording. I recommend that you don’t purchase anything else until you have enough in your budget for a solid computer.
It doesn’t really matter if it’s Laptop or PC. Get the most bang for your buck by focusing on the quality of the processor, the amount of ram, and your hard drive space. These three specs are what’s most important for making music in the box. Recommended affordable laptop: HP Pavilion
Maschine is the main tool that I use to create music. It’s really the only tool that you need to make quality beats in the beginning. If you’re just starting to make music you don’t need a DAW in addition to your Maschine, it’s overkill in the beginning. If you already have experience making music using a DAW like Reason, Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, etc – then I would recommend just sticking with that tool in the begging. Maybe you can think about adding Maschine later (when you’re really comfortable working in your DAW). Recommended machine: Native Instuments Maschine Mikro MK2
Sounds: To get started making beats you’ll need some sounds to create your music with. You’ll use sounds to build your beats. This is part of the reason why I’m such a huge advocate for starting off with Maschine. The sample library that comes with Maschine is incredible. You get pretty much everything that you need as far as sample sounds goes.
If you plan on creating sample based music, you’ll also need some music to sample. I’d start by using digital samples (MP3’s and WAV files, and downloads), just because the equipment that you’d need in order to sample off of vinyl is a pretty hefty investment (turntable, DJ mixer, audio interface, vinyl collection).
Free VST’s: VST’s are pieces of software that are made by third party companies that you can use to help you create your music. VST’s come in a few different types: VST instruments and VST effects. As a beginner, I would recommend that you start off with some of the free VST’s out there. There are some top-quality free VSTs out there. Read my article on the five best free VST’s for Maschine beat makers. I’d start with those feebies in the beginning in order to get your feet wet. There’s really no sense in dropping a lot of money for something that you don’t even know how to use yet. As you gain more experience, you’ll start to recognize what VST’s you’d like to add to your collection.
What gear can you save for later?
So, you’ve been making beats for a while now and you’re looking to improve your studio. Once you have a solid foundation of knowledge about the productions basics, you can start to move on to purchase more advanced gear. What gear should every intermediate to advanced level producer have in his studio?
Keyboard Controller: A keyboard controller helps you to add another element to your productions. It makes it a lot easier to control your VST’s and sounds on a keyboard controller as opposed to controlling your sounds directly on your Maschine using the 16 levels. A keyboard controller will allow you to more easily play chords on your beats and add bass lines. Recommended: AKM320 midiplus Keyboard Controller $40
External Hard Drive: An external hard drive is an absolute necessity for organizing your digital files. You’ll be accumulating a lot of sounds, sample files, and Maschine projects. I’m talking about hundreds of gigs worth of stuff (over the years). You’ll need to make sure that you have a system in place to store all of this stuff so that you don’t overcrowd your hard drive on your computer. If you’re using a laptop, your hard drive space will be limited. An external hard drive will free up space on your computer, keep your desktop cluttered, and keep everything running quickly and smoothly. Today, hard drives are pretty cheep. You can pick up a quality 500GB external hard drive for less than $100 on Amazon. Definitely worth the investment.
Studio Monitors: I purchased studio monitors right away, and for many reasons I think that that decision was a mistake. The main reason I think that you should wait to purchase studio monitors is that it requires a significant investment in acoustic treatment in order to make sure that you can really get the most of your your monitors. The entire goal of purchasing studio monitors is to allow you to accurately make mixing decisions when you’re making your music. Your room needs to be acoustically treated in order for you to make the most out of an expensive pair of speakers. Recommended: Mackie CR Series CR3 – 3 for $99
Sound Isolation pads: Isolation pads are specially designed stands that allow you to decouple your speakers from the surface they’re sitting on. Without sound isolation pads you’re really not able to hear the low-end of your music accurately. These special pads provide clarity to allow you to hear your low-end more accurately. Without them, you’ll make a lot of inaccurate decisions in your mixes because you’re not able to hear your music properly. Recommended: Pyle PSi03 Acoustic Studio – starting $17.99
Acoustic Treatment and Bass traps: Acoustic treatments and bass traps are responsible for helping you make sure that you’re making accurate judgments hen mixing your tracks. Having quality acoustic treatments in your room is the only way to ensure that you’re hearing the low-end of your tracks properly. Without acoustic treatments room reflections, comb filtering and resonance problems can cause you to make bad judgments in your mixing.
Audio interface: To put it simply, an audio interface will allow you to record external analog sounds into your computer by converting the analog signal into digital audio. If you’re looking to record vocals through a microphone, record sounds off of your hardware synthesizer, or sample loops off of vinyl records – you’ll need an audio interface. Audio interfaces also work in the reverse direction, allowing you to play your digital audio over your analog studio monitors. The reason I say that you should wait for an audio interface is because it’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about in the beginning.
Turntable: Your turntable is one piece of equipment that you need in order to record vinyl records into your computer. You’ll also need a DJ mixer and an audio interface. I recommend waiting a bit before you invest in these three tools, because they’re not really necessary to start with, especially considering you won’t be very good at sampling in the beginning anyway. Once you get your feet wet in sampling digital files (MP3’s and WAV files) then you should start digging for records. By starting with digital files you’ll have an idea as far as the kind of vinyl that you’re looking for. You’ll already have experience digging for samples, knowing which genre’s you like, which artists to look for, and what sound your going for. At that point, sampling from vinyl will be a good investment because you’ll already know what you’re doing. Audio Technica AT-LP60 Fully Automatic for $99
DJ Mixer: The DJ mixer is necessary to amplify the audio coming from your turntable. The DJ mixer amplifies your turntable’s audio signal and then feeds that audio signal into your audio interface so that it can be recorded into your computer. You really don’t need an expensive DJ mixer to get started, especially considering you won’t be using 90% of the features on it.
Vinyl Records: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of eDigging. But there’s nothing like sampling off of a record. Nothing compares to the experience of going to a record store, sorting through the stacks, looking at album artwork, reading record covers and purchasing something that you can actually see, smell and hold in your hands. Digital digging (eDigging) really doesn’t compare in that regard. On top of all that, vinyl records will give you better audio quality.
You might be interested in reading: The Top 21 Places For e Digging Online: Vinyl Record Blogs & YouTube Crates
If you plan on recording a vocalist (singer or rapper) or recording and instrument like guitar, tambourine or something, you’ll need a microphone. I recommend waiting on purchasing a microphone because the science of getting good recordings is an entirely different learning curve on its own. Plus, you’ll also need to invest in some pretty expensive gear in order to get good recordings: a microphone, XLR cable, audio interface (w/ god pre amps), an acoustically treated vocal booth (or an acoustic shield). All of that stuff is pretty pricey.
Software Synthesizers: Software synthesizers are pieces of software that you can plugin to Maschine (or your DAW). In order to get the most out of a software synth, you’ll need a keyboard controller and some basic knowledge of synthesis. The reason I say wait to get a good software synth is that it’ll take you a while to learn how to use them properly. Some software synths are made to emulate classic hardware synthesizers Moogs, Korgs, etc. While others are
The advantage of software synths is that they’re cheaper and more portable that hardware synthesizers.
VST processors are effects that you can load into Maschine (or your DAW) in order to manipulate your audio signal. VST processors are the software equivalent of those expensive hardware processors that you see in those professional recording studios. VST’s are much cheeper and just as affective in helping you make better music in the box (using your computer).
Want a better compressor, equalizer, distortion, tape saturation, delay – a good VST processor will go a long way. The reason I say wait to purchase these processors is because your Maschine (or DAW) already comes with some pretty decent quality effects built in. There’s no sense in spending a grip on new VST processors when you don’t even understand how to make the most out of them. There’s also a bunch of great quality free VSTs out there that you can grab. By gaining experience with the free stuff first, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for (and how to use it) when it comes time to make an investment in some top quality VSTs.
For about $1000 you can purchase Native Instruments Komplete 9 Ultimate and have all of the software synths and VST processors that you’ll ever need. Considering that purchasing just ONE quality hardware processor could cost you twice as much, $1000 isn’t a bad deal.
Nothing really compares to the sound of a vintage hardware synthesizer. You’ve heard them in all of your favorite hip hop and electronic music. Minimoogs, Prophets, Moog Voyagers – you won’t your hands on one of these classic synthesizers without spending a few thousand dollars on ebay. Plus there’s a lot of cost involved in maintaining your hardware synthesizer (you’ll have to pay someone to keep it tuned up).
Add another layer of complexity on top in that there’s a pretty big learning curve required to be able to know how to use a synthesizer to it’s fullest potential. It’s absolutely necessary to understand the fundamentals of syntheses in order to make the most out if your synthesizer.
Save money and wait
I know, I know. Buying gear is such a rush. Like me, you probably have an entire list of stuff that you want to purchase. But do yourself a favor and wait. Wait until you have the skills and knowledge required to actually use it. Wait until you’ve learned everything you possibly can about the stuff you already own before you move on and try to learn something else. It’ll save your bank account.
We’ve all seen the pictures and videos of our favorite producer’s studios. But realize that it probably took a decade (or more) for them to purchase and learn how to make use out of all of that stuff. Buy one piece of gear at a time, and as you learn, build more stuff around it.
Hopefully this article helped educate you in what you need and why you need it. If you put these ideas into action, it’ll save you a lot of money and it will also help accelerate your learning (because you’ll only have one thing to learn at a time).
I hope this saves you some money,
P.S. The piece of gear that I wish I never bought was a $300 Blue Bluebird microphone that I bought on eBay. I not only bought the mic, but also a pop filter, mic stand, XLR cable, and a expensive acoustic shield. A month after I realized I didn’t need it, all that stuff was up on sale on eBay. Whoops.