Hey, money isn’t growing on trees, these days. And, while this has never stopped the passionate purveyor of music, a little money for some actual gear sure could come in handy. But, even if you had the money, what are the real essentials that are really where your hard-earned money could be going, making the biggest bang for the buck?
I think the greatest step-up for all of my tracks in terms of production value, my own confidence, and overall sound was when I finally purchased some real studio monitors. This is an area where you really do want to spend some time researching. But, when you finally do score a decent set of studio monitors, you can expect to hear major changes in your sound, even in the first few minutes of use.
Keep in mind, you do get what you pay for! But, thankfully, there are some decent monitors out there, these days, that don’t cost an arm and a leg. I had some great sessions a while back with the Presonus Eris E8s ($200), which are 8”, powered monitors.
Presonus Eris E8 monitors
And, while they may not be Genelec (averaging around 3K a pair, at least), you will hear way more of what is going on in your song than laptop speakers, and you’ll get a much greater representation of what’s really happening, away from commercial headphones.
Audio Interface ($75-$200)
An audio interface is another major upgrade for an electronic producer, as it grants the ability for recording vocals, and external instruments with better fidelity and latency, allows you to use higher end microphones with audio connections like XLR, 1/4” and so on that laptops will never ship with. Additionally, an audio interface can act as a mixer for any future outboard gear you purchase.
There are tons of options, when it comes to audio interface. However, If you’re bare-bones and are only doing electronic tracks from soft synths, and don’t really care about vocals, or recording anything external, at the moment—You might want to check out M-Audio’s new M-Track Hub.
It has dual 1/4” outputs, so you’ll have no problem connecting to your new monitors. And, it sports 3 powered USB ports, giving you a nice HUB for external controllers! The best part is that it has a $75 dollar street price. So, you aren’t exactly going to experience a ton of buyer’s remorse, at least where price is concerned.
If vocals, and guitars are on the horizon, you might check out the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4. It sports two XLR inputs connected to two Pre-Amps, two 1/4” connections in the back, 4 1/4” outputs and built-in MIDI IN and OUT. So, if you ever decide to buy a vintage keyboard, or something new that just looks vintage, you’ll have its needs covered ahead of time.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) Software
While computers may not be as in vogue as they were a few years ago for music, do not underestimate them! True, there’s usually a little more of a learning curve, but a fully functional DAW (music program) on a decent computer means being able to record multiple tracks, with effects, mix down with accuracy, and automation... Then, when you are finished you are able to export your song, as an audio file that can be burned to a CD, or compressed as an MP3... today!
This part of your upgrade, should it pertain to you, can be a life changer, and doesn’t even really have to cost a dime. In my opinion, Ableton Live is a great way to go if you have some money to spend. They offer multiple price points (Intro version is $75). And they offer a demo version that is the program entirely unlocked for fourteen days. You can always upgrade to the more powerful versions, with the bigger feature sets, later, when you’re ready.
However, if you are keen to make a huge difference in your sound, and you really don’t have a few pennies to rub together, you might consider looking into Reaper. $60 with a 60-day unlimited demo, Reaper is the Pro Tools of the people, with a feature set that rivals the real thing. Reaper is also just a great way to see what your machine is capable of, as a benchmark, just to see if your current machine is even worth using.
You’d be surprised how much of a difference a $75 to a $100 dollar MIDI keyboard controller can add to a session, when you are using a computer. Being able to interact with instruments within the virtual world is just as fun as working with a hardware synth, and in some cases better, as soft synths, when coupled with multiple effects, and multiple rotary mappings can do some mind-bending things.
M-Audio, these days, create some great MIDI controllers that have a great price, and are still rugged enough for the road, once you are ready. The Code 25 might be a great one to look at, if you’re wanting drum pads, a keyboard and plenty of cool, and flashy rotaries. They look cool on stage, and in the studio. And they only run $250.
Korg also makes some great MIDI controllers as well that won’t break the bank. If you’ve got a phone/iPad, and a laptop, or home computer, you might be excited to try out the Korg Micro Key Air 25 ($99).
These controllers can connect via USB and Bluetooth, and are extremely light. I have the 49 key version, that runs for around $159, and while it may not have all the lights, rotaries, ribbon controllers, etc. I do like the full-size mod wheel and pitch bend, and love the extra octaves. I use it all the time with my laptop, and my iPad.
There are definitely more ways to spend your money. But, the above will, hopefully, guide you in allocating your resources effectively, so that you are hearing a return on your investment, maybe even minutes after the box has been opened up.