It’s impossible to look at any recent Billboard Top 100 chart and not find it filled with electronic music tracks. From Hardwell to Tiesto, EDM artists consistently rank among the highest-selling and best-paid musicians in the world.
Even if you look beyond EDM, you’ll find that more and more popular songs are written, composed, and produced entirely electronically. Acoustic instruments such as guitars and live drums are only added later as a flourish.
This immense popularity of electronic music genres has created a cottage industry of electronic producers, tutors, and musicians teaching, creating, and sharing music.
If you’ve ever wondered how you can be a part of this electronic music revolution, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll share 5 gadgets every aspiring artist should have in his studio.
1. Studio Headphones
Big, bulky, and often uncomfortable for long-use. Yet, walk into any studio and you’ll invariably find the world’s top producers rocking them.
I’m talking, of course, about studio headphones.
Picture courtesy: Pixabay.com
Apart from the actual music production software (or DAW), studio headphones are often the first piece of equipment serious musicians buy. They’re not the lightest, prettiest, or even the most comfortable, but for musicians, they serve a critical purpose: fidelity.
Fidelity describes the accuracy of sound reproduction, i.e. how close it is to the original recording. Commercial-grade headphones – your Beats and Bose offerings – distort the sound to make it punchier or sharper. They do this by emphasizing the treble and bass frequencies.
Thus, they might have superior sound quality and comfort, but low fidelity.
As a musician, however, you want to emphasize accuracy over everything else. You want to know exactly how sharp or flat or thick an instrument sounds. If you use commercial-grade headphones, you’ll never get the accuracy you need.
Hence the solution: studio headphones. Studio headphones have a “flat” frequency response. That is, they reproduce sound exactly as it was intended to be originally heard.
This enhanced fidelity ensures that you hear what you want to hear and make better music.
2. MIDI Keyboards
Even if you’ve never played a note of music in your life, you would be familiar with this:
Picture courtesy: Pixabay
These black and white keys are the foundation of western music. Between them, a set of 12 such keys describe the 12 notes in music. The combination of these 12 notes makes up literally every song ever made in the world.
Now imagine that instead of these familiar keys, you had to play music using a computer keyboard.
You don’t have to be a musician to know that making music with a computer keyboard is grossly unintuitive, difficult, and for an aspiring musician, just plain boring.
This is why most musicians prefer to use a MIDI keyboard.
A MIDI keyboard is essentially a set of piano keys that can plug into your computer via a MIDI port. The keyboard itself has no sound of its own (unlike a conventional piano). Rather, you can “load” sounds into it using your digital audio workstation (DAW).
This gives the MIDI keyboard immense flexibility. You can load up the sounds of a drum machine into it and play a drum solo. Or you can load it with piano sounds and play a Beethoven piece. You’re limited by the capabilities of your DAW, rather than your keyboard.
Moreover, MIDI keyboards make the entire music production process extremely intuitive. You can play individual notes and chords exactly as you would on a real piano.
Because of these reasons, consider buying a MIDI keyboard as one of your first purchases if you’re serious about music. Check out this list of MIDI keyboards to find your first pick.
3. Audio Interface
Remember how I mentioned that a MIDI keyboard connects to your computer via a MIDI port?
The problem is that modern computers don’t come equipped with MIDI ports. Even if you do manage to find a MIDI-to-USB adapter, you’ll discover that the latency is too poor to make any kind of music.
This is where an audio interface comes in handy.
An audio interface is essentially an external sound card with multiple ports. The most popular kind usually has a minimum of two input ports – a MIDI port and a line-in port (for connecting an electric guitar). It usually has 2-3 output ports – a USB port for connecting to the computer, RCA ports for connecting external speakers, and a headphone port.
This enables you to connect multiple instruments to your computer – a microphone, an electric guitar, a MIDI keyboard – while hearing the output on the medium of your choice (speakers, headphones).
More importantly, the connection made by an audio interface is fast. Since the latency is low (under 30ms), you hear the results of your input immediately. Press a key on your MIDI keyboard and you’ll hear it played back instantly.
This is crucial for making and recording music. If the latency is too high, there will be a tiny delay between input and output. This small delay can upset your timing and generally make for a terrible music-making experience.
Hence, the third music-making gadget on our list is an audio interface.
4. A Microphone
If you want to record any sort of vocals or acoustic instruments, you will need a microphone.
Electronic music artists don’t necessarily need vocals, but you’ll find that for any sort of serious music creation, a microphone is a powerful tool. Acoustic instruments – a small bongo drum, a ukulele, an egg shaker – add much needed organic rhythm and ‘naturalness’ to a track. Without them, you’ll find that your songs sound too mechanical and dull.
To record these sounds organically, of course, you will need a microphone.
Microphones come in a range of shapes, sizes, and price ranges. The two broad categories are “condenser microphones” and “dynamic microphones”, based on the underlying functioning mechanism.
Condenser microphones are good for instruments that produce a high frequency sound – pianos, acoustic guitars, etc.
Dynamic microphones work better for lower frequency sounds such as drums and even the human voice.
For aspiring musicians, dynamic microphones are generally a better purchase since they tend to be more rugged. They also have a wider frequency range so you can capture a broader range of sound.
Dynamic microphones such as Shure SM58 are versatile enough to be used for everything from guitar to vocalsand are a must by for any studio.
5. A Digital Audio Workstation
Technically, I can’t call it a gadget since it isn’t physical. Yet, a music studio won’t even be functional without it.
I’m talking about digital audio workstations (DAWs), of course.
A digital audio workstation is a piece of software that allows you to manipulate and create music. DAWs come in a variety of flavors, from free and open-source tools such as LMMS.io to expensive, professional software such as Ableton.
A DAW essentially acts as an interface for different digital instruments. You can add these instruments through plugins and use them to create music. Some DAWs come with built-in instruments as well (such as the ‘Operator’ synth in Ableton).
The good news is that plugins formats are standardized. This means that a plugin that works with Ableton will also work with Logic Pro and FL Studio. Thus, you can freely choose your DAW without worrying whether it will be compatible with your favorite software synthesizer or digital drum machine.
Some of the most popular DAWs are:
- Ableton Live
- FL Studio
- Apple Logic Pro
- Apple Garageband
- Propellerhead Reason
- Cakewalk Sonar
Most serious musicians use either Ableton Live or Logic Pro, though you can try a cheaper tool when you’re starting out.
Creating music is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Luckily for you, it is possible to start making music today without any prior training or investing in expensive instruments. The five gadgets I’ve listed above are all it takes to kickstart your musical journey and start belting out chart-topping hits!