One of the great appeals to music production in the 21st century is how accessible the craft has become to both musicians and creative people without musical training. The role of the music producer has evolved greatly over the decades, and what used to be a much more exclusive craft has become something that everyone can pursue on their own terms. And while each person who pursues the craft of music production will explore different routes along their journey, there is an essential list of tools that will help create the best music possible.
The quintessential music producer in today’s landscape is typically thought to just create all of their music on a laptop. But any experienced producer will tell you it’s much more than that. The difference between high quality mixes and muddy mixes with huge frequency holes in them comes down to the right headphones and studio monitors. If you’re a beat maker, relying on the pencil tool can leave your beats feeling too digital and stiff, but having the proper beat pad can give your sense of rhythm a whole new life.
Whether you’re just beginning and looking for a definitive guide to the best production tools, or you’re already far along the way and scoping out the next purchase, we have you covered.
For the complete beginner, there are two essential tools you will need to begin producing:
In most cases, your standard laptop will do. There’s no need to purchase a super expensive desktop computer, but of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a high-quality computer. In many cases, you can also use an iPad, Tablet, or Smartphone to produce, but there are limitations. A computer is your best bet. Your typical MacBook Pro will provide everything you need.
Your D.A.W. is your most essential tool as a producer. It’s the program that will act as your canvas to paint upon. Whether you go with Ableton, Logic, FL Studio, or another D.A.W. is up to you, your budget, and your stylistic interests (we’ll get into that later), but acquiring a solid and reliable D.A.W. is paramount for anyone looking to become a producer.
Once you have the basics down, there are a handful of other tools that will help take your music to another level:
There are few tools more readily seen in studios than keyboards. Almost every producer, whether they’re a world class Grammy winner or a SoundCloud artist, has a keyboard in their arsenal. Even if you don’t know how to play the piano, a MIDI keyboard is essential for producing music. You will use it to craft melodies, chord progressions, bass lines, and even tap out beats and trigger samples.Which MIDI keyboard should you buy?Here are a few of our favorites that won’t break the bank:
Simply put, a trigger pad is a tool used to trigger samples, sounds, and audio recordings. Typically, producers will load drum samples into a trigger pad and then tap our drum beats. For example, you might load a kick drum, snare drum, clap, and hi-hat into an MPD trigger pad, then start using your fingers (or drum sticks depending on the pad size) to tap out a rhythm and make your own beat from scratch. You can also use trigger pads to trigger various types of samples, from vocals to strings to old soul samples. This is a powerful tool for any producer looking to have more control over their rhythms and sampling techniques.Which Trigger Pad should you buy?Here are a few reliable, budget-friendly ones
An audio interface is a helpful tool that can expand and enhance the sonic capabilities of your computer. In other words, it gives a more clear audio signal for your work. Relying on your laptop’s audio may result in you thinking your beats sound good, but actually, there are holes in them. A good audio interface allows you to connect microphones, instruments, and various signals to your computer. For example, if you want to record vocals or live instruments into your laptop, you will need an interface (do not use the laptop microphone!).
A producer’s best friend is their headphones. There’s nothing quite like throwing on a pair of cans and getting to work on a new track. Headphones act as your microscope to hone in on all the tiny details of each sound in your music. They are how you refine and sculpt your audio. And they are not all created equally. Some headphones miss whole frequency ranges or artificially boost others. Investing in a solid pair of headphones is necessary for any producer.
The first question you want to ask yourself when picking a pair of headphones is closed-back or open-back? Closed-back headphones contain a solid outer shell that keeps audio in around the ear. They are best for things like recording vocals because the track in your ear does not leak out. They can be helpful for producing and engineering, but generally are less desired when it comes to mixing.
On the other hand, open-back headphones are designed to allow sound out of the headphone in order to better simulate the sound of a room. The outer shell is perforated in order to let sound out. This is not helpful for recording because the track in your headphones leaks out, however, these are much more productive for mixing.
Studio monitors are another integral tool for music production. If headphones allow you to zoom in on your sound, monitors allow you to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Both are invaluable in getting your production, sound design, mix, and even master sounding top-notch. It’s important to note that studio monitors are not the same as bookshelf speakers or computer speakers. A quality pair of monitors will give you a clear audio signal with multiple frequency references to help you better craft your sound.
Here are a few we recommend:
This is a question that will be discussed for years and years with strong opinions and powerful convictions in every direction. And while no one likes a non-answer, the truth is that the best music production software depends on your individual needs.
RAM, also known as random-access memory, is essentially a form of computer memory that allows data to be read or written. In simpler terms, it can determine how fast your computer loads. In most cases,8 GB is enough. 16 GB is better than 8 GB, but not necessarily needed. In some instances, 32 GB can be helpful for running multiple high-capacity programs at once and requiring fast live speed, but generally 32 is as far as you should go. 8 GB will do the job, and if you can make it to 16, even better. If you only have 4 GB (or less), don’t worry, you can still make great music, but generally we recommend at least 8 GB.
When it comes to cores, you ideally want your computer to have the most cores and highest clock speed within your budget. In most cases, two cores is considered the minimum. However, four cores is a better investment, and if you have the money, choose 6 or 8 cores. More often than not, you won’t need more than 16 cores, so don’t sweat going that high.A general rule of thumb: if your computer has more CPU cores, it will perform better. This is incredibly important for your work because if your D.A.W. is constantly crashing or lagging due to high CPU usage, your workflow and music can seriously suffer. If you can’t finish a track because the CPU is so high, that’s creative output down the drain.