- Top 100
March 21, 2012
In today’s competitive DJ profession, simply playing records just isn’t enough. No matter how hot and spicy you think your DJ skills are, to compete with the endless DJs out there you have to become a promoter, a business professional, a web developer, a graphic designer, a social media guru, a public relations whore and of course a producer of only the finest electronic dance music your fans will ever hear. Don’t get me wrong, the DJing part is pretty important as well since you have to know how to control a crowd, but unless you’re bringing something new to the table, getting that headlining spot is difficult without a strong production catalog behind you to back you up.
As the first entry to DJ Mag Canada, I touch up on a subject that most young producers overlook. Through-out the course of this blog’s life, I will be discussing various topics on the art of production techniques, and fusion with the DJ realm. I will give insight to basic, intermediate and advanced level techniques with the hopes of helping you all along the way to your production goals.
Let’s forget about the political side of the music industry for a second and concentrate on what matters most. The passion and dedication we all have for creating art. I mean, that’s really the core concept here isn’t it? Playing music you love is great, but making music you love is even more rewarding.
So what makes a producer? Well anyone can become a producer if the choose to, it just all depends on how badly you want to make music. People make music for various different reasons. Some do it to get signed to labels and help promote their DJ brand and identity; others make music to share for free to the world. Whatever your goals may be, learning to produce music is only going to benefit you in the long run as it makes you understand just how electronic music is structured.
To start producing, one of the first things I suggest doing is doing your homework. There are a variety of options out there for home studio set ups and there is no possible way you will get your dream rig in the first try. It takes months, even years to fully understand your work flow and just which equipment works best for your needs. In my case, I started producing two years ago but am only now starting to understand my workflow. It really is a tedious process but taking the right steps and analyzing your future now will help you narrow down options before you go spending all your savings on equipment you don’t need.
Before you start shopping for gear, the most important aspect of building a home studio is setting up your personal budget. Setting up a budget for a studio is a lot like investing your money into a business. Whether you choose to move forward with releasing your music on record labels, or if you are setting up a small studio to enhance your DJ sets (remixing, podcasting, etc.), it is important to take the time to carefully list out what your goals are with this project and set a realistic dollar figure for how much you are willing to spend.
Just like buying your first DJ set up, there are some very basic yet important pieces of kit you need for the foundation of your studio. They are:
- Studio Monitors
- DAW (Ableton Live, Logic, Pro Tools)
These four items are the nervous system to your entire rig and I would suggest allocating most of your budget towards these basic pieces of kit. You can always purchase and add on items later that are not absolutely necessary just yet.
For years there have been countless debates on which platform is best for music production, and if you Google Mac vs. PC, you’ll flood your screen with endless forum posts and articles around this topic. Like anything in life, nothing is perfect and although one system may benefit another in a certain category, there is no real proven formula in deciding which one to go with. Just like the style of DJ you are, it’s personal preference and whichever works best for you is what you should go with.
The important thing to consider when decided on your computer system is memory, and CPU power (that’s processing power). You want to get yourself as much memory as you can afford and going with a quad core system is usually the best way to go since rendering audio and midi data is very CPU intensive.Also if your running multiple applications at once, more processing power will allow your computer to keep up with the stress. Nowadays, you can build yourself a pretty high tech rig for just over $1,000 if you go the PC route. Mac is more expensive but offers high quality parts and a very stable system, and of course the ever-so-powerful OS X software which makes working with music software a breeze. If you were to ask most professional music enthusiasts, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of them tell you that Mac is far better for music production because of the ease of use. They wouldn’t be wrong because everything just seems to work better on a Mac then PC. There are little to no drivers when installing new equipment, and most music manufacturers produce their products to work with Mac’s. PC’s on the other hand, although very rugged and still stable systems, but they usually require a much more sensitive touch. Maintaining a PC usually conflicts with the creative process of creating music, and a lot of the time you’ll find yourself acting as tech support to resolve problematic issues.
Overall, both systems are capable of handling whatever you throw at it in terms of audio. You just need to decide which route it is you want to go down. PC’s are cheaper, expandable, but more suited for the office environment. Mac’s are a little bit more expensive but offer an all-in-one, ready to rock package with user-friendly workflow. No right or wrong answer here.
The soundcard for me is a lot like the mixer in a DJ setup. It is an essential tool to making music and probably even more important than the computer itself. What? You think I’m crazy? Well let’s take a minute to think about the signal flow process. In a DJ setup, your sound quality suffers without a proper mixer instalment. You take a piece of music and you press play (whether on a CDJ, turntable or Laptop). That music then travels through the player into the mixer, through the mixers EQs and gains, then out the master output. This signal flow is comparable to the studio signal flow as well. You create a piece of music on your computer; you send it through your soundcard, then out to your studio monitors. At the exact moment the sound leaves your computer and gets sent to your soundcard, the soundcard uses what’s called ADC, A/D or A to D conversion. This stands for Audio-Digital-Conversion. When the computer plays back the music, it is actually processing the sound in a numerical format and in order to transfer that into sound out of your studio monitors, the soundcard needs to convert those values into analog form.
Choosing a soundcard is pretty difficult at first if you’ve never bought one before. There are so many options on the market and unless you truly know how your set up is going to operate, it can be a daunting process. Before choosing the best soundcard out there, take some time to do your research and set a price value. Once again, budgeting is your best friend here, and a little prep work at the start will save you from all the headaches later on.
Basically there are two ways to making music and they are internally, or externally. If you’re producing internally usually what this means is that you are using a lot of virtual instruments (VSTs). If you go this route, this is where your computer plays an important role. Making music with VSTs is VERY CPU intensive. But the upside here is that you will only need a small soundcard with minimal inputs and outputs, thus leaving more in your budget for memory upgrades on your computer. If you are making music externally, basically this means you are using your computer and soundcard to record hardware synths and instruments. In this case, a larger soundcard with multiple ins and outs is required, and preferably a larger soundcard with high quality mic pre’s. Your computer still plays a very important role here as recording external instruments usually means higher sample rates, but most higher end soundcards offer very low latency.
Again, there are a variety of options to choose in this category, so make sure you do your research and really understand what you’re purchasing. Most producers work both internally and externally so having a good solid soundcard that can adapt to environmental changes is usually a good way of thinking here. Expanding your horizons in music production gear is inevitable and once you start it’s an addiction that is hard to handle!
Much like the sound card, studio monitors are available in all shapes and sizes and various price ranges. If you were to cut down costs on any of the pieces of gear listed above, I would say that studio monitors are where you can ‘cheap out’ a bit. Of course you could always save cost by building a PC as well, but only you can decide which items are more important for you.
A mid-level pair of speakers here will be just fine with a higher quality sound card. Make sure to buy a set of professional studio monitors and not stereo speakers. Studio monitors are meant to give you a flat sound so you can hear exactly what is going on with the music you are producing, where stereo speakers are meant to make your music sound as good as possible. Heading out to your local gear shop to check out the sound of some brands is the best way to go, and make sure you ask them to compare different brands.
Cone size is the next most important thing when it comes to studio monitors. Most brands come fall between five and eight inches in cone size. Larger cones are great for more bass orientated music such as techno and house, but depending on your room size, a larger cone isn’t always the best way to go. Once again, asking questions, doing your research and testing out products is absolutely necessary before making a purchase.
DAW means Digital Audio Workstation and is a piece of software that is installed on your computer to manipulate, record and produce music. It works with audio and midi to arrange your sounds into a full-length track. All products accomplish the same thing, but offer different packages in terms of built in plug-ins and sound libraries.
The list is pretty extensive when it comes to DAWs so in order to save space, I will list off a few which I feel are common in the electronic music production realm. Feel free to research other programs and don’t be scared to try different ones out before purchasing. Most companies offer a free trial version of their software before you buy, so I would encourage you all take advantage of it.
- Ableton Live
- Logic Pro
- FL Studio
At the end of the day, your money is your money and you will spend it however you want. No one person can tell you how to set up your studio. It just has to come naturally as you develop as an artist, DJ and producer. By taking the time to carefully analyze your goals and where you would like to be in the future. You can save yourself from a lot of headaches by following this simple guide. Now I’m not saying that my points made here are 100 per cent valid, but they are pretty darn close. Just make sure you don’t jump into anything too quickly and do your research. Learn, ask questions, play with gear at your local shop and be certain that you are ready to dive into the world of production.
For more information, tips or if you have any questions feel free to contact me through twitter.com/markospolydorou or facebook.com/markospolydorou.
Make sure to check out the rest of the DJ Mag Canada website, and tune in next week for more production 101 tips!