In these days of the ubiquitous home PC, the ability to make and record good quality music is within anyone's grasp. No longer is it necessary to have access to a purpose built studio equipped with all the latest mixing desks, amplifiers, drums, effects (plus enough cables to circumnavigate the globe), in order to be able to make a decent tune.
The music business has changed drastically since the popularisation of digital music formats, and the ability to download music for free (illegally, of course) has led to an understandable cautiousness on the part of record companies when it comes to signing new artists. Consequently the big record companies are now targeting audiences that they feel will be more likely to pay good hard cash for their music â€“ children (via their parents), housewives, teenage girls, record company bosses etc. As a result, 'proper music' has been marginalised and forced to survive on a fraction of the budget and resources that similar artists may have had access to in the past.
Many up-and-coming artists now prefer to produce and record their own music, and with today's technology, it isn't as expensive or as complex as you might think.
This article is intended for anyone who fancies having a dabble in music production, but hasn't a clue where to start. You may find this article slightly London-centric, but hey - that's where I live!
First things first. You need a PC. It doesn't necessarily have to be anything fancy, but you'll be needing at least a Pentium 4 processor, 2 GB of RAM, a large hard drive (as big as you can go!), a decent sound card, and a pair of PC speakers. A few spare USB sockets are also very useful.
The other must-have is a Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW. This is a piece of software which acts as a sequencer, mixing desk, effects rack and also as a host for software instruments such as drum machines or synthesisers (A DAW can actually do a whole lot more than this, but I'll leave that for another article). Popular examples of DAW's are Cubase, Pro-Tools, Reason, Ableton Live, FL Studio and Reaper. All of these are great pieces of software â€“ the best way to find out which is right for you is to download a free trial from the appropriate website and give it a whirl. Most DAW's come with a range of virtual software instruments (VSTi's) and effects (VST's) so you can start making music immediately.
The Next Step
Once you've played around with your DAW for a while you'll soon realise that there are a few other pieces of equipment that you'll need, and if not there will certainly be some that you'll want! Take your pick from this lovely list:
Audio Interface - has inputs for microphones and high impedance instruments (guitars, bass) and an output (usually USB or Firewire) to your PC. Allows you to record vocals and instruments into your DAW, and also has outputs for monitor speakers. From less than Â£100 upwards.
Monitors â€“ you might have fantastic PC speakers but believe me, they will be no good for studio use. A pair of reference monitors will give a 'true' sound which does not flatter the music as hi-fi or PC speakers do. You need these to be able to mix and master your tracks well. From less than Â£100 upwards.
Midi keyboard, controller, drum pads â€“ in my opinion there's only so far you can go with just a keyboard and mouse. Even if you have no idea how to play the keys, a midi keyboard will make it far easier to be creative and makes life really easy when it comes to inputting midi information (for controlling synthesisers, effects etc.). A midi controller is used to operate the various controls in your DAW, including the transport (play, pause, record etc.), faders, pan controls, mutes, solos, etc. Drum pads can be used to control (unsurprisingly) virtual drum machines. From Â£40 upwards.
Useful shops & businesses
So, where can you go to start kitting out your home studio? Here's a few ideas:
Studiospares â€“ North London
Digital Village â€“ Stores in North, East, South & West London
Westend DJ â€“ Central London
If you live in or near London, take a walk around the Charing Cross Road/Denmark Street area of town â€“ this area is famous for it's musical instrument & studio equipment shops.
Sooner or later you're going to have more stuff than you know what to do with! If you're running out of space at home or you need somewhere to keep your PA system inbetween gigs it might be worth looking for storage in London.