Where to start...


                The late rise of the digital age has empowered the individual in ways people 30 years ago couldn’t have imagined. The music industry is no exception. Since the 80’s we have seen the slow death of big record labels. The biggest reason is because artists can now reach their audience through the internet without needing to go through a 3rd party like a record label. An unsigned artist has more creative freedom and more financial freedom. The catch is you have to do a lot of the dirty work. There are obviously great things about signing with a record label like: PR, distribution, radio presence, etc. But there are also good things about being an independent artist.

                Here are some basic guidelines about independent music if you’re just starting out. First, the more you do yourself the less you will spend and hopefully you will like the results better. That includes everything from composing, producing, and mastering to marketing, ad campaigns, and web design. You should feel in charge of your operation. You don’t have to dive in to everything at once - that’s frankly, quite scary – instead just start small; decide on your artist persona, build a Facebook fan page or a twitter account. Don’t get so caught up in all of this that you neglect the entire reason you’re doing it: because you love music and love creating it. 

                Here’s what you need to have creative freedom and be truly independent with your music. The very first thing you will need is a computer. At least one with average specks to start out on. Laptop or desktop, it just depends on how you prefer to work (I personally have both). I believe the best computers for music creation are Apple computers; they are amazing when it comes to the user experience and handle media very well. Other computers work well too: dell, alienware, asus, etc. However please don’t get a netbook for music creation; you will probably throw it against the wall in frustration. The next thing you will need is software (you don’t really need hardware anymore especially if you’re just starting out, though it is really nice to have if you know how to use it); the cornerstone of modern music the Digital-Audio-Workstation or DAW. A DAW is the hub of your music creation life. This is where you will spend a lot of your time creating your music. Here are some guidelines to think about when choosing a DAW:

  • midi support
  • rewire support and(or) can host VSTs
  • built in plugins like EQs, compressors, and reverbs
  • audio support and audio recording capabilities (except reason 5)
  • Make sure you like how it feels (test with trial versions)
  • Multi-track capabilities

Here is a list of some DAWs including features and price range.






Reason 5


Small and compact, hardware emulation, cool looking, useable with most other DAWs as a slave, fun to route devices with pretend wires.

Compressors are not great, no way to record audio straight into reason 5 (that’s why it’s primarily used as a slave with other DAWs).

Can be confusing at first.


Reason 6


Same as above but with lots more features: audio recording, a giant emulated analogue mixer, rack extensions (like VSTs but for reason).

Larger less compact software




Very flexible interface. Includes a non-linear way to create music. Doubles as DJ software. Rewires almost seamlessly with Reason 5. Very clear sound quality. Great built in plugins. Cool star trek looking GUI.

Can use a lot of CPU if you’re not careful (has a some features like freeze track to remedy this). The bigger your monitor the easier it is to use Live.

$400 - $900

Fl Studio (fruity loops)

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Very cool almost sci-fi looking GUI. Very distinctive sound engine. Great for electronic music. Awesome VST support. Cool mixer set up. Slick colorful built in plugins. Built in drum sequencer. Awesome midi engine.

Not terribly smooth with reason (glitchy). The non-linear feel can be confusing. Can use a lot of CPU.




Very powerful midi support. Intuitive interface. Very compatible with other programs and VSTs like reason or melodyne

Not very portable because of the copy protection dongle needed to install. It’s best for a desktop PC.




Great design. Very intuitive. Super portable (no copy protection). Includes lots of loops and samples. Works wonders with reason. Good plugins included.

Only compatible with Apple computers. It’s easier to use with a large screen.


Pro Tools


Supports tons of file types. Very customizable workspace. Adjusting clip volume makes workflow faster.

Expensive. Need hardware to use effectively. Not 64bit.

$700 – $2,500

Cockos Reaper


Cheap. You can test the trial version indefinitely. Very flexible. Nice interface. Super portable. Good support for VSTs and rewire. Apply effects directly onto audio or midi clips.

Not as powerful as some DAWs. Not as compatible with Apple computers. Not a super streamlined work flow.

$0 - $40 - $250 (free download, personal license, commercial license)



Good plugin support. Good for recording audio. It has a mixer. Powerful composition tool.

Looks old and cheap. Strange interface. No built-in audio editor.


Audition cs6


Very flexible and powerful audio tool. Good for doing films and other media. Good for editing sound and sound restoration. Lots of cool plugins. Group clips. Good hardware support.

Looks flat, unappealing and confusing. Not very streamlined workflow. NO midi support.



Open source

Totally free and open source. Powerful especially for audio editing. VST support. Simple. Super portable.

No midi support. No mixer. Less powerful then other DAWs. Not very cool looking (win 98 style).


Garage band


Fun interface. Good sound quality. Lots of presets. Good midi support and editor. Good for beginners. Cheap.

If you have used other programs garage band feels like a plastic kid’s toy. Up front it looks like it only has presets and nothing customizable. Only on Mac.


Anvil Studio

Willow Software

Cool note view for composing music. Guitar and piano oriented. Freeware. Portable. Audio support.

Looks like a software dinosaur fossil. Sound quality isn’t very good. Tools for editing are not great.




Cool interface. Lots of good plugins and instruments. The built in effects are good. Good mixer.

The skeleton of the program is a bit legacy. The UI sizing is strange. Mixer improvements cost extra. Hard to configure audio. No Mac version.



These are only a few. There are many others and lots of them are free or open source. It’s not a onetime decision either; you can always switch DAWs late if you don’t like the one you’re working with.

                A good thing to know before you purchase a DAW is what type of music you are planning on creating with it. Different DAWs are better for some things than others. For instance, if you only plan on recording audio like guitars or vocals then Audacity might be a good starting point, or you could go with adobe audition. If you are writing film scores Cubase or Nuendo might be a good fit. If you are more concerned with mash ups and DJing then Ableton Live is a perfect fit. If you want the minimalist yet flexible feel to create any type of music then I suggest slaving Reason with Live or another DAW. If you just want to compose and want total control over your digital sound and synths Reason is the way to go. There are so many different DAWs out there and what you use depends entirely on what helps you write your best music. There are a lot of options out there so it’s important you experiment and find what works best for you. The creation of music is at its core subjective. In the end it only matters what works best for you and what feels right to you.

                Next you will need some sort of midi controller device. This may be the only type of hardware you ever purchase. There are lots of cool options out there for midi control! You probably know about midi keyboards but there are lots of other options as well: midi guitar controllers, voice to midi controllers, midi touch pad matrices, midi drum sets, and others. I personally suggest you start out with a basic midi keyboard not a pimped out one; just one that you could fit in your laptop case. AKAi has some really great compact midi controllers and the ones I’ve used have been great! Stick with USB controllers for now.

                The next thing you will need is a pair of canz (producer slang for headphones). There are so many headphones out there and choosing the right one can be a pain. However when it comes to making your own music headphones are super important. They are your lenses into your music. Your headphones show you what your music really sounds like. If they are bad headphones you may have your song sounding great on your headphones but on any other audio system your song will sound like cheap beats made by a noob (nobody wants that). So what do you do? Well in the end every singly audio system will interoperate your sound a little differently so you want headphones that will give you the most unbiased sound (they call it audio transparency). When buying headphones always look for it’s audio frequency response graph. Below is a screen shot of the frequency response graph for Audio-Technica ATH-M50 from headphone.com (These are the canz I use, I love them). Headphone.com is way cool because it lets you compare frequency response graphs between different headphones. You want to see a relatively even line or at least know where the faults are so you can plan for them as you make music.


                That is the bare minimum you need to create on your own music (besides creativity and diligence). However if you plan on recording audio of some sort (most people do) then you will need a few more things. First you will need an audio interface and some sort device that records audio; whether that be a mic or an electric guitar that you plug straight into the interface. Choosing an audio interface can be like choosing a phone. There are so many average and crappy ones and a lot of them have features you won’t need (yet). I suggest looking for a basic barebones average quality audio interface. Tascam makes good products along this line. One I’ve used and enjoyed for a while is the US-144MKII. It has 2 XLR inputs and mic inputs, along with phantom power (for condenser mics) and digital and midi in and outs plus a headphone jack and some knobs for controlling gain and volume. Of course you will also need a DAW that supports audio and recording look at the list above for some ideas.

                Of course most people like having regular speakers as well because using headphones excessively can fatigue your ears. If you really want speakers for making music you will want studio monitors. Studio monitors are speakers specifically made for producing music. Much like production headphones the idea behind monitors is to get the purest most transparent sound from your computer. There are lots of options and most are expensive. Rokits are a good starting point, they are around $400 but sound pretty good. Also you will need an audio interface to be able to use most studio monitors.

                I mic isn’t a midi controller or an instrument but it is very handy when it comes to recording just about anything. There are hundreds or types and brands of microphones on the market and even experienced producers don’t know which is the best and that’s because they are all different and are used for different purposes: drum mics, mics for lead singers at live performances, mic especially for recording studios, mics for orchestral instruments, mics for guitars, mics for film making, mics for field recording, and many many more. I suggest you start out with a dynamic mic (non studio-average mic you find at your local church or school) just to get the feel for recording audio before you make a $5,000 purchase on a ribbon mic or something. Then (or now if you don’t want to wait) get a condenser mic. Condenser mics are made primarily for studio music production, mainly vocals and guitar. The price range and quality is considerable. Before you open a new tab and search cheap condenser mics it’s important to note that mics, just like headphones have their own unique frequency response and unlike headphones that response will get recorded directly into your song. You really should think about what you are planning on recording, how you will be recording it, and the sound and feel of the music you will be making. For example a mic with high sensitivity in the mid-range (100hz – 1000hz) might be a good choice for a vocal mic especially if the voice your recording sounds good in those frequency ranges, but it might not be very good for a guitar. Also it’s a good idea to have some sort of mic stand – boom, desk, traditional – and a pop filter. It also really helps to have audio correction software like auto-tune or melodyne, some DAWs even have them built in (Cubase and Reason 6).


To be an independent musician in the modern age is not hard. You just need to have the desire to work hard and learn and be creative. There are some things you will need to make it possible:

  • Computer
  • DAW
  • Headphones
  • Midi controller
  • ------
  • Audio interface
  • Mic
  • Instrument
  • Pop filter
  • Mic stand
  • Audio correction tool
  • Audio cables

I hope this helped clear up some of the beginner-fog for you. I wish you luck and a good time. I’d love to hear your music you can email or go to my blog. Please retweet or share this article if it helped you.