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The College Hobbyist: A 5-Minute Primer on Building a Home Studio for Electronic Music
Visceral Music - The Edge (Free Downloads Available)
Electronic music is doing more than just making waves in popular culture. No longer does rave music need to be hidden beneath grimy cellar doors, inside abandoned warehouses, or in home garages and basements. It is literally everywhere and has begun to redefine how we as humans approach music production entirely. From the largest underground concert experiences in human history to multiple Grammy awards a year, the future of music is here in the raw and bandwagons aside it is a ton of fun. The only barriers for entry are a computer and creative inspiration. Its time to investigate what this whole EDM phenomenon is really all about, at its core, and in this hub we are going to take a look at some of the possibilities you encounter when putting together your home studio or setting up your producer lifestyle to go mobile.
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Building the Studio
Building your studio can be very cost and expense determinate depending on what you feel most comfortable producing on. Your studio in it's early days will be a direct reflection of the amount you are able and willing to invest in it vs. what you find the most fun. For some, the massive amounts of gear and machines makes the experience more fun and interactive and in this realm there is a very high ceiling here for what would be considered a "solid" or "professional" studio while others would see that as simply clutter and opt for as much simplicity in the work place as possible, but to put things in perspective, many of the original Skrillex hits, including 'Cinema' which won multiple awards, were made on simple speakers and a laptop only.
This aside, the more powerful of a studio you have, the better idea you will get of your overall end sound, especially if ever played on larger sound systems. Some very essential pieces of equipment to invest in first and foremost if you want to build your home studio are:
Monitor Headphones - Invest in good powerful monitor headphones first and foremost. This will allow you to make music at any hour in any location without disturbing anybody, and for what they provide it is very much the most for your money. It is key that your headphones provide a similar range to your speaker setup but ideally your speakers match your headphones rather because good dj headphones provide excellent range. There are many brands that provide high power studio quality headphones at a range of prices. This is completely based on personal preference once you reach a certain level of speaker quality.
Monitor Speakers/Stereo System - Powerful amplified speakers are important. For my home studio I simply use a high wattage Sony stereo receiver and two massive floor standing speakers with a good range and 15" subs. This setup does have a ticking clock of a lifespan however and in any party or DJ situation I would be accelerating that clock tenfold. Ideally, are monitor speakers, made for deep electronic bass. These provide a full amplified range and better emulate the full scope of a live sound system. The most common and popular speakers for this, because of their tried and true quality, are the Rock-Its, however there are a plethora of brands that provide good high quality monitor speakers made just for this.
Sound Card - Stock desktop and laptop sound cards do not provide the same sound quality as an external sound card will on your home system. This will allow you to produce your music much closer to the sound that it will take on at the endgame in a large performance setup. There are many brands of external sound card as well, and much like a mixer or headphones will come down to preference vs. affordability. If you are producing on a laptop this is even more important, and aids your mobile producer lifestyle if you pursue one. Your sound card will be an important piece of your studio and should not be compromised or sacrificed.
Controllers/Additional - There are a plethora of midi controllers, effect controllers, samplers, synthesizers, mixers, sequencers, and more that can be added to a studio for many purposes. More of this will be covered in the Hardware section of Hardware vs. Software.
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Hardware vs. Software
Hardware: There is an absolute ton of electronic equipment that can be used to produce music. This goes without saying; hard synthesizers, mixers, and effects controllers can produce excellent tones and make the experience much more interactive and organic feeling. Additionally almost any sound can be sampled and manipulated and there is a plethora of gear made exactly for this.
Some gear to look into and consider includes:
Midi controllers - This is a very open ended term, but ultimately this is a controller for mapping digital actions to. Many of these include single or multiple octave keyboards, button pads, adjustable knobs, sliders, and more. Akai, M-Audio, and Native Instruments are all good brands that make multiple styles of midi controllers.
Synths/Keys - Writing music with a mouse isn't always the most fun, and hard keys are great alternative to this. Many synthesizers include a midi port so you can record directly into your audio workstation. High quality synthesizers will allow you to customize your sounds and add effects as well.
Mixers - Can be used to map effects to, but this is mostly a tool for DJ'ing and mixing multiple tracks together. However, this can become a useful tool for making your own songs more interesting by mixing them down and bouncing that sample rather than the original track.
Effects - There are many hard effects programmers, it just depends what your desired effect is, be it filter, flanger, chorus, delay, phaser, reverb, distortion, or anything else. Often times other pieces of equipment will come with programmable effects.
Software: There is an abundance of software for producing music on your computer, and your computer solely. Not only does this keep things simple but allows you to go mobile and make music from any location should you have you headphones and laptop. Digging for plugins and patches can often feel like digging through crates of vinyl for samples.
DAW's -Firstly, you will need to pick a DAW to work with. This acronym stands for digital audio workstation and refers to programs like FL Studio, Apple Logic Pro, Reason, Cubase, Sony Acid, Ableton Live, Reaper, and others. None of these are the objective best and there are many more to be explored. Find the workstation that you are the most comfortable in and that has the best and most consistent workflow for you and run with it.
Plugins - These pieces of software can be purchased or often downloaded and run through your DAW. They usually act as digital versions of many common pieces of hardware. By this I mean entirely digital synthesizers, effects controllers, and drum sequencers. Plugins are what make an entirely software driven studio possible and prevent the hardware clutter of the 80's and 90's. When it comes to plugins you will want to dig and dig online in forums and electronic music communities because good synths and patches can be like gold, just like excellent drum samples. Find what kind of synthesizer feels best for you and build an arsenal that you can master.
Share Your Music!
There is a massive number of locations on the web to share your tunes and you should utilize those which suit you best. To name a few excellent places to share music:
Soundcloud.com: Soundcloud is the first name that will come to mind for many people and for very good reason. Soundcloud provides extremely intuitive and user-friendly interface and has many resources for networking and sharing music, not to mention is completely free to use. Soundcloud, to me, is essential in the world of electronic music and has played a pivotal role in making producers out of the consumers.
Soundclick.com: Soundclick is an excellent website for a few reasons. Firstly, they provide both an artist profile and music page where different content can be featured. I have found this to be a huge utility even though it sounds so simple. Also with Soundclick is the ability to lease and sell beats which is major in this new wave of self-driven business models for the music industry.
Reverbnation.com: Reverbnation, from my experience with it, seems to be a powerful resource for networking and marketing yourself however I have not invested much personal time into it and as a result it remains more fun than anything else. They are huge about promotion, promotion, promotion. It is a website very geared towards the producer however they push and push you to sign up for tons of other social networking platforms that they connect to. Reverbnation does also send lots and lots of emails with information on the world of production and opportunities to get your feet wet with magazines, promotions, articles, features, and more.
Bandcamp.com: Bandcamp, like Reverbnation, has always remained a hobby for me, but I can't say enough about it. On a highly professional level it is obviously something to be replaced with a stronger platform, but on an entry level it is very easy and fun to use and setup, provides the options for selling albums, tracks, and even merch, which is very cool, and is also completely free to use. Bandcamp to me is the introverted little brother who has all the wonder and bright ideas in the world but far fewer friends to connect with than his elder Soundcloud.
In building your studio you will most likely lean one direction here but end up with a few odds and ends from all corners that fit your personal niche. This is exactly what you want. Integrate your musical style into your studio.
And now that you have your studio put together it's time to start making some slappin' beats. Open up a soundcloud/bandcamp/soundclick page and share your music with the world, we can't wait to hear it!
I'm very open to feedback and would love to hear what you think in the comments. Please feel encouraged to share your music and get in contact with other artists. Stay creative and have fun!