Recommended reading: The Definitive Guide to Music Production Software (2019)
If there’s one thing that’s absolutely, 100% true in this world we live in – it’s the fact that working in any creative field involves a fair amount of investment.
Electronic music production is no different. In fact, back in the day – only the wealthy were able to produce music. It involved going into a high-end studio, and recording with ‘actual’ hardware (you know, the electronic things that sit on your desk?).
Fortunately we’re now living in the 21st century and the costs for getting involved in a creative field such as music production are A LOT cheaper, but they’re still costs.
In this article I’m going to try and convince every one of you that’s wanting to get into electronic music production but hesitant due to the cost; or those who know they’re going to get into electronic music production no matter what, but would like to save money if possible, to start producing.
Why should I be giving advice? Well, I too had to start on a budget, at the age of 14. There’s nothing like spending your hard earned holiday cash on a second-hand MIDI keyboard that breaks within 2 months! After extensive research, I believe that the products I recommend in this article are the best value for money you’ll get.
If you’re new to music production, you probably don’t want to invest a whole lot of money right away, nor do you want to waste money on gear you’ll never use.
In this article, I’m going to provide my advice on how start producing electronic music on a budget. I’ll teach what you should spend money on (i.e. the essentials), and what you can spend money on (these are important, but not necessary).
Why should I be giving advice? I’ve been in the industry for over 8 years, and have educated over 6,000 producers. Further, I’ve extensively researched the best gear and software for music producers, allowing me to confidently recommend the products in this article. Keep in mind, this article is a suggestion for new producers, so it’s not the only way to start. However, it’s backed up by years of research and experience, so you can safely trust the advice and recommendations.
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I will get paid a small commission if you purchase through them. This doesn’t add any extra to the price (in fact it in some cases it will discount the price), and provides me with the ability to keep this website running.
Completely new to production? If you’ve been making electronic music for less than 12 months, download my free guide: How to Excel as a New Producer. 7,000 new producers have downloaded it and had great results.
You’ll learn why quality over quantity is bad advice, the #1 trap that almost all new producers fall into, and 8 other actionable strategies.
Step 1 – Where to Start
There’re two types of gear that will help you produce electronic music: essentials and nonessentials. Essentials are non-negotiable: you must have these in order to produce music. Nonessentials will help you produce music, but they’re by no means necessary.
There are two pieces of essential gear:
- A DAW
That’s it. If you have a DAW and something to listen to music on, you have everything necessary to produce electronic music. Higher quality headphones will help, but even cheap earbuds will be enough to get you started (we’ll discuss this more a bit later). Also, if you already own monitors/speakers, you can use those as well.
Now, a DAW and headphones are the bare minimum needed to produce electronic music. I call this the “Minimum Viable Studio” setup. They’ll be enough to learn to learn the basics of production and begin writing your own original music.
However, there is plenty of other gear and software that will help you to produce. These aren’t essential, but if you’re willing to invest money, they can seriously help your production career. I call these non-essential, because they’ll make producing easier, but you can get by without them.
Non-essential gear includes:
- High-Quality Headphones
- Studio Monitors
- Midi Controllers – Keyboards, Drum Pads, etc..
- Music Productions Books/Courses
- Audio Interface
- Outboard Gear – Synthesizers, Studio Gear
This may seem like a lot, but like I mentioned, it’s not all necessary. A lot depends on your plan and budget.
Step 2 – Plan and Budget
Maybe you’ve been producing music for a while, but want to branch out and get some more gear. Or maybe, you’re completely new to this and do have a bit of a budget. Whatever the case, it’s important that you identify the essentials.
If you’ve got literally nothing to spend, then that’s okay. But do realize that you’ll eventually want to invest some money in this field, because it does help.
Before you spend any money, you should make a plan. Since every producer will have different priorities, I can’t tell you what you definitely need. To get you headed in the right direction, consider the following questions:
- How serious are you about production?
- Are there any “non-essential” items that you feel are necessary?
The first question is important because it makes you assess your goals and aspirations in electronic music. If you’re just getting into it for fun, it doesn’t make sense to empty your bank account for a new pair of studio monitors. But if you’re committed to turning music into a career, you should seriously consider investing in equipment to help jump start your music journey.
As for the second question, every producer will have different priorities as far as equipment. If you’re a vocalist, it would make sense for you to get an audio interface and a microphone. If you’re a guitar player, you’ll probably want an audio interface to record your guitar. If you’re a piano player, it’ll be a good idea to invest in a proper MIDI keyboard.
You get the point.
Don’t spend $500 on a keyboard if you’ve never played on in your life, and don’t buy a $300 microphone if you don’t know any vocalists. Start with budget friendly options, and invest in more expensive equipment once you’ll know you’ll use it.
Completely new to production? Check out our guide “How to Make Electronic Music”. You’ll learn a comprehensive plan for learning EDM Production basics, building a creative mindset, and developing skills as a producer
Identify what gear you ‘think’ you’ll need to start off with. You’ll be doing the same thing at the end of the post when we’ve covered everything else.
Once you’ve planned what gear you’d like, it’s time to make a budget. Make a list of all the gear you’re considering, and create a fixed budget you’re willing to invest. Prioritize each item, and decide how to best spend your money.
In the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through the best available gear and software for producing electronic music on a budget.
Step 3 – Choose Your Gear
So hopefully you’ve got a bit of an idea of what YOU need to start producing electronic music. In this section I’m going to list gear and products that I fully recommend for someone on a budget. You may not necessarily need some of the items I list (monitors, audio interfaces), but I’m trying to keep it broad for those who are after a little more.
Choosing a DAW
A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the most important and fundamental thing to own when it comes to music production. It’s where you create your music!
A lot of you probably already have a DAW, so if you do, you can skip this section.
For those who don’t, I’ve got listed the most popular budget friendly DAW’s
Lower Price Range (<$250)
If you’re looking for versatility and stability at a low cost – Reaper is for you. The best thing about Reaper is that it features an evaluation version which is complete and fully-featured, meaning you can use it for a while and try it out before purchasing it.
I recommend Reaper to producers who really can’t justify the cost of other DAWs. It may be a little complicated compared to some more common ones, but I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something a little on the cheaper side that still contains a lot of features and options.
FL Studio 12 Producer Edition ($199)
You’ve most likely heard of this one. FL Studio is one of the most popular DAW and I’m not surprised, it’s very easy to pick up and learn, and offers a professional grade of quality for those who are more experienced (I’ve been using FL for years so I could be a little biased).
It does cost a little more than Reaper, but it’s got less of a learning curve and there are a lot more resources out there for users.
FL Studio comes in 4 editions. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend the Producer Edition, which offers you all the essentials necessary to produce. FL Studio also has a demo which you can use for as long as you’d like. It does have one limitation which is that you can’t open saved projects. Still, it’s great to learn with!
Logic Pro X ($199)
Logic Pro X is one of the most popular DAWs not just for electronic music, but for mixing/recording too. It’s a great one and done DAW – there’s no upgrade, just a one time, all-in-one purchase for one of the top DAWs on the market. It’s great for recording, so if you’re planning on recording vocals, guitar, or anything else, it’s fully equipped to do so.
Unfortunately, there’s no demo and it’s only for Mac users. You can watch a few YouTube tutorials or practice in it’s little brother Garage Band to see if the workflow of Logic Pro X works for you.
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I’ve only listed Reaper, FL Studio, and Logic Pro X due to their competitive pricing. There are other DAWs out there (Ableton Live, Cubase, Studio One, Bitwig, Reason), but they’re a lot more expensive. Some will argue that they’re a lot better, but I’m not personally convinced.
Most companies offer educational discounts on their DAW software, so if you’re a student, be sure to take advantage of these discounts.
What do the Pro’s Use?
It is possible to make professional quality music in any of the DAW’s listed, and many more that are not. But if you’re interested in the most popular DAWs for electronic music, they are, in my opinion, Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro X.
What Do I Use?
I started in FL Studio, but later on moved to Ableton Live. FL Studio is great, and I’m more then happy to recommend it, but I feel the workflow and design of Ableton is considerably better. The full version (suite) is quite expensive, but their standard edition is currently $449 and is plenty powerful. If you’re a student, the discount brings it down to $269, which is much more reasonable. Connor (EDMProd’s Product Manager) uses Ableton as well, and uses Logic Pro X for recording.
Beware of “Light” Versions
Be wary of “light” versions of popular softwares. Many companies sell cheaper versions of their software that are very limited, even though the top tier software is extremely powerful. This includes Ableton Live Intro, FL Studio Fruity Edition, and more. I swear by Ableton Live Suite, but would advise against the Intro edition.
Note: Don’t be drawn in by ‘cheap’ DAWs, such as the ones advertised to ‘help you create beats within minutes.’ These are a waste of money and will not help you become better at music production. Dubturbo, Beatmaker, and a few more might ring a bell.
FL Studio and Logic Pro X have an extensive range of plugins from the get-go, so you don’t need to spend much money or time accumulating more (especially if you’re a new producer). If you decide to get Reaper, you may want to look into getting some extra plugins on the side.
Most modern DAWs have plenty of great effects plugins, so if you’re planning on investing in plugins, I’d recommend purchasing a synthesizer first. That’s the way our course EDM Foundations is set up: all you need is a DAW (Ableton) and a synthesizer (Serum). Most stock DAW synthesizers are a bit limited for modern EDM, so it’s a good idea to invest in a proper synthesizer.
Here are my recommendations for low-cost synthesizers:
Sonic Academy ANA ($65)
ANA is an excellent subtractive synthesizer from the team at Sonic Academy. It’s intuitive, friendly, and capable, making it easy for you to create professional, modern sounds. It’s popular in part because of it’s friendly price tag, but it’s more than capable of competing with more expensive synthesizers.
Their updated version ANA 2 is currently priced at $135.
KV331 Synthmaster 2 ($29/$99)
Synthmaster 2 is one of the most highly awarded synths, and a great value at under $100. It’s incredibly capable, offering over ten different types of synthesis and a massively powerful modulation system. They also offer a “Player” version that gives you access to 1300 presets for only $29.
They frequently discount the plugin, so keep an eye out for sales.
Xfer Records Serum ($9.99/$189.99)
Although the full price of Serum is a bit pricey, they allow you to pay it off in installments, at $9.99 a month. Serum is overwhelming popular, and the favorite synth of the EDMProd team. If you’re on a budget but serious about production, I’d highly recommend renting-to-own Serum.
Lennar Digital Sylenth1 ($12/$165)
Similar to Serum, the makers of Sylenth1 offer a rent to own program for 10 euros a month. Sylenth1 is one of the most popular synths in electronic music, and has been so for the past decade.
– – –
If you’re looking for free plugins, there are a ton on the market, including some that rival (or beat) their paid competitors
Here are my recommendations for freeware plugins:
Voxengo currently offers 14 free plugins, covering saturation, delay, spectrum analyzing, and more. They’re fully capable free plugins, and a common favorite among bedroom producers..
The Togu Audio Line Range
Togu Audio Line, more commonly known as TAL, have a wide range of free plugins that are great for entry level and experienced producers alike.
I highly recommend picking up some of these if you’re after third party plugins, namely:
Computer Music Plugins
Computer Music is one of the most popular production magazines. With the purchase of one issue, you gain access to their entire free plugin vault, which features 65+ instruments and effects plugins from well respected plugin developers.
Splice’s Top Free Plugins
Splice lists their platforms most popular free plugins, so rather than take my word for it, you can see what free plugins producers are actually using in their projects. Many of them you can download the plugins directly from the website, so long as you have a (free) splice account.
Even More Free Plugins
You don’t really need a huge amount of plugins to get started with, especially considering that your DAW will already contain many. If you’re looking for more free plugins, then I recommend checking out the following articles:
- The 7 Best Free Soft Synth VST Plugins
- The 60 Best Free VST Plugins Available Today
- Free VST Plugin Directory by Bedroom Producers Blog
- 13 of the best VST/AU plugin effects under $30
Monitoring System – Headphones
There’s no point having a DAW without something there for you to listen to what you’re creating with it. If you’re not sure what I mean by monitoring system, it’s basically whichever medium that audio is travelling through (speakers, headphones, etc).
Like I said earlier in the post, I fully recommend headphones first, but if you’re looking to splash out a little, I’ve included some monitors I recommend as well.
While none of these headphones are “cheap”, spending any less won’t get you much further than a pair of Apple earbuds. Proper monitoring is the second most important purchase you’ll make (after your DAW), so it’s worth investing wisely in a proper pair of headphone.
Sennheiser HD 280 – $99
The fact is, you’re going to have to spend a little money here. If you buy cheap, you buy twice – that’s a cold, hard fact in the music production world.
These headphones are incredibly comfortable, reliable, and also fairly accurate. For their price, I’d rate them unbeatable.
In short, these headphones are a lot better than you’re typical consumer headphones such as Skullcandy or what have you. I highly recommend them, and at a price of $99 you can’t really go wrong.
Sony MDR7506 – $75
Though not as great as the Sennheiser HD280’s, these headphones still provide a high quality sound at a reasonably low price. They have a great frequency response, and are rather comfortable unlike other headphones in the same price range.
To be fair, this is the cheapest you’re going to get without significantly losing quality. One could argue that it doesn’t matter, as you have to learn your monitoring system anyway – fact of the matter is, a truer representation of sound is always more helpful.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x – $149
These are a little more on the expensive side, but well worth it.
I’ve been using these headphones for the past few years and I have to say that the quality is outstanding. For some people they can be a little uncomfortable, but I find they’re fine as long as breaks are taken every now and then.
If you can stretch a couple more dollars, then I’d highly recommend these headphones regardless of where you are in your production journey!
AKG K 240 – $69
These are also killer. The K 240 have a wide dynamic range and very high sound quality.
The bass response in these headphones is incredibly smooth, along with silky mids and highs. Oh, and they’re comfortable as well! Always a bonus.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO – $189
These headphones are quite a bit more expensive than the rest, but if you’re willing to shell out a few more dollars then you’ll be rewarded with great bass response, amazing build quality, and unbeatable comfort.
Monitoring System – Monitors (Speakers)
I can’t stress this enough, but purchase headphones first, unless you’ve got a perfectly treated room (which I’m assuming you don’t).
If you’re looking for another point of reference and something else to listen with while producing, then monitors are the next step. They offer a better stereo field than headphones and also allow you to ‘feel’ the music a little more.
While there are lower end systems like the Mackie CR3 and M-Audio AV42, I’d recommend saving money until you can afford a system above $250.
I’ve recommended a few of the entry-level monitors below.
Note: Monitors require an external USB audio interface.
KRK Rokits – $369.99 (pair)
These are without doubt the most popular monitors on the market. They’re good, but not great. The fact is, you aren’t going to get great monitors on a budget.
One thing’s for certain, Rokits are far better than your standard hi-fi speaker system, so you’d do good to get a pair. Professionals will bitch and moan about the fact that they’re not flat at all and poorly designed, but I’d respond by saying that they’re ideal due to their low price and there really isn’t much else that can beat them in the price bracket.
You can choose between 5, 6, and 8″ cones. I’d avoid the 5’s at all costs and normally go for the 6’s, unless you have a large room.
Behringer Truth B1031A – $149.99 (ea)
I personally use a pair of B2031A’s, so I can vouch for Behringer having a good sound (build quality not so much, but you’ll probably upgrade regardless of which monitors you buy).
The speaker cone is a lot smaller, so if you’re producing bass heavy music then these may not be for you. (NOTE: There’s a model with 8″ drivers, it’s just a little more expensive)
Yamaha HS5 – $399.99 (pair)
If you like producing on external speakers, and are looking to invest in a quality pair that will last, the Yamaha HS5’s are a great choice. For the size/price, you can’t go wrong. Their larger sizes the HS7s & HS8s, can be found in professional studios worldwide.
Extras – MIDI Controllers
I’d never call a MIDI keyboard an essential item, simply because it’s not. I know many great producers who don’t own a MIDI keyboard and have never used one.
I personally find it’s easier to be creative whilst using one, but it comes down to personal preference. Sometimes I find it helps to have a physical thing to touch, instead of inputting notes one by one into your DAW’s piano roll.
I’ve mentioned two types of MIDI controllers: keyboards and performance controllers.
MIDI keyboards will either mini-keys or full-size keyboard keys. The full-size keys are great if you want a more “playable” keyboard, while the mini-keys are great to travel with because of their size.
Performance controllers include controllers such as the launchpad, Ableton Push, and MPC line. Some producers love having these in their workflow, as they can play in drum and synth lines, rather than draw them in. Again, these aren’t necessary, but they’re a great way to get more creative in the studio.
Akai Pro LPK25 – $55
If you want a mini MIDI keyboard with minimal features, the Akai LPK25 is a great place to start. It’s extremely portable, and connects to your DAW with minimal setup. If you’re new to piano and don’t want to spend too much, this is a great choice
Akai Pro MPK Mini MKII 25-Key – $99
If you want a few more features, then the MPK Mini MKII might be what you’re looking for.
While still keeping the price low, Akai have managed to fit in 8 velocity-sensitive drum pads along with parameter control (via knobs) to this small but sexy device.
If I was to buy a new MIDI keyboard today, I’d get this one, hands down.
M-Audio Keystation 49 Keyboard Controller ($49/$99/$160)
While mini-keyboards are great, they aren’t as “playable” as full size keyboards. If you’ve got some experience playing piano, or are looking to start, you may want to consider purchasing a MIDI keyboard with full size keys.
The M-Audio Keystation line is a great budget-friendly keyboard with full-size keys. At $99 you get what you pay for, but if you’re newer to the piano this a great piece of equipment to get started. 49 keys is enough to play with both hands, and they also offer larger (61-key & 88-key) and smaller (33-key) models.
Novation MK2 LaunchPad Mini – $99
If you’re interested in the performance aspect of music production, look no further than the Novation Launchpad Mini. By now, you’ve likely seen the live performances from artists such as Madeon and Shawn Wasabi, and this controller is a great entry into that scene. In my opinion, controllers like these are more “fun” than “practical” for production, but always a blast to play around with.
Akai Professional MPD218 – $99
Lastly, we have the Akai Professional MPD218. This is an entry level drum pad controller from one of the most well respected companies in the industry. If you’re looking for something to play drums in on without the bells and whistles, this is a great choice.
Maybe you’re a vocalist yourself, or you know of one, or maybe you just want to record yourself speaking philosophical quotes in a breakdown of one of your own tracks. Whatever the reason, a microphone always helps when trying to get some sort of audio into your DAW.
There’re a few different types of microphones, and each microphone will be better at recording different things – some will excel at recording guitars, others will excel at recording vocals, and so forth. When deciding which microphone to purchase, keep in mind what you’re planning on recording. Here’s a great guide from Sweetwater breaking down the different types of studio microphones.
Keep in mind that you’ll likely want an audio interface, microphone cable, and mic stand in addition to the microphones. If you’re not comfortable investing in a microphone, recording into your phone can get the job done for simple vocal snippets.
Finally, here are some microphones I recommend:
Shure SM57 – $99
Unbeaten in it’s price range, this Shure microphone is recognized by professionals worldwide as one of the best live dynamic mics out there. It is great for recording nearly any instrument – especially drums and guitar amps.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose mic on a budget, this will exceed your expectations.
Audio-Technica AT2020 – $99
If you’d prefer a condenser mic compared to a dynamic mic such as the SM57 above, then this Audio-Technica microphone may appeal.
It’s probably one of the lowest condenser microphones you can get before starting to venture into the cheap and nasty wholesale range. This is an ideal starter mic especially if you haven’t had experience with condenser microphones before.
Note that you’ll need an audio interface for this microphone (but there is a USB version)
MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone – $70
At this price range, it’s hard to beat the MXL 770. It’s similar to the AT2020, as it’s a great all around microphone. It comes with a hard case and a shock mount, which helps reduce rumble while recording.. Altogether, I’d highly recommend this microphone
If you want to connect a guitar, microphone, or speakers to your computer, you’ll need an audio interface. Thankfully, there are plenty of quality budget-friendly audio interfaces. The main things you’ll need to consider are how many inputs and output you’ll need. Inputs include microphone preamps (for condensers) and line inputs (i.e. guitars, dynamic microphones). For outputs, consider how to connect the audio interface to your speakers, and what cables will be needed.
Here are a few I recommend:
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
Across the board, all of the Focusrite interfaces are sturdy and dependable. If you’re looking for an audio interface that let’s you do basic recording and connect to external monitors, this is a great choice. If you need more functionality, such as additional mic preamps, the rest of their line is reasonably priced as well.
M-Track 2X2 C-Series
I recently purchased this as a temporary interface while by new one shipped, and was quite surprised by it’s functionality. I love the one-knob volume control, and ended up integrating it into my production workflow. If all you want is to connect to your monitors, this interface is a great choice.
Step 4 – Educate Yourself
You can certainly educate yourself for free, I know I certainly did in the early days – but there are some great resources out there (books and the likes) that do cost a little.
Full Disclaimer: EDM Foundations is my course, but I truly believe it’s the best way to learn how to produce electronic music. You’ll master the fundamentals of electronic music production by completing 4 projects in 4 weeks. The course features in-depth video walkthroughs for three electronic music projects, plus guidance for one original project. If want to learn by doing rather than watching (who doesn’t), check out EDM Foundations.
I don’t care if you don’t like reading. Read. It’s the best way to learn.
Some of the books that have helped me immensely, and I’ll always recommend, are:
- Dance Music Manual: Tools, Toys, and Techniques
- Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio
- The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook
There are many others out there, but these will help you progress incredibly quick.
Computer Music Magazine
I’m still subscribed to Computer Music Magazine today. Every month an issue is sent out, jam-packed full of valuable tips and also free samples and plugins!
What more could you want?
You can find Computer Music mags at your local music store, or otherwise online.
Coursera.org sometimes has courses on music related topics such as music theory, mixing, electronic music production – you name it.
These courses are always free and are run by professionals (so you don’t have to worry about misinformation). Unfortunately, some of the courses are only run at certain times, so if you miss out… you miss out.
Tip #1 Watch out for Sales
Nearly every music production software company regularly runs sales. Most will do Black Friday, with other sales scattered throughout the year. Check music forums to see how often certain software companies run sales, and make sure to sign up for the plugin developers’ mailing lists.
Tip #2 Educational Discounts
I’ve mentioned this above, but keep an eye out for companies that offer educational discounts. Even if you aren’t currently enrolled in schools, many online courses, such as the Hyperbits Masterclass, will allow you to apply for educational discounts.
Tip #3 Bundles
Software bundles are a great way to get a collection of plugins at a fraction of the cost. Great bundles include Native Instruments Komplete 11, Soundtoys 5, Waves Gold Bundle, and the Fabfilter Essentials Bundle.
Tip #4 Used Gear
If you’re looking to pick up a more expensive pair of monitors or a nice MIDI keyboard, used gear is a great way to to. Personally, I’d stay away from used microphones, but monitors, keyboard, and drum pads can all be found for cheap used. For example, you can pick up Ableton Push 1 (retail $799) for around $250 nearly anywhere.
A Final Word
As you can see, electronic music production doesn’t need to break the bank. In fact, you can get started on almost nothing.
Work out what you need to get, purchase it, and get to work!
This article will probably be updated every couple of months to include new products and tips, but let us know if you’ve got anything you want to add.
EDM Foundations is the course for you.
It’s simple, to-the-point, and action-oriented. You won’t spend hours trawling through dry theory videos, you’ll be learning as you go.
By the end of the course, you’ll have finished 4 songs, including one original that you can share with family, friends, and the world.