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.
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.
Step 1 – Plan and Budget
Without planning, our purchase decisions can go flying out the window. We end up buying the red colored MIDI keyboard because it looks nicer and has ‘touch’ faders (ooohhh fancy), or we buy that plugin that everyone raves about on the forums, even if we don’t need it in our production journey, yet.
If you’re thinking about taking up music production, then you need to budget accordingly. Of course, it depends on how far you want to take this. I started with the FL Studio demo on my parent’s computer, and I was monitoring with 2 inch computer speakers.
If you’ve already got a nice sound system, then you may not need to spend a dime! On the other hand, if you’re wanting gear and products that will tide you over for years to come, then a budget and purchase plan will help immensely.
Identify Your Essentials
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.
If I was starting out today, this is what I’d purchase:
- A full version of a DAW (demos are fine, but limited)
- A quality pair of headphones
- A book or two on music production
Minus the books, these are the bare essentials. A DAW and headphones.
Why not speakers? Two reasons:
- They’re more expensive
- Your room probably isn’t acoustically treated. Headphones will give you a clearer result.
Also because most households contain a decent speaker system these days that you can use as a reference if needed.
Now that’s a very basic purchase plan, it contains three items. But if you’re a vocalist – you might want to purchase a microphone, if you’re a piano player – a MIDI keyboard might help you get ideas into your DAW. These are all things you have to take into consideration.
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.
Step 2 – 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, but for those who don’t, I’ve got two listed for you to have a look at.
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 ($60).
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 11
You’ve most likely heard of this one. To my knowledge, FL Studio is 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 3 editions:
- Signature Bundle ($299) – includes a limited collection of Image Line’s ‘Signature’ plugins
- Producer Edition ($199) – Full music, audio recording, and post-production capability (I recommend this version)
- Fruity Edition ($99) – Music composing and arranging
If you’re looking at purchasing FL Studio, go for the Producer Edition. You’ll find the Fruity Edition rather limiting after a while.
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!
I’ve only listed FL Studio and Reaper due to their competitive pricing. There are other DAWs out there (Logic, Cubase, Ableton Live), but they’re a lot more expensive. Some will argue that they’re a lot better, but I’m not personally convinced.
If you’re on Mac, Logic Pro may be a good option as it’s not too expensive. Unfortunately I can’t give a good recommendation as I’ve never used it!
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 has 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 for whatever reason, you may want to look into getting some extra plugins on the side. Here are some freeware plugins I recommend:
FL Studio doesn’t really have a dedicated spectrum analyzer (Wave Candy is the closest), and you’ll want one of these. Voxengo’s SPAN is completely free and I’ve been using it for years. Highly recommended.
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:
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 Bedroom Producer’s Blog.
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.
Sennheiser HD 280 – $99.95
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-M50 – $146
I’ve been using these headphones for the past few months 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
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
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.
I’ve recommended a few of the entry-level monitors below.
Note: Monitors require an external USB audio interface.
KRK Rokits – $369.99 (pair)
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)
Sure, it isn’t the highest quality product – but for a beginner it’s great. I actually find that the Behringer’s have a much more flat frequency response than the Rokits, and in general they’re a lot better to monitor on.
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)
Fostex PM641 – $499.99 (pair)
These are three-way speakers which pack a huge punch. They are a little more on the expensive end, but you can expect to hold on these for a long time, if not your whole production career.
Extras – MIDI Keyboards
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.
Korg NanoKEY – $40
If you’re looking for something cheap and extremely portable – then the nanoKEY will suffice. I wouldn’t call it a MIDI ‘keyboard’ but it might help you to pump out some quick little melodies while sitting in your favorite coffee shop.
By no means is this an alternative for a fully-fledged, 61-key MIDI keyboard, but it might help you out a little. With a price like that, you have nothing to lose really.
Alesis Q25 – $67
Unlike the nanoKEY, it’s got actual keys. That’s always a bonus. You’ve also got octave up & down buttons along with a mod and pitch wheel.
Akai Pro MPK Mini 25-Key – $99
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 Oxygen Series
There are three different sizes (25, 29, and 61 key) which all feature high quality knobs + sliders, buttons, and more.
Alesis Q49 – $99
Although the Alesis Q49 is more minimal in style, and has less features than the Oxygen – it has a great reputation for its build quality and ease of use (the reviews on Amazon prove that!)
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.
By no means am I a singer, but I have used a few budget microphones in my time. Here are some I recommend:
Shure SM58 – $99
It’s tailored for vocals due to its warmth and clarity, brightened midrange, and smooth high-frequency response. The pop filter is great and will significantly reduce wind and breathing noises.
If you’re looking for a multi-purpose mic on a budget, this will exceed your expectations.
Audio-Technica AT2020 – $99
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)
CAD GXL3000 Multi-Pattern Condenser Microphone – $99
The microphone features three different polar patterns which cause it to be a great multi-purpose microphone. It’s got a great frequency response and a smooth sound (though the highs could be a little less harsh).
If you’re unsure of the AT2020, consider purchasing this one.
Step 3 – 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.
Want to master the fundamentals of electronic music production by making 4 songs in 4 weeks?
EDM Foundations is for you. Join over 750 other producers and get a head start on your learning.
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.
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.