Rhythm Creation - Music Production and Sound Reocording

Over the next few days Rhythm Creation is going to go way back down to basics by writing some beginners guides. There are loads of people out there that want to start creating and producing their own music and need a little help to get started. I was a music beginner once too and these beginners guides are hopefully going to grow into a huge guide that I would have loved to of had to hand when I first started.

I am an electronic musician and so you may find at times throughout this guide that it is more aimed at musicians who are looking to producing electronic based music, I shall cover all genres and styles of producing as best as I can. You may also find at times that you may disagree with me as some of the things that I will talk about will be my opinion only and there may well be other methods and different ways of doing things, if you do disagree with me write it in the comments of the post and I shall bring your ideas and thoughts up from the comments and into the main articles.

Part 1 - Equipment.
To start producing your own tracks the first thing your going to need to think about is the equipment your going to need. Each musician is going to have a different set of equipment that they use, obviously a guitar player is going to have his guitar, amplifier and cables for example (which are not on this list). But this equipment list below is what I think is a minimum for anyone wanting to start to record and write music at home, no matter what instrument you play or genre of music you are going to be creating. You may find that you already own some of these items (for example the computer as you must be using one to read this) and you may be surprised at how small the list actually is to get started.

Hardware and Software
Piano with Laptop - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:Leslier Music can be produced using both hardware and software. At one time music was produced solely using hardware but due to advancements in computer speeds, all music production tasks can now be achieved using software. Hardware is still used a lot in music production (Music producers love their mixing desks, hardware effects units and especially their hardware synthesizers) but as computer software can now compete extremely well with hardware and because you are new to music production I would suggest you stick mainly with software for the moment. You will find that at a later stage you can advance to using both software and hardware together and because most software is actually based on their hardware counterparts there will be no need to relearn anything you have learnt, should you want to go the hardware route at a later date.

Even though we are going to go the software route you are still going to need some hardware equipment to run the software as well as be able to record both instrument and note information (MIDI Data - We will go into this later) into the software enviroment.

This is obvious, but yes your going to need a computer and obviously you are using one to read this, but is your computer going to be fast enough to run any music software your going to be using.

Basically the faster the computer you have the better experience you are going to have producing your music. Music software can take up a lot of system resources due to it’s complexity and whilst it may be written on the software box or web site that the recommended requirements are low, you may find that once you start using the software and have lots of different channels all playing together that the computer just isn’t going to cope with it. A fast processor and lots of RAM are needed to allow your computer to cope better.

You are also going to need lots of hard drive space as music files and recordings can take up lots of gigabytes. Hard drives are cheap these days so this shouldn’t be the problem it once was. You will also want a DVD/CD writer so you can hand out CDs of you produced tracks and also back up your work.

If you need to buy a new computer you may want to build the computer yourself (It’s not as hard as you think). I did this myself for mine and you will find there are some benefits to doing this as you can choose the components yourself to create a better computer that’s specifically designed with music in mind. For example you can find cooling systems without fans, quieter cases, quieter hard drives and graphics cards without cooling fans on. All aimed at reducing the sound that the computer makes in your audio enviroment.

The most important component of your computer if you’re a musician. The main thing to watch out for is going to be latency which needs to be as low as possible. A high latency will make your computer unusable for recording music, as everything you record or play in will be behind everything else in your track. ASIO Support (Audio Stream Input/Output) is a must if you are going to be using Windows and a nice amount of audio inputs (with low noise). Read reviews of soundcards in magazines and on other review type web sites to make sure the soundcard you choose to buy is going to be the right one for you.

You may find you can use your current soundcard and if you do have latency issues you may find you can solve your latency issues by searching the web for better drivers. The KX Project drivers for example works with EMU10K1 and EMU10K2-based sound cards such as the Soundblaster Live and virtually eliminates latency issues.

Speaker - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:bury-osiol If you are serious about music production you should spend a good amount of money on some near-field studio monitors as your tracks will benefit a great deal in sound quality and should sound great no matter where they are played. Near-field monitors are different to normal speakers/stereo systems as they are designed to show you exactly what your music really sounds like without affecting the sound in anyway. They are also designed to be listened to with you closer to them than conventional listening speakers. Active monitors will already have a power amplifier, passive monitors need an external power amp.

If you can’t afford a decent set of monitors or don’t want to invest just yet, you can still use a decent normal speaker and amp or stereo system setup. But make sure you turn off any enhancements that the stereo or amplifier creates usually called something like Bass Enhancement or Rock/Jazz/Dance settings and turn any EQ (possibly called Bass and Treble) to their central positions. With a standard pair of speakers you are going to need to do a lot of listening on different systems such as car stereos, headphones, friend’s systems etc to get better mixes that sound good where ever they are played.

Never use those small computer speakers, it won’t be worth the time trying to get your tracks sounding right and use a good cable to connect the soundcard to the system/amplifier.

MIDI Controller
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a data system that is used between different instruments (and your computer) to send note and time information. No audio recording (sound) is contained within MIDI, it is only computer bits and bytes (digital data). A MIDI controller is typically a musical keyboard with other various controls such as faders and pads that are used to play notes into your tracks. If you are only going to be recording traditional instruments with microphones such as guitars and drums then you may not need one, but they aren’t expensive and owning one will open many new avenues for your music. If you are going to be producing electronic based music then a MIDI controller is an essential piece of kit.

There are tons of different MIDI controllers available on the market today, some with musical keyboard layouts, some with pads and faders, there are even guitars and drum kits which act as MIDI controllers. But I’m specifically talking about a keyboard layout one with at least 2 octaves of keys and one that also has some faders on to control certain sound aspects as you play. Always make sure the keys have touch sensitivity and aftertouch, these features change the sound played depending on how hard the note is being pressed (These are typically a standard feature, but check to make sure if your buying a cheaper or older second hand one).

You are also going to need a MIDI cable if one doesn’t come with your MIDI controller to connect your MIDI controller to your soundcard (The input may be called a joystick input on your soundcard).

A Microphone - Image from Stock Xchng (www.sxc.hu) User:Wazina If you plan on recording full drum kits then you are going to need quite a few microphones to get a studio produced sound. If you are going to be using drum samples then you shouldn’t need to have as many, in fact you may get by with only having one. Even if you are producing synthesizer and sample based only music, I can’t stress enough how you should still have a good basic microphone to hand for recording your own samples.

There are many good microphones on the market, but for the beginner music producer I would advise getting a Shure SM57 (A bright sounding vocal and instrument microphone) or a Shure SM58 (Go for this one if you are doing lots of vocals). You can’t go wrong with these microphones, they are classics, built to last, can take very loud sounds and don’t need an external power source. They are also very well priced and will give you very good quality sound for your money.

Part 1 Conclusion
This list is to help people get started, obviously there is loads more kit a musician could own, but hopefully this has given you an insight into the basic equipment needed for you to start producing your own tracks. This list will change slightly for each person, but once you have all the equipment above you shouldn’t need much more apart from the software and any instruments you might play to get started.

Beginners Guide To Music Production - Part 2 - Choosing Your Software

Written by Edward Cufaude for Rhythm Creation.

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