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Music production for beginners on a budget: when to invest in better equipment?

  • Michele
  • 09 August 2023, Wednesday
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Music production on a budget - when to invest in better equipment

Your beginnings in music production do not have to be expensive

Pursuing music production can quickly become an expensive endeavor, especially for beginners who don't always know where to start or what equipment they actually need. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford to invest a lot of money into our careers early on. In this article, we aim to dismantle the myth that expensive equipment equals faster improvement and better music, especially in the early stages of a music career.

Do you need expensive equipment to make better music?

After acquiring their first Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and starting to experiment, beginner music producers quickly stumble across an important question: “What else do I need to make good music?” A brief Google search results in long lists of plugins, equipment, and VSTs which — according to many articles — you absolutely need to create “good” music. For those who cannot afford them all, this expectation can feel daunting.

The reality of the process, however, looks very different. In this article, we want to deconstruct and dismantle the myth that expensive music production equipment plays a fundamental role in making great music. We are specifically speaking to beginners in music production to help them achieve their goals faster and more sustainably. However, intermediates and professionals might benefit from this information as well.

Knowledge and practice come first

Have you ever heard of octaves, inverted chords, or countermelodies? Do you understand the different functions of your DAW and the purpose of its stock plugins, such as that of an EQ or delay? How much do you know about sound selection, arrangement, or mixing fundamentals such as panning or level balancing?

As a beginner, you might not know the answers to these and many other technical questions. And that is okay — music production is a complex, multifaceted field that cannot be studied and understood overnight. Music theory, mixing, and mastering are only some elements that play a role in how advanced your music sounds in relation to its quality and uniqueness.

This reality can, however, be frustrating. As a result, many beginners look for ways to improve faster and wonder if maybe their plugins are the culprits. While it is true that, at some point, investing in equipment does make a difference, expensive products alone will not change much about the quality of your music. Especially if they are not used skillfully and pragmatically.

An expensive EQ won’t magically improve your mix if you don’t know how to apply it correctly. A 61 keys MIDI keyboard alone won’t write better melodies and chord progressions for you. An elaborate reverb plugin won’t add depth and dimension to your mix if you don’t understand its many parameters.

Where to start as a beginner in music production: tools and knowledge

If you want to get better at music, you should first and foremost invest a substantial amount of time studying the fundamentals. We recommend abandoning the “good or bad” rhetoric as these are highly subjective terms. Instead, we prefer to look at quality in relation to skillfulness and experience, which is only achievable through consistent practice and knowledge.

Basic music production equipment for beginners

As a beginner, you will need some basic tools and equipment to start producing music. The most important one is a music production software such as FL Studio, Ableton Live, Cubase, or Logic Pro. These DAWs come with VSTs and useful stock plugins, such as EQs, reverbs, compressors, or delay plugins.

Additionally, you might find working with a small MIDI keyboard useful, so you don’t have to manually click in all the notes in the piano roll. You will also need a pair of studio headphones and/or studio monitors, which do not have to be overly expensive as, in the beginning, all you need is something to work with.

Basic music production skills and music theory knowledge

After acquiring the most basic equipment, your first aim should be to gather valuable knowledge and work with what you have until you feel confident and educated enough to continue investing in your music career.

The first step is thoroughly studying your DAW of choice and the stock plugins that it comes along with. Understanding which tools, buttons, knobs, and sliders are responsible for what will allow you to make music that corresponds to your expectations and basic quality standards.

Furthermore, depending on the genres you’re interested in, we recommend getting acquainted with some music theory basics. Although, at first, it might seem overwhelming, it will turn out incredibly helpful once you begin translating your ideas or emotions into sound. Since music is a somewhat intangible and elusive art form, this will also simplify working and communicating with other producers.

The amount of knowledge you need depends on your individual goals and the genres you are interested in. While understanding advanced music theory benefits everyone, not everyone needs to know how to construct the most intricate chords or work within a Locrian scale.

When should you start investing in plugins and equipment?

Our rule of thumb is to make use of what you have until you start feeling limited by your current equipment. Once you’ve wrapped your mind around the fundamentals and practiced enough to know how to apply your knowledge, it might be the right time to start looking into new tools and products.

If you’ve studied music theory and practiced your scales on your small MIDI keyboard, you might want to replace it with one that gives you a larger range of octaves to work with. If you’ve reused the same stock VST presets too many times, you might want to start looking into different ones that are more versatile and complex. Ideally, this will allow you to expand your knowledge, experience, and creativity and keep you motivated.

At the same time, you don’t need to replace all your stock plugins with external ones. Although tools created by renowned companies do come with different benefits, many stock plugins are highly capable as they’re part of professional DAWs. And sometimes, experimenting with free plugins and VSTs can be fun, too.

Resources

The internet is full of knowledge and information, such as this highly entertaining and useful 90s tutorial on mixing with David Gibson.

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If you prefer to read articles, we at iMusician have published different resources, thanks to which you can learn more about music production, music theory, and beyond. Our blog provides you with helpful tips and knowledge on topics such as music industry terms, the fundamentals of rhythm, FL Studio, or mixing and mastering tutorials.

No time, money, or experience for mastering? Make use of our free AI-based Online Instant Mastering tool to instantly achieve the loudness you need for streaming platforms.

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Get tips on How to Succeed as an Artist, receive Music Distribution Discounts, and get the latest iMusician news sent straight to your inbox! Everything you need to grow your music career.

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