Transforming your musical ideas into a finished product takes time and practice. One needs to either outsource some parts of the music production to others or learn to do it yourself end-to-end. Understanding your workflow and having clear objectives will help you to acquire the tools you need for the job.
Understanding your goals
If you’re just starting with music production, it’s very easy to get lost. An easy way to start is to define your objectives. If you don’t have a clear goal in mind like “I’d like to produce five melodic-techno tracks and try to get on a label X”, it could be something as simple as “record a song cover for your beloved one and see if I like making covers”. Or “I have a nice guitar riff, and I’d like to make a full song out of it”. Having that goal in mind, you will be able to ask yourself the question, “which equipment do I need to achieve this goal” instead of “which equipment I’d like to have to make music”.
Let’s imagine you’re a singer-songwriter, and you’d like to record your first song. A few more details - indie rock style, simple ABAB structure, no solo, maybe a repeated chorus. Acoustic guitar, voice, back vocals, bass, drums, shakers, claps, maybe, piano and a synth. To make a complete recording, you need at least these three things:
- get someone to play the instruments you can’t play
- record all tracks
- mix and master
Unless you have a cheap way to outsource all the above, you will need a computer. Probably already have one? It’s going to be enough. In 2023 I can run all my Logic X projects on my 2013 MacBook Pro with no issues. If you’re buying a new one and deciding how to split the budget between different areas, I suggest doubling down on the computer because you will be working on it most of the time.
For the song above, I would suggest going with GarageBand because it comes with a good set of sounds, plus it can generate a good-sounding drum track.
VST Plugins, Instruments and Sounds
Use the built-in ones.
Skip it for now. The built-in audio card is enough to start.
Apple EarPods. Yes, the wired ones for $15 on a classifieds website. You can wear them all day long without running out of battery or getting sore ears. They are also an industry standard for checking any tracks at the mastering stage. You will need a second pair of on-ear headphones once you reach the mixing and mastering stages, so stash another $50-100 for later.
Just use the one built into your EarPods. Seriously, if you can get a good-sounding space (see below) for the recording, you can get a darn well-sounding track! You will need to find a position for the mic to avoid overloading it while singing and hang it on something while playing the guitar. Also, you need to apply an EQ: bring 2200Hz down by 12 dB and 6000Hz down by 9 dB.
Probably, you already heard about acoustic-treatment? There are “budget” options, but you can do that later once you know you need it. For now, you can wrap the blanket around yourself. You will not believe how many recordings were done that way.
This setup will cost you $300-$400 and allow you to produce the track described above. Will you get a top-quality mix? Probably not, but not because of the equipment. Take your time to master the skills and save money for future investments.
This technique is used:
Stages of production: general