The EDM Artist's Guide to Studio Gear
You know all that super expensive gear that you see in recording studios, that makes you want to ditch music production because you'll never be able to afford that "professional sound?" Well, guess what? If you're an EDM artist, you don't need most of it! The reason that studios have all of that gear is so they can record bands and sometimes even orchestras. If you're writing music on your computer, copious amounts of recording equipment is unnecessary. There's a lot to be said about a great performance from a studio musician, but the reality is that if you're making EDM, you probably aren't doing that much recording work. EDM is based on synthesis and sample manipulation. A copy of Serum costs $189 (covering your synthesis needs) and Splice Sounds has your back if you need to beef up your sample library. You can create great EDM with nothing more than Serum, Splice Sounds, and a laptop. That being said, EDM artists do benefit from a selection of studio hardware, but it's far less expensive than that found in a full-blown recording studio.
Let me just quickly address plug-ins before diving into hardware. Depending on which DAW you're using, stock audio effects can range from trash to very high quality. If your stock plug-ins aren't cutting it and you want to upgrade your plug-in library, check out The Ultimate List of Plugin Companies.
This list is in the order that I recommend you start acquiring hardware.
The one piece of hardware that I highly recommend you invest in is a good pair of headphones. If you're serious about music production and want to exponentially step up your game, a good pair of headphones will give you the most bang for your buck. They let you bypass the need for acoustic treatment, as well as studio monitors. It's obviously nice to have options, but if you're at square one, quality headphones are the first step to upping your game.
These are great for mixing, comfortable to wear for long periods of time and an excellent value.
2. MIDI Keyboards
If you play piano, it's almost a no-brainer that you're going to want to get a MIDI keyboard. However, if you don't play piano, let me convince you to get a keyboard regardless. When you're able to touch something physical and perform with it, you come up with ideas that are completely unique to the device you're using. It's much easier to experiment with a keyboard (even if you suck) than it is to experiment by programming MIDI notes into your DAW.
I use this keyboard all the time when I'm on-the-go and don't want to drag my larger keyboard around with me. It includes 2 octaves, a mappable joystick, 8 pads and 8 knobs.
This MIDI keyboard is going to give you the best value for your money. Other MIDI keyboards with the exact same features are going to easily run you $600. The M-Audio Code 61 includes 61 keys, an X/Y touchpad, 16 drum pads, 9 faders and 8 encoders.
3. Audio Interfaces
An audio interface is going to let you record audio into your DAW, and when you buy studio monitors, it's going to allow you to connect your computer to them. Investing more money into an audio interface is going to get you extra inputs/outputs, higher quality converters, and you'll have the option to record at higher sample rates. Unless you plan on recording bands or tons of vocals, I would recommend you save your money on an expensive audio interface. When you just start collecting gear, you're better off putting that money towards something else on this list instead.
It does high-quality A/D (analog to digital) and D/A (digital to analog) conversion. By plugging this into your laptop you'll be able to integrate microphones, guitars, and monitors into your setup.
A microphone is an invaluable tool, especially because most of EDM is sample based. Even if you're not recording vocalists, recording things around your house like your roommates making weird sounds can result in unique and authentic samples. NGHTMRE is notorious for recording pots and pans in his kitchen and using those samples in his songs. With a microphone, you really do open a door of creative possibilities for yourself.
For the price, this is a phenomenal microphone. You can record vocals, acoustic instruments, and samples with it. It closely compares to some microphones that are triple its price.
A field recorder is your next big upgrade after a studio microphone. It turns the entire world into your personal foley studio. Many field recorders under $100 aren't any better than your iPhone, so there's no point in spending money on one in that price range. The Zoom H4N PRO can act as an audio interface and has multiple XLR inputs so that you can connect external devices.
5. Acoustic Treatment
Acoustic treatment is absolutely essential and as you'll notice, it's recommended before studio monitors. If the acoustics of your room are messing with how you hear your songs, it can make your mixes worse! You don't need to spend a ton of money to get great results. You can do things like place plants in your room to act as bass traps, and hang up dense organic material on your walls to absorb sound. There are cheap and effective methods of doing this that even look nice! As a good rule of thumb, only cover about 50% of your room with absorption panels. If you apply too much acoustic absorption, you can end up with a room that sounds "dead."
Hanging up moving blankets will reduce the bright, tiny effect that drywall has on your environment by a good 90%. This will allow you to start sampling and recording vocals at home.
($160) - Rock Wool Panels
If moving blankets ruin the feng shui of your room, you can create Rock Wool panels that look significantly nicer. They'll run you about $8/panel, but compared to $40 Auralex panels, it's a great deal. Here's the best panel build I've found online.
6. Studio Monitors
Studio monitors are important because they demonstrate how your music will sound in a room. They'll reveal certain elements of your song that headphones aren't capable of reproducing. By referencing between a good pair of studio monitors and a good pair of headphones, your mixes are sure to improve.
These monitors are extremely popular and found in tons of studios around the world. If you're unfamiliar with how these monitors sound, you can end up with mixes that lack bass on other playback systems. The reason for this is that they provide an exaggerated bass response. I've owned a pair of these for years, but I've always made sure to reference my mixes on multiple headphones and monitors to ensure a properly balanced mix.
In comparison to the Rokit 8s, these monitors provide a flatter frequency response. Almost all of my producer friends have either a pair of Rokits or Yamahas. The most important thing is knowing how your mixes will translate from your monitors to other systems. The average time it takes to become familiar with a new pair of monitors is roughly 6 months to a year, depending on how much you use them.
I don't recommend buying monitors with cones smaller than 8", especially if they're your only pair of monitors. The cone won't be big enough to provide you with an accurate representation of bass.
7. Beat Pads
I'm putting beat pads on here because they're popular and I know some people like to use them, but I've discovered that they don't fit into the workflow of many producers. A lot of EDM has really technical drum patterns, so I find it easier to just program these patterns in with MIDI notes. You might love it, you might hate it, but until you try it out, you won't know if you like producing with a beat pad. Buy a used one and sell it for the same price you bought it for if you don't like it. House producers seem to find controllers and beat pads an invaluable resource due to the cyclical and repetitive nature of the genre.
Recently released, the MK3 offers the same great features as the MK2, but with an improved display section, the addition of a touch bar, sleeker design, and better software integration. Maschine comes with its own software and allows you to easily manipulate Native Instruments plug-ins (such as Massive) from the controller. You can setup Maschine so that you have control over your DAW, although it's not as immersive as Ableton's Push 2. You can also run the Maschine software as a plug-in on MIDI tracks, using the beat pad and Maschine software on a dedicated track.
If you're on Ableton, this unit acts not only as a beat pad but as a controller for a majority of Ableton's functions. With Ableton 10 on the way, we've been promised even further Push integration.
8. External Hard Drives
External hard drives keep getting cheaper and cheaper. Right now, you can get a massive 4TB hard drive for around $100. Chances are that's 8 to 16 times larger than the hard drive that came with your MacBook. It's a little inconvenient carrying around an external hard drive all the time, but what my producer friends and I do is attach our hard drives to our laptops with velcro. Attach it once, plug it into your laptop and forget about it. You should still be able to fit it into your backpack without an issue. The near unlimited storage space you've provided yourself with is well worth the $100.
Additionally, it's a good idea to backup your computer to a second external hard drive with more space. I back my laptop and portable external hard drive up to an 8TB desktop external hard drive. Desktop external hard drives are usually a little bigger and don't cost as much as portable external hard drives.
If you're looking for cloud backup, Backblaze is a popular option and is the service that I use to backup my computer online.
9. Computer Mice
As a music producer, you're looking for a mouse with a TON of buttons. This is going to let you bind a TON of key commands to it. Instead of playing Twister with your left hand on your keyboard, bind all of your commonly used key commands to your mouse.
This mouse has 17 buttons that you can bind and even more with modifiers like Shift, Alt, etc. The way I have my mouse mapped is as follows for Ableton Live:
1 - Undo [CMD+Z]
2 - Redo [Shift+CMD+Z]
3 - Cut [CMD+E]
4 - Copy [CMD+C]
5 - Paste [CMD+V]
6 - Delete [Delete]
7 - Create MIDI Clip [Shift+CMD+M]
8 - Duplicate [CMD+D]
9 - Loop Section [CMD+l]
10 - Create MIDI Track [Shift+CMD+T]
11 - Create Audio Track [CMD+T]
12 - Create Return Track [Alt+CMD+T]
Scroll Button - Pencil Tool [B]
There you have it, "The EDM Artist's Guide to Studio Gear." As you grow as an artist, you'll discover the types of gear you like and dislike. Some things are essentials, while others are a matter of preference. This guide is meant to point you in the right direction and get you up and running. With a small investment you can revolutionize the way you're producing, as well as the level you're producing at.