How To Make Electronic Music: The Complete Guide
So, you want to try your hand at producing electronic music. Well, we’re very glad you found your way to this guide. The world of electronic music production can be a little confusing and even a bit intimidating, especially when you have little clue as to how to get started. It’s not quite as simple as, “How do I Skrillex??”
We set out to make a guide that will truly help you understand how electronic music is created, where in the world the sounds come from, how’s it all put together, and a very budget-friendly guide to the exact gear you’ll need to get started. We'll walk through the most bare essential minimal setup, all the way to a more full-featured setup in case your boss was extra generous with that bonus. Lastly, after reading this guide, we want you to take action and really get going on creating your first track, and getting those beats and sounds from your head, into your computer, and out your speakers. To do that, at the end of the guide, we’ll show you the very best videos, courses, and tutorials to help you do just that.
- Who Are We, and Why Should You Listen to Us?
- How is Electronic Music Made?
- DJ vs. Producer
- Gear You'll Need
- Learning How to Make Your First Track
- Final Thoughts
Who Are We, and Why Should You Listen to Us?
We’re the team at Equipboard, a community dedicated to music, how it’s made, the artists that create it, and the gear used to make it come to life. On staff we have musicians from all walks of life, including an electronic music producer signed to a label. Between all of us we’ve seen it all and done it all, we’ve made all the mistakes, hit our heads against the wall, and learned lessons the hard way. Collectively we’ve compiled a ton of knowledge, tips, and tricks, so we feel we're well qualified to guide you through the swiftest path to electronic music production glory. We’re passionate about teaching and helping, we’re passionate about gear, and we want to take away the mystery and confusion that might have been stopping you from getting started. Let's make some music together.
So, How is Electronic Music Made?
If you don’t really have any clue as to how a electronic music producer creates a track from start to finish, this section is for you. Producing music is astoundingly accessible today. Anyone with a computer and an idea can get started... but it wasn’t always like this. For decades, electronic music production used to require lots of expensive gear, and therefore lots of space to put it in. This is likely what made it have less mass appeal than, say, picking up an electric guitar. Over time, as computers have become more powerful and less expensive, all of that expensive (and oftentimes fragile) hardware got replicated in software. What once was a studio full of gear has now become a hard drive full of software. Not to mention the internet has made it extremely easy for artists to connect and share sounds, samples, arrangements, and more, and for pro audio manufacturers to create and distribute more music-making software.
You might have figured this out by now, but electronic music production is centered around a computer. Perhaps this is the reason why there is a disconnect in most people’s minds as to how this type of music is actually made. The image of someone rocking out on a guitar, bass, or drums is much more familiar and glamorous than the one of the producer sitting in front of their computer in front of a complicated looking program.
The journey of a song begins with the music producer opening up a new blank session on a program known as a DAW. We’ll cover this in more detail soon, but for now think of it like a painter's canvas that pulls together the arrangement, as well as all the sounds (bass, drums, pianos, synths, etc) that are part of the song. Using the computer’s mouse and keyboard, and perhaps a compact music keyboard, the producer punches in and records the notes they want. Visually in the DAW, the song starts looking like a game of Tetris, with a bunch of different lines and blocks representing the various parts of the song. A producer can slice, dice, edit, and apply effects to everything. The extent to which you can mangle and manipulate your recorded audio is practically limitless. It’s this amazing ability that allows for the boundaries to constantly be pushed by producers, and also lets people come up with unique twists and hone in on their signature sound.
Alright, so we’ve got a finished arrangement in the DAW. After mixing and mastering the track (i.e. basically leveling out all the different parts) to make sure it’s going to sound good on any system it’s played on, the track can then be “rendered” or “exported” out to a wav or mp3 file, which can then be uploaded to YouTube, Spotify, or anywhere else, and shared with the world. The finished product can also be handed to a DJ on a USB thumb drive for them to play it at a club or festival (or of course, if you’re a DJ, you can play the track out to the crowd yourself)!
So, how long does it take for an electronic music producer to make a track start to finish? After reading countless interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry, the answer is that it widely varies! Some producers are able to sit down and, feeling inspired and focused, bang out a track in several hours. Some producers have admitted it takes them weeks, if not months to perfect a track. Remember, everything is stored on your computer. Each time you open up a new session in your DAW software, think of it like an experiment. You might come up with a brilliant track, or just a short idea that you’re unsure how to turn into a complete song. Either way, you can save everything and come back to it another day. That’s the beauty of software!
DJ vs. Producer - What’s the Difference?
Ah, the DJ vs. producer debate. This is more of a side note, but we feel like it’s important to clear up a little naming funkiness that has crept up in recent years. Someone that creates electronic music - meaning, they sit at a computer and play hardware or software instruments and create an arrangement - is a music producer. A DJ, on the other hand, is traditionally someone who plays recorded music for an audience (used to be with vinyl turntables, and more recently with CDJs). Popular publications like the DJ Mag Top 100 poll have created a bit of confusion, since what it seems like they are actually doing is listing the most popular music producers, not necessarily the most popular DJs. Some of the most popular electronic music artists - take Madeon or Porter Robinson for example - don’t truly identify themselves as DJs. They are more performers, with live shows that have little to do with turntables or CD players.
However, the term producer and DJ have become largely interchangeable. When someone asks you who your favorite DJ is, in the context of electronic music and more recently the EDM movement, it’s assumed they mean who your favorite producer is. Some people (perhaps you!) already DJ, but don’t know a single thing about producing music on a computer. Conversely, you might be a talented producer, but never have played music live in front of an audience. Nevertheless, these terms tend to be thrown around interchangeably, so we just wanted to make you aware of it!
Gear Up - What do I Need to make Electronic Music?
Just like picking up any musical hobby, starting out in electronic music production requires a bit of gear. Before you start looking for a second job or figure out how much plasma you’ll have to donate to make this happen, take a deep breath, and relax! You can get started by spending little to no money, and chances are you already have the most crucial piece of gear in front of your face - a computer (or laptop).
We’ll get into the specifics of the equipment you need shortly, but first let’s talk about the different types of gear setups that can be used to make electronic music, from smallest to biggest. If you read the section above on how electronic music is made, you’ll have learned the centerpiece of the modern production studio is your computer. And with most computers these days being very portable, and laptops of course being built specifically for portability, it means you can make music anywhere your computer can go. This is why you’ll hear the phrase “bedroom producer”, or even “hotel room producer” and “airport producer”. The top electronic music producers that spend most of the year traveling around the world performing have no choice but to keep their studio portable and lean, so that it can more or less fit in a backpack. In fact, you’ll often see them posting photos to Instagram of them producing in airplanes, hotel rooms, tour busses, etc.
On the other side of the spectrum, you have seasoned music producers who have a room full of gear - computers hooked up to multiple displays, keyboards and synthesizers stacked to the ceiling, acoustically treated walls and ceilings... setups costing well into the tens of thousands. Don’t worry, most of that gear fits into the “nice-to-have” list, not the “must-have” list. The “must-have” list is actually quite simple and manageable! :)
Having said all that, let’s cover exactly what you’ll need. We’ll move from the most minimal setup, up to a few extras that could make your life easier. But remember, this is all in the context of what a beginner will need, so none of it is too crazy. We’ll make some gear recommendations to save you time and money, but if you’re the type that’s heavy into researching, we’ll link you to some of our buying guides that go into depth on a particular piece of gear.
1. The Desktop Computer or Laptop
The computer is the brains and heart of your electronic music production setup. It’ll run your DAW software (don’t worry, we’ll get to what exactly that is shortly), and it’s basically where you’ll create and store all the sounds and music you create. Chances are you’re reading this guide on your desktop or laptop computer, so that’s great news, you already have one! However, there’s a small chance the computer you have might not have sufficient power to handle music production software, which can put a bit of a strain on a system with outdated hardware.
You see, music production software can be a hog on your system resources. If you’ve had any experience working with programs that manipulate graphics or photos, it’s kind of the same thing - those programs like to use up a lot of your computer’s available power. Another example you might have noticed is the effect of having way too many tabs open in your browser, where your computer starts feeling kind of sluggish and unresponsive. That’s the same kind of effect music software can have on a weaker or older system.
In terms of desktop vs. laptop, it’s honestly up to you and your needs. If you don’t foresee producing anywhere other than your home, a desktop computer will do just fine, and you might be able to get a more powerful desktop computer as opposed to a laptop for the same money. If mobility is a concern, and you want the option to be able to produce on-the-go (while traveling, at coffee shops, etc) a laptop is obviously the better option.
NOTE: During our research, we read many forum posts on desktops vs. laptops for music production. In some cases, beginner producers were lured towards a laptop for the promise of being able to produce anywhere, only to find out that producing in places outside their home proved too distracting. They ended up switching to a desktop which they keep in a dedicated space. After being at it for a few weeks, you’ll figure out what works best for your creativity and productivity.
PC or Mac? This is an extremely difficult question to answer, in that it is sort of unanswerable. In short, either one works well, and both are well-suited to produce music on! But on the internet, Mac people will tell you Mac, and PC people will tell you PC... and it will probably be like this for a long, long time to come. You tend to need to make less choices on your hardware specs with Macs, since there aren’t nearly as many Mac models out there as there are PCs. Most modern Macs are plenty powerful to produce electronic music on. The downside is they are generally more expensive. PCs are great because you get to choose your manufacturer and configuration from hundreds of options, or even build your own, if you’re so inclined. PCs tend to be more affordable, but be careful of skimping too much on features for the sake of price - you don’t want to be stuck with a PC that’s not powerful enough to run your music production software.
It’s easier to recommend Macs, since there are far fewer models. In terms of laptops, if you can afford it, a MacBook Pro is the best Mac for music production. The 15” MacBook Pro is our top pick, but we realize it’s a bit expensive. The less expensive MacBook or MacBook Air could certainly work, but the consensus amongst music producers is they are not the most optimized machines for making music on. If you’re looking for a Mac desktop, the iMac makes a great production computer. The Mac Pro is an extremely powerful machine, but its starting price is out of range of most budding producers.
Recommending the best PC for music production (whether desktop or laptop) is very difficult, because of the sheer number of manufacturers and models, each with varying configurations. In general, you’ll want one with a powerful processor (look for an Intel i5 or i7), plenty of RAM (8-16GB), a fast hard drive (250GB or greater SSD is ideal), and a large, high resolution display (ideally 15” or greater). Asus, Acer, and Lenovo are good brands to research.
2. The Software
Once you’ve got your computer all squared away, it’s time to get acquainted with the software you’ll be spending a lot of time with as a music producer. It’s called a DAW, which stands for Digital Audio Workstation (a bit of an antiquated term, but it stuck). A DAW is a program that’s designed to record, edit, and play digitally recorded music. Think of it like this - if Photoshop is the essential tool for a graphic designer, a DAW is the essential tool for an electronic music producer. In other words, if the computer is the brain and heart, the DAW is the skeleton and nervous system. It allows you to mix and match different audio tracks coming from different sources. For example, track 1 can be your voice coming from a microphone, track 2 can be a bass sound coming from a software synthesizer, and track 3 can be a drum loop, and so forth. In the DAW, your tracks are laid out on a musical timing grid, so you can see how the various parts of the track line up over time.
DAWs also serve as hosts for plugins. Plugins could be the subject of their own guide, so we’ll just give you the overview. In sticking with the analogy of the DAW being like an artist’s canvas, plugins would be the paints. All a plugin is is a “module” that either creates sounds, or alters existing sounds, and it lives inside (i.e. “plugs in”) your DAW. A plugin can be a synthesizer that makes lead and bass sounds, or a virtual piano, or an effect like distortion or reverb or delay. Plugins are essential, because without them, you can’t actually make many sounds! The reason we won’t get into them into too much detail is because, right this minute as you’re getting started, you don’t need to purchase or download any beyond what your DAW already comes with. It’s a common misconception that you need to run out and buy a copy of Massive or Sylenth1 to be a legitimate EDM producer. This simply isn’t true! Most popular DAWs come with a suite of awesome plugins (synths, samplers, drum machines, effects, etc), which is all you need to start with.
We don’t at all mean to dissuade you from plugins. Quite the opposite, actually. Exploring the world of plugins is extremely fun, and figuring out that a pro artist that you look up to uses a certain plugin might inspire you to go out and buy the same one. A good analogue is a guitarist and his or her pedal collection - one guitarist might be happy with a very minimal pedal setup consisting of just a handful of their favorites, and another might collect every single pedal they can get their hands on. We hear a lot of you asking:
“Look, Equipboard, just tell me how to sound like [Skrillex/Deadmau5/Martin Garrix/Oliver Heldens/Trent Reznor/Porter Robinson/your favorite artist], what plugins should I get for that?”
That’s a difficult question to answer. Most artists are very open about their go-to plugins, and in fact, you can find out what they are all using on this very website! But that doesn’t necessarily mean if you go out and get those that you will sound exactly like them. See, a synthesizer plugin comes with a number of preset sounds (often shortened to just presets), which are ready-made sounds already dialed in to sound a certain way. Presets are nice because 1) they let you audition the sonic capabilities of the plugin, and 2) they give you something to use in your tracks right away without you having to do much. Some presets are modeled after the signature sounds of artists. If you go out and buy Massive or FM8 synth plugins from Native Instruments, install them, and scroll through the presets, you can be sure to find something that sounds very Skrillex-like. We’re not here to tell you how to be creative, but we’ll just caution you on strictly relying on presets. It can be fun for a little while, but really try to experiment and play with the myriad knobs and sliders and learn how they affect the sound. Synth plugins are amazingly powerful, and if you limit yourself to only a handful and really learn their ins and outs, the next signature sound might just be yours!
This is totally a side note and not something you have to worry much about now, but not all plugins work with all DAWs. Think of it like when Apple releases a new phone and changes the connector, and suddenly you need to figure out what charging cable fits on your phone but not your girlfriend’s phone. It’s a little bit annoying to deal with, but it’s part of the game. There are a handful of plugin formats. One is called VST, which is compatible with Ableton and FL Studio (to name a couple), but not Logic Pro. Another is AU and it's compatible with Logic and Ableton, but not FL Studio. The reason we say you don’t have to worry about it is because the majority of well-known plugins come in several formats, so they are compatible no matter your DAW.
OK, so back to the subject at hand, the DAW. Lucky for you, there aren’t that many DAWs out there for you to choose from. Unlucky for you, there are enough to make it a bit confusing. But, lucky again, we’re here to help! Here are some of the most popular DAWs:
If you’re a Mac person, chances are you already have GarageBand installed on your computer. GarageBand is inexpensive, and designed to make jumping into song creation easy and fun. It lacks the workflow options and advanced features of more advanced DAWs, and instead serves as a gentle introduction. If you own a Mac and are unsure whether music production is something you’ll stick with, taking GarageBand for a spin would be a great way to start. At the very least, if you familiarize yourself with GarageBand, other DAWs will seem less intimidating.
Apple Logic Pro X
GarageBand’s older, more mature brother is Logic Pro X. One of the premier DAWs in the world, used by countless of famous electronic musicians to create their hit tracks. Logic Pro X is made exclusively for Mac, so if you have a PC, you don’t need to worry about it since it's not an option. The great thing about Logic Pro X is that it comes with everything you need to start making tracks right away - fantastic software synthesizers, very high quality effects, virtual drums, guitar and bass amp and effect simulators, and much more. Version X (i.e. 10) is the latest, and it only comes in one edition. See the price and check it out in the App Store.
Image-Line FL Studio 12
Formerly a software called Fruity Loops (hence FL), FL Studio has become one of the most widely used DAWs by beginners and pros alike. It has garnered a bit of a reputation for being “beginner-friendly”, particularly in the world of EDM production (artists like Avicii and Martin Garrix started on, and continue to use FL Studio, which has helped spread the word). The included synthesizers and effects, as well as the workflow, are very well-suited to producing modern electronic music. Mac users need not apply, since FL Studio is PC-only. Interestingly enough, you’ll frequently see very popular music producers and DJs run FL Studio on their Macs by using Parallels or Bootcamp, which allows them to run Windows (and thus FL Studio) on their MacBooks. Version 12 is the latest, and it comes in several editions, from the introductory Fruity Edition, to the full-fledged Signature Edition. The Producer Edition offers the best compromise between number of included plugins and price, but if you're on an extremely limited budget, the Fruity Edition will do just fine.
The third of the “Big 3” DAWs, Ableton Live works on both PC and Mac, and is known for its very clean interface and intuitive workflow, particularly when it comes to constructing and manipulating a live performance (hence the word Live in the name). If electronic music producers put on a live show other than DJing using CDJs and a mixer, 9 out of 10 times they are running the show on Ableton Live. Make no mistake, Ableton Live is no slouch in the studio either. Here's the Intro Edition, which is by far the most affordable one.
Just like the Mac vs. PC debate, recommending the “best” DAW is nearly impossible. Amazing results can and will be achieved from all of them. Honestly, they pretty much all do the same things, even if they present certain features in slightly different ways. Having said that, different DAWs suite different producers.
If you’re a Mac user and already have GarageBand installed, we encourage you to play around in it. However, you might quickly reach its limitations. The majority of famous electronic music producers don’t produce using GarageBand for this reason, although in many cases it served to foster their interest in music production. It’s a fantastic little program meant to bridge the gap from casual user to “bedroom producer”, thought it’s widely not considered “pro”.
If you’re a Mac user and feel comfortable with the look, feel, and workflow of Mac OS X software, Logic Pro X is definitely the DAW for you.
If you’re a PC user, we ever so slightly recommend FL Studio 12 over Ableton Live, simply because of its synergy with the electronic music production world, its affordable introductory Fruity Edition, and its ease of use. If you don’t mind a physical boxed version shipped to you, we recommend getting it from Amazon (lowest price, and super fast shipping).
Closing Thoughts on the DAW...
If you watch demo videos, read the features and look at screenshots, a DAW can seem kind of intimidating. It’s a powerful piece of software, and is indeed jam-packed with all sorts of buttons and sliders and knobs, but have no fear! Think of the DAW like your blank canvas. You just need to spend a little time learning how to paint on it. Chances are, you’ll only need to use a fraction of everything a DAW can actually do. It’s the same sort of thing with digital visual artists. A photographer probably only uses 10-20% of what Photoshop can do, and a web designer similarly uses 10-20%, and yet they both use Photoshop very differently.
Shortly, we’ll cover some of the best and easiest ways to quickly learn how to get started with producing electronic music in your DAW!
You’re gonna need speakers or headphones to actually hear the music you’re making. So there, Equipboard wins the Captain Obvious award for the day. ;) It’s worth spending a couple paragraphs talking about the best types of headphones for music production.
If you’re reading this, you might think you’re all set with your built-in laptop speakers, or some cheap desktop computer speakers, or headphones that you use for gaming, or earbuds that came with your iPhone, and so forth... well, none of those are actually ideal for music production, and here’s why:
By wanting to try your hand at producing electronic music, you’re kind of taking a leap from the consumer audio world into the pro audio world. You’re now a creator of music, not just the listener of the finished product. As such, you need to hear music a little differently. You see, most speakers and headphones people buy have been manipulated to sound good. Audio comes in all sorts of different forms, from pristine, high fidelity recordings, to a poorly recorded radio or television show. It’s in a manufacturer’s best interest to sell you headphones or speakers that manipulate the frequencies (by artificially raising the bass or the treble for example) to make everything sound great! But as a producer and creator of music, you don’t want the truth to be distorted. You want the actual truth. You need to hear what things actually sound like at the source, unadulterated. You’re looking for headphones and speakers with a flat frequency response, meaning that they don’t boost or cut any high, midrange, or low frequencies. It's this flat frequency response that makes a studio headphone a studio headphone.
So why are we recommending headphones as essentials, and not speakers? Three reasons: cost, portability, and peace of mind. Good headphones cost far less than good speakers. Headphones are extremely portable, and allow you to have a minimal setup that doesn’t take up a lot of space. And finally, headphones keep the sound all to yourself. No need to worry about annoying neighbors or roommates. You can hone your producing skills late into the night or early morning without bothering anyone.
Producing with headphones has some downsides, most notably 1) your ears and/or head might experience discomfort after extended listening sessions, and 2) you might not be able to hear or feel the lower frequencies (i.e. the bass) as you would with speakers. Still, in keeping with our theme of starting with the most minimal setup, a decent pair of producing headphones is a must.
We did an entire guide on the Best Studio Headphones where we compiled the opinions and recommendations from hundreds of forum threads to come up with the winners. For under $100, you can’t do much better than the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Headphones (which actually got a top 5 spot on a list of dozens of headphones, which is fantastic considering their price). If you are really strapped for cash but need to get started with some decent over-ear production headphones, go with the Sennheiser HD 202 II which got a ridiculously high number of good customer reviews.
4. Studio Monitor Speakers
Necessity: Optional at first
If you’ve got your computer, your DAW, and your studio headphones all sorted, realize that you have everything that you absolutely need. Having said that, if you’ve got some extra cash to spend, or you’re intent on having the best possible setup to produce electronic music, you should definitely consider studio monitor speakers.
Don’t let the name confuse you - they are called “monitors”, but are in actuality just speakers (they have nothing to do with the display sort of monitor). They are special speakers designed for audio production. Remember with headphones, how we said they needed to have a flat response? Exactly the same thing applies with studio monitor speakers. Even more so, actually. Even if you don’t buy these now, as your producing skills advance you’re eventually going to want a pair. Hearing the music you’re making through a pair of nice monitors will help you when it comes time to “translate” your mix to other systems. What do we mean by translate? Well, if you get your music to sound nice and punchy, clear, and balanced on your flat, neutral-sounding monitors, you know your music will sound great on car stereos, mp3 player earbuds, crappy computer speakers, and of course big huge club systems when you get a DJ to play your stuff. It’s like learning to play soccer barefoot on a dirt road. If you can master that, then when you’re given good soccer shoes and a nice field to play on, things can only get way better.
Monitors are nice because you get a more accurate bass response than headphones can provide. The downsides to monitors are that they are not as portable, they require a larger space on your tabletop, and you need to be in a situation where neighbors, roommates, etc don’t mind if you turn them up a bit.
Yamaha HS5 Powered Studio Monitors are our top choice for a combination of budget price and fantastic quality sound. Keep in mind, the price you see is for a single monitor, so you will need two of them. We realize that $400 for a pair of speakers seems like a lot of cash, but believe us, for quality studio monitors that's actually pretty cheap. Again, keep in mind you don't need this if you're just starting out. Oh, and if you plan on producing very bass-heavy music, you can always eventually add the matching Yamaha HS8 Studio Subwoofer to your setup. If you want to dig deeper on studio monitors, check out our in-depth buying guide to the Best Studio Monitors.
5. MIDI Keyboard
Necessity: Optional, but it depends…
If you read the word keyboard and are thinking this:
“Keyboard? OMGZ What!? I didn’t know you had to be a piano player to make electronic music!! I’ve never touched a piano keyboard in my life! Ugh, I just want to sound like [insert your favorite DJ/producer] and they didn’t know how to play keyboard!”
Take a deep breath, and relax! No, you don’t have to know a lick of piano to produce electronic music. However, that doesn’t mean that a small keyboard won’t help you get more done, faster. Think of a keyboard like an input device, much like your computer’s keyboard and mouse. It just happens to have black and white keys based on how a piano is laid out.
A MIDI Keyboard is a special type of keyboard that is particularly helpful for creating music on your computer. It doesn’t actually make any sounds of its own - it’s a totally silent keyboard. It hooks up to your computer (usually via USB) and with it you can play your “virtual” software instruments. Ok, so what do we mean by that? So, your DAW - let’s take Logic Pro X or FL Studio 12 for example - came bundled with a bunch of built-in software instruments. You can pull up these instruments, and make them make sounds. Basses, strings, pads, noises, drums... you name it. After all, these sounds are your fundamental building blocks to make a song. So, now you’ve got these instruments attached to your DAW, but you need a way to play them! You can actually take your mouse, and click your desired note on a “virtual keyboard” in your DAW (this is also called the Piano Roll). Here’s what it looks like:
See the piano keys? To the right of the piano keys is your blank canvas, which in this case has some music notes painted on it (the green blocks). Without a MIDI keyboard, you manually have to “paint” those in there. You can see how this might take some serious patience!
Even if you’re not a keyboard or piano player, having a MIDI keyboard at your fingertips will help you input and record notes into the DAW. It'll take you no time at all to learn how to play around on the keys and create some melodies and bass lines. Besides, we’re not talking about a full-size 88-key piano here. You just need a compact keyboard with a couple of octaves. A single octave is made up of 12 piano keys, like this:
The smallest MIDI keyboards have 25 keys, or roughly two of those octaves above. Here's what a small MIDI keyboard looks like:
If you’re thinking, “OK Equipboard, don’t make me think too much here. What MIDI keyboard should I buy?” We absolutely recommend this little gem of a keyboard, the Akai MPK Mini MKII 25-Key. It’s extremely functional, portable, affordable, a #1 best seller on Amazon, an Equipboard “Best of the Best” pick, and instantly just works when you plug it into your computer via USB. If that wasn't enough, it’s used by all sorts of electronic music producers including many pros (Hard Rock Sofa, Steve Angello, Deorro, Skream all use it).
If you’re so inclined to do more research and explore your options, we’ve put together a buying guide to the Best MIDI Keyboards.
6. Audio Interface
Necessity: Optional at first
The mysterious little box next to lots of music production setups causes beginners a lot of confusion. It’s called an audio interface. The most basic way to think about it is this: Your computer has a soundcard in it. The soundcard is responsible for any sound you hear coming out of your computer’s speakers or headphones jack. It’s meant for basic consumer use, not necessarily high resolution audio in the world of music production. To remedy this, you would buy an external “soundcard-in-a-box”, commonly known as an audio interface. It’s basically a computer soundcard on steroids. Not only is it capable of handling higher definition audio output, but it handles a lot more audio input that you want to bring from the outside world, into your computer.
For instance, if you have a microphone and plan on using it to record vocals for your music (or just sample random noises with it), an audio interface will provide a high quality input jack made specifically for your mic. Or maybe you'll want to plug your electric guitar into it, and use that in your tracks.
The truth is that your computer's soundcard is probably decent enough to get started. You’ll be able to plug your headphones straight into the headphones jack of your computer, or if you're using speakers, take the headphones (or dedicated audio OUT if you have one) signal into your studio speakers. You just won’t be getting the clearest, cleanest signal there is.
If you decide you want an audio interface right away, we suggest you don’t skimp on it. After all, you are trying to improve upon the soundcard that’s already inside your computer! Luckily, a company named Focusrite makes a top quality, fantastic audio interface at a great price that will last you a very long time as you progress from beginner to intermediate to pro. It’s called the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface. It has two microphone/instrument inputs, a dedicated headphones output with separate volume control, left and right line outputs to go into your speakers, and features rock-solid metal construction and pristine audio quality. If the Scarlett 2i2 is just out of your budget range, you can save $50 and go for the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (you’ll be sacrificing one of the mic/instrument inputs). It’s the only sub-$100 interface out there that doesn’t make any compromises when it comes to quality.
Note: If you ever plan on adding a pair of legitimate studio monitor speakers to your setup, if you can swing it, really try to save up the extra $50 to buy the Scarlett 2i2 instead of the Solo. With the Solo, the outputs that you hook up to your studio monitor speakers are unbalanced “RCA” style jacks. This means they are prone to picking up interference and might cause you buzzing/humming/noise issues. The 2i2 on the other hand has balanced TRS outputs, which is ideally how you want to connect to studio monitors.
For the researchers out there, read our entire article on the Best Audio Interface to get acquainted with all your options.
Ready to Make Your First Track?
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s involved in producing electronic music, as well as some of the essential gear. Remember, at a minimum, make sure you have a decent pair of studio headphones, like the KRK KNS 8400 we recommended earlier.
Now, for the fun part. This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It’s time for you to get your hands dirty and start making some music. We’re really going to emphasize this next sentence, because it’s important:
The biggest thing standing in the way of you producing electronic music is learning how to use your DAW!!!
If you’ve followed along with our recommendations, if you’re a Mac user you’re going to use Logic Pro X, and if you’re a PC user you’ll go with FL Studio 12 (if you’re opting to go with Ableton, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered).
Trust us when we tell you that you really need to become comfortable with your DAW. Creating and producing music is massive amounts of fun, and if you take the time to really learn your way around your DAW now, you can allow your creativity to run wild and you’ll be making beats, sounds, and throwing together tracks in no time. When we say learn your DAW, we also mean getting acquainted with the Swiss Army Knife of effects and synthesizers it comes with.
The absolute BEST way to learn your DAW is to watch an online video course, and follow along with their examples. While there are countless of free YouTube videos out there about DAWs and music production, they are actually not the best way to dive in. There are a few reasons why YouTube videos are not optimal for this:
- There are simply too many videos, and the quality of tuition often leaves much to be desired.
- YouTube is optimized for single videos, not organized courses. With a DAW, an organized course with examples you can follow along with is the best way to learn how to use all the tools within.
- While YouTube videos are great for learning specific one-off things (e.g. How to make a UK Garage bass sound), they are not the best choice for learning an entire piece of software from soup to nuts.
Now, in researching for this article, we drew upon all our collective experiences on how we all learned to use a DAW. We also signed up for dozens of courses across different websites so we could review them, and decided which are the best of the best. We talked to our resident Logic Pro expert, FL Studio guru, and Ableton master, and asked them what courses they would take if they had to start over. We even got our beginner friends to take the courses and had them report back to us. So, without further ado, here are the BEST, most effective video courses to learn Logic Pro X, FL Studio 12, and Ableton:
>> If you want to learn Logic Pro X, the best video course is “Music + Audio Production in Logic Pro X - The Complete Guide” from Udemy.
OK, so this course is a fantastic way to learn the Logic Pro X DAW - in fact it’s probably one of the better courses we’ve seen on Udemy, period.
To put it to the test, we asked a friend of ours to take the course, start to finish. This friend is a talented guitarist and keyboardist, but had never used a DAW before. We tasked him to take this course, and deliver a properly mixed electronic music track. He followed the course for a week, putting in a couple hours every evening after work. His results completely blew us away. Not only did he produce and mix a house track that actually sounded pretty great, he now loves Logic Pro X so much that he’s recording all of his guitar and keyboard ideas into it and using it to make demos for his band. His comments about the course were that it just “felt natural,” and that “time flew by” since he was genuinely enjoying learning these new skills.
Please note that this is not an electronic music or EDM specific course - and that’s completely OK! Remember, it’s not that you need to learn to make electronic music right away. You simply need to learn how to use your DAW, and after that the sky’s the limit - you can do anything. This video course is perfect for those that are absolute beginners to Logic Pro X or DAWs in general.
The full duration of the course is 14.5 hours. We know what you’re thinking - that sounds like a long time! Luckily, the way it’s structured makes it seem much shorter than that. It’s divided into 29 sections (i.e. chapters), and no one individual lesson is longer than about 10 minutes (many are 4-6 mins). While that seems like a lot of sections, the great thing is that not all of them might pertain to you, particularly if your goal is to learn how to make (and mix) electronic music - for example, you could easily skip over section 26 on Mixing Surround Sound, section 27 on Notation, and Section 28 on Working With Video. Like our friend did, you'll breeze through it.
The instructor, Rob Mayzes, is very friendly and easy to listen to. He explains things in a very natural, uncomplicated way. The course is also very thorough. Section 3, for instance, is called Audio Production for Beginners and covers things like understanding digital audio, the frequency spectrum, Decibels, Distortion and Volume - all fundamental concepts to being a good producer. This course also comes with very helpful downloadable checklists cheat-sheets, project files, and templates.
What we love about Udemy is that it’s not a subscription based service, AND this course has a 30 day money back guarantee so you can start the course and see for yourself how good it is. There’s honestly no good reason to not give it a try.
Head over to Udemy and watch some preview videos of this course! Remember that you’ll get Lifetime access, a 30 day money back guarantee, and the videos on Udemy are available on iOS and Android.
- A Mac with Logic Pro X installed (no trial version is available unfortunately, but you can download and install Logic Pro X from the App Store here)
>> If you’re a PC user wanting to learn FL Studio 12, this Udemy course “Millionaire DJ: FL Studio 12 - Pro Music Production Course” is your best bet, and is extremely fun.
If you’re looking for the best and fastest way to learn FL Studio 12 and getting started producing electronic music, look no further than this course. The instructor Evan Humber is really great, engaging, and fun to listen to. He truly understands that learning a DAW and how to make music can be complicated, and is very good at simplifying concepts so that anyone can understand them (just watch the preview and you'll see what we mean).
This series of videos is very comprehensive. We’re looking at about 6.5 hours of materials split into 10 sections, with no one individual video going longer than an easy-to-follow 20 minutes. In sections 8 and 9, you actually follow along with him to create two songs (with your own personal melodies, so they’ll actually sound unique to you). This type of hands-on learning approach is something you would have to pay $1000s for at some music production college.
Another thing we love is how this course is geared towards electronic music. The concepts you’ll learn are definitely transferable to pop and hip-hop, but Evan definitely teaches this with a slant towards electronic, which we think is a huge plus!
There are just so many little tricks and idiosyncrasies with electronic music production, and Evan covers nearly all of them. Without a course like this, you’ll be spending MONTHS scouring through forums and outdated blog articles beating your head against the wall (like we did). We absolutely wish this was around when we learned FL Studio ourselves. Even already knowing how to use FL and how to produce music, we genuinely loved taking this course. Evan is doing a huge favor to the music production community by making this course available.
Check the price on Udemy here. Again, Lifetime access, 30 day money back guarantee, and readily available on iOS and Android.
- A PC with FL Studio 12 installed (a trial version of FL Studio 12 is available for download here)
>> If you want to learn Ableton Live, “Ultimate Ableton Live: Part 1 - The Interface & The Basics” (as well as parts 2-7) from Udemy are the best we’ve found.
- A PC or Mac with Ableton Live installed. Using the trial version (free for 30 days) would be a great way to start, which you can get here.
Thanks for checking out our guide. Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two about this whole business of producing electronic music, EDM, or whatever you choose to call it! Armed with a computer, knowledge of how to use your DAW, and some inspiration, you’re going to have immense amounts of fun making the music that’s inside your head come to life. No crazy classical piano or music theory training needed.
Keep learning, keep having fun with it, set some goals, finish some songs, and post them in forums to get feedback on them. Even if they come out terrible, trust us, you’re much better off putting yourself out there and receiving critical feedback, so you can make your next song better, and the one after that even better... and who knows, you might create a hit along the way. ;)
(A special thank you to our good friend Johannes for inspiring us to write this guide)