With modern day technology becoming more and more affordable, the days of artists being unable to afford the basic tools to progress and expand their careers are over. Hardware, which was once only afforded by music elites, is now more affordable than ever, and the entry-level versions of some of music hardware’s greatest and biggest brands are now priced so that everyone can make semi-professional music any and everywhere. When I speak to young artists, they seem to always want to know what exactly they should invest their hard earned money in. Not all of us have access to large budgets or connections that can get us the dream hardware we read about in popular music magazines, or see our idols using in the dream studios we imagine one day working in. That being said, with a set of basic tools (hardware), any artist can take their careers to the next level with a minimal budget and these basic pieces of equipment.
Yes, it’s probably already included in your list of personal effects, one that travels with you or sits on the desk in your room. However, I’ve met countless young artists who spend large sums of money on hardware, but are still using dated computers which equate to putting a 90 year-old heart in a teenager’s body. Yes, it’s gonna work but how well and for how long?
In modern music and the modern music business, the computer is the heart of your business. It’s what stores, edits and networks your ideas. If there is any one piece of equipment you can’t live without, it’s a computer, and the faster and more powerful it is, the better. My suggestion is to buy the best computer you can and upgrade it at least every few years to ensure it meets the specifications and requirements of constantly updating software.
At a very basic level, I would suggest a dual core processor with a minimum of 8GB of RAM and at least 500GB – 1TB of storage. My personal preference is a Macbook Pro, but again, anything that meets your needs will do. Also, make sure to look at your own personal needs. If you won’t be on the road that often, desktop units are great budget alternatives that are usually 30-50% cheaper than similar specs on a laptop or portable computer system. As a note, I suggest that any artist purchase the extended warranty and some type of anti-virus program, (unless you go Mac,) preferably bundled with the system you buy. Check your local computer shop, as in most cases, last year’s models will still serve your needs but will also save you a pretty penny.
We’re talking music and sound, so being able to clearly hear your work, and the work of the people you’re collaborating with, is crucial to ensuring quality. Audio is what music boils down to, and the difference between a decent pair of studio monitors and a cheap pair of grandma’s speakers makes loads of difference. With monitors, you also have a huge range to choose from, from cheaper, low-end options to studio-quality speakers that can run into the tens-of-thousands-of-dollars range.
You should take into consideration a few things when choosing the best monitors for your needs. As a basis, you should look at as many options in the price range and read reviews about the specific monitors by others in the same or similar genre of music. That being said ,local music shops will always try to up-sell you, so be weary as most of the time you’ll end up spending a lot more than you need to if you don’t do your research.
Another thing to consider is the size of your room; a small set-up in your bedroom is not gonna require 10 inch bass cranking subs or large format monitors. Spend what you can but be smart. If you’re still recording in your room, a set of KRK 5 inch powered monitors should be all you really need to start. Places like Craigslist or eBay are great places to find used or hardly used equipment. Also, make sure they are powered, as that can save you a lot on not having to buy amps or power modules. As a starting point, I suggest not-cheaping out and spending at least a couple hundred dollars on your first pair. Remember you can always upgrade later as you need, too.
A Decent Sound-card
With the emergence of computer music and recording software, the sound card has become the interface that connects your voice or instrument to the computer, and basically turns your computer into a mini-studio. It’s the little box that connects your microphone or guitar to your computer. In most cases, it also outputs the music you’re working on to your monitors or headphones. In recent years, we have seen these interfaces rapidly drop in price and new hardware is becoming more and more affordable. As a bonus, most sound cards now come with some type of DAW software or recording software included, and are pretty simple to use.
Again, research and make sure you get what meets your needs. Most sound cards become more expensive based on number of inputs. If you’re a band who needs 6 input channels, you’ll need to spend much more than a solo recording artist who only needs one channel. I suggest the M-Track Duo by M-Audio. It has 2 channels and comes with a basic version of Protools that can have you recording right out of the box!
A Studio Microphone
A good microphone can make a world of difference. A microphone is the recording artist’s weapon of choice and, honestly I’d even go as far to say, is more important than the sound card you purchase. Yeah, I’ve heard decent tracks made on radio shack microphones but, when recorded on proper studio mics, those same tracks sound magical. In fact, 9 out of 10 young artists I work with are surprised when they hear their track recorded on a pro mic and sounding that much better.
You get what you pay for and in the case of microphones, nothing could be truer. I have recorded countless artists and worked in studios all over the world. Though most places have a variety of mics and sound-capturing devices, the staples seem to never really change. My advice: Look at an AKG 414 (it has the most Grammy wins for new artists), if it’s in your price range or it’s baby brother, the AKG 214, as a secondary option which is cheaper. Both are pro-grade and are amazing for vocal recording artists.
The Smart Phone
I know what your thinking. WTF does a smartphone got to do with music?
Well, truth be told, it doesn’t have much to do with music and more to do with the music business.
We live in a world where your phone is your mobile office and connection to everything and everyone. Your fans, colleagues, clients and collaborators will need to be able to contact you and the smartphone has made it easier than ever. Not to mention, most smartphones have cameras that can help an indie artist build media and a voice recorder to put down ideas before they disappear from our creative minds. Before the smartphone, I remember coming up with some awesome melodies or rhyme schemes that I would forget before I reached the studio. With my smartphone, that doesn’t happen to me anymore.
Also, it makes updating social media PR campaigns a lot easier, which has become the basis for most indie artists. Add Skype, FaceTime and Whatsapp to your device, and you got a powerhouse networking tool. Always keep it with you to help garner new connections to the people you meet and want to work with. Yes, it’s a key component to advance your career, especially on the business side of the music business!
In conclusion, I know there is a slew of other pieces of equipment that some will swear are the most important or are keys to their success. I don’t disagree. The truth is, I’ve heard amazing music recorded in closets, with mattresses as sound treatment, on USB mics. However, as the industry is changing, these pieces of hardware are definitely a solid starting point for any young or emerging artist, and worth every penny of investment.
As a parting note, I’ll leave you with what I say to many of the artists I work with:
“Work with what you have until you can work with what you want”!