If I could start over as a music producer I would get these pieces of gear:
It’s not the sexiest item to think about, but no music studio runs without a computer. In order to record you need a computer powerful enough to handle large session files. Fortunately computers keep getting faster and more powerful.
I would get a Mac. I started out on a 15” 2011 MacBook Pro. I bought a larger monitor and connected the two via HDMI. I ran like this for several years. I already had a MacBook Pro from my school days. Were I to start over without one I would look into the Mac minis (cheaper) with an external monitor UNLESS I needed to do remote recording.
If you own a Mac computer, then you will find it much easier to find the most popular supported products for recording. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen PC users in forums bemoan the fact that they aren’t receiving support for a new product yet.
I have been using Pro Tools for 10 years. I have a love hate relationship with Pro Tools. Were I to start again I would NOT have started on Pro Tools. I would have considered these two options:
1) Sometime this Spring a company called Universal Audio is releasing a free DAW software called LUNA to all owners of any of their hardware products. I own one of those products and will be most eagerly trying out this new DAW once it drops. I am actually hoping it is good enough so I can transition away from Pro Tools.
2) I would have gotten Logic Pro X, which is $200 one time compared to the perennial exorbitant cost of Pro Tools. Logic has arguably better stock plugins, is more intuitive to creatives who want to get making music fast, and has greater midi capabilities (most top 100 commercial songs are nearly all midi).
The Audio Interface
I would have gotten an Apollo Twin (~$900) or Arrow (~$500) interface (depends on your I/O needs) from Universal Audio. I started on an M-box and it wasn’t great. In my opinion, Universal Audio is unmatched in quality for the price and being able to track through the unison technology (no latency plugins) is a game changer. Plus you will soon get LUNA for free.
I would have invested in a used Shure SM7b. This is one of the most classic vocal microphones of all time and you will likely find one in nearly every commercial studio. This was Michael Jackson’s vocal mic of choice and if it’s good enough for MJ, then it’s good enough for you. Added bonus: You can find these used for $250 (which is hella cheap for an all-purpose vocal mic).
I started out with the MXL 990s mic pack which is about as cheap as you could go. I later grabbed a pair of Audio Technica 4050s which I am a fan of. I would have wanted to grab either a pencil or large diaphragm condenser microphone for any acoustic instruments such as guitar or banjo, etc… The Audio Technica 4033 is also a great mic for instruments (you can find these for $250 used).
I would have bought all my cables (XLRs and 1/4”) from Seismic Audio. These guys make great cables of higher quality than Livewire (basic Guitar Center brand) and cheaper than Mogami (pricey but also great option).
Doesn’t matter just get one.
M-Audio makes some cheap and serviceable controllers / keyboards. If I was feeling boujee I would have splurged and got something with weighted keys and touch pads. Probably would end up meeting in the middle and getting non-weighted keys and a touchpad — Perhaps something from the Akai Professional line.
Sample Packs / Virtual Instruments
I would have bought Native Instruments Komplete 12 and perhaps bundled it with a Komplete Kontrol midi keyboard. I actually have one of these but it doesn’t cooperate well with Pro Tools. Were I in Logic I’d better be able to take advantage of it’s capabilities.
I started on Sennheiser HD 280s (<$100) and likely still would start again with these. They are fine. They are headphones. They do the job. Were I to pursue a majority of mixing work I would look into getting a pair of open back headphones from a site like Drop (formerly Massdrop). On Drop you can find the exact same headphones from popular brands with a few cosmetic changes + Massdrop’s logo for way cheaper.
I would have looked into getting a pair of Yamaha HS 8s or a pair of monitors from the Focal Alpha series off Sweetwater. I also may have looked for a used pair of KRK Rokit 5s.
I would have bought as much of this used as I could or walked into Guitar Center and asked to speak to the PRO desk. GC Pro is a totally separate sales department from the people walking the floor. If you are a professional in the music industry you can get more competitive pricing on certain products from the sales people at GC Pro. I would also have compared prices with my Sweetwater sales rep.
An old buddy here in Nashville, Nick Byrd, runs an Instagram where he posts used gear all the time for great deals. Find him @brydfinds.
Founder of @lostharbormusic