It’s a great time to be a fan of electronic dance music (or EDM). You can say it’s become mainstream (at last?), and the spotlight isn’t limited to just a few household names anymore. We also don’t have to wait for overseas talent to sate our aural appetites, or go broke for a few months to score festival tickets! There are countless local DJs who can give us our fix any day of the week, at any of the hot spots around the metro. And odds are they make their own mixtapes and collabs, too, so we’ll never be lacking in banging beats.
But what if that isn’t enough... and you want to try your hand not just at DJing, but also in music production? Hold on; being a headliner isn’t as easy as (legally) securing the tracks you want, storming the stage, and waving your hands around. It greatly helps if you have an ear for music, but you can also go to places like Bounce Electronic Music and DJ School and The Beat Project Manila for spinning and music production basics; and take free online music courses (theory, production, engineering, etc.) like those offered by the Berklee College of Music at edX or at Lynda.
And of course, you’ll need the proper tools to make your own music. For this article, we’re giving you aspiring producers and DJs eight essentials for your first home studio. Start setting your space up, get to music making right away—and do additional research, since we know you’ll add more stuff to your studio as you go along.
The first thing we’ll say to you is this: forget the brand name. (This goes for basically any gadget.) What matters is if the rig you have—or will get—can handle the heavy workload you’ll give it. Equipboard has the following sensible advice for new music producers:
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).
As for the question of whether you should get a desktop or laptop, that’s entirely up to you, what you’re more comfortable using for long stretches, and what the budget allows. If your desktop already has all of the specs stated above, upgrade your sound card and you’re good to go. If not, start upgrading your parts ASAP. If you choose a laptop, look for one with those specs in mind. Or get the 15” Apple MacBook Pro if you’re really loaded (it starts at PhP133,990, bro) and curious about how apps like DJ Pro play (nice?) with the much-maligned Touch Bar. But Pocket-Lint says compatibility will “arrive later this year," which means you’ll have more time to save up if you want the top-of-the-line stuff.
You’ll see the DAW acronym a lot when you look up which software to use for music production. It stands for Digital Audio Workstation, and it’s where you’ll be doing much of the work for your tracks. If you’re setting up a studio with an Apple machine, you can use the built-in and introductory GarageBand or the more extensive US$199.99 (PhP12,000) Logic Pro X. Most DJs use Ableton Live—and most of the hardware on this list is built to be compatible with this DAW. You can try the latest version, Live 9, free for 30 days, then buy it at a starter EUR 79 (PhP4,200).
Don’t worry; there are other DAWs that are open-source (a.k.a. free), or are friendlier on the pocket. We’ve long used Audacity to convert and lightly enhance our recorded audio files for interviews and such, and it can do a whole lot more than that for music producers. FACTmag.com has also made a list of music production software worth checking out, including Reaper and Tracktion 4.
Listening to your tunes out loud won’t be good enough anymore! Keep the sound and volume to yourself (at first) and hear everything you need to hear with Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50x professional monitor headphones. Consistently ranked as the best cans you can buy for sound production and playback, it’s also comfortable to use for super-long sessions behind the computer studio or in the middle of a large and loud place. You can also do one-ear monitoring (you know, like what you see DJs do on stage) thanks to 90? swiveling earcups.
It’s available online at Audio-Technica’s US website for US$169 (around PhP8,400), but you can also inquire with the company’s local distributor, Philippe Gadgets, for price and availability.
There will come a time when your headphones won’t be enough, and you and your collaborators will want to hear your music booming around the entire studio. The small Pioneer RM-05 Active Reference Monitor is the way to go for accurate sound separation and reproduction, so don’t underestimate it!
Visit pioneer.ph to see a list of Pioneer’s authorized dealers in the country, who you can get in touch with for the RM-05’s price and availability.
USB MIDI Controller
Get your imagined beats from your head down to actual programmed form (and anywhere you wish) with the Akai LPD8 Laptop Pad Controller. You can hook it up to Macs and PCs, use eight drum pads and eight Q-Link knobs to pound out and tweak your drum beats, and utilize up to four memory banks for all your tests and sample tracks. When you’re done, just put this 13” controller into your bag along with your laptop.
Inquire with Akai’s authorized Philippine distributor, JB Music, for info on the LPD8’s availability and price.
Your chosen DAW may give you enough sound options to last you for a while, but inevitably you’ll want more. And you’ll want extra control over those effects, too. At this point, you’ll definitely need the Korg Kaoss Pad QUAD.
This little black box with a multicolored X-Y touchpad lets you simultaneously play with up to four sound effects; and modify their speed, volume, and depth depending on the song you’re working on. It can also work with various audio sources, and the whopping 1,295 effects combinations guarantee hours of fun and experimentation. Contact korg.ph for more information on the Kaoss Pad QUAD, or visit or inquire with any Audiophile branch.
One could argue that you already have all you need with DAWs and plugins and VSTs and samples. But analog devices like drum machines—for example, the Roland TR-8—can give your half-baked tracks literal new life that the digital alternatives will never manage to achieve.
This one follows in the tradition of the classic TR-808 (think Kanye West’s album 808s and Heartbreak, or Marvin Gaye’s timeless "Sexual Healing") and the lesser known but still monumental TR-909 (think Björk’s "Hunter", or Orbital’s "Chime"): it uses both older machines’ classic sounds as part of its 16 kits, and builds on the classics to help you make modernized versions with additional controls and tweaks. Get it now for P29,950; inquire at the following Yamaha Music Store branches for availability.
Synths are another fun addition to a home studio. Personally, they remind us of that unmistakeable ‘80s sound (or, for a newer reference, the Tron: Legacy soundtrack), but today’s synths can do a lot more, and offer more programmable options. Take the Korg microKORG:
Like the Roland TR-8, the microKORG carries the heritage of Korg synths past. But this newer iteration comes with 128 classic presets, built-in modulation/delay effects and arpeggio patterns, and a vocoder whose input you can also transfer and play through the keyboard. It can also act as a MIDI controller so you can use your DAW and other gear with it as well. As with the aforementioned Korg Kaoss Pad QUAD, contact korg.ph or go to your nearest Audiophile branch for more details, including pricing.