7 Essential Pieces of Gear for Getting Into Music Production

7 Essential Pieces of Gear for Getting Into Music Production

Producing music at home is becoming an extremely popular lifestyle for musicians. With the rise of streaming services and tutorial videos on YouTube, one can learn production and become successful online all from the comfort of their own home. If you’re interested in learning about music, recording, composition, producing, or mixing, putting together a small at-home studio is a great way to get started in the industry and develop your skills. Whether it’s just as a hobby or as the beginnings of a potential career, the world of music production can easily be made available to you with a few key pieces of equipment. 


If you don’t have any previous experience with recording or production, starting out can be confusing and overwhelming. It can be difficult to determine what you really need to get started, what each piece of gear actually does, and how to put it all together. So, we’ve brought you this list of the basic equipment you’ll find in a home studio setup. 


When it comes to home studios, the bare minimum requirements to start making music are always subjective. Some will argue that all you need is a laptop and some software to get going; with a little ingenuity and perseverance, you’d be surprised what can be accomplished with just a computer these days. However, gear should be seen as a tool that makes music accessible and fun. So, if you’re willing to invest in a little tech, you should start here:


1. DAW

If we’re talking absolute essentials, this ranks at the top. A DAW, or digital audio workstation, is the software used to record, produce, mix, and master music. Think of it as the interface or hub where all music editing occurs. You can use it to record, edit, and mix tracks, access digital instruments, add audio effects – basically everything involved in composing and finishing a piece of music. 


You may have heard of GarageBand, the popular free DAW available on Mac computers. While GarageBand is pretty bare bones, it’s a great tool for starting out in music production. It’s simple, straightforward, and has all the basic functionality required to produce a song. Plus – it’s free. 


If you want something with more capability, the most popular DAWs include Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, and Studio One. You can find tons of other comparable options as well, but these are the industry standards. While engineers often claim they prefer one over the others, they all basically do the same thing. A standard full version DAW can cost upwards of $500, but you definitely don’t have to dish that out to get started. Most DAWs offer different versions that limit certain capabilities at a lower price point, so you can find a version that gives you what you need. An introductory version is usually enough to explore production and learn about the workflow process. In fact, some pieces of gear come equipped with free DAW downloads in the package, like the Focusrite Studio bundle. Alternatively, if you want to just dip your toes in, download a free trial to see what each DAW has to offer.


2. Microphone

A microphone also ranks high on the list of essentials if you’re interested in recording vocals or acoustic instruments. With a basic setup, direct input audio keeps things simple, but getting experience with microphone recording is extremely useful if you’re interested in learning about the production industry. It also can open up many opportunities for exploring sounds in your environment and creating original beats. 


You can read more about the different types of microphones and their uses here, but the two main types to consider for an entry-level mic are dynamic and condenser. There are tons of great simple options for either that will capture high quality audio and be versatile for many different uses.


Two starting options are the Shure SM57 and the Audio-Technica AT-2020, both of which you can get for around $100 or less. If you want to spend a little more, the Audio-Technica ATM510 cardioid dynamic mic is a versatile option for under $200.


3. Audio Interface

If you plan to record using a microphone or any other instrument, you’ll need an audio interface. This is a small device that receives input from analog sources (a microphone, guitar, keyboard, etc.), allows you to mix multiple channels, and sends digital output to your computer. It also allows for direct playback of inputs, so you can play live audio from instruments back into headphones or speakers.


The audio interface is what allows you to record audio in a DAW. There are tons of options on the market for interfaces, so it’s best to do some of your own research and find one that suits your needs. One of the most important factors to consider is the number of channels. This simply means the number of inputs it has, which determines the number of instruments you can record at the same time. For solo bedroom producers, one or two inputs usually does the trick, but this just depends on your setup and whether or not you want to play with others. 


The Focusrite Scarlett series is a highly regarded collection of audio interfaces that are easy to use and affordable. The Scarlett 2i2 or Scarlett Solo are basic options for beginners. You can also check out the Scarlett Studio bundle, complete with an interface, headphones, a microphone, and a free download of Ableton Lite.


4. Headphones

Obviously, you’ll need a way to listen to the music you’re recording, and this can be either speakers or headphones. Many bedroom producers opt for headphones at first because they tend to be more affordable, versatile, and portable. If you live in a place with noise limitations, headphones give you the freedom to listen at any volume. 


We’ve discussed the different types of headphones and their functions, but all you need to know is that you’ll need studio monitoring headphones for music production and engineering. This is different from standard consumer headphones, as they are designed to produce a neutral, accurate playback of the audio source, which allows you to hear all the details in the music as you record and edit. Great entry-level headphone options include the Audio-Technica ATH-M20X monitoring headphones and the Samson Z35 studio headphones.

5. Studio Monitors

If you have the budget and the space, investing in a pair of studio monitors is what many consider an essential investment for audio engineering and production, especially if you are more interested in the mixing and mastering side of things. Monitors, like monitoring headphones, produce audio as accurately as possible to the original signal, so they don’t add any color or tone that consumer speakers might to make the audio sound better. 


Listening with monitors as opposed to headphones can also better help you understand the spatial element of mixing and how placement and panning plays an important role in designing a balanced mix. So, while not necessarily essential, monitors are a highly recommended investment for anyone looking to explore the production industry at a more professional level.


If you’re interested in studio monitors, the JBL MkII and KRK ROKIT series are a great place to start. Both are available in multiple sizes to suit your space. Remember that smaller speakers will not have the same power or volume level as larger ones.


6. MIDI Controller

Whether you have an instrument already or you’re going full digital, a MIDI controller is (arguably) a must-have. For those who aren’t already familiar, MIDI is a universal music gear language that records the notes you play rather than actual audio. In other words, when you record MIDI information, you are recording the series of notes played, and this information can be sent to a digital or external instrument to play those notes and produce audio. So, with a MIDI controller, you can have access to all of the digital instruments available online or in your DAW and play them as you would play a keyboard. You can actually manually input MIDI information directly into a DAW without having a controller, but this can be a time-consuming and mentally draining process. 


MIDI controllers can also be used to manually control a variety of parameters in a DAW. A typical MIDI controller takes the form of a keyboard, and often has various knobs, faders, or drum pads to allow you to alter effects or play drum patches and samples at the touch of a button.


Akai and Arturia are two industry standards for MIDI controllers. Two solid entry-level options for exploring MIDI are the Arturia KeyStep and the Akai MPK Mini. 


7. Cables

This one probably seems obvious, but can’t be overlooked. For every piece of gear you want to connect, you’ll need the right cable. Hopefully, your equipment comes with the cables you need, but this isn’t always the case. Standard quarter-inch audio cables will likely be your new best friend. Some microphones use XLR cables rather than quarter inch, but they mostly serve the same purpose. If you’re using MIDI, you may also need a MIDI cable or a USB B type cable. A USB can connect directly to your computer and transmit MIDI information that way, so check if your instrument or controller has MIDI outputs or USB outputs. 


Whether you decide to start bare-bones or dive right into a complete studio setup, getting into music production is an exploratory journey full of excitement and discovery. If you’re unsure of how much you should invest in gear, our recommendation is to test the waters by seeing what you can do with what you have, and investing when you realize why you need more. Over time, you’ll probably find that you never stop learning.