Making Music With What You’ve Got

Making Music With What You've Got

It’s human nature to imagine and wait for a future when everything is how it’s supposed to be. A perfect opportunity to make your dreams come true. A perfect to time for making music. There’s no such thing.

There’s no such thing as a perfect time to start, a perfect path to take, or perfect execution. So while you’re waiting for that utopian studio with all the right equipment, that masterpiece idea for a song, or the ideal band mates/songwriters to come into your life, a future successful musician is moving forward and just going for it. This article is about making music with what you’ve got.

Yes, better equipment, knowledge, network, etc. can likely yield better results. But we should never let that stop us from making the music we want to make!


Learn to Get The Most Out Of your limited resources

It’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it… You can make an EDM hit with a laptop and headphones.

Technology has brought us to a time when we don’t need big studios to make big hits and big bucks. Quality music can be made in your bedroom, in hotel rooms, and elsewhere with limited consumer gear.

Now, I’m not on making big hits or big bucks, but I am comfortable making the music I want to hear in my apartment with limited gear. And that, I think, is what being a bedroom producer is ultimately about: creating the music the way you want to, on your own time, own budget, and own space.

So let’s categorize the main resources we have when making music. They include:

  • Hardware/Equipment
  • Software
  • Musical knowledge
  • Network for promotion

Let’s discuss how we can use these general resources, no matter how small, to create music!


Making Music With Limited Hardware/equipment

Without going down the rabbit hole of what constitutes music (example: clapping your hands is music and only requires, well, hands, as “hardware”). In order to create music, all you need is an instrument (which includes your body). In order to record music, all you need is a recording device.

In theory, you could record an entire album on your smart phone. The days of mixing consoles and tape decks are in the past (for the most part). The digital age makes it possible for the bedroom producer to thrive on a laptop at home. Good news for musicians interested in music production!

So, ultimately, all you need to make music is a computer these days. That’s all my “studio” really was for the first 3 years.

Of course, it’s nice to have a mixing console, nice pre-amps, an 88-key MIDI keyboard, multiple mixing monitors, a sub-woofer, multiple screens, the best microphones, acoustically treated space, I could go on… But if all you’ve got is a laptop and headphones, please please please make music with them!

Develop the habit of making music with what you’ve got

Before buying a whole lot of gear, I’d suggest making a habit of making music. Get to know your current set-up like the back of your hand and then look into specific pieces of hardware to add.

And really be sure the equipment you want will enhance your music making experience.

A mistake I made that I like to share is having bought an MPC Renaissance. Great machine, but not for my studio… I bought it new for $1300 in 2013 and used it for maybe a week. Since then it has sat in my closet and is now worth a mere $200. Maybe it will be incorporated into the set-up in the future, but as it stands, it was a bad investment.

So I ask you to really make sure a piece of hardware will be a good fit for your music before forking out any serious dough. To many of us, $1300 is a decent chunk of money!

Let’s look at some good investments

Once you have a good workflow with what you’ve got, I’d suggest investing in a few pieces of hardware. There are so many genres of music out there that require different instruments and gear, but the list I’ve compiled here should cover the “bedroom producer” archetype (you’ll likely have some of these items already, especially the computer/DAW).

  1. Computer with Digital Audio Workstation
  2. Headphones
  3. MIDI Keyboard
  4. Audio Interface
  5. Studio Monitors
  6. Microphone(s)

You don’t need the above pieces to produce music, but they are my top 6 pieces of hardware for the bedroom producer.

For the sake of sharing, here’s what I use in my studio:

Computer with Digital Audio Workstation: iMac with Logic Pro X.

Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M40x

MIDI Keyboard: Acron Masterkey 49

Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Studio Monitors: Yorkville YSM5 pair (I believe they are no longer in production)

Microphones: Shure SM58//SM57//Beta52

But to recap, use whatever hardware you have to make music!


Making Music With Limited Software

Digital pirating makes this less of an issue than buying hardware (I do not condone pirating software). But it happens, so I’ll take a different approach to this subject, even if you buy your software (which I do condone).

My argument here is that we should limit the amount of software we have at our disposal.

Digital Audio Workstation

In a past article, I discussed the Best Digital Audio Workstation For Bedroom Producers. That blog post basically states that the best DAW for anyone making music is the one that provides the fastest workflow. But at an even more basic level, it’s really whatever DAW you currently have or can afford.

Plug-ins

By the same token, if you only have the stock plug-ins with your DAW to work with, I’d urge you to learn how they work inside-and-out before splurging on some expensive plugins that do the same thing.

Of course, these expensive plug-ins often provide an enhanced experience and better sonic results, but they’re not absolutely necessary. I, like many of my peers, have made the mistake of thinking a special plug-in will solve my problems, when in fact, we just needed more practice and training to understand the fundamentals.

There’s no need for 20 different compressors and EQs that all do the same thing.

Samples

Another “mistake” I made when starting out was to acquire as many samples as possible. I believe it’s important to have variety (it’s the spice of life, right ;). But if it takes an hour to find that “perfect” kick, that’s an hour lost in actually making music. And I believe that making music is ultimately what we’re truly passionate about (unless you are really are just passionate about digging through and listening to kick samples).

Instead of downloading folders upon folders of samples (most of which will never be used), I’d suggest downloading individual samples you’ll actually use from Splice. Or when downloading a sample pack, to go through and trim the fat right away. Delete anything you don’t think you’ll use often, and be liberal with how you cut. Often times less is more! And keeping your samples organized and labelled so that you can quickly find the ones you’re looking for will save tons of your time in the long run.

Virtual Instruments

Virtual instruments are software I can get down with collecting. Especially if you strive to compose music professionally for a living. You’ll need a lot of variety in your sonic palette to cover as many genres as possible.

That being said, if you’re on a budget, just starting out, or striving for a signature sound, there’s not a huge need for multiple Virtual Instruments that do the same thing.

For example, if you choose to buy Xfer Records Serum, maybe hold off on buying Native Instruments Massive since they are both wave-table synthesizers. They are, of course, different synths and I personally enjoy using both. But the point I’m trying to make is that it seems more logical to get another type of Virtual Instrument rather than getting 2 of the same type.

Another example: if you find a great orchestral strings virtual instrument, there’s probably not a pressing need to get any others right away.

Making Music With Limited Musical Knowledge

There is no end to the knowledge that can be acquired about music. In that sense, everyone who makes music is making music with limited musical knowledge.

I look at “musical knowledge” as having two main components: composition/music theory and music production.

Composition/Music Theory

I believe music theory is important to know as a musician and composer. It really helps to make sense of music and to understand what will “work” and what will “not work” in your compositions. But it’s not needed to make music.

It’s music theory, not music law.

There’s a common belief among no-theory enthusiasts that music theory will dampen creativity and ruin their unique sound. Although I must disagree, it’s good that those who are in agreement are still making music. Limited theory knowledge is not stopping them!

And if you are on the path to theory mastery, please make music as you learn. It’s important to put what you’re learning into action and to keep making music even though you don’t “know it all.”

Production

This is one I struggle with. Mixing in particular. But I keep telling myself this:

“Mix to the best of your abilities now. You will get better. There’s no use in spending days mixing and remixing the same song because it doesn’t sound perfect. Mix with what you know and the tools you have, and keep moving forward.”

The same can be said for all things production.

Perfection is not attainable in music since it’s such a subjective art form.

But even if it could be perfect, music production is difficult to master  (pun intended?) My advice is to do the best job that you can with the know-how and tools you have and move on to the next project. As you progress, things will get easier and your songs will begin to sound better.

My advice to the readers of this blog and to myself.

Promoting Music With Limited Marketing

With the internet, it’s never been easier to get your music out there without a record label or publishing deal. But there’s a problem. With so much music being released every day. It’s difficult to get yours heard.

I have very little experience with marketing music, and my music doesn’t get a lot of plays, but that shouldn’t be a reason to stop creating. Unless I was only in it for the money…

Whether you don’t have the budget to market or don’t feel comfortable selling yourself and your art, my advice once again is to keep creating and keep putting yourself out there. You’ll pick things up as you go along that will help in promoting your music.

You never know, you could make producing music your full-time career! The point I want to drive home is that you’ll never know if you don’t put in the work. Stop waiting for the perfect storm and get to it 🙂

Sharpen your skill while on your way to the big leagues

Like anything in life, if it’s worth it, it’ll take time. Overnight successes may come into public spotlight quickly, but there are almost always multiple years of hard work beforehand.

Make do with what you have now and build skills while you put in the work. It’s a gradual climb. Learning how to make compose, produce, and market music takes time.

Now, we can speed the journey up by outsourcing, but that’s not really what this article is about.

But for the sake of argument, you could, for instance, write the music, but

  • Use sound presets that other people have made
  • Pay session musicians to play on your tracks
  • Get a profession recording engineer to record you in a studio
  • Hire someone to mix and master your work
  • Outsource the artwork
  • Contract a marketing team to do all the promotion for you

…which is all a great strategy,

But, as a bedroom producer, you’ll likely be doing most, if not all, those tasks yourself. And it’s better to constantly put in work and improve yourself than to wait for inspiration and the perfect moment to make your music.

In Closing,

Make music with what you’ve got. There’s no better time than now. You’ll develop the skills needed to succeed as you go about creating your music. Insert other motivational quotes here.

As always, I’d like to thank you for reading and for your support,

-Art

[kkstarratings]