Beats On A Budget

In our first in the new series we take a look at creating a studio on a budget for all you budding Dance music producers… You will want electronic sounds, decent speakers and simple interfaces. You might start at a budget level on an iPad, but with more cash in your back pocket, you will […]

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In our first in the new series we take a look at creating a studio on a budget for all you budding Dance music producers…

You will want electronic sounds, decent speakers and simple interfaces. You might start at a budget level on an iPad, but with more cash in your back pocket, you will opt for a ‘proper’ synth. Here are three options for producing electronic dance music at three very different budget points…

Option 1: £500 or less

Software Korg Gadget

the dance music producer

Gadget put iOS electronic music making on the map with its superb touch sequencing and vast array of synths and drum machines. It is, quite simply, one of the best DAWs out there and now available for Macs – look out for a review of that soon. Gadget allows you to quickly create tunes from a great array of virtual instruments – mostly electronic in nature.
If you want to start making dance music, there is no better or cheaper way. Simple as.

Speakers IK MultiMedia iLoud Micro

There’s an argument to say that with an iPad you could be using headphones to monitor – and we explore this option later on in this feature, with a section on headphones. However, we’d always suggest ‘proper’ monitors and to spend as much as you can on them. We think, however, that we have the ideal compromise here with the IK Multimedia iLoud Micro monitors, which boast being the smallest studio monitors in the world, so they give you that compact feel, but do sound great for their size. When we compared them to monitors costing three times as much, we concluded: “Where the more expensive monitors won out was in the upper mids and tops department, where the shimmer wasn’t quite there on the IKs. Yet, often, we would compare track-by-track across both and question which was playing what – they are that good for their size and money. So we approached this review almost wanting to knock the Micro Monitors because of ‘that’ claim, but we really can’t. They’re great.”

Other options: Yamaha HS5, Samson Resolv SE5 and Fostex PM series.

Interface/Mixer Focusrite iTrack Dock

If you use ‘proper’ speakers – rather than headphones – you’ll need to interface your iPad to them and one great solution is this. We said: “In use the iTrack Dock is excellent, though. Your sounds from those many musical apps you’ve been meaning to get around to using simply come alive when played through proper speakers, and iTrack Dock is the perfect way to get them there.”

Some Other Ideas

We’re not even at £400 of our budget yet – dance music really is that easy and cheap to make. For the remainder, consider a tonne of apps, including synths from Arturia (iSEM and iMini) and the Props’ Thor plus the Yonac Magellan. We’d also highly recommend the Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator series of calculator-style gadgets (£50 a pop) and for the remainder of this budget, you could get two of them!

We said: “these units sound fantastic, they are incredibly fun and, more importantly than anything else, they are as cheap as silicon chips.”

Other options: Korg Volca range

Option 2: £1,500 or less

Software Ableton Live

There’s no doubting that Ableton Live is the software of choice for the desktop or laptop dance-music maker. Since its release more than a decade ago, it has become the go-to DAW for EDM producers and, with Ableton Link and Push 2, has become the first choice and core product of today’s cutting-edge software and hardware studio. For the sheer number of instruments and effects – plus the simple way you can create ideas, while adding beats and basses – there is simply nothing better for dance musicians.

Speakers Dynaudio LYD 5

Monitors at this price range are many and varied, so we’ve taken the easy way out and chosen our Gear Of The Year winners, the Dynaudio LYDs. The 5s are the smallest in the range and perhaps lack some bass, so if you have the budget, then do go one better for the excellent 7s. However, even at this level, they offer an excellent response, brilliant separation and superb mids and tops.

We said: “These are great-sounding speakers – I was very impressed with what I heard on mixes from similar priced and more expensive monitors and could make all sorts of improvements, and at lower levels. Yet the flexibility from all these extras makes the LYDs suitable for all sorts of studio situations.”

Other options: Pioneer RM Series

Interface/Mixer iConnectivity iConnect Audio4+

Again, there are all sorts of interfacing options at this level but we’ve chosen this option, as it not only allows you to expand, but to easily bring in the lower cost dance-music options from your iOS devices into your mid-priced rig. “The iConnectAudio4+ is a must-have device for any musician or engineer who wants to integrate their iPad with their professional studio equipment, incorporating it with an existing interface to get the best of both worlds. But more than that, if you are just starting out in audio, the iConnectAudio4+ could make a great first interface to link all your studio gear without even needing another interface at all.”

Some Other Ideas

Novation Circuit

Now this is the dance-musician’s dream piece of gear. Not only does it work standalone – you don’t need a computer – it works pretty much straight away. We reckon you’ll be making decent tunes with it within minutes of switching it on and recent updates have transformed it from our original review – so expect a new update review in MusicTech soon. However, even in our original piece we said: “It is without a doubt about the most musical fun you can have with one box and no computer, and I haven’t made music so quickly in 20-odd years of reviewing gear.”

Option 3: £1,500 or more

Software Ableton Live

Do we need to say it again? Even at the high end of dance-music production, we’d say ‘get Ableton Live’ – it’s simply matured into the software for electronic composers to use, whatever their budgets.

Speakers Unity Audio The Rock MKII

You’ll want something with punch and accuracy and these are great monitors for that – just ask a long list of big-name producers who have also opted for The Rocks. We said: “We weren’t struggling to hear details, so we found ourselves monitoring at slightly lower levels than usual – good news if you work long hours. The depth of the soundstage is something special. After some experimentation with toe-in, we found the left/right imaging impressive, too. These are no-compromise nearfields that slotted straight into our setup. They are loud, detailed and gorgeous-sounding monitors.”

Interface/Mixers RME Babyface Pro

Dance musicians could (whisper) probably get away without an interface and do everything on their computers or iPads, but if you have some cash to splash, you’ll want a decent synth – so will need a decent interface to plug it into. They don’t come much cooler or sturdier than the RME Babyface Pro. It’s a fine unit; not the cheapest interface around, but it can be used with a computer, iPad or standalone. It also screams quality in terms of components, flexibility, sound, routing and physicality. We said: “You just feel you can trust it to go pretty much anywhere with you. It also ticks the right boxes in a world where we’ve gone looks-mad, but its design is also thankfully about being practical. So while it looks and sounds the part, it’s also aimed at the real world.”

Some Other Ideas

DSI OB-6 £2,500 & Ableton Push 2 £599

Now then, money’s not tight at this level, so we’re pushing the boat out firstly with a Dave Smith Instruments OB-6 synth and then Push 2 from Ableton. The latter is the ideal accompaniment to Ableton Live and is in itself more an instrument than performance object – although it does that, too. Push has transformed the way that many people work with Live and while it was initially perhaps seen just a hardware trigger for the software part, it’s now more about how it interacts with the software and it works in perfect harmony with it.

A full-on analogue-hardware synth is a must for dance heads with money to spend and, of course, there are many to choose from now. We have plenty of recommendations, including Novation’s BassStation 2, Moog’s SUB-37, Roland’s SYSTEM-8 (not analogue but as good as) and Korg’s minilogue. But our current favourite is the OB-6 from DSI. Blame Brexit for its price – but we reckon you’ll think every penny is worth it when you hear its sound.


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