Open Mic: What Gear Would You Recommend For Someone Getting Started With Electronic Music?


A reader faces a common dilemma: they wanted to get started with electronic music making, they need to spend their money wisely and they aren’t sure where to start:

I’m researching building an analog startup kit for a home studio. Some years ago I was pretty involved with software-based DAW production and a little MIDI. I’ll likely go back to DAW at some point but I really want to try going more hardware based for a while.

I don’t have a lot of money to drop initially and will probably piece it all together over time. I don’t want to over-shoot and want quality components, while getting value for my money.

Where to start?

There’s no ‘right’ gear to buy, especially when you’re starting out. But it’s important to buy gear with some depth and to take the time to learn it, inside out.

If you start with an entry level tool like GarageBand or a synth like a MicroKorg and then really learn what it can and can’t do, you’ll end up having a much better idea about what need to make the music you want to make.

And yeah – that’s sort of a cop-out that doesn’t really answer the original question!

What gear would you recommend to somebody that wants to get started making electronic music? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Image: Stephen Drake

211 thoughts on “Open Mic: What Gear Would You Recommend For Someone Getting Started With Electronic Music?

  1. Depends on what you want to do. Think of what sound you want to make and then find the software/hardware that does what you want. It’s just like painting a picture. Do you want to paint the skies? then get some blues, or oranges, or whites. It’s up to you. There is no place to start that is generic.

  2. It’s virtual analog but a lot can be done with a korg ms2000. It has a memory bank, a sequencer and an effects section including delay. Master it and you’ll know know how a lot of virtual, soft and analog synths work. Not to mention its pretty affordable.

  3. GarageBand requires a Mac, so not a great suggestion for a guy on a budget. But he doesn’t want a DAW yet, so irrelevant.

    In that case, a Microbrute, a volca beats and maybe an MFB sequencer. Later add a volca keys and an ms20 mini. Nice set up.

  4. Microkorg, korg KO2, garageband with a midi controller
    Yamaha Cs-01 (which was my first synthesizer)
    Or if you want to get them into circuit bending just go to the thrift store and then buy some jumper cables.

  5. DAW of choice (probably Ableton has the shallowest learning curve) and virus TI… i much prefer my analog synths but the TI is the biggest workhorse in the studio… i always recommend people buy things that they wont want to replace down the track… you can pick up a snow at a reasonable price…

    The only other thing you need is some sample packs… Goldbaby for drum machines… and just sample anything else tbh…

  6. Start with something that allows you to LEARN how synthesis works. Korg MS20mini would be my suggestion. Small investment, large learning opportunity.

  7. I work in a music store so this is a question I face fairly often in one form or another. Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer for everybody because different people respond differently to different things and so on. Also, people mean different things when they say “I don’t want to spend a lot of money”. Anyways, with that out of the way I’ll get on to some recommendations.

    In this case, they said that they wanted an analog startup kit for a home studio, they’ve worked with DAWs in the past and may return to one in the future. That’s not a lot to go on but here’s a few options.

    1) Korg Volca Trio ($450 CDN) – Three sync-able little groove boxes to cover drums, bass, and chords. There’s a lot of potential here to get a wide range of grooves and sounds without shelling out much cash at all. Once you get a DAW you’d be able to record and arrange all the stuff you’ve started putting together.

    2) Arturia MiniBrute ($499 CDN) – Nice little analog synth for nice and cheap. You wont be able to do too much with it on it’s own, but it will integrate nicely with anything you add to your arsenal. Plus it’s a great synth to learn the fundamentals of synthesis on. Lack of patch memory forces you to be very cognizant of your patches and tweaking. USB lets you connect it easily to your DAW and CV makes it a great modular controller. For even cheaper there’s the new MicroBrute too ($299 CDN)

    3) Elektron Octatrack and Elekton Analog Four ($1299 CDN each) – So this is obviously a big price jump over the last two, but either one on its own would be a nice starting point. These two give you a ton of horsepower and flexibility in a small footprint. While the Octatrack is a sampler and not an analog synth, it will let you sample your synths but also control them via the four midi tracks. The A4 gives you four independent synths plus CV control for other droids. You can also use both as effects units. An older MPC 1000+ might be a good alternative for the Octatrack.

    4) I know this person mentioned an analog setup specifically, but they might want to consider Native Instruments Maschine or the Ableton Push (Both $599 each). These have a fairly simple learning curve and give you a ton of tools right off the bat. Plus you can integrate them with any analog gear you accumulate down the road. Because their hardware is made specifically for their own software, you can interact with them without touching or even looking at the computer once you familiarize yourself with them. So it feels more like you’re playing with hardware than just using software.

    1. +1
      have all this but for the Elektron gear.

      worth considering an Arturia plug-in or two to get a good feel for analogue machines and patch cables

    2. +1
      Way to qualify your customer! I’ve worked in 2 music stores, so I hear you. There’s a set list of questions that winnow it down to a few options pretty readily. Do they play any other instruments? Do they have a main style they’re into? Are they savvy enough to install a bundled synth editor and make use of it? Pro use, home use only or weekend warrioring? And finally, does your wife know you are trying to drop a thousand plus on a new doodad? Tell me those things and I can offer you at least 5 or 6 options, in ascending order of cost, capability and madness.

  8. Definitely a Minibrute to start with. Affordable, and it aggressively throws you into the art of sculpting sounds from scratch, whilst demonstrating the beauty of a true analog path with no silly, overblown digital complications. I imagine the Minibrute opening up the beauty of analog synth to a lot of VST-heads.

  9. I hate to oversimplify things… but these days I think a decent soundcard plus Ableton or whatever other favorite (though Live always gets my vote) is the no brainer part. After that it comes down to synth budget. The Arturias aren’t the best here just because the controls and oscillators on offer only let you go so far and don’t offer much experiment room for oscillator tuning / detuning fun.

    Based on the idea that someone had nothing, I think a keybed is pretty essential- so from bargain to best I’d say either a Korg MS20 Mini or a Sub Phatty are pretty great synths for getting to grips with subtractive synthesis… After that… wherever the wind blows you, or whatever… in no time at all you’ll find yourself surrounded by ivories and noodles while playing conceptual solitaire in your blinky lighty man/woman cave.

    The only other note I would add is that, while I will not dispute the usefulness of rack synths, even in the new age of analog desktops and such, I find it more difficult to forge lasting relationships with synths that lack standalone functionality. I have a slim that I love, but it took midi-merge pairing it with my minibrute to bring out the best in both synths and make them as fun to play as my other standalone goodies. I think that element is a good thing- or at least for me it is good to have a non DAW based way to interact with my instruments. I can space out and mess with them, or make sounds and goof around when there is no inspiration. Overall, though, I just think of them as more whole and relate to them more as expressive tools/ instruments when they are standalone than when they require some USB routing or external midi controls to do anything at all…. Just one guy’s opinion- but something I might have liked to be told when I long ago opened some catalog and thought “hmmm, rackmounts sure are cheap….”

  10. Start FREE. Use Reaper DAW (www.reaper.FM), the trial version is free and not crippled at all, fast, and both Mac & Windows compatible. It’s also a VST host and there’s a bazillion VST effects and instruments that are all free. If you’re the type to say “I like spending money!” then buy a keyboard or drum controller– make sure it had both USB *and* MIDI, you’ll use it for a long time if it had both. Spend as little money as possible. Better instruments or software will *not* make better music. Make a song, sell it on Beatport or something like it. If lots of people buy your song that means a) it was at least pretty good and b) you now have cash and reasons to buy better software or hardware. If nobody buys your track you have more practicing to do, but you can’t blame your tools.

  11. Ok, I’ll be the one that sets of the “apptopia” QI buzzer…..

    I would consider an Ipad along with some kind of IO device (personally the ipad 2 and IO Dock second hand) …you can easily get both and under £350 these days on the second hand market andstill have plenty left over to get

    a great synthasis learning applike iMS20

    a great “classic ” style drum sequencer like DM1 or iElectribe

    a daw type sketch pad to record your efforts and some “instant fun stuff ” like Figure to give you a creativity boost whilst still learning …then get a hardware controller to learn about midi, mapping etc.

    I was already heavy into my electronic music making before the ipad, ut i must say i have learnt so much with its ad-hoc approach to kind of being a bridge betweenhardware and software

  12. Ableton + Roland tb303 (xoxbox if on budget) = bliss
    Reason + microKorg = joy
    707 + miniBrute = throbbing noise
    909 + 808 + 303 + 101 + Moog = Heaven
    Anything cheap on Craigslist + DAW LE = better to be playing than watching TV

  13. being the beginner myself, I was exploring this topic for a bit and here is what i came up with:

    1. MPC 500 – avg $300
    2. miniKorg (or substitute for Vloca series) – avg $350
    3. miniKP 2 (as effects processor) – $160
    4. XENYX 1002B – Optional – $130
    Total: ~ $950 – $1000

    This makes a completely computer independent portable set up. with some DIY skill, it all packs in one box. Also cheap.

    Please note: this is the setup I was thinking about in terms of being a)computer independent and b) portable.

  14. Oh fine, no DAW so no VSTs. In my opinion no hardware really has the price/value ratio of software. For example, if you need a sequencer, you’re not going to find a hardware sequencer that’s better than what you find in software. If you need a sampler, you’re not going to find better and cheaper than a software solution. The same goes for drum machines, really. Even if what you really want is hardware, you’re going to run into a workflow problem sooner rather than later. That said, probably the most modern piece of gear I’ve spent a good amount of time with is the DSI Tempest. The sequencer is not great, but it’s amongst the best I’ve seen in any drum machine. Also, its MIDI capabilities allow individual sounds to be played in pitched mode with a MIDI keyboard. So the Tempest is essentially a hybrid digital/analog synthesizer, it goes way beyond just being a drum machine. With 6 voices and up to 32 sounds in a kit, you can make a whole tekno song with it.

  15. If I’d been given an OP-1 to learn on when I first started I would have been much happier to get making music than taking months figuring out the DX7 I started with.

  16. First need to ask yourself whether you really want to make music and are you ready to really go on it !!!

    And Considering at starting that have a money i would recommend synth like virus ti second hand
    ?Because of all the options it offers it could be excellent to enter a wide range of sounds and Synthesis And the possibility of multi Timber good for beginners intent as possible to load 16 sounds ” but i just say like virus (:
    And can also always buy cheaper synth It does not really matter
    But you will need to buy some synth because you can load one sound each time and i think its not good for start with synth
    If at staring you will buy somthing like roland sh 101 i think It’s going to restrict you
    When I started it was very difficult for me to bounce audio to wave and keep going i ??????
    I have the option to leave things in midi soo i in the first buy Nord lead 2x and Virus ti and i use some softwar synth sooo i think its vary good in this way (:

    And For musicians who have no money, I personally think that at first there is no point buying equipment and really rather spend the money on other things
    Like good monitors ,soundcard ,Acoustics,
    Good Computer i think Really better to invest in these things especially if you know you’re going to make music from here to the end of life 🙂
    And of course learn some synth software and how to creat your sounds

    1. The sh101 & akai sampler ($100 nowadays) didn’t restrict Square pusher or Aphex. The sh101 is a pure organic synth, great dynamic range … Not that flat compressed feel you get from most model analog synths.

      No presets.
      Might need a cv converter for an extra bill.
      This synth and a drum machine are all that is needed for great D&B or Techno.

      Check out a converted mc202 for near exact sound and smaller footprint to hookup to Ableton.

  17. I started a few years ago with a pirated copy of Reason4, Logic Pro 9 and a microkorg… A synth with a menu-dive matrix like the microkorg made creating my own patches very difficult and confusing as a person who had never even touched a synth before… I made some terrible, TERRIBLE music using the microkorg (I’m not saying the microkorg is bad, just bad for a beginner that wants to learn to program their own patches). I did get some practice in on using a DAW and programming / routing drums in reason… I then bought Artura’s CS-80 softsynth, which really helped me understand how to build my own sounds.. All of the controls were right up front, rather than buried in a grid of text… I sold the microkorg long ago, dumped reason and the softsynths, and I now use a legally purchased copy of LogicX.. My current main synth has a matrix, but I would’ve never learned how to use it without having a synth that has everything laid out in a manor that is logical to a beginner.

    Anyway, I guess if I could go back and advise myself before I made that first purchase towards synthesizer music… I would suggest a Korg MS2000, a MIDI keyboard, and a free or cheap daw with a built in drum machine/sequencer…

    1. I’d bite the head off a rabid bat for a Novation Nova. Its a superior tabletop 12-voice synth with mucho knobs and a purely bitchin’, rich sound. IMO, a more “pure” synth than many others. Its one of the only hardwired synths I’d say could be used to reproduce Wendy Carlos’ “Timesteps,” because it goes pretty far into modular territory internally, without being daunting. The design and sound are in superior balance. MiniNova’s are solid to hear and worthy, but the Nova has the holy knobs. Wow, 5 cups of coffee focus me like a laser.

  18. I started somewhat recently too, with no musical background at all.

    The monotrons got me hooked on analogue (or at least on analogue control), so I went ahead and got a monotribe. The monotribe was absolutely instrumental in my understanding of synthesis.
    I then dove straight into modular, and picked up a few modules to make noises with. Bought a ms-20 mini, bought a drum machine to replace the monotribe drums (sonic potions lxr). Then, I bought a mixer (should have done sooner), and sold my ms-20 mini for a microbrute to interface better with eurorack, and a JBL monitor. And that’s where I’m at, plus bits and bobs.

    I’d say find a synth you love the sound of, and get that. Some sort of drum machine. Another synth. Mixer and an audio interface (something I still don’t have but really need), as well as a studio monitor so you can hear the fancy pretty synths you bought.
    Follow your passion, and get outside your comfort zone! No answer is incorrect, some may just cost you more money in the end. And then it comes down to time.

  19. go build a modular or a diy synth. you will spend money in pieces and you really dig analog & synthesis plus eletronics and how it works

  20. I would not suggest a monophonic synth to someone who knows nothing about synths, or someone who is wanting to play music with their synth. bass lines and arps are cool, but limiting to someone who doesn’t even barely know how a synth works. just my opinion.. a newby doesn’t really even know why they want analog, 3 oscillators, after touch, CV, or syncing, so recommending they get it just because you like it is a bad selling ploy… a newby needs mileage and dependability, not advanced features and “specific sound nitch” jargon

    1. Lol … It is a lot more fun to be turning and twisting knobs while hanging with friends rather than sitting around the bedroom clicking. The same truths applies to girls.

  21. Korg Monotribe is great to start learning the basics of oscillators, LFOs and basic envelopes. Arturia Minibrute is perfect to learn the base of the subtractive synthesis.

  22. If we’re avoiding computers, I’d say MiniBrute and MPC 1000. If you’re willing to use a computer, replace the MPC with Maschine. I already have a bunch of gear, but when I bought Maschine, I was like “Wow, you could do a ton with just this.” Keep the MiniBrute in the picture for hands-on learning of synth patching.

  23. I think the best way to start would be (like many here agree) the mini brute! There Two main reasons why I think that.
    1. First off its an awesome synth in its own right! Unique sound, already a classic, and can integrate into a midi or CV rig down the line, if you are looking at getting into eurorack, whats a better way to start than getting a CV keyboard? Something like a microkorg you will learn and like but eventually trade up for something better. IMO the micro brute is something that will stay with you.
    2. It actually forces you to learn synthesis. I got a microkorg as my first synth and I didn’t ever truly learn synthesis on it because its not knob per function and the presets are easy enough to tweak it took looking at the layout of soft synths to really get it. The microkorg just isn’t intuitive to a beginner (i keep using the microkorg as an example but this applies to all the budget VA’s except the roland giaa) unless you diligently read the manual and figure out what each parameter does and what beginner wants to do that? Being forced to build every aspect of your own patches every time you want one on the mini brute will naturally make you learn it from the get go, not retroactively like I did. I think of it like learning to drive on a stick vs an automatic.

    Then get a $150 scarlett interface and reaper.

  24. Don’t really have a strong opinion on this – I got started with electronic music back in the late 60’s, and the field is ever changing. I would like to add that I really like the choice of images at the top of the article – that’s part of my modular synth! All DIY home made stuff, by the way.

  25. Electribe EMX is a good start, after this you can add an ESX for sampling and after few years you can jump in the Elektron series.
    No PC music here

  26. Honestly, would go the all-software rout to get started. Learn synthesis with software synths first and find out if this is really what you want to invest your time and money in. It is by far the cheapest way to do and the variety of software instruments out there are huge.

    If you are Mac-based, there is no better deal going than Logic X, $200 US gets you a fantastic DAW and a good collection of soft-synths and FX plus a whole lot of loops and other audio content. Plus there is world of AU instrument and FX plugins available.

    Second choice – Propellerhead’s Reason. It is completely self-contained with a very good selection of instruments and FX. UI-wise, it emulates a physical studio where you actually patch together all of your devices into a rack with cables. If find it very intuitive to use. It’s primary drawback is that it has its own, proprietary plugin architecture for third-party instruments and FX and there just is not a whole lot of variety there yet.

    Third choice – Ableton Live. The full package, “Studio” is the version to get as it has all of the instrument and FX plugins that they offer bundled. However, it is also a bit more expensive than Reason and a whole lot more than Logic X. I personally just never have warmed up that much to it but there are a whole lot of others out there that LOVE it.

    If you really want to go the hardware rout starting out, I would really look into used gear that is not “vintage,” just used synths that people are unloading for whatever reason. Check out eBay, Craig’s List, or even your local pawn shop. Typically, that will be gear that is 5-10 years old. Nothing wrong with it, great sound quality, great synthesis abilities just, not “today’s flavor.”

    If you really, really want something brand-shiny and new and want top-end, take a very serious look at Dave Smith Instrument’s, Prophet 12 – quite possibly the best “analog” hardware synth being made today. It uses digital oscillators but, the rest of the signal path is pure analog and the sound quality is amazing.

    So, that’s my take on it at any rate.

  27. Get ONE daw, and ONE synth. Then learn them and make songs. Which ones the new user gets is completely irrelevant, as long as they aren’t fringy.

    1. Agreed, this is the wy to start…
      The trick is to make sure you learn how to use your synth inside and out!

      Keep in mind, I got my tb303 for $65 … but it took a few guys tweaking and experimenting before people realized “Ah ha … there is potential here!”

      Most modern synths with knobs have the same potential to be ground breaking.
      look at all the dubstep from a few guys controlling their LFO rate on a bass drop !!!

  28. If you would like to have something to learn hardware – but don’t want to spend a lot of money start with Reason. And once you have played with it a bit start manually patching. It is a good device to begin learning on.

  29. A used ESQ-1. 8 voice, multitimbral, 20,000 note dead easy sequencer. Programming based on classic subtractive synthesis. Analog filters. Great keyboard action and bomb proof. Super cheap on ebay. Otherwise, I think maybe a Mininova would be pretty slick. Nice sound, VA, with built in efx. Nice groove sequencer and performance options. Small and compact. Been thinking about one of these for my son.

  30. Echoing others here.

    Microbrute and Volca Beats to start. An OP-1 is fantastic if you can afford it, it’s an all in one solution. You can learn a lot about making electronic music with these three. Expand later with Volca keys and a midi clock generator. For recording Zoom makes a portable 4 track recorder (not needed if you get the OP-1).

  31. roland jupiter 8. why waste time with all that amateur s***. best way to be a pro is to sound like a pro and to sound like a pro you need pro gear.

  32. Whatever you get, aim for a synth with a fair number of knobs and sliders. The Korg MS2000 is a good choice in general, so look for something with generous controls. Start with a hardwired synth, NOT a modular. That’s for the advanced class. You have to sculpt sounds to fit when you are writing, but learn the standard MiniMoog-ish path first. No matter what kind of music you create, you have to understand the clay. Those are also the same skills you’ll need later when you use software synths.

    Once the light dawns about basic subtractive synthesis, a DAW like Reaper would be ideal, since you have to build a small studio of some kind by default. That would make a great nerve center. Add a couple of softsynths to that (once you have your hardware synth in hand a bit), use it all in a hybrid manner and it’ll gradually come together sensibly, or so he claims. The mistakes you’ll make will drive you nuts, but that’s also where you’ll build the most skills. I’m glad I started on a Mini. Its why I know how to shape things today.

  33. I started out playing with SunVox. It’s free, and has the basic elements of any synthesizer. Once I learned those basics, I started acquiring the necessary components for Eurorack modulars (VCOs, ADSRs, LFOs, Filters, etc…). I just built upon those. Thems the basics.

  34. korg emx, has everything in a small nice package, multiple synth layers, decent selection on drum sounds, playable and programable, easy to learn!

  35. NI Reaktor. If you have that and the time and desire to learn, the possibilities are endless… Endless… Too many people don’t have a good grasp of HOW it works. Once you understand how, the rest is really up to your creativity. The old adage of “You have to know the rules before you can break them” really is true…

    1. Just wanted to say that the same would ring true for Max, Pure Data or Synthedit too. Nothing helped my sound creation skills like getting in there and really understanding the ins and outs of how the sounds were being created. We know what a ladder filter is but knowing exactly what it’s doing vastly improved my use of it.
      Let’s remember, the loops and presets you buy and use were created by people that took the little bit of extra time to learn how to create good ones.

      The world does NOT need another Justin Bieber but another Trent Resnor or Richard Devine are always welcome.

  36. If you’re on a budget:

    1. Pirated copy of Reason to see how you like it. If you do then buy it when you have enough money. If not then cheap version of Ableton.

    2. Simple MIDI controller. M-Audio gear is pretty decent.

    3. Decent set of MONITORING headphones not just regular cans. Or actual monitors if you can swing it. Never can go wrong with Seinnheiser.

    That’s it. Don’t let anybody tell you that this gear or that gear isn’t good enough. My suggestions will just last longer as you learn and evolve. My setup when I was a kid:

    -Stools as drums
    -Voice as other instruments
    -No mic. Once I pressed record on the old cassette player I had, I could just use the speakers as a mic.

    Everybody thought I had gone to a professional place to record.

    1. The Gaia would be a great starter synth. Its got a lot of muscle that many don’t recognize. Its build is a tad clacky, so I’d run it from a controller, personally, but seeing it as a module would be a good way to milk it and extend its useful life. I heart modules, especially tabletops. Good bang for buck, longer life in the field.

    1. Almost all the electronic music has been based on looking beyond the “piano lessons”. Harmony, melody, counterpoint techniques are useless tools in regard to electronic music composition. If the title of the article has been ” What Gear Would You Recommend For Someone Getting Started With Fugue?” why not, but this is not the title of the article…
      Contrary to a lot of comments here, I wouldn’t recomment rushing onto synths only: so much people end with a great collection of synths that they never used because they have nothing to use them. I would rather advice to invest in sequencers and/or MIDI(CV/Gate) interfaces.

    2. You know what? I make electronic music and I can’t play the piano, but I’m not musically illiterate, I’ve been playing guitar since I was five years old.

      Death to keyboard elitists! Buy a sequencer!

    3. I’ll bet you put food on your family, too, ha ha! However, I strongly second the basic idea. William Orbit is a good example of a great musician who plays more than just synth, which brings you into a much broader realm. It makes a huge difference in your synth work to have some traditional playing under your belt. Playing piano and organ taught me about The Feel. That’s a real prize you can’t get as a plug-in. A few lessons are not a bad idea. You can’t break the rules well until you know what they are.

      1. I completely disagree, most of my favourite artists have no training and work with what they “feel” and what sounds good to them their work is almost always surprising and enjoyable.

        Knowing music theory isn’t what this theoretical person asked, and having more rules in your head, or stretching the learning curve too high instead of encouraging experimentation and fun is likely to put off someone who has just asked what hardware they should buy for their home studio.

        The number of people who have come to this thread to get on the soap box about how hardware is dead, or how you should learn this or that, is unbelievable, the question was what hardware would be needed for a basic home studio set up. You’re only going to win someone over to your point of view if you’re willing to listen to what THEY want and impart something useful that they’ve actually asked for, not something you think they should know which they might already know!

    4. If you can make up a original tune in your head, you are a musician. The interface that you use to get that tune from your head to the world is irrelevant and Its a personal preference. I like to play piano, guitar and instruments. I can also (And I do) program a MIDI piano roll. Its all about how you want to make music. The tools make the artist, and those are expensive. Especially with electronic musicians. What really matters is how you use those tools…

  37. Well, it depends on your budget and what sort of music you like and what sort of musical skills you have. It has to be analog? OK, get a Dave Smith Evolver and an MPC 1000 with JJOS or an Octatrack if you prefer grid sequencing and knobbage.

  38. You said you want quality and value — in my experience with musical equipment, whenever i have put value before quality, I have always been disappointed and have had to go on and buy something else. However, I think what synthead said makes a lot of sense. Buy one thing, and then learn it inside and out. I have also made the mistake of buying something and deciding it didn’t work very well, when looking back, what really happened was I did not invest the time in learning how to use it properly.

    As a side note, when I was in high school, one of the best keyboard sounds we got was from a little $30 casio thing run through a flanger and a guitar amp. I guess I don’t really have any useful advice.

  39. To know where things are going, it’s good to know where it came from.
    I’d say: get a 4-track Portastudio and a Juno-6.
    Learn the mechanics of both recording and synthesis at the same time.
    Find out the hard way.
    Bounce your tracks on tape and learn how to make decisions, instead of taking a preset that plays everything for you and move on to the next sound without analysing it.
    The Juno-6 is the best synth to learn basic synthesis on at an affordable price. You can always resell it at purchase price, so it’s always a good investment. You constantly have to change the sounds manually, so you will learn analog synthesis in a much quicker and practical way. Storing sounds in memory will make you complacent, thus lazy and lacking in skills.
    By not recording in MIDI but recording live to tape, you will improve your live playing skills as well.
    Getting the most out of making your tape recording sound the best, you will also learn more about recording levels, frequencies, mixing and summing.
    Then after that move on. At least you will know what you’re talking about.

  40. Any hardware unit that is visually broken down into its elements in some manner (i.e. Vca, lfo, vco, etc), and has a roughly “one knob per function” interface, so you can work out whats going on. You’ll get far more out of a novation KS than a Mopho, despite the latters true analog glory, if your intent is to learn how these things work. Also, any musician starting out in any field should be packing a good book on basic music/acoustics theory, and a budget condensor microphone (relating music-making to phenomena in the real world around you is, in my opinion, the quickest way to get a handle on it).

  41. I’ve been looking around and have decided to settle on an arturia mini brute. No presets, pure analog. I’ve chosen it because I read an article about the value of learning how to sound design on an analog synth, and it fits the bill nicely as a starting point. From the promo videos with people like Vince Clarke and Adrian Udley that have been done, they are impressed by it, so I figure if the guys who are the original cutting edge of electronic music are saying it’s good, it must be. Having played with one, it is really nice, and it’s all clearly laid out and one dial does one thing, and it comes with overlays so you can get started, and there’s some blank overlays for creating your own sounds. Its also got usb, and cv in/out and midi in/out so you can connect to your computer and control the note from your daw, but its also acts a a convertor for cv/midi. The guy in the shop told me you can put really loud sounds through the cv input, and it will have an effect, and is an alternative to getting other cv stuff (which I truly have no idea about)

    getting a four track sounds like a very interesting idea. That’s tickled my grey matter

    1. By all means, get a 4-track or bigger. The core of electronic music includes a big chunk of multitracking beyond what two hands n’ feet can do alone in real-time. You have to layer at some point to get the great contrasts a synth can generate. I’m sure its daunting when you are totally new; been there. Its simply that taking on even one synth will lead to a demand to layer, mix, effect and polish.

      Therefore, you should think of a synth as the first item in a chain. I really got rolling when I bought my first workstation and learned the highs and lows of orchestrating with it. The ‘Brute is mono, so land a little audio multitrack of some sort. If you just start there, you’ll begin seeing many of the important interactions straight away without being overloaded prematurely.

  42. I would seriously recommend getting a cheap but usable midi controller then downloading & installing Pure Data, from there download so example synth patches then learn to patch your own synths. Pure Data is free and the skills learnt can be applied to both hardware and software synths as essentially patching in PD allows one to learn the principles behind the various methods of synthesis and so you can make truly your own sound. its also open-ended, so you build as complex as you like. There are also many forums on Pure Data as well as workshops to help get people started.

    1. Although I’d agree Pure-Data is really fun for producing electronic sounds I disagree in that I don’t believe it’s anything a beginner should touch. Unless you’re a software-adept individual perhaps with some programming or development experience PD is going to provide a new source of headaches for a new musician. With this in mind a new musician really doesn’t need software to get in their way. Learning to produce music should not equate to learning software or software development.

      The simplest of DAW software should be the goal.

  43. I just thought. You actually need to go an try some for yourself, and have a look at what you’re going to buying and then you’ll get a feel for them. I had a play with a Moog Voyager a while back, and it was lush. £3.5k is a bit out of reach at the moment. It’s something I think we miss out on now cause of the internet, and as much as you can do research, it still pays to get your hands on things, especially for artistic endeavours. Think about this way. You can test drive a car. Same goes for hardware. Go to the shop. Talk to the guy, try it out. You might find you just get a light bulb moment in the shop. Best of luck 🙂

  44. Commodore Amiga 500… At least that’s where I started! 😉
    Restriction makes creative musicians. Start little and learn till you know your equipment and/or software inside out. Then expand (beware though, it’s addictive as f#ck!!!).

  45. Moving from ITB to full hardware may be the wrong move for many, as it isn’t a practical solution for good workflow. Keep it simple and light. I brought one vintage synth, CS-50, then had a stark realisation that if I was all hardware then I wouldn’t be productive. A hell of a lot can be said for a ITB DAW all ready to go in any direction you like, with templates for any day of the week. The best solution appeared to be what I had evolved towards. One or two Computers running into a small mixer off some USB soundcards, but the trick was to have a couple of solid VSTs like DIVA pre-midi mapped to a dedicated midi controller with 16 pots that I got for £70. Then add the odd bit of hardware sound or FX for a bit more solid bite when I like. The 2nd big issue is mobility, do you want to be able to make that sound anywhere and everywhere with a couple of shoulder bags or not. The advantage of having a solid hardware synth held no real advantage other than it may please the ears of 0.5% of the listeners I don’t have! Anyone want a CS-50 for Crimbo?

  46. First we learn how to crawl.
    Then we learn how to stand.
    After that we start to walk.
    Without these first basic skills we will never be able to run.
    With todays technology people want to run as fast as Usain Bolt.
    Then they wonder why they keep tripping and crashing all the time.

  47. For those who can afford it, start with an apple computer, start in GarageBand, than move up to Logic and bigger toys. (That’s what I did.). PC users, start off on another DAW that includes some patches and guitar plugins, learn your way up to bigger internal and external equipment. Once you’ve reached a confident level, than I could reccomend some gear. Cheap, but decent pawnshop guitar should do and a midi keyboard is a must (size depending on what you do and preferably an Alesis) but I’ll always reccomend 88 keys for the octave range.

  48. Any cheap controller package that has keys, pads and knobs that comes bundled with Live 9 into – for example, Akai MPK Mini 25. If this combination doesn’t get you interested in electronic music (for £70/$100) it probably isn’t for you. If you have more money, Live 9 suit and PUSH would be a great introduction; if you don’t want to learn to play a keyboard but want to instantly ‘make music/compose’ this will get you there faster than the conventional route with the pad to key type mapping.

  49. All you meed is an ipad. You can make complex or simple song straight from the ipad.
    Juste the app ” modular ” is golden, with audiobus and beatmaker 2 the infinite is yours

  50. Hardware is dead. Buy any one of a hundredd different software synthesizers and/or digital audio workstation and avoid being trapped with junk that breaks down, needs maintenance, gets quickly out-dated and has little to offer that was not on the shelves over 30 years ago and decreases in value. Try REASON, for example. I uesd to have around $15K invested in a pile of synthesizers. Then with one $400 purchase I got the “holodeck” of electronic music studios: an essentially unlimited number of a growing list of diverse instruments, effects, digital multi-track audio, mixers and other tools. I sold my many old, beloved, vintage synthesizers off (for a profit) and bought acousitic instruments and recording hardware to round out my soundscapes.

    1. In a few years time it’s possible you’ll have to run a legacy version of your operating system in order for Reason to work. I’ll be in my studio with my hardware, that still works, without any configuration.

      1. Yeah, but while you’re still paying installments on your 50 grand, I have spent $1000 now, invested $2000 in weapons and porn (EMI and google), and then in 10 years time will have got back the $1000 I need to get a petabyte of tweakable synth samples installed in my left butt cheek, so I can twerk and make phat sounds, and STILL have the $20000 I need for a beer and peanuts.

        Eat that, hardware lover!

        1. I get the sentiment, but I disagree. My first old hardware workstation is still cranking after I’ve ditched a DAW and 5 soft-instruments. Even your hardware is finite, but it will probably have a longer life than your software. Its a set item and not subject to abrasive upgrades or obsolescence. If you’re smart, you’ll go for both to some degree. Each has drawbacks, but to heck with that; together, they’re a sci-fi powerhouse.

          Try not to judge too harshly. I have zero use for a ukelele, but that kid who did “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on one blew me away with his articulate variations. You never know what or who is going to surprise you and light things up in a whole new way.

  51. The key “electronic music” (well, electronic *dance* music) is the first time you get electronic drums and electronic bass (or arpeggio) going at the same time. What glory! So, to hook the beginner, you really need both. But it still needs to be inexpensive.

    I say, Korg Kaossilator (the little one) because it”s drums and bass and everything else and cheap and fun.

    If that’s too much like a toy (though it’s not, I jam regularly with a guy who does nothing by Kaossilate), pair a cheap midi-capable synth (your Microkorg, perhaps) with a cheap drum machine (Volca Beats?). Then, rock it!


    1. I’ll second your Kaossilator and raise you one Bleep Labs Nebulophone, plus a copy of Karl Coryat’s excellent book, “Guerilla Home Recording”. Then get on with it.

  52. I can’t recommend particular brands because everyone has different tastes, but I do recommend:

    A $500 synth eg. Microkorg, novation bass station 2, microbrute, ms20 mini. The mininova or the volca series.
    A keyboard amp with 2 or more channels so you can plug two synths in. 12 inch speaker is minimum for a decent sound.
    A drum machine of some sort (iPad apps more than suffice, just get a good midi interface like iRig or something.) volca beats is one of the cheapest hardware analog drum machines with some nice expression.
    A zoom r8 to record, or a tascam, or an iPhone four track app, or garage band. (If you go the PC route you need a sound input device m-box or edirol, or something.)
    A sequencer. I’ve yet to find my dream sequencer, but again there’s ipad apps, or there’s korg electribes, or Yamaha QY-100 (cheap option!)

    Add some cables, a power board and a microphone and you have lots to get going with!

  53. OP-1. It´s not cheap but it is totally worth it and it is actually great value for it´s price I think. It is inspiring and has a good sound. And you get all you want (“synths”, drums, 4 track, effects) in one box. Great build quality (imo) and it is super portable with a very good battery. It´s the best thing I have ever spent money on. Also, there is a great community over at Check out the battles to see what is possible to do using just the OP-1.

    1. While I never really got “into” my OP-1, it really is one box to get started with. Drums, many synth engines, sequencers, effects, recording and “outside the box” user tweaks. I eventually sold mine and bought a bass station II, which fit into my studio much better. No regrets other than the fact that I couldn’t find a place for the OP-1 in my work. But, back on track here, I’d recommend the Volcas, for the shear bang for your buck. start with the beats and the keys (since it can also do bass). Then again, don’t get a keys, since I want one!

    2. I’d agree that the OP-1 is fun. It’s synthesizers really don’t follow any conventional models. Learning the OP-1 is like learning about a whole enclosed world in itself. What the OP-1 IS good for is teaching about multi-tracking. The tape recorder function is very much like having an old four track tape recorder except you don’t have to manually cut and splice tape.

  54. Most of my music is made on laptops. I figured I’d get more for my money and all that “warmth” I’m missing can be added during mixdown and mastering. If your not gun-ho on a complete analog set-up, I’d say one option is to get an iPad. You can pick up a previous generation for a good price and there are plenty of analog synth apps that well, at the very least, give you a basic understanding of sound design. Plus you have alot of calssic synths that are available on the ipad (Ims20, Ipolysix, Imini) that would cost a lot of money if you wanted to procure the real thing.

    Combine the ipad with a Volca Beats (or any drum maschine), a qnexus, and a 4 channel USB audio interface and I’d say you got yourself a nice production set-up.

    Take a look at Rheyne. He uses a mixture of analog synths, IPads and ableton and creates some amazing music on the fly!

    While i like the Brute series as well as this resurgence of analog synths, these devices seem to be additions to an existing set-up rather then being your main rig.

  55. .a GOOD computer
    .a cool DAW as ableton,reason,qbase,logic,protools,sensomusic,reaper,bitwig,renoise,….
    .a hardware little synth,clavia,waldorf,access,akai,kawai,linn,Dsi,moog,…..
    .a simple low cost soundcard or a very expensive.
    .a pair of GOOD MONITORS (genelec,dyn audio)
    .audio,usb,MIDI cables

    Anyway music is a vortex for the money.
    You can also do it with a knife and some vegetables, flute in a carrot sounds charming in the street.
    Get out of your bedroom…nerdz.

  56. It’s a matter of budget… And for anyone starting *today*, the ITB solution is the most affordable (iPad is probably one of them).

    Otherwise, I’d start with a computer and a DAW+Control Surface (LPX+Maschine Studio or Ableton Live+Push or Cubase+MPC Renaissance, etc… something like that with a sound card), then add an analog or virtual analog keyboard (DSI Prophet 12 or Virus TI or Nord Lead 4 for the big guys… or MiniBrute, Mopho, Novation for the little ones) to use it as master keyboard and “analog-ish” sounds to tweak.

    But even before all of that, invest in some “Music Lessons”… not necessary “piano lessons”, but at least some lessons to know a little bit what it is about, know your gear, have some harmony and melody knowledges. Find yourself a teacher, even if it’s online or whatever. And anyone telling you that you can’t make good music if you don’t have this or that, it’s just a bad teacher because today we can do good music with virtually anything we can get our hands on (both hardware, software, analog, virtual analog, new, old, whatever…).

    Buying gear won’t never make anyone any good at making music… practicing and learning will. And knowing your gear is part of it and will save you a lot of money (avoiding to buy and resell something you don’t need, or keeping on dreaming about a gear while your current one can perfectly do the job if you’d just learn it).

  57. I recently got interested in making electronic music about a year or two ago and had this same dilemma. After picking up a Roland Alpha Juno and struggling with the menu diving (and weird envelope,for a noob), I picked up a Minibrute cheap for about $350. Having the one knob per function really made everything click. Add the fact that it can integrate with both older (CV\Gate) and modern (MIDI) systems, and I feel like its a great beginner synth. I have no experience with the BS2 but that seems like another good beginner synth with a lot of flexiblity.

    1. Hold onto your Juno. Its a killer in-between synth that I found useful in numerous places I hadn’t expected. If its the Juno-1, it doesn’t have velocity sensing where the Juno-2 does, but it will respond to it. Its a drawback, but not catastrophic. The MiniBrute is a good starter synth, but with the Juno, you’re already a hybrid analog/digital player. Milk them both for their differences. Put cartoon stickers on your Juno. It extends the display life.

      1. Absolutely – the different timbres and mono\poly differences between the Minibrute and the Juno, I’ve come to really appreciate it. Also, the Juno is very square wave\pulse width focused, where the Minibrute doesn’t really nail the square sound – they are great companions, and good low cost way to have both a knobby monosynth and the classic Juno pads (OK, not as warm as the other Juno’s, but still pretty good). I paid about $550 all together for both – not a bad way to start into electronic music.

  58. In this day and age. Get a computer (and an audio card and headphones) and start clicking away.
    I like most of my peers started with really old hardware synthesizers and 4-track portastudios, but it makes no sense to start there 2013.
    Even though a love my pile of synths and samplers, I rarely use them, unless it is for a project aiming to reproduce something.

    I would start with a free DAW and some free VST/AU/..-synths. Try a bunch of demo SW synths, for instance Sylenth1 and tweak away. Find our favorite.

  59. Four decades ago, addicted to the electronic music of JMJ, Tomita, John Foxx etc., etc., I splashed out what little money I had on a synthesizer. It was great! Over the years I collected bunches of the things, sold ’em again, regretted it, bought some more and so on. Anyway, point being, whilst I had a ton of fun, I *should* have gone off and learned some music theory. That would have helped immensely. Now, some years down the road, with the wisdom that only hindsight can bring I realize that if I’d made the effort to learn about music it wouldn’t have taken me this long to be able to compose the stuff that I really want to – with my synths.

    You DON’T have to be a flashy keyboard whizz – although it’ll help. The *theory* is the big thing. And the synths. 🙂

    I’m going to add that even though I didn’t know diddly about music in those days, some of the stuff I did with a Wasp & Spider, a Boss DR-55, a Roland SH-2 and a Casio MT-31 was more innovative than the stuff I’m doing now. The big lesson I’ve taken away from this is that limitation is the most creative thing. It forces you to *think* and try stuff – to push the envelope, if you like. I know plenty of people who have uberloads of synths (hardware and/or software) but have never written or played a *melody*. Neither have they explored beyond the presets, and that’s a shame.

    Anyway that’s a lot more than my ten cents so I’m going to wrap by saying: Access Virus TI (whichever model, secondhand if necessary), Cubase and an Arturia Microbrute. I think this would be a good starting point from which to build. You’d have an excellent VA synth which will act as your audio I/O as well and you have your first analogue monosynth to fart about with. The rest, as they say, is up to you… . . . 🙂

  60. “I would seriously recommend getting a cheap but usable midi controller then downloading & installing Pure Data”

    Try to fathom the basics of different sound synthesis paradigms and design your own stuff on cheap and versatile tools (I’m assuming you have a decent computer).

    Stay away from headphones and get a decent pair of monitors. For the rest stay cheap and full software until you’re so experienced that you can really hear the difference and decide hardware is worth the $.

    “Harmony, melody, counterpoint techniques are useless tools in regard to electronic music composition.”
    Never, ever, listen to anybody claiming that knowledge (in any field) is overrated ! Modern music theory is comprehensive of any kind of music, electronic or not … I don’t mean you must get a phd to start having fun, but you will never waste your time on knowledge.

    Get a sequencer … and practice your keyboard skills ’till you don’t need quantization too much

    My 2cents.

  61. First you need is= Time
    DAW: Reaper = Professional and cheep.
    Sound card = with firewire
    Monitors= a pair of good ones (around 1000€) and a pair of normal to compare
    Room with acoustical treatment so that your speakers speak their money (Equilize them)

    dont make music with Mac or PC, just record it there.
    take a Hardware Synth or other instrument and move your body!!! not your mouse!!!
    thats all, the rest you ‘ll find your sellf and it should be your way there!!!
    good luck!

  62. Well some people will tell to get analogue gear or even better they will suck in their pointless arguments between analogue and digital. Use both. The best equipment for a beginner would be The best sound card your money can get and the best speakers your money can get i have a preference for motu or focusrite regarding a decent budget and you get decent quality. When comes to speakers genelec is my weapon of choice but i had another 4 pairs from other brands before i managed to get the money or understand the need for better speakers. Anyways the instruments you will need shall be a result of your own research start with plug ins it’s a great way of understanding the language behind sequencing, synthesis, sampling etc. if you managed to understand this concepts i recommend a few moogerfoogers and virus ti and if u can afford get a analogue machine. Drum sequencer either from elektron or maschine are really good depending on your line of thought. My last advice would be get the basics collection books by Paul white they are simply the best tools for any beginner and they are really cheap in second hand stores such as ebay or amazon. Anyways whatever you do dont became a analogue versus digital blogers that contributes nothing for your own development

  63. Powered speakers, a microphone, a mixer, two reel-to-reel tape decks (or a reel and a cassette deck) and maybe a Minibrute or BassStation. Old school…you will learn.

  64. Start out by going for free stuff…

    Vsthost the best vsthost capable of running 20 or more vst’s at the same time without buffering.
    A good free vst sequencer. from gersic to run the synths
    then download shed loads of vst’s to play with. synths/effects/reverb.
    A drum synth like cubix. also from gersic.
    Then record and mix them realtime. no piano roll. as vsthost is able to record.
    Them import wav into Audacity. a free digital audio editor.
    and add some vocals and other tracks record live.
    Then download free video jockey software and make a music video for utube.

  65. Oh I forgot and then run it all on a laptop. at least an intel i3.
    Then buy a clone sure 58 , s580 from studiospares for £20.
    a mic stand pop shield and cable from maplins £15.
    and a usb audio interface … for example Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface. £115.
    so you may end up spending £150 quid.
    job done.

  66. can’t recommend Elektron products enough. Octatrack and some affordable analog synths is a powerful, deep and fun setup. If you have the dough, you could get Analog Four and OT and you’d have nice little setup with wicked sounds, sequencer and you could easily build it more from there… Learning Elektrons is intuitive and rewarding, the OS gets updated
    regularly and if you run into some problems you can always contact the HQ or talk in the Elektronauts forum.

  67. I’ve found that the only ‘cheap’ way create a setup is to print up & read every manual of every piece of gear you are interested in. Treat it as coffee table book. Wait 6 months for the initial gear lust to simmer

    1. Oh, I forgot to mention I’ve read probably around 150 manuals this year and not a single book (Every machine has it’s quirk which might make it fit for your setup but not for this or that guy’s. & when you are monetarily invested get ready to break out some Excel style comparison shopping. Many lesser of two evils.

  68. The real question is what do you mean in actual dollars or equivalent currency by:

    ‘I don’t have a lot of money to drop initially and will probably piece it all together over time.’

    Without a budget in place there is no way to determine how the money is best spent. One person’s idea of “affordable” is most likely going to be different than someone else.

  69. A set of the Korg volca’s beats,bass and keys for $450 or less you’ll have quite a few of the bases covered ..Easy to use ,sync with one another and built in sequencer and all analog..

  70. You probably have a running computer.

    Renoise – $58 (11/10 stars in linux magazine a while back)
    A small controller keyboard (preferably with a nice bundle, like the Arturia minilab) – <$99
    A set of good nearfield monitors, like the Equator D5 – $400 (Nothing compares to these in this pricerange. This is arguably the most important gear in the studio setup)
    A decent soundcard – $150 (Scarletts are great)
    The Volca series for your analogue palette. – $300
    And maybe a small mixer and a multiFX unit, second hand.

  71. So many terrible, closedminded answers in this thread, but in part I blame it on the open-ended nature of the question, which doesn’t indicate a budget.

    These days you can do so much with iOS Garageband and a controller keyboard, followed by some inexpensive-but-awseome Audiobus-compatible apps. With the new a7-chip-powered iPad Air and iPad mini starting at $400, you could make a terrific iPad-based home recording setup for under $600.

    Throw in a $99/year (Xmas Special) for unlimited access to Groove3 instructional videos, and a beginner has a lot of useful, fun tools at his disposal for learning and making real music.

    If a beginner has a decent home computer setup and a LOW budget then I’d suggest something like Reaper/StudioOne plus some free VSTs and a controller keyboard. A little more money and I’d recommend Ableton (20% off right now, $300), a good 49 or 61 key controller keyboard ($150-$350), and maybe DCAM: Synth Squad ($99 right now). If the beginner is into beats, consider Arturia’s SparkLE for $250.

    My suggestions would be different if someone wanted to play live, but for an absolute beginner an iPad + synths/drums + keyboard (plus instructional videos) would be a fantastic way to start.

  72. Work with what you already have. A PC(mac,ipad, linux distro), headphones and some freeware are enough to get started. Add a cheap midi keyboard to aid workflow and you can be up and running in no time. Its easier and cheaper to start ITB until you work out what you want/need.
    Read a lot, there are plenty of guides/interviews etc. all over the web.
    Build up what you have slowly, and don’t buy equipment because it looks cool or so and so uses it, buy it because it improves your workflow/creativity. I’ve seen people buy midi controllers with faders,encoders and pads on them but only ever use the keys to play in notes.
    Good monitors are an important buy, take the time to research them, most good stockists will let you A/B some in the show room.
    The same goes for an audio interface, do you only need a single input or are you going to need more very early on. Yeah that MOTU 24 i/o might look great but will you ever actually use all 24 ins at the same time.
    Also think about the longevity/usability of your gear. I brought an 8 channel mixer with USB out so I could not only use it as an 8 channel audio interface when writing/ recording but also as a live mixer( Kaossilator, DSl, Laptop all run into that then I send the main out to the PA, monitor out to onstage monitors) .
    Hardware wise there are tons of small low cost synths like the kaossilators, volcas, monotrons etc. so buy one of those first integrate it into what you have and see how your workflow changes, before splashing out on a moog you may only ever use for messing about on.
    Vocal wise again do your research first. Rode and SE both do low cost studio mic packs. A dynamic like a shure SM58 or one of the hundred similar a great live but might not be what you need in the studio the studiospares own brand mics are all great low budget starting points.
    trawl through Sound on Sound, Music Tech and Computer Music mags/websites, they all have great reviews and tutorials. The Boy in a Band website has some good electronic music tutorials, though they are designed for Reason its relatively easy to translate them to other DAW and trying to figure out how to get the same sound in another DAW will help loads in developing your skills.
    You can get trial versions of most DAW so spend a few days playing with each until you find the one that feels the most comfortable for your style of working, then stick with that one until you can use it well( I spent 2 years using Logic at work before I was comfortable with getting it for writing at home, and I still find myself switching to Reaper or Cubase for certain jobs)

  73. Personally if someone ist interested in Synth I would recommend a Synth with a broad variety of sound output AND a good graphical representation. As I started on the iPad finally I found a good synth to learn stuff. My personal favourites on iPad are Thor and Nave. Nave has a real nice display and shows you on the filters page how the signal is modified. A good Sampler to play around with custom sound. I like Samplr and SampleWiz a Looper or DAW. But actually to prototype I think loopers are a good first shot. An don’t forget to grab some keyboard! It’ll help you understand some common model of how music works. I think keyboard actually is a good first try. From my point of view go and grab a full sized keyboard (88 keys, but not less than 61). Indeed to get to know music and play around i think either a synth of choice (I prefer polyphonic as it has more choice to play around with) or a plain keyboard will do

  74. Staying on topic, I always tell people the same: Don’t worry about the “right” or “best” thing to buy. Just buy what excites you, buy what you really WANT. That way you’ll possess something you love and you’ll want to spend time with it. Also, your music will be unique; there are too many people that buy a DAW, the same softsynths and a midi controller.

  75. I have been thinking about getting into some synth stuf I’ve got a $200>budget so I though I would get the novation launch key controller (25 not the mini). It comes with Ableton Live Lite and two novation synth plug-ins. Any suggestions?

    1. i’ll say u’d just get a midi keyboard, an audio card and a midi controller like a apc40… the software you can get it for free online via torrents, you can find synths/sample libraries + a bunch of stuff… and if you like something more physical then maybe start getting a korg microkorg or an alesis micron

        1. Not even stealing, trying out for free before investing in copyright owners (as the developpers themselves are often paid like sh*t, all the money goes to the same people…)
          Is not paying thieves equal to stealing ???

      1. There’s tons of free effects, virtual instruments and sample libraries out there and some are amazing. You don’t even need to jack stuff from torrents.

    2. $200 – assuming you have a Windows PC – Start out with Mixcraft DAW for $50. It includes MiniMogue (Minimoog clone) and Messiah (Prophet 5 clone) and more. Add a M-Audio Oxygen 49 midi controller keyboard for about $120.00. For your last $30, get a USB cable for the Midi controller and a set of inexpensive computer speakers. You can supplement with tons of PC software synthesizers for free or very cheap. Some of them are quite good. Check out’s “one synth challenge” that they run every month, readers submit their audio compositions made entirely with one (often free) software synth. The results are amazing.

      If you don’t have any experience with playing the keyboard, or if you are open to adjusting to smaller keys, get Korg’s Microkey61 which comes bundled with Korg’s Legacy Collection software for $179.99. I can’t praise the Legacy Collection enough. The Mono/Poly is my favorite virtual analog synth. The Microkey61/Legacy Collection would also be a great option if you have a Mac. Speaking of the Mac, if you have a Mac and a midi controller, buying Logic for $199 is slam dunk your best bargain.

  76. I, personally, think you should think long and hard about if you really want hardware and shy away from the software synth approach. There is a really big world out there and the soft synths that emulate analog synths are fantastic.

    I’d recommend an inexpensive Midi keyboard, like an Axiom 25, and then look into something like Monarch from Native Instruments. You can learn all about how to use a analog synth with something like that,

    Does anyone know if Audacity supports VSTs?

  77. IMO controller like launchpad is not a smart option if you are starting a home studio (not a project for playing live!), ’cause it actually don’t produse any sound obviously. In terms of saving money, well, you can simply spend more time manually tweaking your DAW via mouse and keyboard. If I would start a cheap analogue-ish project from a scratch, I would buy:
    • a simple soundcard with a midi interface, like one of focusrite scarletts,
    • few or even one of those new cheap analogue monosynts, like korg volcas (shure, they’re not pretty comfortable in terms of playing, but meh, you can always simply paint your scores in piano roll — we’re saving money, not time, right?)
    • cheap and old, but good microphone, maybe even something exotic like russian condenser Oktava mikes. Even if you don’t sing or play anything physical, sometimes you can just find yourself in desperate need of a sound of your door bell for a song, or whatever.
    • good earphones, and a friend with monitoring PA at home to do a control hearing every sunday (last one — priceless)
    • last, but not least, a DAW. A tip from an old pirate: try some, find best suiting, make some great stuff with it and only then buy it with a peaceful soul.

  78. I would start with a piano first, and learn theory. Why? I feel that most electronic music today lacks advance chords and scales. After he/she has learn enough theory to write songs(and read sheet music) he or she should get a hardwarte keyboard. I started on a Nord Lead 2x and loved it. However, not everone can afford one, so something like a venom would be perfect for he/she. When the person gets his synth, they should also have some sort of book dedicated to understanding how synthesis works. Then after that, look into getting a drum kit.

    1. I completely agree. Take 120$ and pay for a music theory class because you can write on sheet music for free. Finale songwriter would be good for that too. It allows to convert its music to midi and vice versa.

      My progression of equipment:

      Axiom 49 pro
      Audio Interface saffire 40
      Crumar Bit 99 (inherited from my dad)
      Alesia qs8.1 (same as bit 99)
      Ableton live (they offer student discounts)
      Apc20 (Xmas present)
      Audio technica microphone(Xmas present)
      Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate(that was this thanksgiving,50% off)

      If you have a Mac, get logic. 200$ you get 70gb+ sounds bunch of synths and it’s cheap.

      Check and see if the products offer student discounts. If they do, register at a community college, and show that your enrolled.

      Don’t steal software, you’ll end up getting viruses and other things you don’t want.

  79. I think a synthesizer like the Arturia MiniBrute will likely be a good starting point for lots of people. Because that synth doesn’t have menus but has all parameters direct accessible. Besides that you can connect lots of other gear to it. The Arturia MicroBrute is cheaper, has a sequencer but has less knobs.

  80. If you REALLY want to learn about electronic music, I’d start with analog hardware. Sure software is cheaper, but nothing can beat proper analog synthersizers. Nor do you have to spend thousands on vintage analog gear. I’d look at something like the Arturia Mini (or Micro) Brute or the Korg MS-20 Mini as a good starter synth, and perhaps something like the Volcas or a Kaossilator Pro. In terms of DAW, I’d pick Abelton Live, and get either a Novation Launchpad S or Push. Depends how much money you have. A good audio interface, decent monitor speakers, and you are done.

    1. Analog synths certainly have their strong points, but they are absolutely not required for “really learning” about electronic music. Entire genres were built around samplers with little to no synthesizers involved.

    2. Love analog, but many can’t afford a complete analog rig starting out, so other options may make more sense for starter kit. How about a used Electribe EM1?

  81. Just like with any musical instrument, find one that makes sounds you love. I started by listening to many analog & soft synths. Some I didn’t like at all, some I liked a bit. I picked one that made sounds which always made me feel good (for me, Dave Smith Evolver). Its easier to learn music when you love the instrument!

  82. There is surely nothing wrong in software instruments. Search for free plugins that you can use with all kinds of entry level “DAW” applications. Or get started with some free or rather cheap iOS applications.

    Music theory (playing the piano or guitar) is definitely a good thing to know, but not necessarily the must-be starting point. I got my 6-year-old niece to play with Propellerheads Figure on my iPad, and she always comes back to it – even though she has not been otherwise actively exposed to making music yet. It doesn’t teach you how synthesis works, but it gives you a great feel for beats, rhythms, harmonies and sounds.

    Best advice I could give: Do *not* spend a lot of money on gear or software at all, when you’re just getting started. There is so much legal (!) free stuff out there – in fact even GarageBand comes with quite some depth in functionality and options just with your new Mac or iWhatever. And then try as much different things as possible to get an idea of which workflow works best for you. All DAWs these days can do almost everything, but they’ve all got slightly different approaches that can easily turn you off from or on to it.

  83. Electronic music. How to go about getting started. How did people do it in the past? How does this relate to what I want to do? Hmmm….

    I would break it down into 2 areas:

    – Manipulation of existing/natural sounds

    – Manipulation of synthetic sounds

    Old school way of manipulating existing sounds was a reel to reel tape recorder with an editing block, wax pencil and a razor blade. Record parts, duplicate them, speed them up, slow them down, play them backwards, loop them…

    Old school way of manipulating synthetic sounds was to get electronic test equipment and wire it up and use it in ways it wasn’t originally intended. Feed this into recording and continue with tape manipulation back into test equipment circuits (a.k.a. Filters, Amps, etc…). This eventually led into modular analog synthesizer designs which later performance oriented synths came from.

    Originally these were the Musique Concrete vs Elektronische Musik concepts. At first separate, they merged eventually. Originally you either had to have some kind of grant or permission from a government agency or university research facillity to experiment with these ideas (e.g. Pierre Henry or Karlheinz Stockhausen) or you had to invest a lot of money to make it happen (e.g. Raymond Scott).

    So eventually all of this stuff to create manipulated or synthetic sound became commercialized and available to the public for cheaper and cheaper prices. Then it went from being all analog to mostly digital with analog refusing to die.

    Now is the golden age of electronic music. It is so easy to gather the tools needed to create any sound you want. John Cage predicted this in 1937 when he said: “I believe that the use of noise to make music will continue and increase until we reach a music produced through the use of electrical instruments which will make available for musical purposes any and all sounds that can be heard. Photoelectric, film and mechanical mediums for the synthetic production of music will be explored.”
    “The Future of Music: Credo” (1937)

    We have come so far since then. As for tools to start with – get a noise maker of some sort, get something to record and manipulate it and other sounds with and learn how to use them. It doesn’t matter if it is old school analog, or an app on a phone or something in between. Those things are down to personal approach and style. What does matter is the intentions behind using them and the execution of these ideas. Make the music you want to make with the tools that you choose based on how you would like to work. There is no correct answer except to get started with something electronic to make sounds and create music.

      1. Oh, there are plenty of good cheap options. I would be just giving away my personal bias in equipment. Also:


        heh heh (waiting for the app happy thumbs down)

        1. no i wont thumb you down, hardware definitly rules !

          i just didnt get that its a specific case we where talking about, so i just read “what would you recommend…” without the fact he explicitly wants to buy hardware.

          for me personally i dont even use a daw when making music, also i currently build a drummachine with arduino and tr808 clones, i LOVE hardeware.

          ok then i would say buy an elektron octatrack or md as midi host/seq, all korg volcas and dt990 or small yamahas if you prefer monitors that should set you around 2k which is “ok”

          a waldorf blofeld is a nice cheap synth too that covers the digital sounds that analog gear isnt capable

          also instead of recording and investing in computer hardware i would rather jam, be you own audience and get a workflow long before starting to actually produce.

  84. buy an ipad and some softsynths and THEN decide which hardware to buy

    dont forget, its about starting with electronic music, tell someone that starts with electronic music to buy a minibrute is somewhat strange to me

    what about the drums then ? how record it ?

    if you wanna start something start simple

    1. ok i got it wrong, i thought it was a general question how to start electronic music from zero

      in this specific case i would say:

      if you dont plan to use a computer as midi-clock host, buy an elektron octatrack or machinedrum as patternbased midi host

      then buy all cheap analog gear until your budgets empty like the volcas, i would go for versatility

      i wouldnt invest in a 1k monosynth if you dont know yet that this is what you need

      even if it sounds right because everyone loves monosynths.
      maybe the blofeld or an old yamaha fm is the right tool for you, but by spending all years budget on a single device you will hold yourself back from following your instincts and trying different tools.

      definitly buy a monosynth, but take a volca, or a midimodded monotribe, and rather buy a moogerfooger for the price difference

      also, even if you dont plan to build a modular, consider a eurorack, they offer a whole new parallel world of hardware, and if you are searching for specific stuff its easier to get it and its cheaper in a long run.

  85. Did anyone read the statement:

    “Some years ago I was pretty involved with software-based DAW production and a little MIDI. I’ll likely go back to DAW at some point but I really want to try going more hardware based for a while.”

    So why suggest computers, softsynths and DAW’s when that’s not what he’s looking for? He could learn a lot with a Minibrute or a BassStaition and a way to record it. To some form of tape would be nice.

    1. I’d take a look at Mutable Instrument’s Shruthi-1, Ambika and Anushri, the Meeblip and the Sonic Potions LXR, maybe the x0xb0x also… They’re cheap, inovative, and totally hardware… But DIY.
      You should easily find someone to build them for you though, the communities around these projects are very friendly and mature.

    2. I suggested a MiniBrute because that’s to buy brand nes in lots of shops. There are however lots of 2-nd hand synths. A usefull but maybe underrated synth is for example the Yamaha AN-1x. It’s not that expensive but has a simple user interface and maybe most important sounds good.

    i would have to say the very best way to start is on ur computer. i reccomend some m-audio studio monitor speakers(around $150) over studio monitor headphones to get a better representation of the sound, a $50 dollar used audiocard,an acorn masterkey 49(incredible price),and of course your daw,fl studio which is 200 for the producer edition. i just successfully made a $500 electro home studio 😀 thank u,thank u(bows down lolz)i would look around for free sounds and free vsti’s too. its offered all over the net. fl studio is actually a good daw. i dont like the sounds on it tbh but thats just me. then u can start looking at krk studio monitors,ableton,and analog gear but u dont necessarily HAVE to have the best gear available to make good music. im barely about to get my first analog synth(been thinkin bout moog slim phatty or korg ms20 mini)and i feel like i make pretty good stuff. remember to take care of ur ears and start making a concious effort to listen(not hear)sounds. peace out synthtopia begginners lol.

  87. SH-101, JX-3P and a TR-707. About 2g’s (you can maybe do it for less) and you have a midiless setup that is fun to use and won’t have you looking at your laptop after work.

  88. A proper DAW that has a workflow that you find intuitive. If nothing else this allows you to buy rackmount gear to send MIDI signals to. I find that rackmount gear is usually a little (or a lot) less expensive than their keyed bretheren. If you plan to play Live at all: Use Ableton live, and a Novation Launchpad to launch clips, if you’re really into keyboards, Novation SL MKII series is a good choice.

    If you plan to use it in a purely studio setup, there are a few more options, but I’m leaning toward CuBase.

    Play with some softsynths, there are some really great ones (some that are inexpensive, or even free). I know, it’s not as glamorous as large bulky analogue gear, but on a shoestring budget, you gotta do what you gotta do [The Arturia V collection looks promising as far as softsynths go]).

    A nice audio interface is absolutely required, as well as decent monitors – there are a lot of really great options here, too. Personally, I’ve been eyeing the NI Komplete interface, but Akai, and Focusrite look nice… if you have firewire on your computer, buy the focusrite saffire, and you’ll thank yourself later. A MIDI interface is also nice to have for when you start to expand your rig, I’ve been hearing good things about MOTU. A multi-channel mixer is also nice to have.

    As far as actual hardware synthesizers: Korg MS2000 series (R, B, BR) have great sonic capabilities, and can be had for relatively inexpensive. They’re VA synths, and have plenty of tactile controls. To this day, it has been the single most satisfying purchase of my entire carer as an amateur producer. Also, the Korg Electribes seem nice (I’ve been fawning over them for a while now, but I can’t afford them at the time because I’m too busy buying all of the other bits and pieces that I need).

    It’s hard to recommend inexpensive gear that is analogue by definition, since the market value has increased since I started looking at gear a few years ago. The MS20 mini is a budget option, but you may need to buy a MIDI-to-CV converter to use it with software – these can be had for relatively inexpensively from many Eurorack-format modular suppliers (speaking of which, on a shoestring budget, you could easily start to construct a simple modular system that can be added to indefinitely into the future). a pre-assembled x0xb0x kit is another budget option as well.

    If you can’t afford drum machines, download sample packs… there are plenty of websites where people record their drum machines at high bitrates and put a neatly zipped folder online free for anyone to use (just google the name of your favourite drum machine plus “sample pack” and you should find something [i.e. “Visco Space Drum Sample Pack.”]).

    And this last bit seems like a “no brainer,” but you’d be surprised at how many people I know who competed a setup only to find that they didn’t have enough outlets to power everything they were using, and had to cycle bits in and out of their setup to complete a project. Buy a decent power strip. Something that you can plug more than 2 wall-wart adapters into. I have a really nice one that has “sideways plugs” if that makes sense.

    Basically – start with software – it’s cheap, relatively stable and reliable, plus it has patch memory. As you become comfortable with the findamentals of synthesis, and know what sounds you like, find machines with sonic capabilities that you desire, if they can be had inexpensively, buy them. If not, look for eurorack format clones of the parts of the synth that make it special (there are hundreds of clones of notable synth parts, and even some more obscure ones too, and more are being developed each day – so if it doesn’t exist now, it may in the future.)

  89. If you want to start composing on a budget but want to get good results that can also be taken into another studio that can translate your midi data then I would get a mac book air or a pro depends on your budget, or if you are a Microsoft windows person get one of those cheap Asus machines, however Mac is a superior computer that won’t let you down like Windows. The next thing I would recommend is Propellerhead Reason. Reason has a great way to work with midi, has a ton of great synths and drum machines. you can make trance, house, progressive, dub step, hip hop, new age music. And reason is a all in one interface so that means no worries about VST not working or crashing with updates between two separate manufactures. Also the synths, drum machines and interface is easy to use and doesn’t take lone to figure out what goes where. Only if you feel more confident about make electronic music would i then go with Native Instruments Maschine and some of the Native Instruments Komplete synths and effects. Maschine is also easy to use but can take a bit of time to understand how to use the interface without getting lost. As for a DAW don’t wast you time as most of all DAW are all the same their sole purpose is for you to mix the tracks together with smooth automation technics any DAW can do that. Even better just bounce your tracks out of Maschine or Reason take them to a pro studio and finish your track off with a professional and save you self the headache of trying to get that studio perfect sound. Most studios are 20 to 30 dollars an hour if you record your tracks tight and correct you could be finished in the pro studio in less time it would cost to buy a DAW and all the other fancy compressors it takes to get a pro sound.

  90. 1st: buy a decent audio interface and monitors (headphones).
    You may have the best synths in the world, if you can hear them properly.
    True story: after releasing my first album, I listen it on a very good sound system. The effect was the next one: I threw away my monitors, cables and bought something decent. The album? I had to start again almost from scratch…
    2nd: buy a midi controller and try some free vst. If you don’t want to discover later that a synth is not suitable for your musical genre after you spent a lot of money, you can decide later, after you get some experience.
    3rd: make music whatever your budget is. Feed your passion, not your ego! Don’t buy expensive gear just because you must follow the trend. I am always saying: a synth (equipment) will speak to you and you’ll know that is yours.

  91. I see a lot of opinions here. I agree with that starting out with software synths is probably the best for newbies. You don’t have to route the audio or MIDI with a software synth channel. You need a MIDI controller (I prefer Novation or CME) and a pair of headphones (KRK KNS8000 are flat and balanced) at the very least just to get started. I’d recommend starting out with GForce Oddity, impOSCar2, Korg Legacy, and Arturia plugins. Battery or Machine for percussion. If you have a PC, go with Ableton Live or Cakewalk Sonar. If you have a Mac, Logic or Live. If you want to step up into the hardware realm, you need a good audio interface (Apogee One/Duet/Ensemble or RME Fireface).

    As far as hardware synths, I’d recommend starting out with a vintage analog polysynth such as a Roland Juno 106 with all the controls laid out on the surface of the keyboard. Menu-diving is no fun and counter-intuitive. If you can afford one, I’d recommend a Dave Smith Mopho or Novation BassStation 2 (over Arturia MiniBrutes and Korg MS20’s because of the patch storage capability). If you have a little bit more, I’d recommend buying a Studio Electronics SE-1X rack from Ebay for about 800 bucks or Moog Lil Phatty. It’s important for a newbie to learn a standard subtractive synthesis signal flow.

  92. iPad is the key for me… Modulus + iMS20 will get you a solid grasp of analog principals. Plethora of controller apps means you also have a flexible control surface for ANY DAW (TouchOSC etc). Once you’ve grasped the principals and a workflow, progress to hardware analog / modular and use your DAW + iPad alongside in harmony.

  93. I’d say to use the software for a little while longer until you can afford something that really intrigues you. If the budget is small and you want a Virus TI2 or a Voyager… save up. Gear lust is powerful bro. Get what you always wanted the first time, or you might end up spending much more in the long run. Learn from my mistake.

  94. It really depends on your budget. There are many aspects to consider such as live playability and versatility, how you are going to reproduce and mix the sounds, the list goes on. A basic home production suite would feature a main software title like Ableton or Reason,a USB interface with multiple inputs for hardware in out midi etc.a decent set of powered monitor speakers and a playing surface. You need to consider what you are going to be playing/writing. If you are going to compose piano parts of any sort then you will need at least 61 keys. For Analogue synth gear consider some of the less popular options, Novation Xio, XStation, Alesia micron/ miniak, micro korg etc. all but the Xio have midi in for sequencing. If you want a larger board with an analogue knob Fest then look to Korg MS2000, radius they also have on board vocoders and audio in signal modification! For analogue with performance aspect and 61 keys you can’t go past Yamaha AN1X. There are many better known VA’s but stay away from Roland JP’s unless you know that have the key bed upgraded, they sound great and are very flexible but suffer from many inherent design failures. Are you going to be using live drums or sequenced drums? For a drum machine for studio fall back on the software as there are limitless sound sets you can access. For live you need a drum machine that has a good overall set of sounds and can be programmed easily. You can’t go past the Electribes for that acid synthetic feel, or the MPC’s for sample based. This is all assuming of course that you are looking to a second hand budget. If you can spend more then you can start looking at Nords, King Korg etc. Most electronic music features analogue sounds but is tempered with some good old fashioned realistic sounds, pianos, organs, brass etc. you will need these sounds in your arsenal as we’ll if you are performing live.

  95. get ableton live, an affordable controller for keys and maybe some drum pads, and a groove box like the Korg EMX-1…
    Freak out and save money for the other gear you’re eventually going to want to enhance/replace your little starter kit (which is bound to be quite powerful and capable of unleashing your creative power as well as teach you the ins and outs of all kinds of synthesis)…
    A few tools are all you need to get started…
    Loads of free and fun VST’s at loads of sites…
    just do it.

  96. Hey, when touring the sounds are all personal. I read the question., Start with this.

    1. Get a synth with an on board sequencer, new or old, budget decides.
    2. A set of cans.


    As you go on, you can add more synths, DAW, modules, controllers, mics..etc..

  97. 1. Reason
    2. Solid Headphones
    3. Midi Keys
    Perfect beginner set up. Reasons modules are set up perfectly for learning how to program synths and effects. Its in all in one package that doesn’t require extra plug ins to really get going. Its how i started before I moved to ableton. Still use it all the time.

  98. Cool thread. I’m considering to upgrade my entry level gear: I’ve started with a PC, korg nanokey, Reason and Live with some good VSTs like the Modular V and MS-20.

    Now that I understand the fundamentals I would like to go a step further and get some stuff to play live at small venues. I like the modular approach, and I want to get the “tactile” feeling that playing an instrument knobs instead of clicking a mouse but the only analog mono I can afford is the MS-20 mini, and then save money for a year or so to buy something else. And by doing that I would loose all the other synths that I would never be able to buy like a Moog or a Mono-Poly. Besides that the MS-20 mini doesn’t have a sequencer…

    Should I invest in a good midi controller and keep using VSTs? Are there any real bands that play live with gear like that?

    Another option would be save money for another year and buy a King Korg, with seems versatile enough, but alas… it is as real as a VST and quite more expensive. What do you suggest?

  99. get some studio moniters and pirate a bunch of software. buying a bunch of vintage synths is just hipster wank. By all means get some sweet synths, but studio monitors should be 1st priority.

  100. At the risk of sounding rude, that’s a pretty open-ended and subjective question. A couple of the responses (learn theory, understand the history of electronic music) are insightful. I think there are three issues you should address: (1) what is your preferred method of sound production, (2) consider the respective benefits of hardware and software and (3) would you prefer to use a traditional or non-traditional controller. As an aside, the Korg MS series gets a lot of mentions in this thread – I might have to check one out.

    (1) My preferred method of sound production is subtractive synthesis, which I believe to more accurately describe what would normally be called “analog” or “virtual analog”. I say this because in order for an electronic device to have an output signal that is analogous to its input, it would need to pass through a transistor and it would have to be continuous, which no virtual analog can do. From the perspective of electronics theory I think the distinction is an important one, especially since there are very few analogs produced after 1981.

    I have a friend whose preferred method of sound production is sampling, specifically the older 12-bit samplers. I personally could not…rather….would choose not to work with such a device. The point is that a DAW bit crusher would give you a 12-bit sound, but nothing actually sounds like a 12-bit sampler. Similarly, a virtual analog doesn’t sound completely like an analog. I have been becoming very intrigued by granular synthesis, and it seems like no one’s really exploring it.

    If you have a tablet, I highly recommend using a spectrum analyzer. I use an iPad app, I’m sure there’s one for Droid. The visualization of what the waveforms are doing becomes less abstract, programming Frequency Modulation becomes much easier and bonus feature: can’t figure out that one sound you heard? Run it through a spec an to get your waveforms to match the recording.

    (2) I was a hardware guy; sold it all, went exclusively DAW and soft synths, and started buying hardware again about two years ago. Soft synths are incredibly flexible (Reason, Reaktor), can do reasonable emulations of older, prohibitively expensive gear (often with much greater polyphony), but there are three reasons I decided to go back to hardware: (a) gigging live is a little more predictable with hardware, I think (b) I began to find some older songs weren’t backward compatible with updated versions of the soft synths I was using – specifically Absynth, which is AMAZING but there were others and (c) menus, assignable controllers and mouse movements just aren’t the same as one-knob-per-function synths. OKPF is really fast, intuitive and nearly all the modern ones transmit to a sequencer.

    (3) The distinction between traditional (Western piano keyboard) and non-tradtional controllers is not a big deal per se, and is probably governed more by which program you’d use. I will always keep a keyboard around because it’s easy to understand the relationships, but I’ve got a guitar -> MIDI converter and I’m intrigued by some of the nontraditional controllers because they get you to see things in a different way.

    Ultimately what works for you requires research, experimentation and a solid understanding of how we got here from Deadmaus, to Moby, to synth-pop, to Tomita, to Wendy Carlos, the Avant Garde, Music Concrete and even earlier innovations such as the Theremin or the Teleharmonium.

    So what would I recommend a person on a budget wanting to start writing electronic music?

    (1) You’ll need a DAW, and most are loaded with plug-ins or are extensible with VSTs, Rewire instruments etc. I was a Cubase user for many years, but switched to Logic this year. Because I studied Cubase for two years before attempting a project, its workflow became very fast for me. I have not given Logic the same amount of devoted study and my sessions aren’t as productive going to the help files all the time.

    (2) I will agree with other commenters that Reason deserves serious consideration – it’s great on system resource; and you can load multiple tens of devices and patch them like crazy. It streams inside / runs alongside most DAWs.

    I cannot comment on its recent digital audio additions. Logic has plenty of plugs, so I don’t feel like I need to be using Reason right now, personally. Said another way, I don’t want to manage that many soft synths. My main board has 5000-something sounds. Most of the time it’s easier for me to find some close and edit it.

    (3) You’re gonna need a controller. But if you want the most bang-per-buck, I will recommend the Roland Gaia SH-01. Its actually #3 in my quadruple stack behind two ridiculously expensive synths, but it’s a good starter synth. Here’s why:

    – it’s (mostly) one knob per function. It has no LED, so all executive and system functions are accessed by a shift key and another button or knob. But all the sound parameters are on the front panel
    – it has a bunch of hypnotic, blinking lights
    – the D-Beam (an infra-red controller based on the position / proximity of your hand in space) is routable to several parameters
    – it’s sturdy considering it weighs maybe five pounds and can be battery powered
    – it has 37 keys but produces 64 notes of polyphony? Hidden General Midi module, accessible by your DAW
    -its USB connection doubles as a 44.1kHz audio interface for the synth engines and an external input. Not ideal, but it works on the cheap.

    All just my opinion and friendly advice.

  101. You can get a Nintendo DSi (or 3DS) for $100-170 and download my program “Rhythm Core Alpha 2” for $10. It is like a music sequencer that was designed for performing live. It has a powerful sample-based synthesizer, piano-roll sequencing with the ability to change key and scale with the +Control Pad and buttons, a solo screen that lets you play live and record into tracks, a drum pad screen for playing live or recording into tracks, a mixer screen for live level control, and a pattern screen where you put your loops together with your key/scale changes to build complete songs. It will export MIDI files that you can import into other music programs too. It is pretty much everything you need to make great music and perform it live. You find it in the eShop under “Applications”.

  102. First of all it depends on 2 things: 1)How serious are you? 2)What style are you interested in?

    Answering those questions informs where you should place a starting investment and also what gear you start with.
    If you’re serious and not just curious, saying “I have a $200 limit” is not serious. That’s curious. If you’re interested in hip hop production you get a sample based… Well, you pick an MPC or Maschine. If you’re into music that is more complex with the programming than something like hip hop (which is sample, chop, finger your own beat over the top) , then you really need to invest more time into learning how to program. Starting with a synth or something like Maschine that has soft synths would be a good idea. That is of course if you have a really nice computer already. If you don’t have a good computer system, spend 600-2,000$ on a synth and learn to program. If you can’t program sounds then you won’t be making non-hip hop electronic music. Well, I suppose you could do what some people in the broader electronic music community do, and that is sample and edit everything from sample collections. But to that I say, If you’re not programming your own sounds, your own beats, and sampling your own samples… I’m not against chopping, that’s fine. But taking a drum loop off of a sample library and filtering it and taking another loop and matching the tempo… Using other peoples work is mixing, nothing more. Bottom line is if ‘your’ tracks are constructed from sample library loops, you’re a joke. You might learn a little about how to mix, but that’s about it.
    INVEST IN $100 headphones, minimum. Worthwhile studios monitors will be out if reach if you’re on a budget and realistically you don’t need them until mix down so… That’s not really “starting out”.

  103. Great thread! I wanted to share my experience.

    I wanted to learn a new instrument. Loved guitar, but was not my calling. Lusted for the sounds I heard synthesizers making. Got an maudio prokey 61 some 3 years ago, monitors, headphones, and a light version of (insert DAW here) cheap audio interface too. Loved the internal sounds of the prokey (beautiful piano/epiano), and exploring the sounds within the DAW really got me interested. Got a microkorg some time after. Was not surprised to see the microkorg listed in the post, but I have beef with the microkorg (Tho I love my microkorg!!)

    The microkorg is a GREAT synth but I disagree entirely that it is a ‘Starter Synth’. It was not until sometime after when I purchased my nord rack2 that I really began to understand synthesis. The microkorg was fun enough to go thru the presets and dabble, but lacked the depth that I knew was there (for I was just a beginner) (traded a Maudio Axiom25 for a ps3 around this time, knowing I wouldn’t be using it for much)

    I trooped it out, dabbling away to pink floyd, beginning to explore electronic dance music. There was something there I liked. How did they do make this music? I eventually looked into drum machines, one caught my attention: Electribe Emx1. It was cheap and looked hella fun! It was the next piece I got and I took a very similar approach as with the microkorg, turn it on and dabble with the presets. I then gave it a go and tried creating my own patterns. I did this with the ribbon slider, not even knowing I could use my microkorg via MIDI (ohh the joy I experienced upon learning this!!). The first experience I had with learning synthesis was surprisingly from the Electribe, deleting a pattern left me with 5synthesizers set to a saw wave (I had to explore the oscillators and begin to get a feel for how a wave sounded) . Feeling like my 90s hero’s I learned about the power of midi. Gear lust became evident.

    Bass Station Rack, nord rack2, Roland ef303, Meeblip Se1 became the newest troops in the arsenal. Buying Midi cable and exploring the combos I could make was really fun. I have yet to dive into computers and the possibilities, for I fear infinite possibilities. Using the electribe was a great starting point, for there are limits and within these limits we can find out just how far we can go. My newest toy purchased just last month Jp 8080 (for just 350$! local area steal) has been one of the best purchases I have made.

    Current setup
    Electribe into Bass station > Microkorg> Jp8080
    Maudio prokeys > nord rack2 (send into ef303 for nice temo delay) (prokeys has beautiful piano/epiano)
    Microkorg > Electribe (sequence writing/ improv electribe internal synths)
    Maduio Axiom > Jp8080 (LOVE the Arp on the Jp!!!) (2midi inputs on the Jp fascinating)
    Meeblip gets lonely so either axiom or electribe love. (the fastest lfo I have experienced it breaks the time space barrier!)

    Broken gear purchased via second hand.
    Mc 909 (problems muting/turning on sequences yikes!)
    Rave-o-lution 309 (freezes upon playing pattern/recording)

    Final thoughts. There are plenty of great starting pieces. The electribe was what did it for me. Hands-on manipulation, and learning the powers of midi was an experience that no other musical instrument had shown me before. The nord rack2 (which I use in manual mode) showed me what knobs did what when I turned them. I could now go back into the microkorg and actually know what these knobs represented, and make my own presets.

    Fear of computer (why stare into a screen when we can stare into space!): One thing I learned is that a knob needs (!) to do something. Using midi controllers within a computer environment means that you can have a knob do anything. I like to have a knob do what it says it does! This is something a new person or beginner will not understand at first. Having a computer with infinite possibilities leads to the what am I even doing feeling (and exploring cheap ways to get what you want).

    I am a young dinosaur Rawr but I feel I have fair input for this been my own experience since 2010. I am just now going into the local studio to record some of my madness that has been summoned since that time. There are still plenty of things for me to learn, sampling, computer sequencing, vsts and the beauty they hold, mastering, modular gear (!), building my own synth, these are things I hope I can get to in time. I hope that my input can help anyone scrolling thru. Sending tons of love to all synthtopia!

  104. I’m going the other direction on this and saying what you shouldn’t do and why. 1. Don’t crack music software, because you’re better than that goddamnit, and you want those companies support and they want yours. Also, if you think about it the most cracked software synths are probably the most overused 2. Don’t waste precious home studio money on EDmusic/DJ school, you can teach yourself, the info is out there. Would you rather have the instruments you want so you can learn specifically to them or would you rather spend your money on the education and only have that? Better way to put it, would be would you rather pay for a teacher and not have instruments or have instruments and be your own teacher. 3. Don’t skimp on research. If you’re planning on spending the money on instruments or any gear for that matter, download the manual and give it a read first to make sure it will be able to do what you have in mind. 4. Don’t or at least try to avoid at all possible, buying gear on credit. Synths and gear can become an expensive addiction. 5. Don’t aim for the same top like everyone else, find your voice and carve a niche to get the income flowing. Its pop culture for a reason and you’re not the only one to notice that big bucks can be made at the top. People get bored all the time, the top might change while your chasing it. Just don’t forget that lots of artists got where they were by bringing in income (however large or small) and reinvesting it into their studios. Joel Zimmerman is a great example of this. 6. Don’t procrastinate a project by starting more. Its a bad habit that decreases your ability to finish projects, by putting too much on your plate at once. Start a project and bring it to completion to the best of your current abilities. Later, when you’re better at the finishing aspect of music production, come back to these pieces and refinish them to apply your new skills. 7. Don’t be lazy, practice Practice PRACTICE. 8. Don’t copy pasta other artists sounds into your music, create something new by experimenting with what you have. 9. Don’t isolate, collaborate. 10. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to follow any set of rules, its art lol 😉

  105. Well, I started playing electronic music with a Microkorg, a drum machine and a 8 track digital recorder.. I’m sure thats a good start for anybody

    1. A4 is cool, but if somebody doesn’t have the budget, then it’s not the best choice to start with. I have one, and I love it 🙂
      Btw the Monomachine is digital.

  106. “I’m researching building an ANALOG startup kit for a home studio. I don’t have a lot of money to drop initially and will probably piece it all together over time. I don’t want to over-shoot and want quality components, while getting value for my money.”

    If you want analog, and quality components too, you will need money. Start slow. For analog drums start with eurorack modules, after that get a synth you can afford. MFB synth 2 is not that expensive and you have 3 VCO’s. Forget this microkorg and similar toys like the volca series. If you want a cheap but good midi sequencer, then check some old yamahas (rm1x, CY300).

  107. My first true synth was a poly800 in the mid-eighties, but I really got into electronic music about a decade after that. Infatuated by analog sounds I tried to work around buying all the classics by getting a roland jv with the vintage card. Got completely disillusioned working through all those menues. And then eBay came along and I slowly began acquiring hardware. However, in the last few years, it has become increasingly expensieve to buy almost any classic synth for a fair price. And a lot of softsynths can be handled by analog-style controllers that are pretty awesome while there are also some pretty cool new ‘real’ analogs such as the microbrute of the mopho. My advise: get a good controller, get into the basics and then expand with one or two modern monophonic synths.

  108. I have used all sorts of synths, new and old soft and hard – I find my Sequential Circuits Pro one the easiest and most satisfying.
    No idea how much they are these days but my one (1980’s) is still working wonderfully and still gets lots of use. It is set out well and sounds amazing. Only slight downside is the keyboard but it is a synth and not a piano, Hope you find this helpful.

    1. I’m not sure if the $200 budget came from the original poster or a subsequent one. I think you are lucky to get any kind of working analog synthesizer for $200, much less get a “studio” going. Len referenced a Sequential Circuits Pro One. That’s an excellent analog monosynth. They are also being advertised for about $1500 on ebay. Juno 106s are great entry-level synths, but they are going for around $800. That’s also what the entry level virtual analog poly synths are going for. The Arturia MiniBrute sells for about $500 and that is considered to be a bargain monophonic analog synth at $500.00. Having an analog monosynth does not give you an electronic music studio, as I found out myself when I got my Arp Odyssey in 1978. Without multitrack recording (tape or digital) capabilities, they are not much more than fun toys. In my experience, you can have a bargain basement home studio, or you can have an analog home studio, you can’t have both. My personal opinion is that I am amazed at at the submissions by home musicians on the KVR-audio one-synth-challenge, and these compositions are done usually with a single freeware soft-synth, I don’t really think that better results are routinely coming from the analog hobbists even when they have rooms full of gear.

  109. Good monitors are a must. Get a cheap decent DAW (even if it’s a Lite version) and get the best monitors you can afford second hand. After that, see what you have left There all pretty good now. There’s plenty of free stuff available to get you started. Some of it sounds as good as anything you can buy. I didn’t buy anything except for my DAW and a MIDI keyboard for 6 years. The style of music you make will dictate what you should buy eventually if anything.

  110. Do I have to have a computer if I want to make electronic music? Will a stereo speaker system and recording equipment suffice with, let’s say the Arturia mini/ microbrute?

  111. Only poor workers blame their tools and not themselves for a job that’s badly done. If the objective is to make music even free software is capable enough to get the job done. music is not something for the uncommitted. the most basic requirement to make music is the same as anything else; patience and commitment. No amount of Daws and synthesizers, compressors and effects and dynamics will ever compensate for lack of knowledge and commitment. therefore fundamental requirement spend 5 years playing piano or any other instrument before jumping onto sound design which in reality requires understanding of basic physics along with knowledge of scales and chords. otherwise its just a blind person trying to read a book.

    1. As far as a Venom goes for a beginner, I’d say it depends on the user. I got one when they dropped to $200 a year ago and I’m still wading through settings. On the plus side, a number of the stock sounds are good enough to experiment with and the editing is deep enough to grow with.

      So on a $200 budget, if you have Garageband or Reaper (never tried it, I love Logic too much), I’d say it’s a good choice since it can be an audio interface as well.

  112. For software, Why don’t use reaper ? That DAW is totally free (you can evaluate entire lifetime 🙂 )
    For hardware, try youtube hardware you might interest and how they sound, so perhaps you have better idea what hardware to buy

  113. I’d opt for going the hardware route and keeping things lo-profile at first. Get a Korg Monotribe, a Volca Keys, a USB audio interface for PC/Mac with four channels and an audio recording software like Audacity and start making tracks. Once you’ve learned how to use these machines, you will have a more clear-cut idea of what to do/buy next. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to get it all at once, specially if you have never used a synth before… …and beware of the Gear Aquisition Syndrome or else say goodbye to your savings… 😉

  114. Save up some money for a piece of gear that has the features you want, multimode filter, more envelopes etc. Don’t cheap small stuff, you will end up selling it and loosing money

  115. I’ve dabbed in all kinds of gear and still don’t consider myself out of the “starter” phase. I would say DAW, maybe something like Reason or Reaper (I like it.. also; cheap) and a decent controller. Although you can do a lot of weird experimental stuff with analog synths and hardware; you then either have to reherse your performances and really know your instruments in order to create smooth changes and effects live (maybe you want “live” performances?). You also have to consider the “preset hell” of not having your hardware in sync, maybe you changed your sounds or cables and things are not the same as last time (recreating old tracks on hardware is a drag…). If you are looking more into recording and finalizing/perfecting your tracks, then it is a completely different ballgame, you need to be in control of your sound and the only way to do that effectively is on a computer with DAW (maybe combined with some hardware/analog recordings).

  116. While Reaper’s evaluation policy is lax enough that many people never pay, if you are in the Windows world, I think it’s worth paying $50 for the Mixcraft daw. Mixcraft has a useful assortment of instruments and effects, and its workflow is like an improved (and more powerful) version of Garageband. What I like best about Mixcraft is that it is easy to layer virtual instruments on the same track, and save the multilayered sound with effects as a preset. That’s a feature Logic didn’t get until Logic X. Traction has an even more powerful (if more complex) version of this feature with its effect chains. I personally don’t find Reaper very friendly or intuitive. I find Mixcraft friendly AND intuitive plus there is very good documentation including a book titled Making Music with Garageband and Mixcraft by Robin Hodson, James Frankel, Richard McCready, Michael Fein. I don’t know of a better teaching resource for the beginner. Back when I started out in the 1970s, there was very little in the way of educational material available concerning synthesizers, but there was a book, Making Music with Synthesizers, by David Friend, that walked the reader through synthesis concepts using panel diagrams from the ARP Odyssey. In my opinion, the Friend book may have been the single biggest reason the Odyssey outsold the Minimoog for much of the 1970s.

  117. Maybe not analog, but definitely out-of-the-MAC/PC-box :
    for someone just starting I’d advise the Korg Electribe EMX.
    It’s simple enough to quickly learn a simple idea of tracks, patterns, synthesis and samples, it’s complex enough to have fun writing your own songs.
    By the time you hit the limits of the machine you’ll have a good understanding of the basics, and that’s the same time you’ll realize the EMX is a brilliant machine to keep around for basic stuff lick midi-clock, background beats etcetera.
    Its simplicity will make you have fun, its limits will make you want more.

  118. If you are into hardware I would recommend the Minibrute as a first synth. It is very complete and accessible, with a nice manual. Once you have mastered this one, it wil be easy to upgrade to something bigger, or a drumbox, or a sequencer to complete your setup.
    Also, you should consider what kind of music (if any?) you would make. If you’re big into sampled-based music go for a DAW, if you like techno/acid/… go for a sequencer, if you love old-school synths go for a Minibrute or even check out modular systems..

  119. An interesting discussion. I am still very much a beginner when it comes to making electronic music and my first experience with making music was using old software on my PC like Dance eJay and Magix Music Maker. Those were great for getting an idea how music was put together and getting a general feel for rhythm and sounds. You basically just had a load of samples that looked like little bricks on the screen and then stuck a bunch of them together to make a wall and then played it back. Sure you wouldn’t have any original sounds or anything that sounded new and not cheesy or generic but it gave you a starting off point.

    Nowadays I think money is a big issue and I’ve seen a lot of posts here suggesting a grand or two grand worth of equipment is relatively little outlay for starting out. I think this is ridiculous and most new people (and/or students) just won’t have the funds to get all the equipment at once or even some of the more popular stuff. Software itself can also be incredibly expensive.

    If you want to make music on a computer then you might be better off starting with a cheap or free DAW such as Mixcraft (which I use as it’s basically Garageband for PC and comes with loads of synths and FX for mixing etc). Again, Magix Music Maker is relatively inexpensive (if you go for the base model and not one of the deluxe versions) and I’d also say this was a good starting off point. DAW’s will usually come with lots of samples and free loops for starting with, as well as VST’s. You might want to invest in a cheap MIDI keyboard too if you want to play notes and chords, rather than inputting them by hand via the mouse as this can be really time-consuming and boring.

    Don’t think you have to buy everything new, I have bought lots of stuff used from eBay and similar sites (even Amazon Marketplace has lots of cheap used stuff). Most of it will be perfectly fine and cost a fraction of a new item. A cheap audio interface/soundcard is often what people recommend but again this can prove expensive when you’re just starting out on top of the cost of a DAW and a MIDI keyboard etc. You can make music with your computer’s on-board audio. Just know that this will have limitations to sound quality and possibly latency when recording things but it is perfectly serviceable til you have the money for a soundcard. I just use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 which is perfectly fine. It’s a small 2 input and 2 output audio interface which means I can hook up a mic and my mixer to it and then connect all my other equipment to the mixer.

    Hardware wise, again keyboard synths can be incredibly expensive for a beginner. I first bought a Korg Kaossilator Pro (which was very expensive at first) but this had lots of built-in sounds and samples and also had the added benefit of having a 4-track looper in it too. I still have this and it’s a great hardware music production tool. I also bought a Korg Monotribe as this is a great little way of learning the basics of a synth. Sure it only has 3 (quite poor) drum sounds and a not terribly accurate ribbon keyboard but you can make some great sound with it. Another fantastic cheap item to get is a Korg Monotron Delay. This is an absolutely brilliant and very inexpensive delay effect unit. It’s tiny but you can hook up anything to it via it’s 3.5mm input and it will make anything going through it sound great.

    I think buying synths like an Arturia Microbrute etc is great if you want to create your own sound from scratch but I would imagine the majority of beginners will be better off going down the preset route (which more often than not can be altered anyway to make your own specific sound). The main thing is that gear can cost a lot of money and it’s really easy to continually buy new things that you don’t get much use out of.

    The reason for this is that it’s difficult for new people to learn how to use things. Sure there are a lot of You Tube videos out there where you can learn some things but a lot of them leave out vital information and assume you know the basics like how to hook up all your equipment, what cables to use etc. A lot of people recommend the use of DAW’s such as Ableton but I would say things like that can be incredibly complicated to use and realistically you need someone to show you how to use it. I know because I have been lost at sea with DAW’s and music production in general and while some people go to college to learn, not everyone can do this and so you’re kind of left out in the wilderness a bit after people have given you the advice of what to buy.

    Anyway, sorry for this very, very long post.

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