5 Needed Pieces Of Equipment To Make Beats
One big question that most aspiring or new producers seem to ask about is what kind of gear, equipment and software they will need to begin making beats. A big problem which prevents them from getting started is that they seem to think that the gear they will need to make quality beats is highly expensive. This can cause them to dismiss their desires as a producer and never take the leap to making their first beat.
The truth is that the equipment needed to make beats is likely less expensive than you’d think. This is largely because your success as a producer will have much more to do with your talents and skills than it does with your equipment. While certain high end hardware and software can certainly help make the production process more effective and efficient, it is not NEEDED right away. Instead, it is a great idea to start with some basic equipment, develop your craft, and start upgrading your gear over time.
Listed below are 5 things you will need to make your own rap beats, with budget in mind.
#1 – A Desktop or Laptop PC/Mac
There is a good chance that you already own some kind of computer, but if not this is the first place to start. Because beat making software can use a lot of your computer’s RAM, notably when a lot of plugins are used in a session, a higher end PC or Mac will be best if it fits your budget. HOWEVER, you would be very surprised at how much you can do with a budget computer, especially if you invest in a RAM upgrade. The first 5 years of my production career, I used a very old PC that I had built myself. I created over 200 beats on it, which included some of my best work to this day.
Please do not get discouraged if you must invest in a lower end computer to begin on. You can do a lot with a little if need be. That said, it would be wise to buy the best computer you can that fits your budget instead of using these extra funds on flashy hardware or software.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you decide on a laptop instead of a desktop computer, please be sure to consider the size of the screen. Laptops with small screens may be tempting due to their portability and weight, but make sure you test out a DAW such as Fruity Loops, Logic, Ableton, etc. before making the purchase. It can be extremely uncomfortable to make music on such a small screen, as your DAW will often have 2-3 separate windows (mixer controls, sequencer, library, etc.) not to mention plugins which will all be crammed up in a small area. Your workflow will be MUCH smoother with a larger screen, allowing you to have multiple windows opened alongside each other.
#2 – An Audio Interface
The next piece of equipment you will need to make your own beats is an audio interface. The interface is a small box which connects to your computer and acts as a preamp for your audio equipment. It typically contains outputs for your monitors/speakers in the back as well as mic/instrument inputs on the front panel. The purpose of the interface is to power your speakers and recording instruments, acting as a “middleman” between your computer and your audio devices.
Another important feature of the interface is that it contains a sound card which provides low latency for your recording devices, minimizing recording delay to almost zero. If you decide to build your own computer, there is no need to purchase an internal sound card as your interface will serve as a high end external sound card and will be all you need. Also keep this in mind if you purchase a pre-built computer, as you will not need to spend extra money on a computer which boasts having a high end sound card.
Hands down, the most popular and cost efficient interface available today for budget-dependent producers is the FocusRite Scarlett 2i2. It provides everything you’ll need for only $150, and is known to be a solid buy. If you wanted to spend even less, FocusRite also offers the Solo model for $99. I would recommend the 2i2 if possible, because the Solo model has unbalanced RCA outputs for your monitors instead of XLR balanced outputs. There is a good chance you may not even recognize a difference, but the XLR balanced option can provide for less unwanted noise with active studio monitors. Please be aware that if you opt for the Solo model, ensure that the monitors you buy have RCA inputs on them. Some monitors such as the Yamaha MSP8 Studio only have the XLR option.
#3 – Studio Monitors
When making a beat, it is crucial to have a pair of monitors (speakers) which represent sound as accurately as possible without any enhancements or alterations to the original sound. This is why producers use monitors with a near flat (accurate) response. Owning a pair of studio monitors will enable you to hear every sound in your mix the way it sounds in its most raw and true form, and this will lend to making mixes which can sound great on any pair of speakers from clubs to phones.
The first thing you will want to decide is what size monitors you want. Some common sizes are 8 inch, 5 inch, and 6 inch. I personally prefer the 8 inch size, as it gives me enough of a sub bass response to produce hip hop beats without needing a sub woofer. However, the 5 inch monitors are a good option too if your budget calls for it.
The most popular monitors for new producers over the past decade or so is undoubtedly the KRK Rokit series. They are the ones I own, and provide a great combination of quality and price. They are known to have a nice low end bass response which make them suitable for hip hop/r&b beats and any other bass-heavy music. They provide a nice overall response too and can be used for just about any kind of music. The 8 inch Rokits are $250 apiece, and the 5 inch variety are only $150 each.
Some other good, affordable monitors you may want to check out are the Yamaha HS series, the M-Audio BX series and the Mackie MR series. All of these models, along with the KRK Rokits, provide good quality for a budget price that is perfect for new music producers.
#4 – MIDI Controller
Another piece of equipment you will want to invest in to create a beat is a MIDI controller. A MIDI controller is basically a keyboard/piano which controls the virtual instruments inside of your DAW, allowing you to record sounds into your sequencer. You can assign it to play out any virtual sound, from pianos to synths, bass, strings, etc. While it is not NEEDED due to most DAW’s ability to assign keys to your computer’s keyboard, it will make your workflow and production experience far more enjoyable and efficient.
Most MIDI controllers come in a variety of sizes, which represent the number of keys on the board. Some common sizes are 25, 49, 61, and 88 (standard piano keyrange). I recommend visiting a local music store to try out each size before buying one, as you may find that you enjoy a smaller or larger size depending on your needs. The smaller (25 key) size is great for portability, especially if you want to make beats on the go. However, it is very limited in its range and you may find yourself having to constantly press the Octave up/down key to play higher or lower notes. A 49 key controller is a great medium for an aspiring producer, giving you enough room to play while being cost-efficient as well. I personally own and prefer the 61-key size, as it gives me a great range and fits perfectly onto my desk. The large 88 key models are probably only worth it if you have enough space and are an avid keyboard/piano player who likes to have access to every octave range.
Many MIDI controllers also have other features. Some include drum pads, mixer faders, and knobs which you can assign to plugin parameters. These can be nice, but the only features which I personally believe are mandatory are a pitch wheel, mod wheel, and octave up/down buttons. If you are a more hands-on kind of person, the assignment knobs may be more important to you.
You should be able to pick up a solid MIDI controller for anywhere between $50-$200, depending on the size and features you want. Some good ones to check out are the M-Audio Keystation 49 ($99) and the M-Audio Oxygen 49 ($170). If you like a more portable controller, the Novation Launchkey 25 ($99) and Akai MPK Mini MKII 25 ($99) are worth checking out.
#5 – DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Now that we’ve covered the hardware you’ll need, it’s time to talk a bit about software. You will need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), the bread and butter to recording and producing beats on your computer. Your DAW will be the software you use to record instruments (virtual or live), record vocals, sequence and arrange your beats, lay drum patterns, export beats, and so on. Most DAWs contain a Sequencer window, which is basically a timeline that shows waveforms and MIDI information of your beat as it progresses over time.
Another feature of a DAW is the Mixing window. This contains virtual faders and looks like a mixing board, allowing you to adjust the volume and effects levels of every track. It will also contain your Master Fader, plugin/effects sends, auxiliary busses, and more.
Some of the most popular DAWs today include Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton Live, and Reason. If you do not have a computer yet, it would be wise to try out each of these DAWs first and decide which one you like best, as some of them are Mac or PC-specific. Logic, for instance, is only available on Mac, and Fruity Loops is only on Windows (although a Mac version is supposedly on its way). Your DAW selection should be an important factor in what kind of computer you buy.
I personally use Logic X, as I find it is a great mixture of functionality and accessibility. I started out using only Reason, but its VST/plugin limitations forced me to switch over to Logic. Please be aware that all of the major DAWs today have the capabilities to help you achieve great sounding beats and mixes. The results will depend more on your own willingness to choose and learn one of them, and become an expert at its functions. Some of the top mainstream producers today use Logic, others use Fruity Loops, and others prefer one of the other DAWs. They are all producing hit music from different pieces of software, so there is no one “best” DAW.
#6 (BONUS!) – Sound Samples and Banks
Once you’ve gotten everything set up, it’s time to start building your library of sounds! These sounds include sound banks for VSTs such as synth presets, WAV one-shots such as individual drum hits, drum and instrument loops, samples, and more.
Let me first say that pretty much every DAW comes equipped with drum and instrument presets, so you can always get right to work before considering expanding your library. In fact, it is probably best to browse through your DAWs presets first, so you can become accustomed to how everything works and listen to all of the factory sounds.
When you are ready for some new sounds though, there are many websites which offer free drum banks and sounds. There are even some industry producers who have given out their drum libraries for free, such as Drake producer Boi 1da. I actually highly recommend his 2 free kits, as they are pretty massive and contain some great sounds. You can download his 2 free drum kits here.
Another site I highly recommend is Expert Kits. They have a series of drums sounds called Ultimate drums, which will give you all of the kicks and snares you’ll need to get started, in every style of beat from Trap to Pop, Rock and EDM.
In terms of VSTs and Synths, some of my favorites include NI Massive, Serum, Nexus, Battery for drums, and the Waves Bundle (of course) for every top end effect you will ever need.
Thanks for reading, and I wish you the absolute best on your beat making journey! If you ever have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help answer your question. If you are an artist, please feel free to check out my beat page! Happy beat making!