Building a recording studio
Starting out? Good. I would get an Arturia KeyLab Essential 49. Then I would download the 60-day free trial of Reaper, get a free VST synth, and a free VST drum machine, and learning that technology to discover how to make music (If you’re using a Mac, you probably have another $180 somewhere to get U-He Diva. If you’re using Linux, you probably have enough time to figure out how to set up Wine to run this software. If you don’t have a computer, it’s possible to get a good refurbished laptop for $100-$200 which will run music software just fine — or get an iPad, which also has a rich, albeit different, ecosystem of music software). If you’re still interested in making music 60 days from now, when the trial ends, spend $60 to license Reaper.
I would not start out with a analog or any other hardware synth.
Sure, there’s other ways to start out, but this setup has the advantage of being cheap.
Learn how to play chords. Learn how to play a basic I-IV-V and I-V-vi-IV chord progression. Learn chord inversions. Learn how to make a basic 4/4 drum beat and bass line. Make a couple of three minute songs. Once your friends tell you your music sounds good and that you’re talented, instead of saying your music sounds “different”, you are ready to consider spending the money on a hardware setup. No sooner.
People who are in a band, who already have some gear for making music, or who just want to noodle around without making complete songs should go to any of the various online retailers and browse around. Trust me, these people love it when fools get the notion that one needs to spend a bunch of money on a bunch of gear they don’t need in order to make compelling music.
An audio interface
For connecting guitars, microphones, or other external gear to a DAW, an audio interface is best. I would, if the computer is a modern computer with a USB-C connection, get a MOTU M4 interface if starting out (while the M2 is even more inexpensive, the M4, by having a second set of inputs and outputs, has a little more room for expansion than the M2).
If the computer is a little older with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 connections, I would get (indeed, did get and still use) a second generation Focusrite Scarlett 2i4; many are available used in good condition.
Relatively few people have a gift called “perfect pitch”, being able to name a note after hearing it. It’s impossible to learn perfect pitch; you either have it or you don’t.
Not to worry: Many great composers, including Wagner, did not have perfect pitch.
What can be learned are musical intervals: After hearing two notes, a trained musician can tell you how far apart the notes are. I once wrote an app to train myself to learn intervals. After hours of frustrating practice, I was able to start hearing intervals and my music got better as a result.
Another skill that is useful to have is the ability to hear a note and sing that note. Like interval training, this skill can be learned, even if one does not have perfect pitch.
MIDI is a way of connecting synthesizers together so that control information, such as what notes are being played or how quickly to play a song, can be transferred between synthesizers. A MIDI port can transmit all kinds of information between synths, or between a computer and a synthesizer, but MIDI does not transfer audio data.
Here are some other online resources:
- Sam Ecoff’s ARP 2600 book. Geared for the ARP 2600, this book also works with the reasonably priced Behringer 2600 clone, or with a virtual ARP 2600 synth.
- Moog has a series of videos about the fundamentals of synthesizer programming
- March 2015 analog synthesizer buyer’s guide