Getting started producing electronic music?
October 28, 2008 11:54 AM   Subscribe

How does an absolute beginner get started making electronic music?

I've listened to electronic music for 13 years. I'm partial to ambient, noise, and anything abstract and experimental. I have always wanted to try my hand at creating music, but something like Reason 4 appears intimidating (not to mention expensive).

Does anyone have a recommendation for messing around and getting started with electronic music... without spending a bunch of money first? I'd like to see if I have a knack for it before I commit to major hardware and software purchases.

I've got an old school Dell computer at home running Windows XP, so compatibility with that platform would be nice.

posted by wastelands to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

Rebirth RB-338
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:13 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Click me.
posted by milarepa at 12:18 PM on October 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Have you mucked around with trackers before? Some are really basic, while others are pretty intense. I didn't really do much more than listen to tracker files in the pre-MP3 era, but some friends had fun altering the samples and making their own simplistic songs.

Branching off of software synths, check the wiki category.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2008

Puredata or Max/MSP have steep learning curves, but are extremely open ended. People like Jamie Lidell, Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher, etc. use them.

I'm partial to Ubuntu Studio which is a prepacked distro for the JACK audio server. The idea is that you have lots of little programs which do their own thing, and JACK lets you route audio and control signals between them.

Fruityloops is good for windows, and dead simple and satisfying to get started with. You'd be suprised how much you've heard on established record labels that was made with it.
posted by phrontist at 12:32 PM on October 28, 2008

If you use a tracker, get Modplug Tracker. It's got a standard Windows interface and good sample editing, plus compatibility with a jillion formats and VST instrument/effect support.

Still, though, since trackers are getting old, you should check out FL Studio.
It's got some decent samples to get you started, full VST and Rewire support, and the Beat Slicer is gnarly for making new drum beats.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:40 PM on October 28, 2008

I always throw in the link for TweakHeadz Lab at this point. It's surprisingly not about methamphetamine addiction!
posted by nanojath at 1:24 PM on October 28, 2008

For abstract and experimental music (produced on-the-fly, not just sequenced), there's very little that is as intuitive, fun and powerful as Ableton Live. It's basically the greatest piece of software I own.
posted by naju at 1:27 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

And do a search for "free vst plugins" to dig for some interesting sounds and effects that you can import into your software of choice.
posted by naju at 1:30 PM on October 28, 2008

Response by poster: I expected a few good answers, but you all have out-done yourselves. Wow! Thanks for all the awesome ideas.
posted by wastelands at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2008

Before purchasing FL Studio, I'd play with the free LMMS.
posted by PueExMachina at 1:41 PM on October 28, 2008

I'd suggest spending some time reading createdigitalmusic and the associated forums to get a feel for what's out there. Search the "free" tag. It seems like there's a new free/cheap DAW or VST plug in every week.

I'd suggest starting off with a tracker or ReBirth to see if the bug grabs you. Once you've got the bug... well, that's an entirely different question.

Also, I'd suggest staying away from Reason. It's a powerful program, and a lot of people really like it, but it doesn't support VST effects or instruments.
posted by lekvar at 2:00 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, I messed up the links. Try createdigitalmusic and the forums.
posted by lekvar at 2:15 PM on October 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: milarepa, that link is insane. It's amazing that such an app can be built in Flash. Thanks. I know what I'll be spending time playing with tonight after work. :-)
posted by wastelands at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2008

If you are going to look at trackers, Renoise is so good it made me forget that ProTracker even existed.
posted by threeze at 6:27 PM on October 28, 2008

I just wanna chime in that Reason kicks ass, even though it doesn't use VST fx or VST instruments, and yeah, isn't cheap.

Granted I do alt/pop/rock, but I use it for most of my drum programming and a lot of synth parts.

I'm just sayin'. You might want to play with a demo of that after you jack around with the other free stuff. Or not. ; )
posted by bitterkitten at 8:38 PM on October 28, 2008

I'm surprised no one's mentioned Apple's Garage Band. Highly intuitive and addictive, even for not-musically-inclined folks like me.
posted by zardoz at 9:21 PM on October 28, 2008

I'll second FL Studio and Ableton Live, they're both very intuitive and both come with enough software instruments to get you started.

(Ableton has a 30-day free demo, I believe.)
posted by mmoncur at 10:50 PM on October 28, 2008

milarepa, that link is insane. It's amazing that such an app can be built in Flash. Thanks. I know what I'll be spending time playing with tonight after work. :-)

No problem. I'm just happy my thousands upon thousands of bookmarks prove useful once in a while.
posted by milarepa at 6:48 AM on October 29, 2008

While I have not used Garage Band myself, my 9-year daughter did in music last year, took home her compilations on CD... and it kicks, I am totally sold and as soon as I can scrape up enough $$$ she is getting a Mac...
posted by jkaczor at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2008

I haven't used it in years, but my first electronic music was made using the free Buzz. It looks like it's grown quite a bit since I used it, and they appear to have video tutorials now.
posted by mysterpigg at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2008

Click me too!
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:33 PM on October 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I tried out several tools and ended up buying Ableton Live 7 LE.
posted by wastelands at 7:54 AM on October 31, 2008

Response by poster: Update for those people still running across this thread, a shameless self-plug, and a way for people to see how much progress one can make with these tools in a relatively short period: my website at has my latest tracks. Most of it was created with the Operator soft synth that comes with Ableton free these days (it used to be a paid plug-in).
posted by wastelands at 6:16 PM on January 6, 2009

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