Should I buy a Music Production Center and Make Electronic Dance Music?
February 21, 2013 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I want to start making electronic music. I'm thinking about buying maybe an MPC type of device but not sure where to start. Novation Launchpad? Maschine? Any recommendations for a total, total beginner? Or should I really get a copy of Ableton and figure out if I'm truly into it first?

Would buying some actual hardware as opposed to just software be a wise purchase?

My only experience with making electronic music at all is pretty minimal - I had a copy of FL Studio like, 6 years ago, where I played with it for a few weeks tops. I was able to figure it out pretty much from scratch and made a few cheapy sounding beats with the pre-programmed stuff (never learned how to sample) so I eventually got bored, especially just staring at a screen clicking around tweaking stuff. I haven't really touched much since.

When I sit down to play a new instrument though, like a drum kit or a keyboard, I definitely feel a "rush" of excitement just getting my hands on it and messing around figuring out how to play it. I have a good ear for picking up a beat/melody on a new instrument without much training. So I'm thinking maybe I would love an actual piece of hardware like a pad of some sort to make the process more hands-on and maybe more exciting?

So I guess my question is two-fold:

1 - Is an MPC type of device right for me, given my very minimal experience with EDM production or are they strictly for vets who have mastered software like Ableton or Reason? I'd really like to just get my hands on something.

2 - If it is, what is the best "beginner" pad? I was looking at the Maschine or maybe the Maschine Mikro, but it seems like there's a lot of stuff out there and I don't know where to start.
posted by windbox to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
do you have a smartphone? There's about a million apps on the apple and android stores for making music...might be a good start...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2013

also free.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

iPad + GarageBand app. Added bonus: MeFi's Own Bunny Ultramod wrote a book about it. (I bought/read it, it's really good.)
posted by jbickers at 9:50 AM on February 21, 2013

Response by poster: I don't have an iPad, and I figure if I'm going to spend that kind of money for something to help me produce music it may as well be on an actual musical instrument.

I'd like to know whether I should buy an MPC or not and if so what kind.
posted by windbox at 9:52 AM on February 21, 2013

I recommend that you learn and love a hardware sampler. Korg's microsampler or kaosspad are good starter choices if you like to shoot from the cuff, but there are many many many choices. There are endless creative possibilities with samplers; plug in your synth, your guitar, your mic, your cassette player with that old disco tape--anything that can connect to a quarter-inch cable.
posted by Taft at 10:23 AM on February 21, 2013

I can't really speak to how awesome / not awesome Akai MPCs are - If you'd like to produce some beats, they seem like a pretty safe bet. HOWEVER! It's probably worth recognizing that sampling / DAWs have come a long way since the MPC was king, and you can produce some pretty serviceable beats on software based things.

In my experience, the best money you can spend up front on your budding electronic music interest is a reasonable pair of studio monitors, and probably some kind of small usb audio interface, since the audio outputs on a lot of PCs can be quite noisy. Monitors wise, you'd probably want to look at the YamahaHS__M series or KRK Rockits. For a USB interface, lots of companies make 2in / 2out usb audio interfaces that should work in a pinch (focusrite, m-audio, whatever).

You'll learn a lot faster if you can actually *hear* what's going on, and as an added bonus, it'll probably be easier for you to take your tracks to a different system, and not have them sound like hot garbage. Mixing without decent monitors is like, I don't know, painting without eyeballs or something. Or painting under a blacklight? I don't know.

Start with a simple DAW, maybe a lite version or something, to get your feet wet. You can probably get one as a pack-in with an audio interface if you look hard enough. Alternatively, I really like Renoise, which is a modern take on FastTracker, developed by a small team, and available for fairly cheap. I think 75USD gets you the current version, all incremental updates for the next version (e.g. 1.5 -> 2.5). You can treat it like a beefy sampler, or a full on DAW, as you like.

Feel free to PM me if you're interested in any more of my rambling opinions!
posted by Horizontally a Champion at 10:24 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't buy an MPC. They're fun, but outrageously expensive and really not all that useful. None of the professional EDM producers I work with ever use them. The Maschine is way more useful, in my opinion (but none of my EDM producer friends and colleagues use that, either). But if you're just getting started and you want to hit the ground running, I agree with Taft - the Korg Kaoss stuff is a blast, even if they're not what I would recommend using if you want to make pro-level, album-release-quality original EDM. The Kaossilator Pro is great fun. Hell, I have the iKaossilator app on my iPhone and I make dance tracks on it for fun that get all kinds of great comments from people who don't realize I made the songs on the fly when I was waiting in line somewhere or putting my kids to bed.
posted by The World Famous at 10:27 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't make dance music, but things to think about might be:

- your comfort level with tweaking; interface preference (I think Ableton really is super intuitive compared to, e.g., Reaper, which has a steep learning curve if you haven't used something more linear. But if you think you might be interested in sound design type stuff, Reaper might be good for you. But then lots of people use Ableton, and sharing files etc might be easier, if you wanted to collaborate.)

- hardware/software compatibility; comfort level with fixes. Akai and Ableton work well together, especially on a Mac. Other combinations might need a bit of smoothing over. If you're on a Windows platform, usually there's a bit of time working drivers etc out.

- the sounds you like (re sound libraries) < related to software. (Still, I think? I know there used to be issues around using different synths with different programs; may not be the case anymore.)

I think, check out some Youtube tutorials and reviews, forums like Gearslutz, maybe play around with your friends' stuff a bit to see what feels right.

People are doing some amazing things just with their iPads and apps, though.
posted by nelljie at 10:28 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

MPCs are expensive and overrated. The only people I know who use them are hip-hop producers. If you feel like you need a fancy-looking hardware interface, look at the new Ableton Push. Otherwise seriously spend the money on good monitor speakers and learn how to use your software DAW of choice.
posted by Jairus at 10:33 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have an MPC! I make hip hop beats primarily with Ableton, but awhile ago I picked up a used MPC 2000XL, mostly out of vintage hip hop hardware fetishism. To my discredit, I barely know how to use it. Ableton still lacks some of the loop slicing capabilities that the MPCs have, but Maschine and any number of other sampling plugins do. An old MPC like mine without a lot of extra hardware for effects OR a DAW for effects, recording and arranging is gonna be pretty limited. MPC Rennaisance or MPC 5000 is going to be a different story, but man that is a lot of dough. Even hip hop producers don't seem to really use MPCs anymore, except O.G.s who don't want to change their workflow.

I hear you about wanting something that is an instrument and not just a computer interface where you click on buttons. I have been eyeing something like that myself. I'm having a lot of fun recently with Tabletop on the iPad, which definitely has some of that quality. I made this and this with it. Maschine is going to be a bit more than a used MPC 1000, but it has a lot more capabilities in terms of effects and integration with DAWs. I am tempted to buy Maschine, but I'm definitely going to buy Ableton Push when it's available for pre-order on March 5.
posted by chrchr at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2013

Why not go with the Roland Boss sampler? Much cheaper than an MPC and Panda Bear among many other highly rated producers have made entire compositions with it. That, combined with a cheap software sequencer like FL Studio could give you professional level capabilities.

I second others saying don't be fooled into thinking you need to spend huge bucks to make something professional. Learn and master some basic kit first and make sure you really love it. Almost everything now can be replicated by software for pretty cheap, so don't buy hardware unless you really want to learn it.
posted by the foreground at 11:22 AM on February 21, 2013

I'm on the "newbie waiting for Ableton Push" list. I had just begun to get into playing with Ableton's cheap entry-level software when the announcements for version 9 and Push came out. I decided I'd be patient, get a Push/Ableton Suite package deal, and just learn Live that way from the start -- the assumption being that since a ton of other folks will also be learning the new device/software, there will be tons of active online chatter online that I can draw ideas and tips from!
posted by Pufferish at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2013

I would be remiss if I did not recommend the iPad most strongly. I use it primarily for electronic music. It has come a long way in a short time. Korg's recreations of vintage gear are remarkably acurate in every respect. And now we're seeing the emergence of new tools for synthesis, sampling and manipulating sound that are nifty and fun and exciting. I defintely get a rush diving into a new synth app. (This week it's Wolgang Palm's new PPG Wavemapper.)
posted by Jode at 5:00 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have previous piano/etc experience, I actually totally recommend a keyboard MIDI controller (the Akai MPK even has pads as well, tho you have to mod them before they are very useful). You can always map the keys to samples if you want to trigger drums, and I personally find I'm around 10x more productive entering parts with an actual MIDI keyboard than with a mouse/computer keyboard. YMMV, of course, but it might be worth at least borrowing one and seeing how it treats you.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:28 PM on February 21, 2013

I have an MPC 1000 and while I love it I would not recommend it to anybody wanting to get started in electronic music production. It's a relic of a time when computers were not powerful enough to handle sampling and flash memory beyond chiptunes; a time long past. Also it's overpriced as anything. I would only recommend an MPC if you have about a thousand records, and want to make hip-hop; and even then, an SP-303 might be better.

What I think -is- important, far beyond what you use (because in this age of DAWs sound quality is a negligible issue between things), is the workflow you get from it.

The many suggestions above of MIDI keyboards and iPad synths are good ones, and I'd go with them first.

If screens bore you like they do me, perhaps you should go looking for really cheap drum machines and digital synths, old cassette recorders, etc (I'd recommend old electronics shops over Ebay) and just mess about with those. Go cheap, really cheap, and then you can see if the physical experience of gear is what you'd like. It's also of note that whatever you make is going to be mediocre at first; the limitations of these cheap things get you focused on refining what you can do, rather than being overwhelmed with a plethora of options like most DAWs do nowadays for the beginner.
posted by solarion at 5:49 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't buy any hardware besides an inexpensive midi keyboard until you've played around with the software some and have an idea of what you'll do with it.
posted by empath at 9:04 PM on February 21, 2013

If you think you'll love making beats, than an MPC might be a good bet, but if you think you'll love making MUSIC, than go with the software option. The reason being, an MPC is great at what it does, but that's it. On the computer using Ableton or something similar, you have so many different directions you can go in with your music making. You don't want to limit yourself right now since you don't really know what you want. After making music for a while you'll know whether or not an MPC is right for you, but it's an expensive gamble to take right now.
posted by markblasco at 9:51 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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