How to Start Writing Music on a Computer – Everything You Need to Know

Posted by on Sep 2, 2020, Under: Daily Tips

After a long study of the instrument and sleepless nights composing your compositions, you decided that it was time to write down your ideas. Musical ideas are overwhelming and you want to share them with others.

How to Start Writing Music on a Computer

At this moment, many questions appear in the head of a novice musician. Do I have to go to the studio or can I record at home? What do you need in order to record music? What equipment should I buy and what software will I need? Every hour there are more questions and fewer answers.

Fortunately, everything is much easier than it sounds. In this article, we’ll cover what you need to do to make music at home and answer some of the common questions that beginners may have.

What you need to write music on your computer

40 years ago, in order to record your work, you had to go to a professional studio. High-quality sound was available only to those who had money. Thanks to advances in technology, music creation has become much more accessible today: with the help of a computer, we can create great tracks without leaving home.

To organize a home studio, you will need:

  • Computer;
  • Music recording software (DAW);
  • Sound card;
  • Headphones.

These four components are the bare minimum to get started. Of course, in addition to this, a MIDI keyboard and studio monitors also do not hurt, but at first you can do without them. Below we will briefly go through each item on our list (you can read more about the choice of equipment for a recording studio here , and about the choice of studio monitors here ).

Computer

Any modern computer is suitable for sound recording. Whether it’s Mac or PC, it doesn’t matter, both platforms offer the same experience for the musician. The two main criteria here are performance and processing power of the processor.

RAM is responsible for the computer performance in the studio. Your computer should have at least 8 GB of it, but more is better. Replacing a conventional hard drive with a high-speed solid-state SSD will further improve performance.

The operating system and music software rely on the CPU for plugins, sound effects, and virtual instruments. It is rather difficult to indicate the exact power required for comfortable work: the processor should work without unnecessary problems with a large number of plug-ins. The more he can digest, the better. The recommended minimum here is a quad-core Intel Core i3 level processors, but the more cores and threads you have at your disposal, the more comfortable your work will be.

Music recording software (DAW)

DAW (from the English. Digital Audio Workstation – digital workstation or sequencer) is a special software for recording music. It is this that turns an ordinary computer into a powerful tool and the center of a home studio.

Such software is available for both PC and Mac, and is both free and paid. All DAWs offer similar capabilities and differ in essence only in the approach to organizing the workflow.

Sound card

Sound cards built into computers are only suitable for listening to music. To fully record yourself, you need a special audio interface that can record the audio signal with high quality.

In most cases, an audio interface with 2-4 input channels and phantom power will suffice – enough for recording 1-2 guitars (even simultaneous), keyboards and vocals when you get a microphone.

Among the worthy models, whose capabilities are more than enough for a novice musician, are Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and Scarlett 2i4 , PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 , Audient iD14 .

Headphones

The created material needs to be listened to somehow, so the studio headphones will be the last important component of the required minimum. Unlike consumer headphones, which like to embellish sound in certain frequency ranges, the isolated sound of studio headphones will provide more detail and fidelity. In addition, headphones will allow you to work at any time of the day.

It is worth choosing headphones based on budget, frequency response and usability. Everything is clear with the budget – make a list of models that fit into the amount that you are willing to spend on your ears. As for the amplitude-frequency characteristic, then it should be as flat as possible (read about the amplitude-frequency characteristic here ). The issue of convenience is individual, but headphones should not cause discomfort during prolonged use.

Headphones are more than enough for a start. Later, if your music practice becomes more serious, it is worth getting a pair of good near-field studio monitors.

Which program is better to work with?

There are over 20 different DAWs on the market, but choosing a software for recording music is easier than you might think. Firstly, you shouldn’t bother too much in this matter – DAW is nothing more than a technical tool with which you interact. This is where skills decide, not the program itself. Secondly, the choice of a DAW is a matter of taste, convenience and personal preference, so you still need to choose what is more convenient for you to work with.

If you’re a Mac user, you already have GarageBand DAW installed on your system. In fact, GarageBand is a simplified version of Logic Pro X: its capabilities are not so rich and advanced, but this is enough to get started – the program records audio without problems, works with plug-ins and virtual instruments. Plus, iOS device owners can download the mobile version of this DAW to create projects on a smartphone or tablet and transfer them to a desktop for further work.

Gradually, the functionality of GarageBand will cease to be enough: you will need more advanced audio editing, automation, high-quality and productive synthesizers. And here you have two options:

  1. Switch to Logic Pro X. In this case, the transition will be painless: the principles of operation of Logic Pro and GarageBand are largely the same (you will not have to get used to a new environment for a long time), and projects created in GarageBand can be easily opened in Logic Pro and continue working;
  2. Switch to some other DAW, but in this case you will have to re-create all projects.

GarageBand is a good starting point for exploring the world of recording and music production, but it shouldn’t be considered a mainstream program. The main benefits of a garage are that it’s free and easy to learn, but the pain of moving projects to another DAW isn’t worth it.

It is a little easier for PC users, as the choice of programs is much larger. If you are a beginner and have no idea how a DAW works, then acquaintance with sound recording can start with the free Magix Music Maker, Ardor or Podium Free. As in the case of GarageBand, you shouldn’t constantly work in these programs, since the problems are still the same – lack of functionality and the inability to quickly and easily transfer already created projects to another DAW.

Virtually every serious DAW has a time-limited, fully functional demo to give you a try. Usually such demos work for a month – this is quite enough to understand how the DAW works, how convenient it is and what it has to offer. If you don’t want to mess with free software and want to start studying the features of music production right away in a serious program, download the demo on the developers’ sites.

It is also worth remembering when choosing a DAW that there is no best software in this environment – they all have their pros and cons. You need to choose here based on the popularity (prevalence) of the program and how comfortable it is for you to work in it. The more popular the DAW is, the more likely it is that you will be able to work with your projects in any studio. The prevalence of the program will also allow you to share your ideas and work on music with friends and fellow musicians, without worrying about whether they can open a project in their studio.

Among the most popular DAWs are (even more programs can be viewed at this link ):

Avid Pro Tools (PC, Mac)

Pro Tools is considered the standard in the recording industry. Thanks to this, you can easily send your projects to studios all over the world and be sure that there will be no problems opening them – Pro Tools is everywhere.

Choosing Pro Tools, you need to be prepared for two things: a long study of the interface due to its confusion and complexity for beginners, and also working only with AAX plugins. If the first is not a problem, then the second may become critical – not all external processing exists in this format.

Apple Logic Pro X (Mac)

The older brother of GarageBand and another very popular DAW that is found in all studios built around the Mac today. Logic features a simple and intuitive interface and a large library of plugins, virtual instruments, loops and samples for 70+ GB.

Logic’s main problem is that it only exists on the Mac. This can be a problem if everyone around you is not using Apple computers.

Ableton Live (PC, Mac)

Compared to other DAWs, Ableton is built with an eye on live recording sessions and performances. Of course, you can record any music in the program without any restrictions, but DJs and concert musicians appreciate Ableton precisely for its ease of use on stage. For example, you can run various samples and audio clips, as well as create new loops in just a couple of clicks and look like a real man-orchestra.

FL Studio (PC, Mac)

There is a popular belief among musicians that FL Studio is a program for beginners. Such a judgment is not true: DAWs are actively used by such musicians as Deadmau5, Mike Oldfield, Martin Garrix and Afrojack, who cannot be called newcomers.

FL Studio’s approach to work is different from what you might see in other DAWs – creating music here is like working with a step sequencer. FL Studio doesn’t make it worse or better, it’s just a little different. Nevertheless, the line-up has everything to make electronic music, and it is quite easy to learn how to work with “fruit”.

Cockos Reaper (PC, Mac)

Cockos Reaper has been around for over 10 years, but only now it has become more or less heard by musicians. The developers claim that the commercial component worries them much less than the quality of work, and this is true: the Reaper costs only $ 60, but it can do the same thing as more expensive and well-known DAWs.

In addition to the price, it is worth highlighting the rich bundle of the program, which comes with a set of excellent plug-ins and effects – this will be more than enough for recording and mixing. The disadvantages of Reaper include the lack of virtual instruments in the delivery (you will have to search on the side), as well as some confusion and complexity of the interface for a novice musician.

Steinberg Cubase (PC, Mac)

The old-timer Cubase is rightfully considered one of the most popular DAWs, which is not least due to the cross-platform nature of the program and its prevalence in recording studios.

Cubase comes in three editions, each offering musicians easy audio and MIDI experience, a set of instruments and samples, built-in autotune, and more. Among the minuses – too bright and overloaded interface, which on the Internet was called “window madness”.

These programs are popular among musicians, and around them have gathered their own community of users. This makes learning DAW easier: there are thousands of learning materials on the Internet and on YouTube, and answers to your questions can be easily found in music communities on social networks and forums.

What about Audition?

Many people immediately think of Adobe Audition when it comes to recording music. Despite its popularity, Audition has always been and remains an audio editor, and is poorly suited for serious studio tasks.

Audition is handy for multitrack or voice recording, but its capabilities end there. For example, the editor can work with VST effects (compressors, equalizers), but does not support VST instruments. In addition, Audition is not familiar with MIDI – loading a virtual piano or drum kit and recording their part simply won’t work.

Against this background, the audio editor from Adobe loses even to the free Magix Music Maker. A home studio without virtual instruments simply does not exist in 2018, so it makes no sense to consider Audition as the center of the studio.

What plugins do I need?

In principle, none. Most DAWs are equipped with everything you need to produce music. In a set with almost any program you will find a large number of equalizers, compressors, reverbs and other effects, the capabilities of which will be enough to record and mix a project.

The need for third-party development will appear only in two cases:

  1. If something is not included with the program. We are talking about some specific processing or virtual instruments. Usually, developers equip DAWs only with the most necessary tools (if it’s not Reaper), but if you know that your music will not do without something specific (for example, geese), then you will have to look for all this on the side;
  2. If you are not satisfied with the sound quality of stock effects or instruments. Usually, the stumbling block here is the virtual instruments, which sound passable, but not great.
    Whether you need third-party plugins and whether you should immediately look for additional tools is an individual question. First, you should study your program in detail. Perhaps what you are looking for is already included.

The most adequate solution here would be to start working with what you already have and gradually make a list of what you are missing. Plugins will not run away from you – you can buy what is missing at any time. The main thing here is to know what and why you need. This understanding comes only with experience and after exploring the capabilities of DAW.

When it comes to plug-in format, it all depends on the DAW and what plug-ins it can work with (this is usually indicated in the program description). There are only six formats – VST, AU, AAX, RTAS, DXi, ReFill, but for the end user there is no difference between them. You won’t get any benefit from using VST or AU: plugins work the same regardless of format.

The only difficulty you can face is the lack of the required plugin in the right form. Before buying anything, check what format the plugin comes in and if it supports DAWs.

Can I write music on my tablet or smartphone?

You can, but it won’t be very convenient – screen sizes impose significant restrictions on the interface. Smartphone displays cannot be compared in area with a conventional monitor – there will be little information on the screen. In addition, working with regulators sometimes requires high accuracy of manipulation, and smartphones have problems with this.

Things are better on tablets, but another problem will appear here – software limitations. Mobile DAW features are not comparable to desktop DAWs due to platform differences. For example, mobile DAWs don’t have this wealth of plugins and virtual instruments, even if we’re only talking about stock content. Many functions (the same automation and audio editing) exist in a simplified form.

You won’t be able to mix a project on a tablet or smartphone, so far it’s a utopia. Of course, the developers are actively developing the capabilities of music software and increasing its performance, but the situation is still far from choosing a portable device as the basis of the studio.

Consider a tablet or smartphone as a complement to a studio computer. For example, you can download a mobile DAW to link it to the desktop and use it as a notebook to write down new ideas: they came up with a beat, recorded it on a smartphone, sent the project to your computer, and continued working with the project on the desktop. Sounds great, but keep in mind that not all large DAWs exist in a pocket version: only Cubase (Cubasis for iOS), Logic Pro X (GarageBand for iOS) and FL Studio (FL Studio Mobile for Android and iOS) have mobile versions.

Another scenario for effectively complementing the studio is using a smartphone or tablet as a virtual instrument or effects processor. For example, for iOS and Android there are high-quality synthesizers and drum machines from Korg, Moog, Propellerhead and a number of other developers – these applications sound great and will definitely come in handy in the studio. By connecting your tablet to a computer running a DAW, you can use the application as a regular virtual instrument.

Well, for guitarists, portable devices can replace a pedalboard. On iOS, there are mobile versions of Positive Grid BIAS FX Mobile and AmpliTube guitar amp and effects emulators. By connecting a tablet or smartphone to a computer and connecting a guitar, this will allow you to switch effects and control your sound from the device’s screen, without being distracted by the mouse or running to the computer to change the sound.

Do you need additional software for music production?

Modern DAWs are ready for all stages of music production and there is nothing they cannot handle. The same rule applies here as for plugins: everything that you are missing can be purchased later (when you get comfortable and understand what is really missing).

If the question is whether you need additional software for music mastering, then most likely not. First, as stated, DAWs are ready for all aspects of production. Secondly, mastering is a separate and rather voluminous topic, which is worth taking on with some experience in working with sound.

Of course, we want our music to sound cool and professional – that’s natural. The problem is that high-quality music is not cool software a la WaveLab, but your ideas and arrangements. The path from the draft to the finished mastering of the finished song is long, and it is possible that by that time you will have learned to work so skillfully in a DAW that you simply will not need external software.

In general, do not complicate your life: you have not yet learned DAW, so there is simply no point in other programs now.


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