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Home Studio Setup Costs Compared – 1980s And Now (pro-tools-expert.com)
181 points by brudgers 43 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 166 comments

The oddest thing about this Cambrian explosion of possibility at dirt cheap prices is what it did to my creativity: It actually hurt it.

I started just a tad later and fully digital than the gear in this article, so the floppy discs I got Scream Tracker on with its included samples plus whatever I could rip from a few .MODs I could get my hands on had to do. There were four tracks. There were a hundred samples, half of which was obscure crap (and even those found their use).

Building with it and making them sound awesome, plus discovering the amazing tricks the OGs of tracker & demo culture did with their editors (sliding and bending notes! dead stops in the middle of the sample!) was endless fun.

Nowadays, I get Native Instruments Ultimate — and despite sounding orders of magnitude better, all I do is toying around. I always have the nagging feeling there's gotta be one sound or effect in that endless library that's still better than the one I'm using right now.

> Nowadays, I get Native Instruments Ultimate — and despite sounding orders of magnitude better, all I do is toying around. I always have the nagging feeling there's gotta be one sound or effect in that endless library that's still better than the one I'm using right now.

It may be you're accidentally veering away from "music" into the realm of "sound effects." Many audio software environments too easily lets you drift in that direction. (Although I'd argue that's still better than drifting into the direction of becoming an audio software environment programmer. :)

>Nowadays, I get Native Instruments Ultimate — and despite sounding orders of magnitude better, all I do is toying around. I always have the nagging feeling there's gotta be one sound or effect in that endless library that's still better than the one I'm using right now.

That's why I never start a track without a finished idea in my head. I used to noodle and would get lost in the rabbit warren.

I agree with you for the most part. How do you sketch out your ideas, if you don’t me asking.

Depends on the style of music. This year I made techno. I created the kick sound(s) I had in my head. Selected the other drum sounds and mapped out a really rough arrangement on pro tools. Then I applied all the reverb and compression to get it sounding at least reasonable. Added the non drum layers based on the initial idea in my head and then started to shape the sounds to what I actually wanted (fx etc). After I started to tweak to glue it together. The important thing for this process is to get to this stage as quick as possible before I forget the original idea. Sometimes I’ll leave it for a while and come back with fresh ears to finish it off and other times I get it done in a day or two.

Thanks for the detailed response. Aside from the genre, a lot of what you said there applies to me. But I am trying a different tack recently. I want to be able to "jam out" on some weird sound that I found in my virtual audio stack. Even if that includes some weird mastering effect artefact. I want it all live.

This led me to focus on excellent but simple triggers, and the lowest possible latency. I can't overstate the impact of low latency on making the entire DAW/Virtual Instrument stack feel "real."

My quest for low latency with robust DSP lasted for 3 months of orders and returns. I ended up getting a Focusrite 4Pre which has a Thunderbolt 2 interface. I got the Apple Tbolt 3<->2 adapter and I can get robust ~2-3ms audio playback latency even on Ableton/Windows running on a 2017 XPS 9560. When you plug a drum trigger into something like that, it's whole different beast. I had no idea. I ended up with the NI Maschine Mikro Mk3 for the drum trigger. I can't believe how these NI pads feel with low latency audio.

Has anyone else gotten further down the latency rabbit hole than me? Please share!

I do jam out ideas on the ipad sometimes. Using iMS-20 or iMPC. I then record it into the DAW as is and replace the sounds on new tracks on the grid bit by bit.

FWIW your attempt to get the latency really low could be misplaced. If you play in a band for example and you are standing 5 metres away from the drummer the sound is already taking ~15ms to reach you. We're really good at adjusting to these timing differences and can handle much more latency seamlessly than you are designing for.

Micro-timing (otherwise known as groove) is much more important imo and you can train yourself to groove to your setup even if you have huge latency (though this is of course undesirable).

> FWIW your attempt to get the latency really low could be misplaced.

I totally understand your point, but it turns out I can have my cake and eat it too at an affordable price if I eBay and take chances on the fractured PC thunderbolt implementation landscape.

What near-zero latency gives me is the ability to use the immense power of my DAW’s dsp controls, to modify the sound of my voice and guitar, and record nearly that exact sound.

I’m middle aged, and to me this is the promise of real-time pc-based DAW, finally delivered for a few hundred dollars.

The crazy thing is that it seems Focusrite gave up on providing non-Mac computers with thunderbolt interfaces. The support costs were just too high. This is due to things like crappy Thunderbolt implementation by Dell and others.

My research led me to find that to get the best $ per low latency, you have to buy a used 4 Pre or 8 Pre, as Focusrite moved thunderbolt support up to their 10x priced Red line.

According to an official Focusrite support response on Reddit, thunderbolt support only adds around 1 ms of latency advantage. While I believe that specific metric from that source, isn’t it true that thunderbolt might allow for more simultaneous CPU <-> outboard DSP bandwidth? It certainly feels like that over USB. It feels like I can have a lot more cpu-intensive stuff like reverb and delays over thunderbolt.

In any case, for my crappy playing chops, having near-zero latency gives me the ability to record my stream of consciousness audio outbursts with newfound accuracy and steadiness.

I can echo this sentiment exactly. I started as a kid with a Yamaha PSR-500 with a built in multi-track sequencer. I wrote SO many songs on that thing. In my teenage years, I added a Boss DR550 Mk2 drum machine synced via MIDI and my song crafting went through the roof! Then I added a Korg M3R sound module and my productivity went down. I added a Yamaha DX7, Korg DW8000 and an Akai AX73 and I was barely doing anything other than noodling around. Even today with all the money I've spent on Arturia VSTs and an M-Audio controller.... a really beefed up computer just for recording. And I've written nothing. It's not for lack of creativity. It's just become such a pain to set everything up and get it going. By the time I've got sound in the headphones, I've just lost interest.

I wonder if it's the technology or if it's just getting older. Not a musician, but I used to do all sorts of creative stuff as a bored 13 year old. Programming, painting, coming up with board games, experimenting in the basement. Now that I'm an adult, I blow 1/2 my waking hours at work, then there's the family that wants to go hiking next weekend, and a kid to play with, and paying bills, and doing taxes, and cleaning the house, and mowing the lawn, and fixing the leaking sink, and being on boards and committees in the community, and on and on. I can maybe carve out an hour a week to do something creative, and by that time I just want to down a six pack and catch up on sleep.

I think today's technology does stifle creativity as well, though. Music was meant to be spontaneous and improvised, which is very easy to do with older synths and acoustic instruments. Production in a modern DAW is anything but that, and it's way less tactile.

Have you tried any of the pocket operators? They seem to be a nice mix of lots of knobs to twiddle combined with older synth/drum machine.

Yeah, this is spot on. The plethora of great VSTs out there makes it hard as an artist to choose a tool. You can easily get stuck in ‘preset surfing’ mode where you quickly realize you’ve spent an hour not really making anything.

For me it was important to acknowledge this and help myself set boundaries to how I spend my time producing. I also found myself gravitating toward vintage gear because of its limits and how it enforces decision making (e.g. printing synths directly in audio, which was a game changer in terms of process)

Yes. I started out using a cassette 4-track. I made music all the time. Then I upgraded to a roland 8-track that used zip discs! Still made music all the time. Eventually I was creating with Cool Edit Pro.

Before getting into software, I worked as a recording engineer for 7 years. Got to use many large format consoles, 2inch tape, great rooms and mics.

Over 20+ years I collected a decent amount of gear myself. But creating has slowed way down. It’s not just computers, I was deep into making electroacoustic/computer music composition in college.

There is paradox of choice, but also how we live as a society now, and the damage being connected to information has done to my attention.

So my current solution to this has been meditation, and consistently sitting down at night to get a little more music done.

To get songs finished, I use a combination of a notebook to sketch out structure, concepts and forms. Then sometimes trello, and sometimes org-mode.

> a roland 8-track that used zip discs

Hey, I had one of those! So much better than the tascam 4-track it replaced.

> Nowadays, I get Native Instruments Ultimate — and despite sounding orders of magnitude better, all I do is toying around. I always have the nagging feeling there's gotta be one sound or effect in that endless library that's still better than the one I'm using right now.

I think it might also be that we are exposed to so much music than before. Because of that, our expectations on what is good has become harder and harder to meet.

In my previous professional life I owned a record store. We sold "dance music" vinyl records to mostly DJ's from 1990 to approx 2007. The creativity and quality degraded as time went on.

First, the lower barrier to entry meant more wannabes creating more "noise." Not aural / sonic noise, but noise in the shopping and buying experience. There were still needles of joy, but the haystack was getting larger and larger.

Put a different way, the higher barrier to entry meant only the determined stuck to it. And in sticking to it, pushed themselves and their gear harder. Amazing things happen when there's push.

On the other hand, the new and easy to use gear isn't as "inspiring". Good is too often good enough, and great takes too much work.

There's a dark side to cheap & easy.

I see this pattern a lot I wonder if it's been named and discussed before.

I think creativity likes having small struggles and challenges.

It's not 100% applicable, but it's close enough to the subject that I have to bring up this awesome Brian Eno quote.

> “Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit - all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.”

partly and I think it shifts the question toward "are there limits to todays medium" ? will we see a ultrasonic punk ? or crypto metal with sha256 over harmonics ?

I think this (alleged) Orson Welles quote says it best: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

(Information on the quote's provenance, for those who might be interested: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/05/24/art-limit/)

The similar quote I've heard is, "Form is liberating." I feel like I heard this in the context of poetry in high school, but Google turns up a bunch of references to The Mythical Man Month.

yeah kinda

I guess the first cause of creativity is a 'what if' not an 'it surely will'

There's something to be said for limitations. I learned to drive linux on a old p100 laptop and floppy disk installs. It had very limited resources (you had to aggresively nice oggvorbis to play .ogg files without skipping). The hard drive was failing and I had to put it in the freezer from time to time to bring it to life.

Anyway working with those limitations was very educational.

Fast forward to today, I've been playing the baritone sax for 18 months. I got a cheap vintage instrument. I traded it in this week for a modern Yamaha, and it's so much easier to play, and the quality of my playing has gone up orders of magnitude. But then again the initial struggle with the sub-optimal equipment was very educational.

there's a sweet spot between limitation and DOA. My first bass was what I'd describe a shovel. I thought a good player should be able to groove on anything.. but I saw my error the day I tried something more balanced (even a simple squier vintage was enough to help progress)

Seems related to the paradox of choice. Creativity is shaped by and can be fueled by limitations. Part of the creative process today, since so many tools are freely or cheaply available, is choosing a set of limitations for yourself.

In a sense, every creative decision imposes a new limitation and narrows the space of what is possible. It’s almost like sculpting: the final product is a result of cutting away potentialities until what’s left is recognizable as what you wanted it to be.

choice and price, there was a lot of choice in the past too but you'd filter from cost and how much you wanted to try something

Totally agree with this. I make music on an iPad with zero external gear and I've come to embrace this limitation as a deliberate choice that make me think more creatively about how to achieve what I want. Even down to the DAW I use -NanoStudio 2 - it lack's some pretty essential features like AUFX automation, but it's so well thought out in terms of how you use it on a touch screen that I'd rather work to its limitations than use something like Cubasis which really gets in your way in terms of interaction design.

I just checked out that DAW and I’m curious as a newbie — why are skeuomorphic “dials” considered good UX? They seem like the worst idea ever and yet I see them all over the DAW/synth landscape.

What am I missing?

They are controlled like sliders (swipe up/down to adjust) and contain the same information, but are much more compact.

Aha! I was trying to position my finger over the dial and turn it. Thanks for clarifying.

Ha, I couldn't work out what _isn't_ a good UX about them until you posted this. It's worth noting a couple of extra things about them too, while taking up much less space than a slider they operate in the same way - this often means you can get a lot more range / precision than if you'd tried to fit it in a slider as your touch can slide way outside the bounds of the control itself. The other is that there's a convention in touch-interface audio apps that double tapping the dial will return it to its default state, whatever value that might be. This arguably could be done with a slider, but I've not come across that on any of the apps I use.

Huh, didn’t know about the double-tap, I’ll have to try that.

You’re right about range and precision too. With knobs, the interface creator can fine-tune the precision without it being surprising. A knob that changes oscillator waveforms can have large, comfortable slices between each waveform, while an envelope length can be more fine-grained.

One could build in coarse/fine adjustments based on swipe speed, but that seems a lot harder to get right. I’m still quite hopeful about what VR synths and controls can bring. Synthspace may be the thing that makes me get a VR headset, and if someone ever ports VCV Rack to VR I’ll be there in an instant.


It’s a hidden interface mapping for sure—you have to know about it before it makes any sense. It might help if a “ghost slider” appeared when you first press on it, but that could also clutter things up.

As I said in a reply below, I think the touch interface on flat glass is a stepping stone to VR synths where the skeuomorphism is more natural: grab the knob and spin it, just like hardware!

I have the same issue; I frequently get an interest in making music again, buy an instrument (because of course what I have available isn't good enough), doodle with it, then let it collect dust.

I need a band or something, idk.

sounds like the Paradox of Choice. the length of time spent choosing completely suffocates all attempts at creativity

And scarcity triggers innovation. So instead of digging deep and asking "How can I alter the bounds of what appears to be limitation", and over-abundance of choice prevents that question from surfacing.

But that question is where the magic happens.

I've invested in a Dawless setup, I have a groove machine + analog bass synth + a mixer (mpc or something like an octatrakt) to orchestrate and apply fx. It avoids the tedium and allows for a level of electronic music improvisation that reawakened my love of the craft.

It allows you to hit that flowstate that you can hit playing a bonafide instrument. The sound quality is good enough, the arrangements arent that hard,its house and techno anyway, and allows me to get away from the tedium of engineering, that as I get older, wears on my patience.

Amiga-era trackers carry the music equivalent to graphics limitations in older computers actually bolstering creativity.

Yeah, I went from my ableton DAW to modular for this reason, but now eurorack possibilities also have exploded I end up with the same problem. I spend more time reading manuals of new modules and fiddling around than actually creating music. Still fun though.

Same here, although I find the expense of Eurorack gear (and HP even more so) limits the depth of the rabbit hole a bit. Still, I spend a lot of time reading manuals for modules I don't even own, and even more time tinkering with circuits for my own modules. The notion that getting "out of the box" will make you more productive musically is a farce, a fun farce, but still a farce.

Haha yeah I'd say going to a eurorack setup really puts all of those possibilities right in front of your face instead of hidden behind menus! I've always been interested in those modules.. they look so fun!

I feel similarly.

Lately I've been limiting myself to a simple groove box and working pretty hard on getting able to perform interesting stuff on that box alone.

One thing that is nice about this practice is that it has made me way less picky about tools... I've been mixing an album this week for a band I'm in and I pretty much am just using Logic pros default eq and comp, plus a single reverb and a single delay plugin. So, like 4 plugs for a whole album and I'm not finding it any harder to get a good sound out.

Tracker composers did some absolutely incredible work with almost nothing, and the limitations weeded out anyone who wasn't passionate and forced those who were to push the boundaries.

Now - as you say - we have shovel-ware sample collections that anyone can buy and use, and it's so much harder to do anything that stands out with them.

What really helps me is to compose a complete song first and worry about the sound later. Just use whatever patch kind of gets the job done at first. Once the full song structure is in place, including all melody and transitions start tweaking the actual sounds.

Remember when playing an instrument was a thing? Not like a dude in a basement playing four triad chords on a midi keyboard, but actual people playing their instruments with mastery and finesse. It is a dying art...

A friend of mine described this as "exploring the endless possibilities or endlessly exploring the possibilities"...

> I started just a tad later and fully digital than the gear in this article

Expecting to hear about your Alesis DAT recorder....

Maybe you simply lost one feature from the past: youth (and the endless amounts of time that comes with it).

You don't even need all the equipment listed in the article. I've been making music for years with just my laptop, a cheap Focusrite audio interface ($150), a pair of studio headphones (Sennheiser HD280), a cheap keyboard (Akai MPK Mini) and copies of Ableton and Serum synth.

You can still spend an inordinate amount of money on hardware and software. If I bought every plugin I really wanted, I would likely end up spending a couple of thousand. Throw in a better audio interface ($500+), a good keyboard ($400), a pad controller ($200+), and a better computer ($1500+) and you can easily add up to several thousand dollars.

But the point remains: it's absurdly cheap to start producing music today. You can get near studio quality with gear that, outside of your computer, won't cost more than $1k.

Absolutely agree.

I have exactly the same setup with the addition of a $150 condenser mic for acoustic guitars!

I've been saying this to the people I teach for years... And bear in mind that you can run multiple copies of an effect (providing your computer has the cpu power to do so), whereas back in the day you would get only the physical effect you actually bought. Mixdown with multiple compressors was just a dream - typically you'd have a couple of good channels of compression, then maybe a few more 'workhorse' units such as alesis 3630, and everyone else would have to go without.

This also doesn't take into account the improvement of much equipment today. I used to dream of a seck 1882, back in the day. I finally owned one about 10 years ago. It was bloody awful! Noisy as hell, and the EQ wasn't any good. Never meet your heroes!

Those Secks were utter crap in every possible way - nowhere near pro performance, and a poor match for that 16 track. You had to spend twice as much to get something that wasn't bad bedroom demo quality.

In fact most beginners made demos on a Tascam Portastudio or equivalent - 4 tracks, more with bouncing - with a synth or two and guitar pedal effects. You couldn't afford a 16-channel reel-to-reel multitrack unless you had a proper job - unlikely for most wannabe musicians - or a record deal, or you were trying to run a low-end pro studio.

The equipment has improved and become a lot more affordable, but limited access made people hungry and that kept the music more interesting. Now a lot of people seem to buy sample packs and mix them in FL, or buy a giant modular to make the same old square proto-techno as everyone else, and it's more conformist music-by-numbers with much less risk-taking and adventure.

It goes to show how good producers before the digital era were. Albums you'd consider 20th century masterpieces were recorded on 4-track recorders. They'd record a section, bounce it to one track. Record another section on the second track, then merge the two tracks. And so on. Incredible amount of hard work.

I sold my hardware Distressor last week because the UAD version is just as good to my ears and significantly more flexible and pleasant to work with. I feel spoiled by it!

I bet the plugin version doesn't introduce buzz on single-coil pickups, either.

My abiding memory of the seck 1882 is how heavy and ungainly to move it was.

That fits in a laptop now, many times over, with extra space for an 8-track.

I still use my 3630 for a lot of my stuff.

One thing that's easy to get lost with all this gear explosion is none of it's really a good starting place without initial musical knowledge, which does not come from fooling with recording gear or DAWs.

Because I was in computers first I was super attracted to this stuff and wanted to make electronic music, even to the point of taking a college elective on it back in the late 90s.

But it's all useless without knowing about chords & scales and harmonies and all that stuff unless you're just going to follow recipes for creating EDM from the web. You need the physical skills to play a keyboard or guitar or anything really to be able to input data too.

The first piece of gear to get to start making some serious progress is something like a very simple electronic keyboard/piano, a dirt cheap used acoustic piano (free a lot of the time now) or a simple acoustic guitar.

Strip away all the options, learn then start exploring the electronic options.

Everyone loves to talk about someone like Moby but usually doesn't mention he could sing, play piano, play guitar, and play bass before he started putting samples together. Lots of musical knowledge before adding the electronics. (His book is great by the way!)

No need for an electronic piano/keyboard. A cheap, small MIDI keyboard is just as good for a beginner. Or if they really want something closer to a piano, a larger or full 88-key weighted MIDI keyboard is still a lot cheaper than an electronic keyboard, while still likely providing the same or more value.

(For those unaware of the difference, a MIDI keyboard doesn't itself produce any sound, and instead produces digital MIDI notes which are received and played in [almost] real-time by a software instrument on your computer, such as a software synth running in a DAW like GarageBand or Ableton Live. An electronic keyboard can directly produce sound through headphones or speakers when connected to a power source. Electronic keyboards may support MIDI, as well. MIDI keyboards are generally much cheaper and lighter and, IMO, are just as good or better, with the only requirement being that you have to connect them to a computer when using them. They generally support USB.)

Id recommend a standalone instrument. As soon as you connect midi controller to the computer the millions of options start to distract away from the fundamentals. The controller is an option if you can stick to what you decided to do and have the will not to get lost in options

It's just totally unnecessary and costs you a lot more money for no good reason, unless you have a strong desire to play without access to a computer. (And if it's an electric instrument, you still need access to a power outlet.) If you like, you can just use a plugin with very few parameters, like a simple piano plugin.

Also, what if there isn't anything in particular "you've decided to do"? What if you've decided to just have fun playing with instruments and making music? In that case, all of the options available make it even more fun. I learned way more about music by choosing as my first instrument plugin a weird, crazy synth with tons of options and possibilities (Synplant: https://soniccharge.com/synplant) rather than something more basic.

You have the best shot of learning something if you stick with it due to interest and motivation, and that definitely kept me a lot more interested and motivated than if I had used a simple piano VST, or a physical instrument. Kind of like how many people who start off with rote exercises in programming languages they consider boring tend to drop it and never learn anything, while people who start off with more dynamic languages are more likely to stick with it.

I strongly disagree, and I say that as a classically trained musician. You can do pretty much everything with a mouse and (QWERTY) keyboard today. We've worked really hard to democratize content creation and lower the barrier to entry, we don't need to raise it by reinforcing the notion that you need a physical aptitude for playing instruments to create art with sound.

The computer can be an entry point for one's journey just the same as an acoustic guitar or piano. You can use that as your platform to learn theory as well as (if not better than) a piano or guitar.

But to get elitist for a moment, there's no better way to learn music aside from private lessons. That's true of any instrument, including the DAW.

I don't know if you can really have the perspective on this if you were a classically trained musician. You already knew all that stuff inside and out.

I think a lot of music produced on a qwerty keyboard eschews huge amount of music theory just because it's produced that way.

My perspective was from the other way.. trying to learn it all playing with DAWs and other tools (admittedly a long time ago) and failing. Nothing about these tools will teach you why certain notes sound good together or why certain chords sound good together, etc..

For sure lots of electronic music just tries to skip all that completely though, or follows super strict genre rules where if you follow them it all comes out OK.

But we mostly agree though, the lessons are what make the difference. When I tried to learn this though there was zero accessibility of local teachers who would have taught through a DAW or something like that though. Finding a piano or guitar teacher was something available everywhere.

If you want to learn the fundamentals it is better to remove all distractions. If you want to produce a song it is much easier on a computer. But the meat of creativity comes from limitations though

It’s also fine if people just create something they like, even if it isn’t up to someone else’s standards.

I'd be even less reserved than that. Many very popular and acclaimed musicians (be it people producing stuff with software in a DAW, or playing electric/acoustic instruments, or both) get to where they are just by messing around for a while and developing an intuitive musicality and composing ability despite never learning any music theory. So one may very well be up to more people's standards than they might think, once they put some time in.

It's probably worth it to spend a little bit of time learning the fundamentals, but like with programming, you can self-teach pretty well by just learning the absolute basics and then developing expertise through experimentation, trial-and-error, and pursuing what interests you.

Just as you don't need a 4 year degree to become a competent programmer, you don't need to deliberately study and practice music theory or classical technique for months/years to become a competent musician. In both cases, you can learn and practice by doing, if that's what you prefer. You can take a "hacker" approach for both domains.

Yes but one can be a modern musician without playing any instrument at all, the software can guide you on the right tracks and the need to actually “play” as in connecting oneself to any instrument can be bypassed alltogether. And that is a double edged sword as the effort to sit down and learn an instrument becomes an extremely hard task as compared to the handholding the computer can do for you. It’s almost like the diference between deep reading and reading small bits of information on the internet.

I'm skeptical there are very many good ones (by my subjective taste) who use that approach. I suspect many of those people still use their computer keyboards as a way of entering notes in real-time, in which case you are still basically playing an instrument, with your computer keyboard acting as a MIDI keyboard.

I also don't really think there's any software that "handholds" or "guides" you in the way you're describing. Can you give an example? If it's a drum machine, you still have to program the patterns yourself, for example. Your DAW won't structure your tracks for you.

So true, and this is how musical ages and styles change!

We could talk about Baroque vs Classical and that switch over into what the standards were. Or how hip-hop turned from a musical expression of life (and certainly not because of living up to some musical standard) into something that is right at the forefront of music today!

I feel like a corollary would be youtube vs movie studios. Sure, one is more expensive than the others, has standards, etc. But sometimes those things don't mean much, sometimes it's just about the story, the music, the authenticity of the feelings.

>none of it's really a good starting place without initial musical knowledge, which does not come from fooling with recording gear or DAWs.

For modern genres, music knowledge can be built by listening and DJing. It's also the classic path to become a producer.

If you learn how to mix, you and can then transport this knowledge to production. Not only do you know what to produce as a beginner (fill holes in your own mixes), but you also know how it should sound because knowing to mix implies that you know how to mix in key, also important when you transpose samples or patch synths.

Serato/Serato Studio or Ableton combine both, so you could learn how to make DJ mixes in those DAWs before you move on into beat production.

Pianos go new for thousands of dollars, and used for free -- if you can move them yourself. In between, there are really good electronic keyboards in the few hundred dollars range.

used to this so, too; contrary to that, deadmau5 is pretty great even though he doesn't play any instrument or know theory, he just uses his mouse and keyboard to try stuff in Ableton. Watch his masterclass, it's pretty eye-opening

seems similar to coding - some people do a short bootcamp and start to produce, while others are kind of helpless even with a masters degree in CS

His music has been incredibly stale for years though. Maybe as a result. Longtime listener.

I think it is worth mentioning that home studios has been quite viable for more than 2 decades. Although no doubt it is cheaper and better than ever.

Moby recorded and produced his super hit album "Play" in his bedroom in the late 90s.

[0] Studio pictures: https://www.reddit.com/r/synthesizers/comments/bnpmza/mobys_... [1] Wikipedia article on play https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Play_(Moby_album)

(loved this in the Wikipedia above)After his album just prior to Play bombed, and he considered quitting music, he says:

>>> "I got one piece of fan mail from Terence Trent D'Arby and I got a phone call from Axl Rose saying he was listening to Animal Rights on repeat. Bono told me he loved Animal Rights. So if you're gonna have three pieces of fan mail, that's the fan mail to get."[5]

I highly recommend listening this this episode: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/heavyweight/brholm

Thanks for the recommendation, just listened to it after reading your comment and I second that.

Late 90's? How about early 80's? ;-)

Famously, Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska, on 4-track tape.


To be fair, Bob Ludwig did a lot of work to get it onto a record.

tame impalas recent album was on a portastudio i believe..

Unlike other things that have been democratized by modern technology (photography, video, coding, publishing) success in music is still heavily dominated by pretty much the same big gateway keepers as it was in the 80s.

Yes, you could absolutely make a top-40 quality recording with just an iPad but your chances of being popular approaches zero unless you're "discovered" by a label. And yes, you could increase your chances of being noticed doing all kinds of personal marketing (were it helps being an attractive 20-something), but your music will never make it on it merits alone. Thus, home recording will stay as a very expensive hobby for most of us and nothing else.

As far as I'm concerned, the very definition of success in music has changed as a result of modern technology. There are far more genres with their own communities, events, magazines (paper and digital), crucial albums, and both minor and major celebrities. The relevance of labels has changed so much that many artists don't bother seeking contracts because they can achieve their definition of success, which in some genres can look just like the traditional "making it" picture of a successful musician, without ever signing a contract. Thank god for that.

The modern world of music is such that an artist playing a very niche kind of music can record at home or in a friend's studio cheaply, release their work online, build a dedicated audience, and make a respectable amount of money without ever dealing with a label. They can be working in a kind of music that never would have had any success in a pre-digital world. That's powerful, wonderful.

I disagree and think this is changing rapidly, especially in the electronic/EDM scenes. In these arenas, a lot of careers blossom from SoundCloud, YouTube, and having other artists/DJs pick up tracks and play them in their sets. Marketing is still a factor but matters a lot less (many artists even wear masks/helmets). A quality track can (and many have been) made with just a laptop. Martin Garrix released his first hit "Animals" at age 16/17 after one his remixes was picked up by another DJ.

Additionally, music discovery has fundamentally changed because of streaming services like Spotify, as well. Just a couple of days ago there was an article on the front page of HN about how the top 40 tracks on Spotify make up a smaller percentage of the streams than even a year or two ago. Discovery features allow tracks to rise on their merit/listening stats making marketing much less important than it used to be, across genres.

With that said, it's still hard to make it. The barrier to entry has never been lower and thus there is a tremendous amount of competition and talent to contend with now. The determining factor for winning these days seems to be the ability to consistently and reliably release quality tunes over and over again.

> Marketing is still a factor but matters a lot less (many artists even wear masks/helmets).

Marketing doesn't matter any less now than it did back in the day; it's just something the artist is expected to do themselves, rather than something to outsource to a label.

The helmet/mask thing _is_ marketing. It's a gimmick and is half of what built the original hype for guys like deadmau5 and marshmello. It was really novel to see a guy spinning records in a mouse costume, at one point, and that was the reason _masses_ of people discovered, rather than just a few.

Martin Garrix had to find, reach out to, and collaborate with hundreds of unknown artists before he built his network big enough such that Tiesto 'discovering' him was a possibility.

There are hundreds of thousands of people producing EDM and releasing it on Soundcloud/Beatport/etc. A tiny fraction of those people will ever get more than 10 listeners. The ones who do get listeners will hustle like hell to build up their network and broadcast their channels -- i.e. market themselves. Marketing is still the only way to get people listening to your stuff, quality tunes alone won't get you there.

Its one thing to have gear access, but the second you think "I could make X if I had access to Y" you are already thinking about it wrong. If you want to make music and you are driven to do so you will use what you have to make what you like.

Early hip hop records didnt use samplers, they used pause tapes at least for the demo process. (see ATCQ People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm)

Early electro/house/hip hop used unrealistic sounding pawn shop gear (that has since become rare and sought after)

The beatles had crap guitars and played anyway.

I have a pretty sizable home studio and it definitely helps me craft sound, but it is just a tool not the reason...

I once heard the advice "Consider buying gear once you're productive. Don't buy gear to become productive." Once one has the bare essentials it's very solid advice. Having a dozen well-understood parameters to play with is often more useful than a hundred poorly understood ones, which can quickly become paralyzing.

I feel like the older model of accumulating physical gear helped put some limits on how complexity grew in small studios, but that has all been upended by software. There is definitely a balance to be struck between the capabilities of the setup and what will actually result in the best creative output. Creativity often thrives within constraints, and it can paradoxically become harder to work with objectively better equipment.

I've experienced this tangibly.

Recorded an EP with a guy who had rebuilt a bunch of used gear by hand so nothing even physically made it into the studio unless he could afford it and fix it. He had plenty to work with, but it was largely just the staples ... and one beast of a tape machine for mastering. Funny thing, is he found a lot of settings that just worked and kept most of them. There would be some tweaking, but mostly with the levels more than anything once we found the sound.

Recording on our own, digitally, had my pal tweaking various parameters until all hours—introducing different EQ's and reverbs and then pulling them and replacing them and tweaking them and trying to find the minutiae of what would make it just right to him, but he was rarely ever satisfied. I don't think it was just him, it's that there were so many options available to us—even without paying for premium VSTs and the like.

And we were recording what was essentially folk-rock or roots-rock. There's a lot of leeway in recording demos and EP tracks in that space.

Recording, like software, I've grown to like to keep it as simple as I can, when I can.

I'm not a musician, but a photographer. I think the gear craziness is probably similar across both areas. I've adapted the don't just buy gear, get out and do stuff to "Don't buy gear until you have a particular problem that gear would solve. If you can, borrow gear to validate." Because, lets be honest, sometimes the gear actually helps - but unless you have the problem it helps for its gonna sit in a corner.

Sometimes people hope the gear would help their creative problems and keep on buying new gear but the satisfaction is short lived.

If you want to make music and you are driven to do so you will use what you have to make what you like.

I think you're confusing survivor bias of 'some people did really well in the past despite crap equipment' with the actual definite lowering of the cost of entry for music production that has happened over the past 20 years.

Its vastly more accessible now for a great many people whereas in the past it was a privilege to have access to quality recording gear.

the second you think "I could make X if I had access to Y" you are already thinking about it wrong

I disagree, for the reasons given above.

I think you could go to gearslutz.com and see a forum full of folks that would confirm my point :)

I would also argue that while maybe the general sound quality has improved with technology(a 4 track cassette recorder can only sound so good) the music is not similarly improved. There are great songs written today, as there was 40-50 years ago, but the technology isnt the reason.

Anyway, I will concede that in the right hands a great studio full of awesome gear will make a better product than a cigar box guitar, pots and pans and a mini cassette recorder. The point I was really making is dont expect technology to make you write good music. It can inspire creativity, but you need to have the spark and put in the work...

From my own experience, you are correct.

With only a bartered acoustic guitar, I used tricks (disconnecting the erase head wires) to layer on standard cassette and create songs. A friend loaned me his cassette 4-track for a weekend and I knocked out 7 tracks.

This was in the 80's.

Now with the luxury of hard disk recording, and essentially a whole studio on my laptop, I instead post to HN. ;-)

What can I say, I'm old and not as moved by the creative passions of youth.

Maybe "creativity finds a way" is another way to put it.

Ive experienced a similar abundence paralysis, theres too much option and that is exhausting. As soon as you go minimalist the creativity and the desire do come back. You can then sprinkle some extras here and there but with caution

Gearslutz.com is, generally speaking, a bit over-focused on gear sometimes (posts about hardware for instance dominate the electronic music forum in a world where software pretty much dominates everything in that department). :)

I think though that this article was focusing more on accessibility, at least, that was my takeaway. There are many sub-genres and scenes of music that might not initially make the most money compared to top slick commercial pop production. In the early 1980s, the initial cost of equipment to make and record certain styles of music could be a barrier of sorts.

To make something like, say, electro in the early 1980s, you would have to purchase... something. A synthesizer and a drum machine / sequencer is probably minimum requirements. Juan Atkins for instance lists his gear for his Cybotron days here [1], it's not "minimal" or "pawn shop" level for sure. Generally speaking, the home studio was still "demo" level recordings in the 1980s (there are exceptions); "Clear" likewise was recorded at a couple of professional studios and mastered at a separate studio.

Not all artists were doing this much, of course. But there is a reason that the sampling drum machines of the late 1980s (Akai MPC 60 and Emu SP 1200) were seen as "democratising"; previously, the barrier of entry to create sampling oriented beats was much higher, and now, all of a sudden, there was a relatively affordable machine that could allow you to do this.

These days, with a laptop, you could probably pretty easily make an electro style track using free or low-cost plugins and DAWs.

You are correct though, that all the gear in the world won't make a difference if the ideas aren't good (and even Mr. Atkins says this himself in that interview, "you don't want to go out and invest in all that gear just to push a couple of preset buttons and make a track that 20 people across the world could have already made."). I just think that the greater affordability and quality of today's equipment allows more artists to realize their vision (and if it also allows more hobby level people to be able to afford to just play around a bit, that's okay too :) ).

[1] https://www.musicradar.com/news/tech/interview-juan-atkins-o...

I mean this is a good attitude but it's hard to overstate how different things are now than back then.

My first real job in high school was as an assistant engineer/intern at a recording studio, and I was an avid musician, producer and band member then and for a decade or two following. This would have been about 1989, and at the time the reality was it was very hard for an average musician to be able to produce anything that would sound remotely like a professional recording at home.

Even things like the classic Tascam cassette based 4-track recorders were pretty expensive, and then you'd need microphones and serviceable compressors and reverb and so on to make something respectable. I mean, we did it, we bounced tracks, we used the pause button, we put drums in stairwells, all that. Sure it was fun, but it was challenging, and you could make a good argument that it was an obstacle to actually making music.

Even when digital came along it was still miserable for awhile. One of my earlier professional computer experiences is the literally hundreds of hours spent messing around with Windows NT settings trying to figure out how to keep a Pro Tools rig functional and at least sort of reliable, when the first PT systems came into our studio. And those even were way out of the financial reach of home musicians.

And we're not even talking about duplication and distribution issues. I grew up in D.C. and some of those early engineering gigs were for Dischord records, which at the time had taken the genuinely innovative approach of getting vinyl pressed in Eastern Europe, because of the strangehold on vinyl capacity in the US that made it really tough to do small runs of independent music. Most people didn't have that ability to buck the system. If what you were doing wasn't recognized as commercially viable by some kind of label you were probably going to do it in obscurity.

Yes, of course, artists can always thrive and find a way in the face of adversity. But that doesn't mean it's not adversity. It was so much harder back then, the digital changes since that era that first enabled project and portable studios, and eventually made it plausible to go from a laptop to the top of the charts in a matter of days.

The access to gear is a real, substantive difference, and I don't think it's fair to dismiss the changes out of hand. The changes have made it possible for a lot more people to participate.

The fact that a lot more people are participating is today's adversity.

Access to equipment has gotten a lot easier. Access to reasonable levels of income from paying audiences has become far, far harder.

Honestly, there are lots of things this is untrue for. I went bouldering (indoors) with my friends and it was fun but okay with rental shows. Then I went and bought myself some climbing shoes and it was amazing. I went way more often, found it way more fun, and progressed faster.

Same with cycling. Getting a $1k bike makes it so much more enjoyable than a $300 bike.

Don't make things harder for yourself than they need to be. Yes, the people who most desire doing a thing will do it with barely anything. But if you know you're not that person, you know more pleasant tooling will bring the threshold of the activity down, and you have the money for it, absolutely do it.

Better tools lower activation energy significantly. You want activation energy to be low for things you want to do but can't summon the motivation for.

Sure, in the end if you find you don't really want to do it, don't. Now you have to sell these ski boots for way cheap. But so what. That's just money. Life is short. Don't make things harder for yourself.

And creative arts are no different. Sure I could paint with paints. Etc. But having a Wacom makes it way more likely I will.

But sure, as an autodidactic technique, starting from a restricted environment and progressing to complexity is superior to starting with complexity.

IMHO, simplicity simplicity simplicity, whatever that means to you : )

> the second you think "I could make X if I had access to Y" you are already thinking about it wrong

I've noticed myself thinking this way a ton and you're absolutely right. It's just so easy to get bogged down with the possibilities that it's easy to think this way. How do you stay focused with what you have?

Yep, internalizing the idea that “better gear won’t allow me to skip the hard work” has taken time, but it is so true. Gear can make certain tasks easier, and it grants access to a bigger/different palette, but that stuff is nearly orthogonal to the creative effort itself, especially as an amateur.

Following up if anyone finds this: In general, when you do upgrade your gear, the closer it is to the source, the more of a difference it will make. So for an acoustic instrument, prefer to upgrade the instrument first, then treat the room where you’re recording, then upgrade the microphone, then the preamp, then the software interface(s).

"The beatles had crap guitars and played anyway."

That reminded me of a video of two guys playing a shit WalMart toy guitar and making something surprisingly listenable.


I agree that the price / functionality ratio is much better in modern times. But a significant drawback, which I didn't see mentioned, is that most of those nice hardware buttons, knobs and sliders are now tiny, obscure controls arranged on a multitude of hidden screens on that tiny laptop display, which you have to awkwardly operate with your virtual mouse pointer. Usability in fact suffers a lot if you go "all software".

The UIs for pre-laptop digital gear were generally much worse! A small number of buttons that you would use to enter many different things, minimal to no ability for visualization, many many modes. Ex: http://www.synthfool.com/docs/Yamaha/DX_Series/Yamaha%20DX7%...

Even analog gear, with no modes and everything all in front of you, can be a lot more awkward. For example, compare setting EQ with only rotating knobs for parameters versus a laptop where you can see the output frequency function as you manipulate it.

There is a plenty of hardware controls you can buy for your DAWs.

Can you suggest anything that's reasonably priced? I have a great (cheap) setup for recording guitar + vocals but fiddling with the laptop when I'm trying to record causes me too much stress!

I know. But then you are buying hardware again. And the good quality stuff is expensive.

Still much cheaper than in the 80s/90s.

You can get analogue polysynth for sub-$500, moog mini clone for $250, a great 16 channel mixer for $200 and so on...

> a great 16 channel mixer for $200


I had a Behringer Xenyx a few years ago that was better than anything I had in the 90s. And not to the stereotype of the "cheap" Behringer quality, they're up to par these days.

(Sure, it's no SSL/Neve, but better than any demo/home studio had in past decades - I remember the days of Fostex/Tascam 4track cassete tape recorders/mixers).

Check the Behringer X Air XR16/18 out too, it seems great (more expensive though)

Thanks. Wow this even has MIDAS pre-amps, heard about those from some premium devices.

As far as "studio monitors", you should know that a quality set of over ear headphones has better sound reproduction than any speaker. I used to be involved in the pro audio scene, until I realized this.

Its impossible to eliminate echo and stereo bleed with speakers. If you try to EQ a room using mics you will see this clearly. You might get close building an anaerobic chamber, but headphones are still better.

If you're on a budget don't waste money on expensive speakers, just use headphones

Cross ear perception of the other speaker is actually desirable, unless you're specifically mixing binaural for headphones. Crosstalk is key to localizing the apparent acoustic image in front of the listener instead of "inside the skull."

If you mix purely on headphones, you can just put a quick filter inline that does a reasonable job of simulating it. Without this you'll have difficulty mixing things well for playback on speakers.

What filter do you mean? I'm aware of hardware which simulates it, but it costs around 2000 EUR.

Here's a classic reference on it: https://www.linkwitzlab.com/headphone-xfeed.htm

This only works if you either have a guarantee that everyone else is also going to listen to your work on headphones, or total disregard for anyone who isn't.

If you expect people to listen to it on speakers, you need to listen to it on speakers.

TBH, I am mixing an album this weekend in a pair of HD280s, but a) I have been using this pair of headphones (well, everything but the drivers have been replaced at least once) for almost 15 years and b) I have mixed quite a few albums.

And I wouldn't choose to do that if I weren't stuck in an apartment or had the budget to rent a studio for a couple of days.

Echo and stereo bleed create frequency, amplitude, and phase cues that are important to listening, and while the room reflections or speaker deficiencies can cause a whole lot of problems, most folks are probably better off mixing on a home stereo if they had the choice.

I agree, but one problem with headphones though is that you don't feel the low tones. The bass will end up too loud if all you ever use is headphones. At the very least, you need to listen to the penultimate mix on speakers. There's also the old trick of making sure it sounds good in your car speakers.

| better sound reproduction than any speaker

Aside from the comment below regarding bleed as desirable, this just simply isn't true. Yes, you can spend an order of magnitude less for "good" headphones, but the advantage of a cabinet for tuning the driver will always beat what can be done right near your ear.

It was probably autocorrect, but the term is anechoic.

Or alternatively, back then entry level was the Tascam 244 Portastudio, with whatever instruments/mics you could find at a pawn shop. Reverb? Sing in the shower. Way less than 10k.

And a lot bands did this... https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portastudio

One guy from our school did build a home studio like they describe, but only after getting a record deal and a pile of cash.

First album I ever worked on was on a 244. It felt amazing to use.

Really great overview, there are so many pieces of gear that are very hard for a layman to understand. Their descriptons can be self-referential. I've been getting into audio / synthesizers a bit and it is such a hard world to get your head around!

It's remarkable how hard it is to get audio into a computer compared to how simple one imagines it should be. Understanding audio interfaces, mixers, power levels (mic/line/instrument), cable types (TS, TRS, 3.5mm) is not rocket science but it's a bit shocking when you see how hard it is to record anything besides your computer's built-in microphone.

And then there's the whole world of MIDI. It's at once an amazing standard and a confusing dinosaur (more the former) which is, again, shockingly hard to get started with as a n00b. When I started out I assumed I just needed a cable with USB A on one end and MIDI on the other end ... hah!

All that said: this stuff is really fun and it gets cheaper every day (although your wish list also gets bigger ever day). Companies like Behringer get a lot of flak for being cheap but they have made it so so so much cheaper for the casual person to get the hardware they need to try things.

> When I started out I assumed I just needed a cable with USB A on one end and MIDI on the other end ... hah!

And now we just need a cable with USB on one end and USB on the other end ;)

Even pre-amped mics have a USB port.

There are also instruments that go digital -- Line6 Variax guitars/basses have an RJ45 socket beside the century-old audio jack -- you plug it into the stomp box with an ethernet cable, and then USB to computer, and you can start recording without worrying about the impedance mismatch.

And actually I think RJ45 makes more sense than USB in this scenario because the jack is locked in the port so you don't worry about accidental disconnection that would damage the PAs..

By today's standards, Behringer is very low end.

But the Beatles recorded their demos and even some early albums on far, far worse equipment. I therefore conclude that Behringer gear is perfectly acceptable for me.

Sure it might be 'worse' equipment. However experts were operating it.

And then you further get into an analog vs digital discussion. And that they were recording on 'the best' analog equipment of the time.

I'm sure there's lots to be said about how the uquity of music production equipment (i.e. a laptop) is turning laptop-produced music (electronica, hip hop etc) into the new folk music; music made and circulated among small groups of people.

And the whole idea of 80-style music "industry" with huge stars and huge physical distribution networks and huge amounts of money being made by a tiny proportion of people was probably just a technological oddity that was never going to last more than a few decades.

> There’s not much to say about the Yamaha NS10M that hasn’t already been written. Suffice to say they have become the stuff of legend, but not necessarily because of the sound quality. It was often remarked when people asked why people mixed on NS10s that if a mix sounds good on them it will sound good on anything!

That's how most monitoring speakers and headphones sound to me. But they are still very popular with people who only consume music because "professionals use them so they must be the best".

You don't buy studio monitors to fill a room with sound and casually listen to music. You buy studio monitors to sit directly in front of them and get an accurate image of what a track sounds like.

Most good monitors are not flattering compared to normal speakers, and are often designed to be placed within a certain distance of the listener. Many of them are however excellent. Never understood why people buy them for home listening.

NS10M actually have bad flaws in their design.

AIUI this is slander. The reason they sound "bad" is because their time resolution is so good it exposes flaws in mixing.

On a somewhat related note, here is an excellent short documentary on the making of the score for John Carpenter’s Escape From New York: https://youtu.be/NBw4OXM6ad4

It is particularly interesting to see how MIDI completely changed the game. Getting everything synced in the pre-MIDI age sounds like it was more involved.

How does one start creating digital music (today)?

I've got a midi keyboard to practice singing and there was free light version of Ableton included. I guess it is in the same category as PreSonus and GarageBand from the article. I studied music ~10 years ago but have no idea how to start creating digital music.

How and where do I start if for example I like ATB (DJ) and would like to (try to) create something similar?

Ableton is great, especially if you are tech-oriented. I suggest you follow along with a couple video tutorials introducing the basics of Ableton to get started. You can make something decent-sounding with just a few tracks and loops. The basic concepts should apply across DAWs. Have fun, and good luck!

Thanks! Can you recommend some tutorials/channels on youtube by any chance?

I can't recommend Audible Genius's Building Blocks course enough. It teaches many fundamental music composition techniques and ear training using a piano roll layout (like the one found in Ableton and other DAWs). It's very inexpensive and you will absolutely develop a great foundation for writing your own music while going through the course. You'll learn drum programming, rhythm, harmony, melody, and more, and it will directly translate into Ableton. There's a 7-day free trial as well.


Thank you, looks like exactly what I need! For some reason I've got only 3-day trial, but considering the price and upcoming weekend it seems reasonable for me.

Reason is another really solid, well-supported virtual instrument suite.

Some of you maybe remember old DOS game audio setup, the MIDI section usually also had the Roland MT-32 as option. Most of the MIDI of older games was actually recorded on MT-32 and you could hear the music in the original glory by using this device. It was expensive back then and still is - because of collectors and retro gamers. You can even connect it with DOSBox. Later DOS games used General MIDI (MT-32 was before MIDI was standardized) and there were more synthetizers to choose from, but a good pick is Roland SC-55 or SC-88VL. The music sounds phenomenal through the Roland, for example Monkey Island: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=i3dB0qEcG20

Some old friends there!

"the Sony DTC1000ES was mixing heaven. It offered 2 tracks of of 16bit @ 48kHz recording and was the ideal machine to master to for those who were preparing tracks for CD pressing."

Note the pictured machine has the HHB modification to run at 44.1 kHz to make it actually useful for CD mastering.

-I had (and have, though it isn't used much these days) a Sony PCM-M1 ultraportable DAT deck in the late nineties. Wonderful for recording live gigs. It was, if memory serves, the exact same unit as the consumer counterpart - TCD-D100 - except the latter lacked the 44.1/48kHz sample rate selector - it was 48kHz only. (Oh, and on the M1 you could tell it to ignore the SCMS system, allowing only one digital generation of copying.)

The going theory at the time was that Sony, being big in content production, didn't want consumer DAT units being able to make bit perfect copies of CDs.

Good times. Reminds me I ought to bring out the box of DAT tapes and transfer them to my computer soon. In latter years, I've simply listened to them or at the very least fast-forwarded through the tapes a couple of times a year to minimize the risk of the tape sticking to itself.

I was under the impression mastering at 48khz and then downsampling to 44.1khz afterwards resulted in better quality due to reduced aliasing.

The trade-off is that sample rate conversion introduced its own artefacts, though we have much better algorithms (and of course more CPU power) for it today.

I'm not sure that aliasing was in itself a big problem, you're perhaps refering more to the audio artefacts introduced by the anti-aliasing filter. But in any case this wasn't even the biggest problem with converters back then. IME, quantization distortion was a much bigger issue. You had to watch the signal levels really carefully - too loud and you'd get absolutely brutal distortion (sometimes including wrap-around, where the value reported by the A/D converter goes instantly from maximum value to minimum value), too quiet and everything turns into a grainy-sounding mush.

The world changed in the early 90s when delta-sigma (aka "oversampling") converters came along, pretty much solved all these issues, and so allowed the price of decent converters to steadily fall, as normal semiconductor manufacturing economics kick in.

These days the benefit of 48kHz is that you get twice the frequency headroom vs 44.1k (from 20kHz to Nyquist), which means that any processing steps using oversampling and antialiasing filters (which you should be using) will either sound better, use less CPU, or both, since the filter has to be only half as steep on 48k.

But that's for intermediate processing, once you have the master you can convert to 44.1 one final time and that's that. One final sample rate conversion with modern algorithms will not introduce any audible differences.

I read somewhere that Nirvana was given 60k to record Nevermind, at the time they were a very niche college radio band, not expected to be a big thing. Someone did the ROI on that, so yeah the flip side is that you also had the chance to pay for all that gear :)

Nirvana is often thought of as sloppy, slacker, etc. but they took their music very seriously. When getting ready to record Nevermind, Kurt Cobain had the band rent a rehearsal space in LA for 3 months and practice every day - it was a full time job. Kurt in particular played, recorded, and wrote nearly every day for years so although he was a creative genius he also put in the work finding the sound and style he wanted to perfect. And he did.

There’s a lot of nice stories about in the year leading up to the release and this is just before he got into heroin. Pretty much after the release he started using heavily and all his hard work was given over to it.

where can you find some of those nice stories?

“Serving the Servant” by Danny Goldberg is a good start. He was Nirvana’s manager during this time and was close to them.

>suggested midi keyboard

Uses non-weighted keys. Nobody should have to ever suffer a non-weighted keyboard.

That's personal preference. I like my weighted keyboard when I'm playing piano, and my non-weighted keyboard when I'm playing synths.

If you're just doing MIDI recording into a DAW with significant postprocessing (quantization, velocity adjustment) for styles where that is warranted, then there is little point to a weighted keyboard.

This is strictly personal preference. If you aren't already a piano player, you may find it more desirable not to have weighted keys. There's also the cost aspect, if you're just trying to get your feet wet in making music, you probably don't want to make that kind of financial investment.

Yes. Semi-weighted is my minimum. 88 keys if I have a choice. Less than 66 keys is like playing a 2-string guitar.

Just like my computer keyboard: mechanical, clicky, and with sufficient travel and resistance to let me know a key has been pressed.

If you are trying to play piano than yes. However pipe organs have never had 88 keys. Weight on pipe organ keys varied (some of the old organs with pure mechanical actions were much heavier than a piano, while modern - for 1920 - keyboards are unweighted). Key size was often smaller than a piano keyboard as well.

> Less than 66 keys is like playing a 2-string guitar.

I've found I need an odd number of octaves. Even number of octaves is kind of useless. The songs I can play on a 3 or 4 octave device are the same, but 5 octaves opens up more. I bought a 49 key controller and had to send it back.

Depends on what you're doing, cheap USB controllers are fine for "data entry".

Weighted like a piano where the lowest key is heavier than the highest key? I never understood why you would want to carry that physical limitation over to digital other than it's something you are used to.

Weighted as in with a key action simulating the hammers of a piano (to some extent). Most weighted keyboards are also, as you say, graduated from the lowest to the highest note.

Weighted keyboards are easier to play expressively, because the added mass allows you to impart velocity onto the key over a period of time. A non-weighted keyboard effectively reacts to how fast/hard you move your finger, with little resistance, while a weighted keyboard integrates how much force you apply to the key over the milliseconds it takes to press it. It makes a difference. It also means you can "launch" keys without having to apply force all the way down, and inertia will take it there.

On the other hand, if you're playing with organ sounds of synths, a non-weighted keyboard lets you do faster glissandos and faster key repetition and rhythmic playing.

So it depends on what you're doing and what you're used to.

No organist on the planet is bothered by the lack of weighted keys.

Oddly enough, the old mechanical tracker organs required a fair amount of strength to play.

The only issue with this article is that they are leaving out microphones.

Their 1980s rig has analog compression and limiting but their new one doesn't. A small but relevant detail.

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