My Studio

Sometimes, people say one thing and mean another.  This post is no different.
Although it’s titled ‘my studio’, I don’t actually have one.  Given money and space I definitely would have one with guitars, amps, synths, effects, mics and so on.  But I don’t and am not likely to anytime soon.  There is a compromise though, and your outlay will be minimal.
After experimenting with the 4 track, I never really got into computer music afterwards.  Partly because I was a purist and wanted to play all the instruments, partly because I couldn’t afford the right type of gear / software and partly because I was mainly into acoustic music at the time so didn’t feel the need.
So when I started using Caustic 2 on my phone and wanted to create my own sounds I had no gear (apart from a very old tie-clip microphone) and a bit of a problem – or so it would seem.  Actually, I didn’t have a problem at all.  There are loads of VSTs around, many of which are free and surprisingly good.  I started using a VST host but realised it was very limited as it only loaded one VST at a time so you could load a synth but no effects.  Still, it got me started.
I guess I was lucky with Ableton Live Lite as I got it free through Soundcloud.  However, if you look around there are several low cost alternatives to software such as Ableton and FL Studio.  I certainly can’t afford either of those.   Software such as MU Lab, Reaper, Cantabile and Podium offer free or low cost alternatives and yes, they may not be as fully featured but they do an excellent job for a fraction of the cost.
Once I started using Ableton Live Lite, I realised that the laptop keyboard just wasn’t up to the job.  I started looking at midi keyboards but couldn’t choose between a full size one or a smaller one.  In the end I went for the Axiom M-Audio Oxygen 25 because I don’t have that much space and secondly I don’t plan on playing a keyboard for the foreseeable future, I mainly need to input notes and chords for sequencing.  I haven’t fully configured it yet, although to be honest it doesn’t have enough dials for most of the VSTs that I use.  One thing to be wary of is that Windows 7 has done something rather odd with midi – I don’t think they’ve fully implemented it – which means some old gear doesn’t seem to work even with a USB to midi convertor which would appear not to work on Windows 7 in any case.
I have used a number of VSTs, both instruments and effects.  Whilst it’s true that some are much better than others, and some have sounds effectively limited to the presets, many are ideal for me as a bedroom musician.  The big trade off is that you don’t have a physical piece of hardware and I certainly miss adjusting knobs and dials and having to do all that on the screen with a mouse.
Charlatan was the first synth I used because it is easy to learn but also requires quite a bit of fine tuning to get some really good sounds so you can’t be lazy and rely on presets.  Others I’ve used include  Tyrell N6, TAL Noisemaker, Laserblade S Pro, Motion, Protoplasm, Rez 3, String Theory, The Tiger, Substance, Ultraswamp, Astralis Orgone, Hoar, Miffi, P8, SerenityFree, Sonitarium, Fabfilter 1, Wollo Drone, Wollo Fmera and Xakt.
Effects include Density Mk III, BootEQ MkII, NastyDLA MkII, dblue Glitch, Rescue AE, Tessla Pro and Thrillseeker XTC.
That’s a lot of free sounds, many can be found at  In the UK, Computer Music magazine is also great as it contains a load of instruments, effects, software and tutorials to get you going.  Some of the software is a ‘CM’ version (i.e. slightly cut down version) of commercially available software.
The other free software I find invaluable is Audacity.  I use this to tidy up sounds and resample for use back in Caustic.  Now this might seem a really long winded way to do it.  I create the sound and effect in Ableton, record an octave or two or three as required, export as a wav, load into audacity, chop into individual notes, tidy up and then load the individual notes into Caustic and create PCM files.  (Once created, you can simply load them again in future).  I do this because I always have my phone with me and find it’s quick and easy to write songs in Caustic.  Who knows, one day I may start using Ableton to its full potential.
So really, with a laptop and minimal outlay on software and a midi keyboard there’s enough other free software out there to start making music without spending a fortune.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. matthew barlow

    Great post! My “studio” and my entry into electronic music-making is so similar – started with Ableton Live Lite, moved up to the fuller version (but not the “fullest”), and recently acquired a (surpise!) M-Audio Keystation. No knobs, but it’s a very nice, semi-weighted, 61-key MIDI keyboard – very responsive, and so good to perform on.

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