Electronic Dance Music Gear Buying Guide

EDM Production Gear for the Home Studio

Quietly building an underground fan base since disco's supposed death, electronic dance music built on its not-so-quiet resurgence and is now an integral part of mainstream music. While EDM has been taking the world by storm, the genre has caught some flack from the 'old guard' of music. Perhaps a DJ isn't as musically involved as a brooding guitarist on stage, but the real genius behind EDM is the talent and effort that goes into crafting songs in the studio, where EDM artists meticulously sculpt sonic textures into tightly packed compositions.

Want a piece of the action? Follow this buying guide, and find the gear you need for your own EDM production setup!
DAWs: Recording and Sequencing Software
At the center of your EDM production rig is your digital audio workstation (DAW) software running on your Mac or PC. This is where you arrange your tracks and compose your music. Each DAW comes with its own array of recording, editing, sequencing and sound processing tools, and can also host third-party "plug-in" applications, extending the capabilities of the software.

It's important to note that all DAWs "sound" pretty much the same, since they're simply a means of capturing and playing back digital data. What differentiates one DAW from another is its specific workflow and features. Choose a DAW that suits your creative process. If you're doing a lot of loop-based composition, you'll want a DAW with a non-linear workflow and solid time-stretching tools. If you're a classically trained musician, you may need a DAW that displays musical notation.

Check out each of the software titles below to get a sense of how each DAW looks and feels. Once you've honed in on what works best for you, you can move on to choosing some third-party plugins that will help expand and customize your sound.
Audio Effects Plug-ins
Plug-ins are small add-on applications that can be "inserted" on tracks within your DAW. While your DAW will come with an array of sound editing and composition tools, these third-party applications can expand your sonic palette. You can't have too many!

Audio effects plug-ins can give you entirely new, experimental sounds, or emulate the classic outboard gear found in studios, like compressors, limiters, reverbs, and so on.
Virtual Instrument Plug-ins
Virtual instrument plug-ins give you the tools to create fully orchestrated compositions entirely "in the box." Sample-based virtual instruments -- such as Spectrasonics Stylus RMX Xpanded -- come with libraries of sampled sounds and loops you can trigger via MIDI. For more sophisticated sound-sculpting, software synthesizer virtual instruments like Spectrasonics Omnisphere 2 give you the tools to generate new sounds from scratch, and mangle samples into something new. Want to go bigger? A software suite like Native Instruments Komplete will stock your DAW with a huge library of sample-based virtual instruments and software synths, as well as audio effects plug-ins.

Your virtual instruments are driven by MIDI data that you sequence in your DAW. Sure, you could build beats by entering notes one by one on the grid. But if you want to play your virtual instruments in real time, a MIDI controller is the way to go.
MIDI Controllers: Keyboards and Drum Pads
If you're producing electronic dance music, you'll likely be spending a lot of time with your MIDI controller -- so the way it feels under your hands is important! Pianists will appreciate semi-weighted keys, but some artists prefer springier "synth-action" keys. For experienced keyboardists, we recommend a keyboard MIDI controller with at least 49 keys, so you can comfortably play two-handed.

Ableton producers will get the most mileage out of a pad controller made for Ableton Live, like the Ableton Push controller. If you need a simpler pad MIDI controller for laying down drum grooves, try the PreSonus Atom.
Groovebox-Style Hardware and Drum Machines
The Native Instruments Maschine MK3 and the Akai Force gives you a touchscreen, velocity-sensitive illuminated drum pads, knobs, and transport controls -- along with powerful sequencing software for your host computer, and extensive sample libraries. With these groovebox-style hardware/software setups, you won't even need separate DAW software -- although you can also run Maschine or MPC as a plug-in within your DAW.

Modern drum machines like the Roland TR-8S deliver even more hands-on beat-making bliss. The TR-8S generates fat virtual-analog synth-drum sounds, and outputs 14 channels of audio over USB for integration with your DAW. Another super-modern groovebox, the Korg Electribe lets you create complex 16-part patterns with its 400 built-in sounds -- drums, basses and leads -- with hands-on control over those cool Korg effects with the Kaoss-style touchpad. The Electribe even export your sequences as Ableton Live Sets.
Audio Interfaces
A robust audio interface is a must if you're planning on recording any analog sound sources -- such as vocals through an XLR microphone, or a 1/4" output from a guitar. And the interface you choose will have a definite impact on your sound. That's why it's a good idea to invest in the best audio interface you can afford.

If you're doing EDM production with a lot of audio effects and virtual instruments, you're likely to run up against the limits of your computer's processing power. Universal Audio's Apollo series to the rescue: these audio interfaces' dedicated DSP chips are made to handle DSP-hungry UAD-2 plug-ins, taking the load off your host machine.
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