The Ultimate Guide To Beat Making Software And Equipment For Hip Hop Production

So you want to start making your own beats and you’re wondering what kind of music production equipment you should get as well as the best software to start producing beats?

No problem. Not only does a professional studio setup take a fraction of what it used to cost, but our beat making equipment can do much more and is actually a lot more flexible these days.

When I first got into music, I had no means to pay thousands of dollars for a synthesizer and a sequencer.

But now? You could produce songs with damn great quality for less than a thousand dollars, and if you only have a few hundred to spend you can have a bare bones setup that includes.

Because choosing the right equipment and software for making beats is the first important decision you have to make when you want to make your own beats, I figured it'd be appropriate to list down the things you need (and might want) to invest in when you're serious about making music.

Without further ado, here's the list of things you need to make your own beats and record:

Beat Making Software or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) — ESSENTIAL

The digital audio workstation (or DAW) serves as your main beat making software and is the heart of your home studio. This is the program that you do everything in — sequence your instruments, mix and master your songs, and ideally, record vocals.

Here's some options…

FL Studio – good choice but Windows only:

FL Studio has come a long way from back when it was called Fruity Loops, and you'd be hard pressed to find anything you can't do with this program.

By far, the most popular DAW for producers these days is a nifty little program called FL Studio.

This program only runs on Windows (so if you're a Mac user, then you'll have to run Windows by using either Parallels or Boot Camp). I have plenty of producer friends who swear by this program, and Imageline has made huge leaps towards improving the program since I last used it.

9th Wonder is also widely known to use this program for his beats, so that's a testament as to how powerful it actually is. And for newer heads who might not know who 9th Wonder is, here's a couple of recent hits that were made with the program (with the Akai MPK Mini keyboard controller, which you'll read more about a little later):

The best part of it? When you purchase the software, it comes with unlimited lifetime updates. Which means when they do release version 13 (or 14, 15, etc.) you'll get it all for free without paying an additional cent.

There are several versions of the program available depending on your needs, with the Signature Bundle retailing for $299 or the Producer Bundle for $199.

Propellerheads Reason – MY FAVOURITE:

Propellerhead Reason comes with devices called Players, which make it stupid simple to make music even if you know nothing about music theory.

But if for whatever reason FL Studio isn't your thing, that's all right. My personal favorite DAW is hands-down Propellerhead Reason (visit the official site here).

I’ve been a long time user of Reason, and love how it’s low on CPU resources and virtually crash-free. I still haven't found any other program that makes it as easy to bang out a quick beat — the workflow is simply ah-may-zing!

I can definitely recommend this for beginners since everything you need is in the box: the included sound bank is incredibly extensive, and you no longer need a separate program to record vocals since version 6 introduced audio recording. Meanwhile, 6.5 also introduced Rack Extensions (the Propellerhead answer to third-party VSTs) and as of version 9.5, Reason can finally integrate VST plugins (this is HUGE). This means you can finally expand your sounds with VST instruments from third party developers that previously used to only be available on other DAWs.

I use Propellerhead Reason as my main beat making program because not only is it a stable and flexible DAW that allows you to do whatever you want, but because it's also bundled with great sound content. It's not just for preset junkies though; it's sound design capabilities is beyond incredible. It gives you plenty of flexibility and a great deal of instruments to make your beats with. For most people (including me), it's really all you need to start making beats on your computer.

Propellerheads also introduced a brand new device in version 9 called Players, which make it incredibly easy to create chords and melodies even if you don't know anything about music theory. Although I know enough of the basics, these tools make it even easier to create something that sounds fundamentally great.

(While you may not have the money to purchase the full program right away, beginners would be happy to see that Reason has a little brother called Reason Essentials. When you're starting out to make beats, there's no better way to spend a hundred dollars. Just don't waste your money or time on Dubturbo or Sonic Producer, LOL.)


FL Studio or Reason will be more than plenty to make the music you want to create on your computer. While there are plenty of other options, but at the end of the day it's more important that you learn the ins and outs of your DAW so you know how to do what you want to do.

But just in case you're looking for a few more alternatives, here's a couple of other programs that I can recommend:

Cockos Reaper – Reaper was the program that I switched out of, and I still use it for some activities today. I recommend this for the budget-conscious — for only $60 for a license, you’re getting a massive amount of value for your money considering how powerful the software is. Unlike the previous two programs, it doesn’t come bundled with a bunch of content, but you wouldn’t need the content if you’re using a dedicated VSTi solution like Komplete 11 anyway.

Presonus Studio One – I’ve tried this program, and was very impressed with how quick and easy the workflow is — not just for making beats, but for recording audio as well. I love how quick the software is and how it isn't a CPU-hog. Studio One also comes with a huge bundle of instruments and content that all sound great as well. I've had a play with the instruments that come with it and they are top-notch — there's certainly plenty of sounds that you can use to make professional sounding beats right away.

The Producer version of Studio One is priced very competitively and is sold for $199 (there's an Artist version for $99, but too many features have been stripped away to make it suitable for making beats). There's also a Professional edition sold for $399, but the only major difference would be Melodyne integration plus a few other features. None of them are really necessary to make beats, which means for most producers the $199 version is a perfect fit.

Logic Pro X – Right from the bat, it's easy to see why it’s the default DAW for many professional studios in the world. MIDI sequencing is probably one of the best I’ve ever used, and audio recording is powerful.

Just how powerful is Logic? Ask Red One, producer for Lady Gaga's “Just Dance” who made the beat using nothing but the stock sounds from Logic.

In case you didn’t know, Apple recently dropped all boxed versions of their software and made it available exclusively on the App Store for $199. I couldn’t resist hopping on this bargain, especially since the entire bundle (along with the content) previously cost over $600 just a few years ago. The downside? It's Mac only (sorry, PC users).

MIDI Keyboard Controller — ESSENTIAL

AKI MPK Mini MKII or III – My Favourite

The Akai MPK Mini MKII is an excellent entry-level MIDI controller for just $99.

Now that you've got the program to make your beats in, you're going to need something to make it with. Unless you want to be clicking in the MIDI patterns with your mouse, you’re going to need something to trigger the notes with.

And that’s where a MIDI controller keyboard comes in.

For most beginners, all you'll really need is a 25-key MIDI keyboard controller to get started. The important thing is to be able to play out your melodies with your hands and practice your scales with, and something small, compact, and affordable will be perfect for your needs at this time.

Personally, it works for me because I travel a lot, and since it’s impractical to keep lugging around a 3-foot keyboard with me everywhere I go I also bought a M-Audio Axiom 25 for portability purposes (click to read my review). I love the feel of the semi-weighted keys, and the built-in pads makes it so easy to tap out my drum beats using Reason's Kong device.

Unfortunately, the Axiom 25 has since been phased out by M-Audio (and some people might find it a little too pricey for their budget). If you're looking for a MIDI controller that's cheap, portable yet comes jam-packed with features? Then you'll definitely want to consider the Akai MPK Mini MK2.

Retailing for just $99, there's a reason why it's currently the #1 best-selling MIDI controller at the time of publishing — it comes with pads you can program drums with, mixing knobs to tweak volume for different channels, and a revolutionary 4-way control stick for expanded pitch and modulation control. Click here to read a detailed review on this keyboard.

UPDATE – Akai MPK mini MK3 is now released. Click here to read full review.

(And in case you're wondering, yes, both Jahlil Beats and Yung Carter were using the Akai MPK Mini in that videos posted above.)

M-Audio’s Oxygen 49

The M-Audio Oxygen 49 is, in my own humble opinion, one of the best MIDI keyboard + controllers you can get for your money.

Now some people might need more than 25 keys to compose their beats, especially if you use a lot of chords that span across different octaves. Eventually, you're going to want to get a 49-key MIDI controller (you could also opt to buy one now to avoid having to upgrade in the future if your budget allows it).

For me, I use the M-Audio’s Oxygen 49 as my main MIDI keyboard controller. I don’t do any serious piano playing, so anything more than 49 keys is really overkill for my intents and purposes.

The Oxygen 49 has built-in knobs, sliders and transport controls which allow me to control a huge part of Reason without having to put my hands on the mouse. It seems like such a small thing, but this really improves my workflow and keeps me focused while I’m making beats. I reviewed the 25-key version over here.

Sound Banks — ESSENTIAL

This is what Komplete would look like if you loaded up their instruments. Yes, it's THAT jam-packed with stuff. They don't call it Komplete for nothin'

Great, now you have a program to do all your sequencing in and a keyboard to compose your music with. Now you need the sounds and the instruments that you’ll actually be working with to create beats.

If you decided to use Logic, Studio One or Reason as your main DAW, then you're in luck — all of these programs come with a ton of instruments and patches that will take you pretty far in your production.

As a matter of fact, with Reason I don't actually use a lot of external libraries — the factory sound bank that it comes with is enough for me most of the time. Out of all the programs I listed above, Reason definitely has the most extensive stock sounds of them all.

However, you may still choose to expand your sounds beyond the stock ones by investing in other libraries. Since Reason 9.5 can now run third-party VSTs within the software, there's a lot of options for expanding your sounds regardless of which DAW you choose. If you have money in your budget, here are my recommendations:

My favorite sound bank of all, hands down, is reFX's Nexus 2. I would go as far as saying that if you hear a song on the radio, there's a chance that at least one of its sounds came from a Nexus sound kit. For $249 for the starter set with 13 GB of factory content, it's hard to go wrong with this.

You could also buy official expansion packs for $60 depending on the additional sounds you would need.

A close second would be Native Instrument’s Kontakt 5. These samples are high quality and never fail to spark my creativity whenever I load them up — my beats jumped in quality once I started using these instruments. With 43 GB worth of samples, you have a very extensive library of sounds to use for whatever beat you want to make. Plus, there are a ton of outstanding third-party libraries available that you can expand your collection of instruments with.

If you decide to buy Kontakt but can spare an additional $150, I seriously recommend upgrading to the Komplete 11 package instead (visit the official site here). With Komplete 11, you also get Native Instrument’s wide array of studio effects, and a whole lot more virtual instruments (like Battery for drums, synths, basses and pianos… really quite a lot!). It's very expensive, but if you really want to go all out you can't go wrong with purchasing this bundle.

LennarDigital's Sylenth1 is one of the most popular synths used in hip-hop production today.

Another one of the more popular synths used for hip-hop production is Sylenth1 by LennarDigital. Even though it's quite old (it's been around for about a decade now), that's actually one of its strengths — there are TONS of preset banks that you can use to expand your sound bank with. There's an endless amount of sounds you can make with this synth, making it one of the best value-for-money synths at around $150.

As for Reason users, there's a bunch of Rack Extensions that come highly recommended. The Hydronexius Workstation ROM somehow always manages to find itself in most of the beats I create. Propellerheads also came out with a brand new synth called Parsec — which you can expand with these amazing refills from DNA Labs and turn it into a killer synth for hip-hop beats.

Studio Monitors — Slightly Optional

Studio Headphones (consider before paying big money for monitors)

Studio headphones won't completely replace a pair of studio monitors, but the Audio Technica ATH-M40x could get you pretty far along with mixing.

Personally speaking, I think studio monitors are optional. I might get blasted by some people for saying this, but I only say this because I’ve gotten pretty far without one myself and just investing in a pair of studio headphones such as the KRK KNS 8400 or the Audio Technica ATH-M40x.

In my opinion, if you're patient enough to mix using several reference speakers (my setup included home theatre system, a hi-fi stereo, your car, iPhone speakers, headphones, etc.) and take the time to get to know the sound of your speakers, you’ll have no problem getting the song to translate well across the board.

Presonus E4.5 (Best for beginners)

I did end up getting a pair of studio monitors eventually, since it was a little time-consuming to keep running back and forth between different systems to mix. And for most DIY musicians, the Presonus E4.5 pair of studio monitors will be perfect for your needs.

The Presonus E4.5 is an excellent choice of studio monitors — great flat sound at an excellent price.

At just $199 for the entire set, these studio monitors would be the best buy for someone who's just starting to build their home studio and are looking for a pair of speakers that would help them get that accurate mix.

Yamaha HS5 monitors (the best!)

The Yamaha HS5 is probably the best flat response monitors you can get on a budget that will translate your mixes well.

Now if you really want to break the bank for the best and you have the budget for it, then a pair of the Yamaha HS5 monitors will do wonders for letting you hear the truth about your mix. These bad boys definitely won't lie to you, unlike other models that are advertised as “flat response studio monitors” but really just disguise your music.

There is a reason why you'll find Yamaha monitors on many professional recording studios around the world — mix on these monitors, and you'll find that your songs WILL translate well to other systems. Consider upgrading to the HS8 if your budget permits.

Audio Interface — Optional

I say an audio interfacw is optional because you don't really need it to produce beats. But if you plan on recording vocals or an instrument such as a guitar, an audio interface is a must. You can also use it to connect your studio monitors to your computer should you decide to invest in a pair.

I personally like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB audio interface as it’s perfect for my needs. Great quality microphone preamps, 2 jacks for audio outputs and easy on the wallet to boot. I already reviewed this interface, so check out the review and find out why I think they’re the best audio interface for DIY musicians (note: this is for the 2i2 model, which is exactly the same as the solo except has one extra microphone input).

Condenser Mic — Optional

Lastly, if you plan on recording vocals (either your own, or other artists that you bring into your studio) you’re going to want to invest in a condenser mic to go along with your audio interface.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually need to spend thousands of dollars on a high quality condenser mic — you could get pretty good recordings from a microphone such as the Audio-Technica AT2035 ($149) or the Rode NT1A ($229, click here to read the review).

Parting Thoughts: “It's Not The Gear, It's The Man Behind It…”

As a growing beatmaker, it's tempting to throw money at buying more gear and more sounds. For some reason, there's always that thought that we need on more VST instrument so we can finally make the hits that we hear in our heads.

All you need is a MIDI controller, a good DAW, and a good collection of sounds and you can go pretty far with your beats.

But really, it's not your gear — it's in YOU.

If you're a little low on budget, spend as little money on the essentials and spend your time learning the ins and outs of your gear. Getting a copy of FL Studio and a MIDI controller will only cost you around $288 with plenty of money left over for sound banks.

Alternately, you could get Reason Essentials instead and spend just a total of $168 — with that setup, you'll essentially have everything you need to make banging beats for years.

The important thing is to get setup as quickly as possible, then practice. Work on your beats everyday and constantly make new ones. There's no way in hell you won't get better after a year of doing this. Good luck!

53 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Beat Making Software And Equipment For Hip Hop Production”

  1. Hello,
    A DAW is for a music producer what a canvas is for a painter.
    Owing a canvas and the right tools doesn’t make you a painter and the same applies with your digital audio workstation.
    But definitely all the above DAW’s will get the job done. And not only in your home studio but other semi-pro or professional recording studios.
    I personally use Ableton Live and Logic Pro and cover pretty much all my needs in electronic music production.

  2. Question. My son wants to make beats and I am trying to provide him with the best (less expensive) equiptment that I can give. Thank you for this article. I have a question, with Reason Essntials, and the MIDI keyboard, is there anything else that I need to provide for him?

  3. First off, thank you so much for giving me general idea of what I need! I’ve ordered everything minus the soundbank. How important is it to buy a soundbank? Isn’t there a bunch of software thats basically the same thing. what’s the pros of having hardware?

  4. i wish i would have seen this post a year ago… ive tryed so long learning on my own. i didnt even knowwhere the sounds would come from at the beginning. but finally i know what i need to know but i read this anyways today and this is the most informed yet simply and accurate post ive ever seen. very well put man

  5. If you want to make sample based Hip hop music all you need is a sampler, some vinyl, headphones, and a way to record. Don’t believe all the hype behind this equipment, do some research and learn the real tools of the trade.

  6. Thanks for the super informative article. Someone just got me the MPK 25 for my bday as they heard I was getting into production. What are your thoughts on 25 keys? Is it too limiting or do you think it will still get me started?

  7. Yo can you tell me your opinion about my following investments:
    -FL Studio Producer Version (220€, already bought)
    -Studio Headphones beyerdynamic DT770M (already in use)
    -Portable Record Player Numark PT-01 (130€)
    -Audio Technica Record Player (240€)
    -Studio Monitors (~250€)
    -USB Interface (120€)
    -Akai MPC (upcoming models. According to leaked information the upcoming models will work as DAW controllers for the pc and still work standalone)

  8. Hi, I know this is a bit old, but I’m hoping you’ll see it and respond anyway.. After reading your article a few times I was convinced I wanted to buy Studio One Producer. However, I’ve been unable to find that version? On presonus website, there seems to be a $100 artist version, and a $300 professional version, but no studio version for $200. Hopefully you can help me out and explain what’s going on exactly or link me to the correct version?

  9. is there a big difference between M-Audio oxygen 49 MKIV and the oxygen 49MKIII?the IV version,which is the newer one, is actually cheaper than the MKIII.

  10. Hi everyone, need some advise I plan to make beats using mostly sampled sounds, and by creating the melodies on a midi keyboard. I also want to be able to record vocals down the line. I have used reason in the past (many years ago) and happy to use it but is that the best way of doing it, or for my purposes would an MPC or similar be a better choice? (Never used an MPC) Cheers!

  11. I am super new to this and this article was insanely helpful, I am very into starting to make beats and this gave me a real understanding of what is going to take and how much I would have to spend on it, Outstanding Article!

  12. Jordan, thank you so much for making my musical production easy for me. I spent two years searching for best equipment, and could not agree one. Gracias mil veces! I`m glad I waited.

    Do you have an affordable list/package for movie production? I trust your recommendations.

    Thank u.


  13. Thanks Carlo for this amazing guide that is making things easier for every person who wants to start beat making. It’s one of the best beginners guide I’ve ever seen around the web.
    What I like the most is that all what you’ve mentioned in your article is based on your personal experience and the gear that you recommend is what you’re actually using in your home studio.
    It’s great job mate. Thanks again !

  14. Im looking for a long term MIDI Controller to buy. I’m interested in making hip hop beats. What do you recommend?

  15. thanks bro for you infromations but i have a roland g800 midi the question is that i can use it i making rap beats or not ? can you help me if you have any information about that.thanks

  16. Hi! Reading this was very helpful. I use Propellerhead Reason and it is a very old version. I only have the software and A keyboard. Well, I recently made a song that I will like to publish. The thing is that the quality of the song sounds terrible! I really feel like the volumes are all set appropriately but I don’t know why it sounds terrible. What do you think it could be? Do you think it’s the bitrate and/or the sampling the rate? Should I mix it more? What do you think? Can you please help me out? Thanks!

  17. Thanks for the information. I’m in the DAW learning stage, and have already recorded some beats using my electronic instruments manually. You just confirmed my hunch that the next step to improving my beat production workflow is to obtain Komplete 9, 10 when I get a new computer. Thanks for the information!

  18. am so delighted to have come across this advice/information………thanks a lot for sparing out your time to share it ………… many others i’ve written a lot of songs but have recorded a few .i fancy the art of music production a lot but lack of proper knowledge about it have always scared me off,but now am fully determined to go the extra mile to make myself better in it i’ll be glad to learn more. …………God bless

  19. Thanks a bunch for this article.Quality information and knowledge sharing is priceless in this era where most would make anything sound appealing just to cash in!!! i’m a student from the english faction of africa with a huge passion for urban music and i beleive a good flair for quality music. Over the last couple years i’ve seen african hip hop and urban style improve tremendously,by learning and emulating the best from the west with a fine touch of african rymth. Still i beleive we’ve got alot more to offer cause there’s so much potential but too little quality backup and production.from this article,I’m setting myself up with all i need to learn the art beatmaking and music production with the vision to contribute in some regards to taking african entertainment to the next level.I would truely appreciate any tips or additional info…..(

  20. I’m really serious about this learning music thing can you please send me a email of the basics that you need to make hip hop and r&b beats I wrote down everything you posted but something’s were optional can you let me know the essentials I need. And what about samples what type of equipment do you need to sample records again I’m starting from scratch so can you let me know everything I need . and did you go to school to learn the fundamentals? Thank you for your time please respond

  21. i know this is old but it was a good read. im a senior in high school looking to become a nurse so i can make enough money to pursue a career in music production. right now im using garageband on my moms macbook and even though it is very limited i have suprised myself with what ive been able to create with it. a more open ended software is something i would love to have (like logic). im not too familiar with all of the hardware that goes with digital production but ive got some general knowledge on the software tools (im not sure if i worded that right but im talking about things like EQ, distortion, flanger, tremolo, etc.) i was wondering if you could help me out by giving me some information on the different hardware that you mentioned in this article (basically i just need to know what each piece is and what it does) i know thats very vague but if you still use this site please email me nag08596@gmail,com and share your knowledge with me i would greatly appreciate it. i really feel like i could make professional sounding tracks if i had the right equipment and the knowledge to use it.

    to hear what ive made with nothing but a computer check out my work on soundcloud i think it will give you a feel of what my sound is and help you suggest to me what i will need to improve it

    thank you and god bless

  22. Dope article man great thanks…have been writing lyrics since was highschool and have a great interest in producing beats.But I gat no idea on how to…can you please email the exact things needed. in a package would appreciate very much.Am now in college at 19 and before I reach 21 I wish to rap on my own made beats.Help a nigga out.Thanks!!!

  23. Do you need to but the Axiom 25 as-well or is that optional ??
    could you get back to me asap as i might be going to get that with the m-AUDIO OXYGEN 49 ??
    Thanks !!

  24. Thank you! Finally someone who’s me giving real advice! I was about to get Dubturbo until I saw your other post… thank God I didn’t get that. I feel like I’m taken seriously with this article and not about to be ripped off! 🙂
    So thanks a bunch!

  25. Awesome Articles
    i really love everything you said
    while getting started
    am from a country where banging is the order of the day
    so i love music so much that i hunger for the meal of music, only that i always hunger even after surfeiting so i walk arround the world with google as my jet searching for good music
    i have been playn with imageline but i thnk to start a good cooking room for dilicious music meal you kn as it is ganishing,equipment & ingredient matters in the kitchen for a gudcook so thats why i started searching for a way out then i met you
    thank you very much i appreciate ur effort n time spent
    great great great
    is not by going to the market buying but knwn wat to buy

  26. What about Garageband? I know this is not the most professional software out there, but since I already had it on my mac, I use it to mix my tracks. I must admit I depend on Audacity and Virtual DJ too as Garageband does not offer every features I need, or because some of them are simply really bad. Does upgrading to Studio One makes a significant difference?

    Great article by the way, thanks for posting!

  27. A pretty good startup guide for beginners. Honestly, for people who think they need “just one more VST for that missing sound”, they’re wasting their money. People like that need to research a little more and find the one synthesizer that can synthesize a lot of the sounds they think they’ll use, and then buy VSTs for the remaining instruments that are nearly impossible to synthesize by any means whatsoever, like electric guitar and piano (occasionally I’ve found someone skilled enough to synthesize a piano though). I’ve actually managed to synthesize a fretless bass and a slap bass before (I got slightly lucky with my knob-turning decisions), but that’s just because Zebra2 is AWESOME. 😀 Of course, over time, you’ll find that synthesized versions of physical model instruments just aren’t quite as good as sample libraries of those instruments. Depending on the synthesizer, you can come close. 😉

  28. Unlike the majority of these “bedroom producing” articles, this one was really well done! I don’t agree that reference monitors are optional, though, from what I’ve seen and heard they’re really necessary for that professional touch. The whole thing about not buying more and more equipment may be technically great advice, but I don’t think you’re gonna convince many people 😛 I’ve worn out my wallet on my DAW, cables, laptop, cables, thousands of samples, MPD, MIDI controller, cables, monitors, cables, sound card, VSTs, VSTis, cables…and the bug hasn’t gone yet! Good shit man, filled out the survey.

  29. Love the article bro. Really I was in marvel over all the nice equipment you’re using. Awesome setup!! A lot of the thing you said was spot on for those just starting out in making hip hop beats, and I think they can take a lot of valuable information from this.

    Enjoyed the post, great to have you as part of the community!

  30. Thank you very much for this very informative article! I have been writing lyrics/freestyling for a couple years now, but I’ve never spent a dime on any equipment which has limited my output. I have recently started contemplating producing my own beats as a hobby, but until now I haven’t been unable to find a good source of advice. I really liked your article and I have a little more confidence now before I actually make any purchases.

    • Hey Jordan! Thanks for your comment. As a beginner, the best investment you’ll make in producing beats would be buying a MIDI controller — if my improvement in producing beats can be attributed to one thing, it would be that.


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