Let me start off today’s post with a simple question: how does wasting years of your time and spending hundreds of dollars on beatmaking programs that you’ll never end up using appeal to you?
If you’re a normal human being, then it prooooooobably doesn’t sound like something you’d want to do.
After all, the whole point of this site is to teach you how to bang out a hot beat in as little time and with as little money as possible.
But when I started out, waste time and money is exactly what I did.
And plenty of aspiring producers fall into the same trap.
It’s disheartening to spend so much on stuff that you genuinely thought would help, but doesn’t do a thing for you in the long run. It’s so disheartening that plenty of would-be beatmakers end up quitting completely.
Shit, I’ve quit trying to make beats many times myself.
But luckily, I didn’t. And I want to help you avoid the same mistakes that I made so you can invest in the proper programs and the right gear.
That’s what this lesson is going to be all about.
Making Beats On A Budget — Is It Really Possible?
Thanks to technology, beatmaking equipment has never been cheaper.
Nowadays, you could have a whole studio in your computer (complete with programs for beat production, audio recording, mixing and mastering) at a fraction of the cost of a music workstation such as the Fantom, the Motif and the Triton just a few years earlier.
So the problem for most beginners isn’t the lack of programs — it’s knowing which ones to choose and invest in!
With all the options you have for programs to make music with, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused on which ones you should choose.
And if you’re anything like I was when I started (i.e. unsure whether I’d have the chops to make it as a producer/beatmaker), then you too would be be hesitant to spend a ton of dollars on programs and equipment right off the bat.
I mean, who wouldn’t be?
Since most programs are priced between $200 to $400 (EACH!), a full setup could EASILY cost you thousands of dollars. Yikes.
That’s why I’m not surprised when people left and right are falling for low-budget and low-quality programs such as Dubturbo, Dr. Drum, and Sonic Producer.
It’s hard not to get swayed when they claim you’ll get everything you have in those expensive programs for just $39.95.
(I’ve already talked about why I think Dubturbo is the biggest waste of them all, so I’m not going to explain here why you shouldn’t believe the hype.)
So the question that’s probably on your mind right now is: what equipment should you start out with if you want to make beats but don’t have much of a budget to be able to afford “professional” software?
Starting Out? Here’s The Perfect Software For Making Beats
Being a gear junkie, I make it a point to try out a lot of beatmaking software whenever I can. While you might feel otherwise, let me tell you this: I discovered that there IS a program for making beats that’s 1.) considered professional in the music industry, and 2.) doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to buy.
That program is called Reason Essentials.
What is Reason Essentials? The videos above will explain it a lot better than I could, but in a gist: Reason is a program that simulates hardware devices and instruments (including drum machines, samplers and synthesizers) to enable you to create music.
Reason Essentials is trimmed down version of Reason that contains nothing else but the essentials (as the title suggests) and serves as your complete beatmaking and recording studio in a box.
I’ve been a long time user of Reason. We used that program to make the beats for our group album, and I’ve known my way around it since version 3.
Propellerhead has improved Reason’s functionality with their recent updates so much that I’ve gotten rid of most of my other programs and do 99% of my music within Reason these days.
It was very powerful then, it’s still very powerful today, and thanks to Reason Essentials, it’s also cheaper than ever.
Now to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to Reason Essentials when it was first released. When companies release a “lite version” it usually means a crappy version so crippled that you might as well pay for the full program.
But as I found out, that’s definitely NOT the case with Reason Essentials.
After having a bit of a play with it, I sincerely believe that, dollar for dollar, there’s no better program to start making beats with than this one. For one low price, it has everything you need to start making beats in the box.
Tons of industry producers produced radio hits with Reason, but for some reason the Propellerhead team doesn’t bring any attention to it, leaving it to people like me to bring awareness to the fact! *wink*
The Cataracs created “Fly Like A G6” using Reason
Khalil produced Clipse’s “Kinda Like A Big Deal” using Reason 4, which is almost the same as Reason Essentials
DJ Toomp used Reason to create Young Jeezy’s “The Recession”
DJ Babu (of Dilated Peoples and Beat Junkies) demonstrates how he made M.O.P.’s “Dearly Departed” with Reason
Why do I like Reason so much?
See, I’ve used just about every DAW imaginable, and for me there’s no other program that beats Reason when it comes to ease of functionality and workflow.
It’s just so quick and easy to lay down the music you have in your head. Audition an instrument, load up the module, hit record and play a melody. Done. Everything is done within the box.
You don’t even need anything else to make beats with it. Sure, you could use a MIDI keyboard controller such as the Axiom 25 as I do, but if you didn’t have the money to buy one you could easily use your computer’s keyboard to program melodies.
Best of all, the sound banks that come with the program are more than enough to make banging hip hop beats with. Add that with a few extra refills that you can get for dirt cheap (refills are a collection of sounds and patches to expand your collection of instruments), and you’ll have all the sounds you need to get started and more.
Here are a few videos that give a more detailed look of the software. It’s very detailed, so it’s around 40 minutes long… But since some people need to get under the hood as much as possible before investing their money, I put them here for your benefit:
Is There A Catch?
Now here’s a caveat you should know.
While Reason Essentials come with most of the functionality that you’d be using with the main program, because it’s cheaper naturally you’ll miss out on some modules that you get with the full version. These devices have sound design and tweaking capabilities — which, in my opinion, is the main strength of the complete program.
But when you’re just starting out making beats, it’s better for you to be working with raw samples and default patches anyway.
Forget about synthesis and sound design for now — that’s likely to just overwhelm and confuse you — and focus on learning the ins and outs of making beats.
Without all the other extra stuff, having a trimmed down version actually works in your favor.
I’ve had years of experience with Reason, and if I was forced to work with just Reason Essentials I’ll hardly miss the modules that don’t come with it — especially since you can easily expand the program with Rack Extensions and VST plugins should you so wish.
How Much Is It?
Let’s talk about price.
Reason Essentials is dirt cheap — it’s literally just it’s only $69 for everything.
costs around twice as much as Dubturbo would, but comes with ten times more functionality and ABSOLUTELY NONE of DubTurbo’s stupid limitations.
For example, you can
1.) have unlimited tracks,
2.) use an external MIDI controller with the program,
3.) use external effects to tweak your sound,
4.) expand your sound banks with refills and Rack Extensions, and
5.) record audio and vocals if you’re so inclined.
Plus, if you eventually outgrow the program Reason Essentials owners can easily buy the full version of Reason for a discounted price.
Unlike the hundreds of websites that sing praises for Dubturbo, I have no financial gain for recommending the program to you (unless you decide to buy it through this link, in which case I’ll literally get a couple of bucks and a few quarters tossed my way).
I use its big brother for my own music everyday, and sincerely believe that when it comes to bang for the buck, Reason Essentials is simply the best and most professional program for you to start making beats with.
Have Additional Money Left Over In Your Budget?
What if you have a little bit of cash left in your funds? There are still some things you can get to expand your studio to make the beatmaking experience a little more complete.
First, even if you’re a beginner I believe it’s never too early to own a MIDI keyboard controller.
While Reason Essentials does come with an on-screen keyboard, it WILL become increasingly difficult to program melodies the better you get.
If you have a little cash left over in your budget to buy one, I highly suggest your next purchase to be an Nektar Impact LX25+ keyboard.
It’s a perfectly great controller, and it works with plug-and-play functionality for most software but integrates especially well for Reason. Not to mention it comes with 8 drums pads and 8 rotary knobs for synth tweaking. I’d prefer using a 49-key controller given the option, but that’s not to say you can’t save a few bucks and use a 25-key instead.
Next, you’ll want to invest in quality speakers or studio monitors.
Trust me, no matter how great your beat may be, it’s going to sound like it’s shit if it’s coming out of dinky laptop speakers. You won’t be able to hear the rumble of the bass, and every other instrument will just sound muddy and dirty.
Laptop speakers rob you of the pleasure of listening to music — don’t let it rob your experience of making music either.
I learned this the hard way… One of the reasons I felt frustrated and felt I had no talent as a producer was because the beats I were making just didn’t have that “oomph” to it.
It wasn’t until I listened to the same beats on quality speakers that I realized it wasn’t the beats that were bad, but rather it was the damn laptop speakers that deceived my ears.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have to spend a lot of money on professional monitors right away. Now, some people might consider this to be blasphemy, but anything that allows you to hear the full range of sound (from low basses to high leads) will do until the time you have to professionally mix and master your music.
Personally, I connected a stereo system to my laptop through the auxillary out and used that as my speakers. If you don’t have one you could use for your computer, just get a pair of Mackie CR3 studio monitors for less than a hundred bucks and call it a day.
If you have high-quality headphones that you use on an a regular basis (i.e. Beats by Dre), that works too — but I prefer mixing with real speakers and using the headphones as a secondary reference.
One thing that is recommended in music production forums would be to buy an audio interface. But in my experience, you won’t be needing that… UNLESS you plan on recording vocals and/or use more expensive monitor speakers that won’t connect through the traditional channels. If you’re not doing one of those activities, you can forget about buying one of those for now.
Don’t get me wrong: Reason Essentials is far from being the most powerful program for making beats. There are other programs that give you a lot more power (and of course, they come with a heavier price tag too).
But for our intents and purposes, it is by far the best option — especially for someone who’s just starting out and isn’t ready to make that kind of financial commitment just yet.
You could spend weeks reading reviews and downloading demos for different programs, but trust me: you’ll be hard pressed to find a quality piece of beatmaking software that comes close to Reason Essentials in terms of completeness, price, and functionality.
If you’re serious about making beats, download the demo right now and have a play with the program. Aside from the fact that you can’t open your saved files or export your songs, it’s fully functional and completely free to try with no time limit whatsoever.
Until next time, my fellow producer.