Updated: Jan 6
When starting out on your music journey it can be overwhelming to know just where to find and start selecting the tools you are going to need, to get the results you want. Here are the essentials that will help you begin your adventure.
1 - The Computer
In this day and age the computer has become the foundation of nearly all music studios. Thankfully you already have one that you are viewing this site through whether its the phone in your pocket, a tablet next to your bed or a full blown computer sitting on your desk. You can make music on the first two but since I use a desktop computer to teach, that's what I will recommend you get for learning to create game music. It doesn't matter if it is a Mac or PC, the main thing is that you are comfortable using it and it is fast enough to run the software we will be using. Good news! You have been able to compose music 'in the box' (exclusively using the computer) for over twenty years now, so even if you have something not so modern, you can get started making game music right now. Case in point, I am using a 2013 iMac to make all my music on right now and don't have any issues working for clients with large projects. Start with with you have got and work your way up!
2 - Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
When I first started making music back in the late 90's getting a full fledged DAW was prohibitively expensive with many of them being over a thousand pounds for the top version. Nowadays Apple's flagship, Logic Pro X, is just £200 and most of the others are no more than £500. What's even crazier is you can get a DAW like Cakewalk by Bandlab for free and I used to buy earlier versions for many hundreds! I may do a full post on each of the major DAWs in the future, but if I was on a PC, my personal favourites are Presonus Studio One and Steinbergs Cubase. You also have these options for Apple Mac but I tend to prefer Logic Pro X as it's a lot cheaper (if you had bought it in 2013, you would have had every update since then for free) and, for me, I prefer the MIDI editing in it. If you are just starting out and would prefer to not spend any money just yet, then I would recommend Garageband if you are on a Mac and Cakewalk if you are on a PC.
3 - Midi Keyboard
Now, there are some people who just use a mouse and draw in the notes they want to write music... I am not one of these people as it sucks all the fun out of composing to me. Even if you have never played the keyboard, just having something tactile in front of you that triggers the sound from the computer is so much faster for sound selection and so much more fun for making music. It's not just for inputting melodies, you can make drum beats on it, automate synths and effects, as well as control the transport of your DAW. You don't need to spend a ton either. I used a very cheap 49 note Nektar keyboard when lockdown first happened for months and completed all my clients work on it.
4 - Headphones
Headphones before speakers! I work in headphones 95% of the time as it allows me to concentrate much deeper when composing. I do use speakers but only for mixing and I will switch back and forth with my headphones to get perspective on what the final product will sound like. At the beginning of your journey I would use whatever you have laying around and then invest in a really good pair as soon as you have saved the money. I love my Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro's as they are an industry standard, I know what they sound like and are sturdy and reliable. By all means try various brands out but my advice is, once you have found some you like, stick with them so you learn exactly what they sound like.
5 - Audio Interface
This may be one you can skip at the beginning if you are just working with software instruments and your computer has a good headphone preamp. However, if you want to record anything from the real world, whether it be an instrument directly or sounds from a microphone, this becomes a requirement. The great thing is, you can get really good ones for very little money these days. Focusrite make the Scarlett line which start from around £100 and come highly recommended. Presonus make the Audiobox line, which is even cheaper and you can spend much more if you need the features the higher end models have too. Just make sure you have enough inputs for whatever you are likely to need, most will not need anymore than two but if you ever want to record live drums then 8 is probably wise.
6 - Instrument Libraries
Along with your composing skills, what sounds you use are probably the most important elements for creating professional sounding music. Now your DAW may have some great sounds with it and I suggest you start there at the beginning; but eventually you'll go "I don't have this sound" or you do, but it sounds too unrealistic. Over time, I will review libraries on this site and the YouTube channel, but my general advice for beginners is be specific! Be specific with exactly what sounds you need and buy them and only them until you have learnt them inside out. There is nothing worse than buying a massive collection of sounds and then spending months writing no music because you're fiddling with lots of new toys you'll mostly never use (yes, I am talking to my younger self here!). Also, don't forget about free sounds and soundfonts. They may be exactly the right sound for a lot of projects!
7 - Speakers
Now you can get your speakers! Just bear in mind that they can do more harm than good when you start out, particularily if you have an acoustically untreated room. I tend to think it's also worth saving for a decent pair - the sub £200 ones I had before getting KRK's were simply depressing to listen to. My VXT6 speakers cost around £600 a decade ago and were a good investment, as I haven't ever felt the need to replace them. I can't really recommend specific modern speakers but I'd say, unless you have a big room and a budget for acoustic treatment, go for smaller, high quality speakers. You can always add a subwoofer later if you upgrade your room.
And then what?
If you have all of these items and are happy with them then you should invest any extra money into education, both with time and money. And I don't necessarily mean formal music college/universtity courses. Online these days you can learn a lot for free and you can pay far less for courses. Personally having done both, I would say I have learnt far more from the Internet in much less time compared to 5 years of formal education. That was many years ago and the options have exploded to learn anything in the last 15 years. Watch my channel and any others you like to learn your craft. Keep at it and one day you too could wake up everyday doing what you love most!