I’ve never really liked to spend money, especially if it’s my money that needs to be spent. So music production, in the traditional sense, is seemingly one the unlikeliest of hobbies for me to have taken up because of the thousands of (necessary) dollars in spending for all of the latest and shiniest hardware. Or if we’re talking present age, money to be spent on expensive software and spending more to keep up with the latest goodies—practices that wouldn’t bode well for me, a spendthrift. But sensing that there could be alternatives to building up an expensive studio, I tried some things out and this is the story of how I got started producing music tracks (that actually sell), on a measly budget.
It would be unfair to say that I started out producing music on a budget of $0 because I already owned a digital piano, a PC, speakers/headphones long before I decided to produce tracks. But in the beginning, this was it. I didn’t consider buying anything, especially as I didn’t know if my new hobby was going to net me any cash. And I also loved the challenge of seeing how far I could go, with what little I had, MacGyver style. So the question was how could I create a professional sounding track with this minimal set of tools at my disposal? I had a basic knowledge of MIDI in that it sounds pretty bad but it was useful for composition. So I did some research on Google and discovered that MIDI notes can sound a lot better using something known as a Soundfont. If the soundfont was of good quality, it can drastically improve the sound and provide a sense of realism to a basic sequence of MIDI notes. Now, there were a bunch of free MIDI editors (I used Anvil Studio) available online so creating a MIDI composition was not an issue. I discovered SynthFont, which was a free software tool that would let me listen to my MIDI compositions through different soundfonts that I dug up on the Internet and when I liked what I was hearing, SynthFont could export the project in various compressed audio formats. However, my seemingly endless search for soundfonts was not very successful, as I only found a few soundfonts (piano, violin and drums) that were half decent. So I decided on creating tracks that were mostly piano solos or multi-instrumental with piano as the main focus.
Now that I had the tools, the challenge was then to come up with a musical composition and generate a MIDI track. I had a digital piano, so I was able to fool around and come up with some interesting melodies and chord progressions, but each note I played had to be manually inserted into the MIDI editor with the click of the mouse. So for some of the simpler tracks, I decided to forego the piano altogether and just compose straight into the MIDI editor and that seemed to work out fine, though it was still tedious.
Here is a sampling of the tracks I had created using these tools and techniques.
Good news was that I made a good chunk of change with these tracks and it made me feel a little better about spending some money on a crucial product that would increase productivity and make the process, especially composition, much less cumbersome. Stay tuned for the next article in which this mystery product will be revealed and I will discuss its impact on workflow and productivity.
- Williams Allegro 2 88-Key Digital Piano – I actually used and continue to use the previous generation of this piano (Allegro 1). It is the same price ($299) as what I paid for my piano 5 years ago.
- A Windows 7 laptop loaded with the following list of free software:
- A cheap pair of earphones/headphones from the junk drawer.