Studio and Artist History
Written On: December 1st, 2010
Updated On: December 21st, 2012
Here is a history of my computer-based studios over the years to give you a good idea of the variety of good software and equipment out there to make your own home studio and music without going over your budget. Also included are references to songs on my site that use a given software or combination of softwares plus some of my artist history.
Custom Gaming Laptop (2011-Present)
In order to get a more portable studio I installed Traktor Scratch Pro, Maschine, FL Studio, and Wobble on this laptop as well as the M-Audio Oxygen Keyboard. Having better specs than the Mac Mini as well as frequent Windows 7 software patches has made this setup easy to use unlike the Mac Studio which stopped working with the software patches that required Mac OS X versions after 10.5.8 for new features. Definitely something to consider when you want to test the latest music software features out.
Current Mac Studio (2007-Present)
After 10+ years of producing music on PCs, I decided a few years ago to finally see what all the fuss/hype was about Macs and multimedia after being unable to find any decent Linux-based alternatives. At the foundation of this studio is a Mac Mini (2.0Ghz Dual-Core, 2GB DDR3 RAM, 5400RPM 320GB SATA HD) which is extremely quiet and more than powerful enough to run any current generation software. Granted you could build a great desktop PC or get a very nice laptop for the same price but then you'd also get stuck having to buy some basic music software. The Garageband software that all Macs come with is great for learning recording basics but also has a great bit of depth for advanced recording. But since I didn't have a decent audio interface for recording on the Mac, I purchased a M-Audio Oxygen MIDI keyboard to use with Garageband as a MIDI and USB audio interface. If you have any questions on what how good this basic studio can sound, check out my track "Super PUG" in which I scratched over a track I had made previously on my old XP Studio in Cubase VST.
One thing that Garageband lacks is virtual instrument support and since FL Studio won't natively run on a Mac (don't bother installing Windows on a Mac as a secondary OS because you are basically downgrading the stability of your entire system), I decided to try out Maschine by Native Instruments since using a USB interface for loading samples is way better in terms of quality and effeciency than messing with samples on floppy disks with my AKAI 2000XL sampler. I'm still working on kits and tracks in Maschine for my next album so I currently don't have any example tracks to refer to.
Finally, due to the lack of vinyl recordings being published these days and the increasing costs of reprints, I decided to get Traktor Scratch Pro by Native Instruments recently. For those of you on a tight budget that think Serato is over-priced...get this for half the price! The CD scratching is flawless on Pioneer CDJ-800s with a Korg KM-402 Kaoss mixer and so is the vinyl scratching on turntables (which are also way over-priced these days after looking at current Technics 1200 prices). Works on Macs and Windows machines along with support for iTunes, mp3s, and wave files plus additional formats.
Windows XP Studio (2001-2008)
After the old cycle of having to reformat and lose everything days of Windows 95-98SE BSODs, the stability Windows XP offered was a much welcome change as was the features of newer software versions that Windows XP supported. I already had over 13 years of experience building and upgrading gaming and audio rigs when I built my XP machine and which still works great for a home studio (AMD Athlon 2800 2.2GHz single-core, 1GB DDR RAM, 7200RPM 120GB IDE HD). I moved over my Creative Audigy Platinum card and audio interface from my old Windows95-98SE studio plus the Cubasis VST software it came with. Along with Sonic Foundry Sound Forge 5.0 and Acid Music 2.0, I had a pretty solid and easy to use home studio for audio recording, arranging, MIDI song writing, and mp3 file production for posting online at mp3.com while it hosted independent artists and also for use on my own websites.
Windows XP wasn't without it's flaws though, I lost support for Mixman Studio Pro because it relied on the old Windows 95-98SE audio codecs that were not backwards compatible in Windows XP. I quickly moved away from my old sample-anything ways into a strictly royalty-free public domain sampling and a write it/play it myself policy (at the loss of some instant creativity in my opinion) due to mp3.com's stricter sample clearance requirements (similar to how Youtube and other sites started cracking down on copy-written content) brought on by the artist royalties mp3.com started giving out before it eventually went offline. I still think that with proper industry support and financial backing mp3.com (which at the time was the largest music site for independent artists) would still be one of the major forces in CD and mp3 distribution for independent artists today.
And now back to the studio history. As I began using virtual instruments more to get away from strictly producing by arranging samples, I also wanted to get a more professional software suite so my first major purchase aside from DJ equipment for scratching was Sonar Studio 4.0. It seemed a bit more user-friendly than Cubase and other MIDI+Audio suites, had VST support (although it didn't manage VST plug-in presets properly at the time) and allowed me to use my Roland XP-30 as a MIDI controller. Unfortunately, I hated writing drum beats out by hand in it because it didn't have any decent drum-machine VST plug-ins that came with it so I eventually got FL Studio to use stand-alone and also as a VST plug-in within Sonar. Take a listen to "Premix" or "Fujiyama Underground" for good Sonar examples and "Breakdown (Extended Mix)" for a good FL Studio example.
Windows 95-98SE Studio (1995-2001)
My first serious studio PC was my first self-built machine (900MHz AMD K7, 256MB RAM, 5400RPM 13GB IDE HD, Monster MX300 audio card). I started off with Mixman Studio 2.0 and Sonic Foundry Sound Forge by making mixes using TV and movie samples off of old wave file hosting sites and old records along with the samples that Mixman Studio had. Eventually wanting a better recording interface I got an Audigy Platinum card and breakout box which let me directly hook up my DJ mixer and turntables to my computer using an RCA cable plus Cubasis VST for MIDI and audio composition. For only using a program with support for only 16 tracks at once, I honestly had no limits to what I could mix/remix with a limitless choice of audio samples. The mixes with recognizable samples were an instant hit on mp3.com which got me a couple #1 ranked tracks in the electronic genres not to mention several top 20 ranked tracks in those same genres. During this time I entered a couple of online song contests and won a copy of Acid Music 2.0 as a weekly finalist in the Ultimate Band List's Born on the World Wide Web contest.
Producing music during this time was great but not without its low points. Windows version installations from 95 through 98SE would gradually get so corrupted that they would continually blue screen, and prior to cheap ways (like CD and data burning) to back up large music files that won't fit on floppy disks, the only way to fix the BSODs was to reformat and start over from scratch. Being a hobbyist producer and DJ, I never gave much thought to backing up my software track files since I still had most of them available as mp3s online, unfortunately I lost a lot of rough drafts for tracks I never finished so make sure you are always making sure you periodically backup your files and make multiple back-ups of your original tracks for remastering and remixing later on.