City Lit Blog

Music technology: equipment advice

Story added 24th Jun 2020

 

Once you have visited our Music tech courses: overview and the listing of currently available course times and dates, you may still have questions about whether your current equipment is suitable for the course you're interested in, what equipment you need, and how to find it.

Course outlines include basic information about requirements. Below is information about platforms, devices, programs and apps currently available. Ensure you have the right equipment before you enrol on your course, and that you can run the necessary software.

This blog will be updated regularly, but software and hardware change often, so if you discover before we do that information here is out of date, do let us know by emailing the City Lit Music office

We hope you will be inspired to start – or continue – your creative journey! 

Hardware

Online courses you will need your own computer (desktop or laptop, Mac or Windows).

Most (but not all) software is available for both Mac and Windows, and some can also run on iPads/tablets.

If possible, use a second device (e.g. another computer, tablet/iPad, smartphone) for the live sessions on Zoom or Google Meet so that you can see your tutor’s presentations and examples and your own computer screen at the same time.

You may also need peripherals (headphones, MIDI keyboard, microphone etc.).

Courses at City Lit our digital classroom has Apple Macs, with MIDI keyboards, audio interfaces, microphones and headphones. You may prefer to bring your own peripherals (especially headphones), rather than use shared equipment; this is absolutely fine.

Peripherals

MIDI keyboard Extremely useful for all music tech and audio production courses, and highly recommended. 25 or 32 keys are enough for most purposes; these start at c. £25.
For Ableton, Max/MSP or Logic, a model that includes controllers is useful. These are a little more expensive.

Headphones / Earbuds Good quality earbuds can be adequate for some courses, or you may be running your audio output through amp and speakers at home, so don’t need headphones.

If you need to use headphones regularly, it’s worth investing in over-ear phones, which provide higher quality sound and exclude extraneous noise better. Decent ones start at c.£40.

Microphone – Internal Most computers have an in-built microphone, which may be adequate for your purposes.

Microphone – External If you want to record acoustic instruments and/or voices, you will almost certainly want a better quality mic, and one that will enable you to control and reduce extraneous noise. Small ones cost as little as £5, better quality mics start at c.£30, or if you want to record vocals or acoustic instruments, you might splash out £60–£100.
Devices can have 3.5mm or 6 mm jacks, USB plugs, or XLR connectors. Check what input sockets your computer has before you buy anything.

Audio interface, Mini Mixing desk You may need one to connect up your equipment. Computers do not usually have 6mm or XLR input sockets, for example. You will also need one if you want to record multiple instruments / voices simultaneously.

Suppliers Here are some that have a good range, include tech specs on their websites, and offer advice online or by phone. City Lit does not endorse any particular supplier; these are suggestions only. There are also many music shops in and around Denmark St (just off Tottenham Court Rd), or do an internet search for one in your local area.

Software

Which software? Before deciding, it is worth reading its Wikipedia entry—which includes development history, versions history, user reactions etc.—and checking online reviews and user forums.
Vendors’ websites often have demonstration videos, and there are many similar user-generated videos on Youtube.

Which version? Software often come in different versions. Intro/Basic versions have fewer features but are much cheaper, or even free. They are often fine for starting to learn, and may have enough features for you.
You can upgrade to a higher version later if you want the extra features. Intermediate versions are aimed at home users, and the top versions, with most features, are aimed at professional users.

How much does it cost? Some great software is free, e.g. GarageBand, Audacity, or has a free (very) basic version e.g. Sibelius, ProTools.
Most other software has a free trial period (30/60/90 days). Check that this lasts long enough for your course, and whether any essential features (e.g. saving) are disabled.
You will have to register and create an account, and you can only download it once per email address. The vendor will of course encourage you to upgrade to a paid-for version as you near the end of your free trial.

Educational discounts are often available, even for students on a short course, so check before you buy. You normally just need your receipt of enrolment on a course that requires the software. If the retailer asks for more evidence, email the City Lit Music office for assistance.

Can I transfer files between programs / apps?

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files can be exported from / imported to most programs, so that you can interchange between digital audio and/or music notation programs/apps.

MusicXML format carries much more information than MIDI, and allows you to move files between Sibelius, MuseScore, Finale, Dorico, Logic and Cubase.

Software: description and suppliers

Ableton Live (Mac / Windows) [external website]

Ableton Live’s intuitive and flexible interface can be used for performing with a laptop, songwriting or composing, and is designed to put fun and experimentation into your music making.

Audacity (free – Mac / Windows / Linux) [external website]

Free and very user-friendly audio editing program, open source

BERNA (Mac / Windows) [external website]

Simulates 1950s electronic music studio equipment, and used on our BBC Radiophonic workshop techniques courses. Available only from its developer Giorgio Sancristoforo (scroll down to BERNA 2). You can download and try for free, but the software only runs for 8 minutes at a time until you pay for your licence: 12 euros (pay by Paypal). There is a demo video [external website]

Cubase (Mac / Windows) [external website]

Audio creation and editing software, widely used in the industry

GarageBand (free – Mac / Windows)

Accessible audio creation and editing software, widely used in education and amateur home studios

Logic (Mac only)

Audio creation and editing software, widely used in home studioes and in industry

Max/MSP (Mac / Windows) [external website]

Flexible software to create interactive media software, with in-depth tools for audio, graphics, interaction, and communication

ProTools (Mac/Windows) [external website]

Sophisticated audio production software, particularly aimed at professional studios

Virtual Studio Technology (VST): plugins to simulate traditional recording studio hardware in your software
200 Best free plugins

Sibelius (Mac / Windows) [external website]

Music notation software that is sophisticated but user-friendly, having been originaly designed by musicians who were also computer programmers. You can create publishing-quality scores that generate parts, audio files, graphics and PDFs, and formats for interchange with other software.

Sibelius First: basic functions only, suitable for our introductory course Sibelius music notation software, but not for Sibelius music notation: tips and trick.

Sibelius/Sibelius Ultimate: pay per month price for these latest version. If you have an earlier version, there is no need to update. Sibelius files are backwards compatible, i.e. you can export to earlier versions (e.g. from v.8 to v. 5, or from v.7 to First), and you can open a Sibelius file saved in earlier versions, all the way back to Sibelius 2.

Sibelius Sounds: if you want to generate audio files, take the time to instal the Sibelius Sound libraries as they are much better than General MIDI.

City Lit does not currently offer courses in other notation programs such as MuseScore, Finale or Dorico.