Essential Setup on Low Budget

Why Reaper?

After the two-month trial, you can buy the full version for a  really, really small fee of 60$. Consider that other professional DAW’s come with a price of 500$-1.000$. Reaper contains all functions you need to have, like scoring to film, full VST-Support, stock plugging, superb track control, and much more. Till now, I haven’t come across a feature I was missing. 

But what I love about Reaper: it’s really resource-efficient, so don’t worry if your specs are a bit wanky.

» Link to official REAPER SITE (reaper.fm)

Tip for lower specs:Reaper gives you the possibility to “freeze” tracks. This converts a single MIDI-Line you are currently not working on, into an audio file. This needs nearly zero capacity and can be transformed back into a MIDI-File to work on again. With this method you can handle even big scoring files on weaker systems.×DISMISS ALERT

STEP TWO:

Imagine a library like a folder that contains recordings of actual instruments. An other term you might come along is vst’s, for virtual instruments, or more precisely “Virtual Studio Technology“. Depending on the type of music you create, these can be orchestral samples, guitars, atmospheric drones, choirs,… you name it, you can get it.

Libraries can cost you a lot of money, with professional recordings being around 500$ per section. But don’t worry, I show you two excellent libraries that cover all with 0$ invest.

Spitfire BBC Symphonic Orchestra – 0$

Spitfire is a giant in this industry and produces some of the best sounding libraries every year. They also have a completely free orchestral library, called “Spitfire BBC Symphonic Orchestra”. This library should cover your needs for a long time, till you exactly know in which direction you want to move and which additional sounds you need.

Link: Spitfire Audio – BBC Symphonic Orchestra

The free “Discovery” version is part of a bigger library in a high price range. This means, that additional articulations and solo instruments are not included in the free version. But you still have access to an unbelievable good-sounding full orchestra completely free.

Spitfire LABS – 0$

Spitfire does it again! Spitfire LABS allows you to implement astonishing samples to your score. LABS is like a platform containing a nice collection of atmospheric packages. Easy-to-use drones, sound effects, and organic textures can be used to create atmospheric tracks and are a necessity for every trailer, film music, or standalone epic music composer.

Link: Spitfire Audio – LABS

East West Composer Cloud -19.99$ / Month

East West was among the first high professional sound libraries. Their full package contains tons of libraries, like the entire Hollywood-Series, Epic Percussion, Choirs, Ethnic Instruments, Guitars of all kinds, vocal phrases, and so much more. 70 full-price libraries are collected in this service, for only 20 bucks a month. I highly suggest to try it out, once you are at the point of developing a habit for a specific type of music. This collection allows you to write really colossal music and is my number one address to find additional sounds for my music.

Link: East West Composer Cloud

The vst’s of this collection, need a so called “sample playback engine”. This engine builds the link between the recorded instrument and it’s use inside your DAW. The engine needed is called Kontakt, a big industry standard. Don’t worry, you only need the free version of Kontakt. After installing it you are good to go.

Additional free Libraries

There are tons of additional libraries out there, that can be used for free. Nonetheless I would prefer the Composer Cloud over the majority, because of two simple reasons:

  • Composer Cloud is a single distributor from which you get your sounds, keeping you busy for a long time by the sheer amount of high-quality content. Putting them together into a cohesive piece creates a united sound. Adding bits from all over the world however, can become a nightmare.
  • The free version of Kontakt (your sample playback engine), is enough to connect all the east west libraries. A lot of free vst’s are usable only by owning the full price version of Kontakt, wich cost around 500$.

Next Steps

Once you are familiar with the work in your DAW, you might think about getting sounds that fit in your composing style. I think one of the first purchases can contain a more powerful orchestra section, as East-West and BBC Symphonic Orchestra sound impressive but don’t have the punch like Metropolis Ark or Nucleus. At this point, we are talking about sample libraries in the range of 400$ to 500$ each, and it is essential to keep in mind what you really need. Nucleus also offers a Lite Version for 90$, which might be a good compromise.

Pay attention to the recommended Kontakt version, as not every library can be used in the free version!

Info:In my opinion it is important to look for a library, that has separated instruments, not entire sections as one voice. Spitfires Albion One for example sounds amazing, but doesn’t allow you to play yust one specific instrument – only Brass High, Brass Mid and Brass Low for example.Look for libraries with single voices instead! I therefore recommend Nucleos over Albion One or Metropolis Ark.×DISMISS ALERT

STEP THREE:

Now it comes to an essential tool helping you write music more efficiently. MIDI-Controllers are built like a keyboard and allow you to convert your playing into MIDI – directly into your DAW. If you don’t own a controller yet, don’t worry. You can write your music also with the mouse, but it might take you a bit longer. In my opinion, it is not only the speed that matters; most of the time, I’m just improvising over new stuff. This is very hard by randomly moving stuff on your screen.

I started with a really cheap controller. Of course it wasn’t the best, but it was the best investment I made in my life – as it really opened the gate to scoring for me.

“Every MIDI-Controller is better than no controller!”

“Every MIDI-Controller is better than no controller!”

If you’re browsing through various shops, I’m sure you can find some budget controllers. I’d highly suggest that it includes a modulation wheel, which allows you to steer the volume and articulation when recording. The octave range isn’t that important right now; aiming for 61 keys is best, but 49 are fine as well if you found the one you like. Ruffly 80$ should be enough to just get started.

If you are willing to spend more, in the range 150$, you should get a good deal on a basic MIDI-Controller. Especially the haptic and playability of the keys are way better, resulting in a less frustrating experience. I wouldn’t go much higher than that for your first keyboard, as you can invest the money better on additional libraries or equipment pieces like a microphone or propper headphones.

MIDI-Controller for free

A controller is usually the biggest investment when starting to write music. If you are on a really tight budget, it might not be that easy to find one you like. Maybe you just want to try out composing, and aren’t sure if you should invest right away. Well, I got you:

Using Reaper allows you to use your computer keyboard as a MIDI-Controller. Of course, the layout of an actual piano does not correspond that well with the buttons on your keyboard. It’s pretty challenging, especially for beginners, to get a feeling for the scales. But it really is better than nothing.

Without a deeper understanding of music, your best way to find interesting patterns and melodies is by improvising on the piano. Doing this by hand, shoveling notes around in your DAW, is the least effective way. You can use your computer’s keyboard to improvise, but it will be challenging to add chords to your piece of music doing so.

If you can’t wait to start:Reaper allows you to use your PC keyboard as a Midi-Controller by pressing ALT+B. This will enable you to use the on-screen virtual keyboard, controlled by your PC keyboard.×DISMISS ALERT

STEP FOUR:

After you organized a DAW, the libraries and a controller, you are totally fine to start writing you first score and dive into the deep ocean of musical creativity. However, there might be a few things that can come in handy when you want to bring your composing on a serious level.

Propper Headphones

It’s kind of obvious, but decent headphones should be a priority when you really want to step up your game. Chances are high, you already own good quality equipment. These don’t need to be top-of-the-line studio gear, but they should allow you to have clear feedback on the stuff you are writing. 

Microphone

Again, this is an equipment piece you can use a lot to crank up your inspiration by recording your own sounds, but that really isn’t that crucial when starting out. If you just want to learn how all of this works, I don’t think you are sitting here playing the trumpet yourself. It would be nice, without a doubt, but it becomes really powerful once you are confident in your scoring. For little experiments, nowadays’s smartphones have an astonishing quality, thanks to the heavy influence of video creators on the market.