This is just a little guide to help you get setup and also to answer some questions I've been asked a lot about getting set up.
This stuff is particularly dry and not representative of the kind of really cool things we're going to cover on this course but also it's important so I've seeded words of encouragement throughout. I'll add to this if there are further questions that I can help with but this should help you get started. EXCELLENT!
Stuff you'll need:
A computer with access to Zoom and Discord.
This is essential as the classes are taught on Zoom and the resources and community space is on Discord. I will be using Windows but you can use Mac or Windows.
Ableton Live (any edition)
Most assignments and classes will utilise Ableton Live - Since we are learning about the fundamentals of making electronic music, the knowledge and skills will be largely transposable to hardware or other DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) like Logic, Reason, Cubase etc. but I highly recommend having a version of Ableton to hand so we can explore in sync with each other and also share our work in a common medium for the assignments. I'll discuss options further below.
A MIDI controller/interface
Most, if not all, functions of Ableton can technically be accessed using your mouse and keyboard but I would highly recommend having some sort of MIDI controller as it enhances the experience massively and the course material will cover making good use of a MIDI controller.
What is Ableton Live?
Ableton Live (sometimes just referred to as 'Ableton') is a Digital Audio Workstation (often known as a DAW). It is a software for recording, composing, editing and performing electronic music (and beyond). It is an alternative to other DAWs like Logic, Reason, Cubase, Garageband, FL Studio etc. but it is sometimes used in tandem with other DAWs depending on what the user wants to do. This course will not be focused on using Ableton specifically but it will be the common interface that we work from.
YOU'RE DOING GREAT!
What version of Ableton Live should I get?
There are multiple editions of Ableton including Intro, Lite, Standard and Suite.
There is a comparison chart available on the Ableton website which compares the features of all these editions with the exception of Ableton Intro. Ableton Intro is the most restricted edition of Ableton and is only available as a bundled piece of software but any edition is suitable for the purposes of this course.
There are also different versions (ie. Ableton Live 9, Ableton Live 10, Ableton Live 11 etc.) which refers to the latest updated edition. If you are purchasing new from Ableton, you will get a license for Ableton Live 11 which is the latest edition but many of these updated features are nuanced utility features that wont affect what we cover in the course. I will be working from Ableton Live 10 and recommend you trying to get any version from 9 +.
Its entirely up to you which edition of Ableton you buy if you haven't already got it as any version will be suitable for the purpose of learning. If you are on a budget, I would consider the following options:
Get Ableton Intro free bundled with your MIDI controller when you buy it. There are several controllers (including the Novation launchkey series mentioned below) that come with Ableton Intro free. It's likely that if you want to continue to use Ableton beyond this course, you'll probably want to upgrade as Ableton Intro is quite restricted but also sufficient for our purposes.
Alternatively, I've noticed there are people selling licenses for Ableton Intro for cheap (£9) on ebay. I can't vouch for anyone in particular but I've bought legit software licenses on ebay before and had no trouble.
What's a MIDI Controller and what one should I get?
A MIDI controller is an instrument capable of sending MIDI data to other instruments or your computer. We will discuss MIDI in more detail on the course but for the purposes of getting set up, there are two variations to consider- both are suitable.
The first option (and the option I would recommend if possible) would be an instrument specifically designed to be a MIDI controller. They do not produce any sound themselves and are usually designed so they can be connected directly via USB to your computer and also have integrated drivers to make everything run smoothly. They often have knobs, pads and/or faders as well as other useful functions. We will learn how to very easily map any of these sliders or knobs to control other instruments (Virtual Instruments on the computer and hardware synthesizers/drum machines etc.).
I personally use the Novation Launchkey 49 mk3. I've also used the Novation Launchkey Mini which is also really great. Both are designed with using Ableton in mind but have flexibility to be really useful for other DAWs and hardware. There are lots of great options out there though and they essentially do the same thing so just have a look and see what works for you.
The other option is to use an instrument that sends MIDI but isn't specifically designed as a MIDI controller. For example, if you have a synthesizer like a Microkorg or any other synthesizer with MIDI out functionality, you can use that as a MIDI controller too. It's become more common in recent years that hardware synthesizers will come with USB connectivity but otherwise you will need to get a MIDI to USB adapter for your computer and a MIDI cable. I can't personally vouch for any particular adapter as I've never had to use one but you might also find that if you're using an audio interface, it might also have MIDI IN/OUT - that will work instead of an adapter. There are some nuances which can be a bit of a pain in the arse in taking this option rather than using a designated MIDI controller but if you run into trouble, feel free to hit me up and I'll try and help.