Matthew Ellis has been a part of the Portland music scene since 2007, when he started crafting tracks for his musical project Purse Candy from his tiny apartment. Since the beginning, he’s recorded and produced all his music, including his debut album, Visions of a Healed Kingdom.
In the past few years, Matthew has worked with a Portland-based music agency to license his music for commercials. Some of the tracks Matthew recorded through his homegrown music production company have made their way into ad campaigns for big, international brands.
When it comes to producing music, Matthew emphasizes that giving yourself time to perfect your craft and process is key. Although having the right gear is important, you don’t need top-notch stuff to get started. “Focus on what feels comfortable,“ he recommends. “All these things are just tools. You’re not just as good as your tools. You don’t need the best microphones to record the best songs. You don’t need the best camera to take the best photographs. You can do amazing work with very simple things.”
Here, in his own words, are Matthew’s recommendations for what you’ll need to launch your own digital music production company:
You’re going to want to make sure the tracks you’re producing will be able to compete with everything else that’s out there, commercially and artistically. Having a good set of studio monitors is essential in what you’re doing.
Your set of monitors should have a very honest frequency response, meaning they don’t have a bias. Every single speaker that you listen to, whether it’s your smartphone earbuds or your laptop speakers, has an equalization (EQ) bias. Certain frequencies are boosted on purpose to make things sound better. When you are mixing music, you can’t have any EQ bias whatsoever. You’re going to need to hear the honest sound, so the monitors need to have a very flat EQ response.
I have a pair of studio-quality headphones that I’ve mixed on. A lot of professionals will tell you that mixing on headphones is a big no-no. But, when I first started out, I mixed exclusively on headphones. Those mixes have been in commercials for international car companies, so in my own opinion, I think that’s [nonsense].
You can still get a really good mix on headphones. If you’re on a budget and you’re trying to get by without spending $400 on one speaker, it’s a cheap way to at least get you started.
Look for ones that are durable, and that have a very flat EQ response. Make sure they’re really loose on your ears, meaning they leak a lot of noise. That way, if the volume is halfway up, it doesn’t kill your ears. You can hear where things fit in the mix much better that way.
Look for a pair that creates more of a three-dimensional space versus ones that just sound like a wall. It’s like a two-dimensional video game versus a three-dimensional computer graphic experience. Of course, test them out in person and read reviews.
One mic doesn’t work for everything, so you’ll need two types of mics: a condenser mic and a dynamic mic. You’ll want both to be affordable and versatile.
Condenser mics are incredibly sensitive. You’ll typically use it to record vocals, acoustic guitars—anything with an organic sound. It is going to need phantom power, which is a 48-volt charge, so you’ll also need an audio interface.
You’ll also need a dynamic mic. You can also record vocals on these; most famously, Michael Jackson recorded his entire Thriller album with a very affordable dynamic mic.
Usually, though, you’ll use this to record drums, electric guitars, trumpets—much louder things. You want to make sure it has a shock mount, which is a stand that has cords through it so it holds it in place. Get a mic with its own shock mount so you don’t have to buy one independently.
You’re going to want to invest in an audio interface with some nice preamps. Make sure it has the basics: one or two XLR and ¼-inch inputs, which most do. It also should have phantom power on it. I always like when it has a USB option, so you can plug it straight into your laptop or desktop. That way you don’t have to mess with a bunch of adapters and cables to make sure it goes to your computer.
Foam for room acoustics
If you’re recording in your home, you’ll want to dampen the room. The industry standard for checking the acoustics in a room is to either clap or pop a balloon. And if you hear reverb, that means the room is not damp. You want the room to be dead silent. You want it to be very stale-sounding.
It can get really expensive. It’s kind of ridiculous. You can get away with using those foam pads for beds. That’s the cheapest, sketchiest way to do it. You kind of have to play around with where you put foam. You mostly want to put it in corners where the sound will bounce back. That’s a whole other level of expertise, so I would recommend bringing in someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.
You’ll definitely want loads of XLR and ¼-inch cables. Having four of each is a good idea, because you never know when you’ll need one in case the wiring is bad, or the cable is just shot, or over time something starts to get weird. You could even get away with having two of each, depending on how big your setup is. You can also get away with buying used, but in the case of electronics, new is always better.
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