Our Masterclass series, in which successful artists share their studio tips, returns with some advice for absolute beginners from rising techno star Avision
Hailing from New York, Avision - real name Anthony Cardinale - is a techno producer whose star is most definitely rising. His tracks and remixes have been released by such esteemed labels as Intec, On Edge Society, InMotion LTD and Mark Broom's Beardman Records, and supported by the likes of Chris Liebing, Pan-Pot, Joseph Capriati, Ben Sims, Paco Osuna and many more. As a DJ, meanwhile, he's now reaching out beyond NYC clubs like Cielo and Pacha where he cut his teeth and playing regularly across the US and Canada, with slots at Electric Daisy Carnival and Electric Zoo under his belt as well.
Which is pretty impressive, considering he's still only 24 years old! He did have something of a head start, mind you: his Dad's a musician, which meant young Anthony had access to his home studio from around the age of 12, while his cousin is legendary New York DJ Victor Calderone. By the time he was 15, he had a residency at an under-18s night - playing to crowds of up to 1,500! - and the rest, as they say, is (recent) history.
So as we reboot our Masterclass series - an iDJ magazine regular back in the print days - who better to take us right back to square one, and share some advice on what you'll need if you want to start making your own music for the very first time? Take it away, Avision...
"The first thing you're going to need is a DAW [digital audio workstation] - some production software for your computer. I started out using my Dad's studio, and he used Logic. So that's where I began, and I've never really left. But I've messed around with Ableton as well. I think most people start out using sample packs and things like that, so if you're doing that then Ableton is the obvious place to start. But most DAWs have some sort of free trial version available these days, so I recommend trying everything!
"I've tried Pro Tools and hated it. I've tried Ableton, and I do use Ableton sometimes, for samples, but I'm not flawless with it. The important thing is that whatever DAW you choose, you need to own it, and get to know it to its full capabilities. The good thing as well it that DAW prices have come right down: Logic now is only about 200 bucks to buy - it's extremely cheap now, whereas it used to be 800 bucks or something. And it's definitely becoming more user-friendly.
"The second thing you're definitely going to need is a controller keyboard of some kind.I had an M-Audio Key49 when I first started. When you're starting out, I wouldn't go too in-depth, just get something that works. You've got to learn the software first, so anything that works with the software and enables you to play will do the job.
"And then the third thing you're going to need is some good quality headphones, studio monitor speakers, or ideally both. I know guys that have just worked in headphones their whole lives, and I know guys that swear by their studio monitors, but I think it's always best to reference both. I never realised, at first, how important it is to really check a mix in headphones - it's absolutely crucial, because I hear a lot of different things in my headphones that I sometimes don't catch in my studio monitors.
"For instance, I recently started using a mobile studio with my laptop and headphones. I use Sennheiser headphones, but then when I'm looking for something that's going to reference the sound in a club, I use my Beats headphones! They hold a lot of bass and low-end, so when I realise that my bassline needs to be tightened up, or I need to put a little compression on it, they reference the club - those headphones were MADE to make you feel as though you were in a club. So that's why I reference to them.
"Okay, so now you've got a DAW, a keyboard and some headphones and/or monitor speakers, you're going to need some sounds! Sample packs are the obvious place to start. I don't tend to use sample packs myself, but to get you started and get you grooving, they're awesome. They let you play around with different ideas, and you've got almost unlimited sounds at your disposal. It's amazing that if a young kid wants a certain sound, they can just go to a sample pack and get it. They're a great tool for young producers.
"But don't forget there are thousands of different plug-in synths, drum machines and so on available these days, so once you've started to get to grips with sequencing sounds and stringing loops together from sample packs, you should really check some of those out. The sooner you start to create your own sounds from scratch, the sooner you'll develop a style that's distinctly YOU.
Moving on up
"If you've got any money left after that - or if you're ready to upgrade your set-up after a year or two - then the first thing I'd buy would be a hardware synth of some sort. My favourite right now is the Korg Minilogue. It came out about 18 months ago, and I think it was about $500 brand new, which for a synth is fairly cheap. I love it - you can upload sounds to it, it's fully analogue, it sounds great and it's a great way to start learning synthesis, because everything's right in front of you.
"And then if you've got any more money to spend, the next thing on your list should be a nice drum machine. I was never a huge fan of drum machines, because I play drums so I know exactly what I want out of my drum rack. But I've dabbled with a few and I think they get the juices flowing, for anyone. If you're just starting out and you buy something like a Roland TR-8, or the new Roland boutique drum machines, it's a great fit."
Words: Anthony Cardinale