60 tracks. Dozens of active plugins. And a resource-hungry DAW. If you’re producing music, this is something you’ll have to deal with on a daily basis. Pick a computer that’s too slow and your workflow will struggle. You’ll have to freeze tracks, disable plugins, and choose synths that don’t let you express yourself fully.
The solution to this problem is to build a PC designed specifically for music production. I’ll show you how to pick the right parts for your production setup in this guide.
5 Things to Consider When Building a Music Production PC
Music production has a lot of overlaps with gaming or video editing – you need RAM, extensive hard disk space, and a powerful PC. However, there are some things you can compromise on (such as graphics card) and other things you should emphasize.
Here are some things you should consider when building your PC for music production:
- Keep your final setup in mind
What tools, accessories and equipment will you use for music production? Are you a casual producer looking to make a few beats as a hobby? Or do you intend to achieve professional-grade clarity and quality?
A lot of your PC decisions will depend on your goals and the final setup you have in mind. If you plan on using a lot of synths, audio effects, and mastering plugins, you’ll need a much more powerful setup than someone who just wants to record his guitar.
Briefly, consider the following:
- Your primary DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Logic, Ableton, etc.
- Your primary synth (such as Massive, Serum, etc.)
- What audio interface you’ll use
- What accessories you’ll use (microphones, speakers, MIDI keyboards, etc.)
- Whether you’ll add any external equipment such as mixers, turntables, etc.
The more advanced your setup, the more power you’ll need.
- Get as much RAM as you can afford
Music production often involves running several processes concurrently. You might have Serum and Massive on four separate tracks, a mastering plugin on the Master track, and a reverb plugin on your audio tracks.
Running all these processes at the same time has a significant impact on performance. To counter this, you need more and faster RAM to improve speed.
At the bare minimum, pick 8GB of the fastest RAM you can afford (2400Hz should be a minimum). Bump this to 16GB if you’re serious about production; mastering plugins and sidechains alone eat into your RAM quickly.
DAWs like Ableton will show you if you’re exceeding your RAM. If you regularly notice this icon shift to ‘D’ (i.e. “Disk”), you need to add more RAM.
- Pick a fast, multi-core processor
Your CPU has the biggest impact on the performance of your production setup. In fact, most DAWs have a tab for showing the amount of CPU power used in real-time.
If the CPU-meter exceeds 60%, you’ll find that your audio is choppy, especially when a new instrument enters the track.
You can mitigate this somewhat by freezing unused tracks or using fewer voices in your synth, but this only ends up impacting your workflow and audio quality.
A more permanent solution is to buy a multicore processor. Consider an i7 8600k to be a minimum requirement. If you have to choose a lower variant (an i5), pick one of the 6-core models from the 8th generation (i.e. an i5-8400T over an i5-8400H). A higher cache size is also recommended.
- Use an SDD + HDD combo
Music production applications tend to be slow and heavy on your system. Ableton can eat up over 1GB of memory and take several seconds to load – without even adding any tracks to it.
At the same time, you’ll also need to store a vast amount of samples, plugins, and patches. A modern producer can easily have over 1TB of samples in his library.
The dual requirements – speed and storage size – is best served by an SDD + HDD combo. Use the SDD to install your primary software. Keep the HDD (at least 1TB) for storing all your tracks and samples. This will ensure that you can keep all your files easily accessible without compromising on speed.
- Invest in a dual-monitor setup (and ignore graphics cards)
Making music on a single screen can be tough. Your plugins share the same screen as your DAW. You have to constantly shift between windows, which can eat into your productivity. Not to mention, it will slow down your creative instinct – that crucial ingredient for music production.
An easy solution is to switch to a dual-monitor setup. You can have your DAW open on one screen, your plugins on another. Alternatively, keep your file explorer opened in the second screen so you can quickly find the right samples.
Music production isn’t graphically intensive. A graphics card won’t do much to improve performance. In most cases, it will sit idle or even slow down performance by creating unnecessary heat.
Thus, unless you plan to play games or edit videos, skip graphics cards altogether. Instead, focusing on getting the best RAM, CPU and SSD combination you can get.
Over to you
Building a PC for music production requires a slightly different approach than building a gaming PC. For one, you have to focus on accommodating multiple processes. You also have to support resource-hungry applications while maintaining the ability to store a large number of files.
These five things I shared above will help you build a better PC for music production.