I’m always looking for ways to turn hobbies into revenue-generating, audience-building opportunities.
The Mark Ellis Reviews brand is a result of that desire; my love of photography, filmmaking, audio production, writing, and making stuff has all come together to form a business that has made me happier than I’ve ever been, professionally. It just so happens to be rather profitable, too.
There’s one passion I’ve always wanted to delve into more deeply, though, and a subsection of my audience has been fairly vocal in its encouragement for me to do so.
This has prompted me to crack on with building a mini music production desk in the studio. We’re not talking Peter Gabriel levels of gear, walls of synths, or tangled webs of modular racks, though (obviously); instead, I’m going to create a small workstation designed for music-making, podcasting, and sound design.
I’m going to take you with me on this journey – if you fancy it, obviously; my regular content will continue unabated!
What might interest you, though, is that it all hangs on the performance of one particular Mac. A Mac I’ve neglected for far too long.
Why I’m doing this
There are three reasons I’ve decided to create this mini music studio at Mark Ellis Reviews HQ:
- I miss making music;
- people have asked me to delve into the subject; and
- it’s a fresh topic for the channel.
Ever since the age of about 12, I’ve been a bedroom music producer. It’s been nothing more than a hobby – I’ve never held ambitions to have my work released, and barely anyone has heard it outside of these four walls and a smattering of people on Soundcloud. I’m just a massive music fan and a huge music tech geek (thanks almost solely to my musician dad and the many years we spent working together in that area).
Unfortunately, the time available for making music just hasn’t been there over the last few years, and I miss it dearly.
Music production has received more than a passing mention in some of my Mac-themed content, and whenever it does, one or two people always ask for more detail. They want to know what DAW I use, which plug-ins I rely on, and what hardware I own. I’d like to start answering those questions.
This is also a much-needed, fresh topic for the channel. I’m over the moon with the growth and continued evolution of Mark Ellis Reviews, but I’m conscious it needs a spin-off ‘series’ to feed the algorithm with a bit more variety and satisfy the audience subsection I mentioned a moment ago.
However, even if you have zero interest in the nuts and bolts of music production, there probably is one element of this project that you’ll find interesting: the computer that will be powering it all.
Yep, I’m resurrecting the M1 Mac mini (for now).
Why the M1 Mac mini?
I feel desperately sorry for my M1 Mac mini. Purchased in late 2020, it spent most of 2021 as my main production machine. It enabled me to edit around 80 4K YouTube videos without ever stuttering, crashing, or blowing anything remotely resembling warm air from its exhaust vents.
Then, my 16-inch M1 Max-powered MacBook Pro arrived in late 2021, and the Mac mini was immediately retired.
I tried to find a role for it – I promise. A beta test machine, perhaps. Or a production stand-in when I couldn’t be arsed to cart the 16-inch MacBook Pro to the studio.
That role never materialised. Instead, the Mac mini took up residence on a desk I barely sit at, resting peacefully beneath my equally unused 34” ultra-wide MSI monitor.
This is all kinds of wrong. That M1 Mac mini cost my business £1,099. It was configured with 16GB of unified memory and a 512GB SSD. Even today, with the M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra, and the dawn of the M2 platform, my Mac mini remains a beast of a machine. It deserves to be put to use.
I’m happy to report that its day has arrived because the Mac mini will now be given full music production study duties; it’ll be the brains behind the entire setup. It deserves nothing more.
The initial plan
I’m going to take my time with this – there’s no need to rush (remember – no one is waiting for my next album). This means I can enjoy the process of sussing out what gear, plugins, and soft synths I already own, what I need immediately, and what can be budgeted for a future purchase.
As you might imagine, I’ve accumulated a fair amount of music production-related stuff over the years. My steed of choice is Logic Pro, I’ve got a sizeable-if-messy sample library and own a bunch of plug-in licences. There are also a pair of KRK monitors gathering dust at the back of the studio, an 88-note Roland digital piano in my old studio at home, and an M-Audio mini controller keyboard somewhere.
Some of that will make its way to the new music production desk, but I’m keen to have a fresh start with a lot of it.
That has in part led me to strike up a partnership with Mackie, who will be supplying a fresh set of monitor speakers, a subwoofer, an audio controller ‘knob’, and monitoring headphones for the new setup. They’ll play a big role in this over the coming months, so expect to hear plenty more on that front in due course!
But first, I’ll be wiping the M1 Mac mini and configuring it as a little music production powerhouse.
What does the future hold?
Time for a confession.
<checks that the Mac mini isn’t listening>
As excited as I am to finally put the M1 Mac mini back to more meaningful use, its time probably is limited. Again.
You see, I’ve been waiting desperately for Apple to launch the next iteration of its tiny desktop powerhouse. Whether it’ll be M1 Pro-powered, or house the latest version of the M2 platform, I don’t care; I just want to see what they do next and how far they can push that brilliant little computer. A redesign and resolution for the persistent Bluetooth issues would be welcome, too.
We’re not going to get that computer this year. Unless Mr Gurman was totally wide of the mark a few weeks back, Apple won’t be dropping any more new Macs until 2023.
The likelihood is that we’ll need to wait until March to see those devices. There’s absolutely no guarantee that a new Mac mini will number among them, but I remain hopeful. If it does, that new model will take pride of place at the heart of my then-established music production desk.
If it doesn’t arrive, well… the M1 Mac mini will live to see another day.
Who’s coming with me on this journey?
Looking forward to seeing what you will do. I think your early reviews of the M1 Mac Mini convinced me to order one in 2020 to replace my 16inch MBP. It is probably the only desktop I’ve ever owned that I truly enjoy working at. The fact that I can set up everything as I want from monitor to mouse to webcam is underrated.
Been hoping for and looking forward to this kind of direction for a while now. Loving how animated you are by it. Coming from a fellow twelve-year-old (going on 40) bedroom music producer tech geek.
Great idea! Magazines just don’t cover such topics like they once did. I’m particularly interested in current software/hardware for music transcription.