I’m excited about all of the projects I have underway at the moment, but there’s one in particular that I’m finding it hard not to jump into immediately, even though I have other priorities.
Thankfully, I have this blog as an outlet, which means I can satisfy that urge (a bit) by giving you an insight into my plans for my music studio build.
A couple of weeks ago, I received two huge boxes from none other than studio and gigging gear masters, Mackie. They have very kindly sent me some key pieces of kit that will bring this setup to life – literally.
I’ll get to that in a moment, but let’s first focus on what I’ll be doing with the engine room behind my music studio build project – my beloved M1 Mac mini.
If there’s one device in my studio that I’ve been feeling really sorry for over the last few months, it’s the M1 Mac mini.
At the moment, it’s sitting on a hastily cobbled-together IKEA desk. It’s not alone. In fact, the computer with which I built this business is joined by a whole host of abandoned tech including a 34” ultra-wide monitor, iFi Audio ZEN DAC, a couple of magnetic iPad stands, and a bunch of portable charging power banks. Oh, and there are one or two pairs of headphones, too (obviously).
It’s a sorry sight and one I’m immensely embarrassed about.
So, over the Christmas period, I’ll be resurrecting the M1 Mac mini. That’ll start with a complete wipe of its SSD and a fresh install of macOS Ventura. Which, I’ll admit, fills me with dread – I’ve heard a few horror stories of Apple’s latest OS when it comes to production work, which is why I’ve thus far avoided upgrading to it on my 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Alas, this music studio won’t be production critical (to begin with) therefore I’m willing to take a chance. And if it all goes you-know-what-up, it’ll at least give me something to write about.
Once I have a freshly installed OS on that machine, I’m only going to add the stuff I need to make music, edit podcasts, and work on my audio-related projects. Nothing else; no email, no calendar, no writing apps – nowt. I’ve experienced a fair degree of success with a similarly focused configuration on my iPad Air, therefore I want to apply the same principle to this Mac mini, given its intended new role.
The only thing I’ll need to add to the Mac mini is some decent external storage for samples and various other audio-related files and installations. I’ll keep you posted on the route I take there.
My digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice is Logic Pro. It has been for nearly twenty years.
Prior to that, I was a Cubase user (going right back to my teenage days of music production on the Atari ST) and I’ve also dabbled with the likes of Ableton and Reason. But something has always brought me back to Logic Pro.
Apple acquired Emagic, the original developer of Logic (as it was known back then), in 2002. Windows support was, as you’d guess, swiftly removed, but Apple’s development of the popular DAW has remained consistent and considerate; there has been little of the watering down experienced by long-term users of Final Cut Pro. In fact, I’d argue that Logic Pro has enjoyed a far more revolutionary development path than Apple’s video editing software. Although big updates have arrived infrequently, when they have, they’ve been impressive and far-reaching.
Even though I haven’t made much music over the last few years, I still find myself slipping back into Logic Pro as though it were a pair of old slippers. Its timeline workflow (now joined by the Ableton-inspired Live Loops view) makes utter sense for an old fart like me and enables ideas to be generated and arranged quickly.
Logic Pro also supports Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos mixing, which is something I’d love to explore once I’ve got the desk up and running.
There’s little need for outboard gear these days when you’re building a compact music production studio. As much as I deeply love synths and effects you can touch, twiddle, and tap, I don’t really have the budget (or need) for this build to fill the room with that sort of stuff.
So, most of the sound sources, effects, and processing stuff will be handled ‘in the box’, as they say.
I’ve already got a bunch of plugins and software synths that I know like the back of my hand. They include the likes of Arturia, who make some of the most authentic software recreations of classic analogue synths, and Native Instruments whose take on modern synthesis is revered.
In 2020 I also invested in a bunch of plugins from Waves and Soundtoys, including faithful recreations of SSL mixing desks and channel strips (which I’ve applied to the signature ‘Mark Ellis Reviews sound’ on my YouTube channel).
I’ve got my eye on many more additions to this virtual studio haul (it’s a bit like buying golf clubs – you can never have enough 7 irons) but I’ll be wading slowly through that growing list over the next couple of years.
Beyond the Mac mini, there isn’t a huge list of kit required to bring this music studio desk to life. There’s the desk itself, of course, which I haven’t even started researching yet, but of far more interest to you (and me) is the stuff that will be placed on it.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve partnered with Mackie, who has kindly supplied a bunch of gear to ensure I can hear the sounds I’m creating. These include the CR5-X reference monitors, CR8S-XBT subwoofer, and Big Knob Studio. They’ve even been kind enough to send me a pair of MC-450 monitoring headphones (which I have a feeling will see the most use, given the existence of my neighbours!).
That setup from Mackie will provide all of the grunt I need to play and monitor my creations – and it’ll look superb, too. I love the way studio gear has developed from an aesthetic standpoint; gone are the days of bland black boxes with no heart or soul – this Mackie stuff really does look the part.
The only other hardware I have my eye on at the moment is a midi controller keyboard and, potentially, some form of MPC-style beat maker. We shall see.
It feels like a luxury to have so much time to create something. I’m usually rushing to the line to finish a video review or publish a piece of sponsored content, but this music studio build is entirely my own project; I’m the one setting the deadlines!
I’ve earmarked the festive period to begin work on this, starting with the process of finding a desk, resurrecting the Mac mini and firing that Mackie gear into life.
Thanks for joining me on this journey!
This post includes affiliate links