Audio / Buying Guide

Gift Ideas for Parents of Millennial Musicians

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When your son told you that he wanted to make “Progressive House,” you thought he was saying he wanted to become a homebuilder and a registered Democrat. Sound familiar?  Keep reading.

Music has changed a lot in the last decade, and so has the gear used to make it. When occasions come around, parents of millennial musicians are more susceptible to feeling the generation gap than ever. If you're the parent of beginner millennial musician, there's a good chance your kid falls into one of the categories below.

The Producer or Beatmaker

If your son has told you that he wants to “make beats,” and you don’t know what that means and are too afraid to ask, you’re in the right place. Most modern musical styles that fall under the EDM, Hip Hop, and Pop umbrellas rely primarily on programmed instrumental music beds, or “beats,” to support the vocalist. Although the word “beat” may sound like it refers to drums alone, the truth is that it typically refers to the entire musical production other than the vocals.  

While there are tons of options out there for beatmakers these days, there are some tried and true standards that are great places to start. One of these is Ableton Live. Arguably the most popular Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) available today, Live is known for its powerful audio-manipulation features, which has made it a favorite among EDM producers, remixers, and mashup artists for years. Live is also known as a great choice for performing electronic musicians, thanks to its unique Session View screen. Setting the program apart from other DAWs, Session View makes musical experimentation and improvisation possible without the constraints of the timeline, ideal for rocking live shows, and also great for trying out song arrangements. In addition to these features, Live also offers multi-track recording, and a host of software instruments and sounds, making it an extremely versatile program. Some notable Ableton Live users are Skrillex, Deadmau5, Diplo, and Daft Punk.

Ableton Live 9 Standard - Music Production Software

Another highly popular option is FL Studio. A staple in urban genres like Hip Hop, Trap, and R&B, FL Studio is legendary for its powerful step sequencer and drum sampler, which together make programming complicated, hard-hitting drum parts easier than most users care to admit. FL also packs a lot of bang for the buck, giving you a whopping 30 soft synths and 40 effect plug-ins (Signature Edition), as well as unlimited multi-track audio recording right out of the box. Although it’s been famously championed by chart-topping hip hop producers like Lex Luger and Metro Boomin, FL holds a firm position in the EDM world, as well, used by the likes of Avicii and Porter Robinson.

Image-Line FL Studio 12 Signature Edition - Complete Music Production Software

Although you can do a lot with Ableton Live and FL Studio with your computer’s keyboard and mouse alone, a MIDI controller really takes things to the next level of musical expression. The Novation Launchkey and the Akai MPK series are great places to start. If you're going with Live, check out the customized Ableton Live Push controller.

Akai Professional MPK 261 - Performance Keyboard Controller

The DJ

The word DJ encompasses far more than it used to, and the tools of the trade have grown with the art form. There are several avenues to travel for DJs who are just starting out, and Serato DJ and Native Instruments TRAKTOR PRO are arguably the two most popular software programs around. In addition to DJ software, you also need a way to control your music, and there are several ways to do it. The first way relies on actual turntables or CD decks to control the software, and there’s a simpler solution, using a hardware controller that simulates the experience of mixing on a turntable. For the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on the latter, and if you're the parent of a millennial who has never even seen a vinyl LP in the flesh, a simple hardware controller is definitely the best place to start.

Popular with the Hip Hop and Top 40 crowds, Serato DJ is known for being straightforward and easy to use. Great for beginners, the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is an affordable DJ controller for Serato with an integrated audio interface. It even comes with a stripped-down, “lite” version of the Serato software called Serato Intro, which makes the package a complete solution. Even though Serato Intro doesn’t have key features such as the ability to perfectly time (quantize) your cue points, it can easily be upgraded to the full version of Serato DJ down the line.  Notable Serato users include Just Blaze, Keys ’N Krates, DJ Premier, and Hudson Mohawke.

Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 - DJ Controller for Serato DJ with Integrated Sound Card

The Native Instruments TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 MK2 package includes a controller and audio interface combo, as well as the full version of the TRAKTOR PRO 2 software, making it a great bargain. A favorite among EDM and Dance DJs, well-known TRAKTOR users include Carl Cox, Felix Da Housecat, and Carl Craig.

Native Instruments TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 MK2

The Rapper or Singer/Songwriter

In today's fast-moving, social-media-driven music world, it's not enough to simply write a good song. Recording the song and distributing it is just as important, and luckily, high-quality audio recording is easier, and more affordable than ever. For vocalists like rappers and singers, the Focusrite AKG Perception 220 Mic + Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Interface Bundle comes with everything you need to hit the ground running.

Focusrite AKG Perception 220 Mic + Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Interface Bundle

The bundle is built around the AKG Perception 220 large-diaphragm, cardioid-condenser microphone, and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2-channel USB audio interface. In addition to vocals, the Perception 220 is also great for recording acoustic guitars. The package also includes Ableton Live Lite 8, which allows for professional-quality audio recording and beat sequencing on up to eight tracks, studio headphones, a mic stand with a boom, a pop filter to keep plosives under control when recording vocals, and an XLR microphone cable.

And, if you’re wondering what to ask your kids to get you for the holidays, I’ve got a suggestion for that, too—earplugs!

Etymotic Research ER20XS High Fidelity Earplugs

Please post your thoughts or ask questions in the Comments section, below.

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