Creative Strategies w/ Matt Shadetek: Buy Less Gear

In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek breaks down the essential kit list for creating quality electronic music. 


Music is made by humans, not by equipment. If you were stranded on a desert island you could make music with just your body by singing and clapping. Technology allows one person to do more than they ever could have done alone, but technology alone will not make great songs. People spend a lot of time imagining that when they get the next tool (toy) they’ll be able to finally make the music they imagine themselves making. This is similar to the people who imagine if they get a new job / girlfriend / city to live in they’ll be happy. When they arrive, they realize that they’ve brought their issues with them. Lusting after toys allows us to externalize the factors that slow or stop us from creating. Instead of pushing through our creative discomfort and learning to really use the things we have, we get out our credit card and go buy a new widget.

Creating things that are good usually requires a certain amount of discomfort. That feeling of struggling, not making progress, or making things that aren’t so good is part of the process. Instead of trying to avoid that feeling with a new toy, you need to experience and work through that discomfort. The pain you feel is called learning and it’s necessary. When you recognize that these feelings are part of the process you will eventually make better stuff, without buying new gear.

That being said, having the right tool for a job is helpful. The challenge when you’re a beginner is that you don’t know what the right tool is, and therefore are vulnerable to salesmanship and hype. So let’s talk about some practical and tools for making computer music, in order of priority, for your setup.


You will need a computer. Any computer made in the past 3-5 years will be able to run most modern music software. Check that the operating system required by the software you want to use will run on the hardware. Check out the suggested minimum specifications for the software you intend to use. You don’t need a Mac unless you want to run Mac only software like Logic. Macs are much more expensive and if cost is an issue, you’ll get more computing power for your money by buying a PC with Windows. You do not need the latest fastest computer to do audio. We all like having fast computers but don’t make it a reason not to start because you can’t afford top of the line. You don’t need it. All computers made nowadays are very fast. I’ve used Ableton Live running on tiny, cheap netbook computers just fine. It’s not optimal, but it’s an option.


You will need a digital audio workstation application (DAW). Examples of these are Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Cubase, ProTools, and Bitwig. There are also things like Maschine or the MPC Renaissance which are drum machines that almost include all the features of a DAW. You can use these to produce beats but not do things like record and mix full songs with vocals. Because you will use this piece of software very heavily, I strongly recommend that you buy your DAW software instead of bootlegging it. Losing creative work you can never get back due to buggy cracked software is a big bummer.


You will need a monitoring system. Being able to accurately hear the music you’re creating is very important. This is more important than more plug-ins, mixing tools, or MIDI controllers. If you can’t hear your music properly it will sound bad when it’s finished. Monitor speakers are not designed to sound “good.” They are designed to give you an accurate representation of your music that will sound as similar as possible when you take it to another set of speakers. A good pair of monitor speakers will help you make better and more accurate decisions. If you are going to splurge on something for your setup, this is the thing to do it on.

Understand Acoustics

You will need a basic understanding of acoustics. This is not a piece of equipment but it matters. Setting up your monitoring system to produce inaccurate results due to the acoustics of your studio is a very common beginner mistake. Research “home studio monitor placement” or “home studio acoustics” and educate yourself. It’s a bigger topic than I want to cover in a paragraph and I’m not an expert. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect or optimal. As long as you understand and follow the basics you can improve your sound a lot. Don’t spend a bunch of money on acoustic treatment until you’ve tried out the basics and understand what you’re doing.

MIDI Controller

You will need a MIDI controller. There are hundreds of options on the market for a MIDI controller. All a MIDI controller does is send musical performance data to your DAW. The measures of quality here are how it feels to your fingers and how durable it is. For my main keyboard controller I use a very cheap Casio keyboard with a USB connection. For knobs, faders and pads I use an AKAI MPD24. Both get the job done just fine as far as I’m concerned and were very cost effective. Having fancy controllers is nice, but not necessary. In fact, although you may find it less fun you can make all your music by drawing it in with a mouse or even playing the ASCII computer keyboard in many DAWs.


You may want other software like plug-ins, virtual instruments, or sample banks. Notice this is filed under “want” and not “need.” I strongly recommend you start working with the things I’ve mentioned above before you dive into the big wide world of things people want you to buy. The reason for this is that until you have a strong grasp of the basics this will just be another thing you don’t know how to use very well, or can only use in a superficial way. Its very easy to get distracted by shiny objects. I am a believer in developing a deep knowledge of a few tools instead of a shallow knowledge of many.

Hopefully this gives you a few ideas about getting a basic setup going so that you can move on to the important work: creation. The biggest investment you need to make in all of this is time. Time working, learning and practicing is what will allow you to achieve your goals, not buying stuff. If you really want to shorten the process by spending money the best thing to do is to pay someone who’s invested the time to do it for you. Otherwise get your tools together, roll up your sleeves and get to work.


About Matt Shadetek

Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.

Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).

Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.

Connect with Matt on Twitter | SoundCloud | Website

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