Computers have made it possible for just about anyone to
make their own music - for better or worse
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the advent of the computer has pretty much changed the way most people interact with the world around them. It’s hard to imagine now but not too long ago, messages had to be sent through mail and the best source for information were these things called libraries. Scary times, yes, but since then, we have all the information of the world at our fingertips and more computing power in our pockets than what sent man to the moon. And so now comes that age old question – Mac or PC. Both have their own set of staunch supporters who swear that their platform is the best, but what does that have to do with you and music? A lot actually, especially when you consider that a computer is an essential part of one’s home studio setup. Not only that, but depending on what digital audio workstation (DAW) you plan to use, the choice between a MAC and PC makes a huge difference. I can tell you right now that the choice between the two platforms isn’t as clear cut as some make it out to be (I'm looking at you, MAC users) but by checking out both operating systems and their advantages and disadvantages as they relate to music creation, you can make an informed decision on which one will work best for you. So, let’s get right to it and not only check out the differences between MACs and PCs but a few things about computers in general that can help you in your quest for creating that perfect track.
A Long, Long Time Ago…
It’s pretty safe to say that most of us over the age of 25 can still clearly remember back when cell phones were as big as bricks (and just as heavy) and computers were mainly used to challenge Russia’s top chess players. Before computers became an essential component of the studio, it was a huge task just getting your equipment ready to record! Yup, back in the good old days of huge analog tape machines it literally took hours to set everything up and also, it got kind of tricky if you weren’t sure what you were doing. From aligning the tape machine, zeroing out the console or even setting up the patchbay, having a working home studio was no easy feat – not to mention so expensive it was pretty much out of the reach of most people.
With today’s modern technology, having your setup ready for recording is almost as easy as simply flipping a switch. Yes, computers have essentially made pro quality music production attainable by just about anybody at a fraction of what it used to cost. But with that said, what computer should you get? Linux maybe? Well, I’m a huge fan of that particular open source operating system but when it comes to DAW software compatibility, you better stick to the two main players.
Specifications and RAM
While a computer’s specifications are very important in DAW software performance, it would be hard for me list the specs required in order to run them simply because they can change every few months. Always check the minimum specs on the DAW software you are thinking of going with so that you won’t end up with a bad surprise when you try and set it up. All manufacturers list their program’s minimum required specs on their sites so make sure you take time and check that out. Anyways, I can tell you that probably the single most drastic upgrade you can make to your computer (old or new even) for music creation is RAM – more RAM! Most computers out there already come with plenty of RAM to do what most people use computers for such as browse the web, run a word processor and even play some pretty good looking video games but that might not be enough for DAW programs. RAM is very important in music creation because that’s pretty much where all of the audio will be processed, and there are a lot of things that must be processed in music creation. Not only that, but you’re probably going to want to connect an external audio interface that works with your DAW and I’m sure you’re going to want it to run smoothly, so invest in some RAM regardless of your choice between a MAC and PC. How much RAM? If you look at the popular Pro Tools as an example, the HD version recommends 8GB of RAM but will work with 4. I'd suggest aiming more towards 8 GB for good measure.
Mac or PC –Things to Think About
I’m sure most people that you know with a MAC computer can tell you they love it because it’s just so much more stable than a PC, among other reasons. Well, that’s actually very true. Just like the iPhone, Apple – and only Apple – builds MAC computers and use the same components for all of their machines (save for maybe a few tweaks here and there for their top tier model). PCs on the other hand are made by countless different manufacturers with an endless difference in components and specifications. As you can imagine, having to create software for PCs that will work smoothly across all of its variations is no small feat. So, does that mean hands down, go for a MAC? Not necessarily, if you don’t mind doing a little more work.
Yes, MAC computers are pretty solid machines and have built a great reputation in the music business. “They just work” as it turns out. Still though, with a bit of tweaking, a PC can run just as well. Not only that, but most PC are usually a lot less expensive than a MAC. For a few hundred dollars, you can essentially custom build your own PC anyway you see fit. Not only that, it tends to be less expensive to upgrade a PC as there are a slew of manufacturers that make compatible components for it. Yes, you will have to do more research on specifications and make a few tweaks in order to get the perfect studio PC running as well as a MAC, but once you do there really isn’t too much difference, at least not on the hardware end. Software though is a little different.
Choosing What’s Right for You
In the end the right choice between a PC or a MAC can sometimes come down to your choice in DAW software. There are certainly plenty of programs out there that are available for both consoles but there are also some that are only on one or the other. If you are looking to get Sonar for example, you’re going to need a PC as it is only made for Windows. Conversely, Digital Performer is only made for MACs. Make sure you keep that in mind when you think about your choice in a studio computer. Essentially, there is no real right or wrong choice on a PC versus a MAC. PCs might need some tweaking but will usually run you cheaper and have more of a selection in terms of software and hardware upgrades. MACs on the other hand are very stable and are pretty much good to go out of the box – save for maybe a RAM upgrade. Either way, computers sure beat setting up those old tape machines.