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There is a common debate amongst producers whether previous knowledge with a musical instrument is necessary for producing. From my personal experience, having a background of playing piano was essential for learning production. However, I believe this has more to do with the musical style I produce than producing as a whole.
If you want to produce musically rich tracks, any background in piano will be of benefit. Frankly, the more experience you have the better. Your leads will be more interesting, your melodies more varied, and the chords you use will come naturally.
However, if you're looking to produce music that has a greater emphasis on the rhythmic elements you don't need a formal musical background.
In fact, I believe not having a structured musical background may even be a benefit for those creating "non-musical" tracks. Realistically, it will take an average of a year to become competent enough in music for it to be helpful for producing. This is time that could be used to learn additional production techniques and pump out a few extra tracks.
Getting By Without A MIDI Controller
But how will you control your DAW without a MIDI keyboard?
Simple: using your keyboard and mouse. Most DAWs have a built-in function that allows you to control VSTs using your keyboard. The keys on your keyboard are transposed to notes on a piano roll. Instead of buying a $200 MIDI controller to write simple leads or write your drums you can simple use your keyboard or the drawing function within your DAW.
This allows you to easily write basic chords and other MIDI notes. If you watch enough videos from professional producers you'll notice a lot of them are proficient at using their keyboards to write MIDI.
You can see one example here:
Another example here:
You will also find they write a lot of their MIDI using the drawing function. In other words, they use their mouse to draw chords and write leads. If you spend enough time drawing in your MIDI you will gain a natural intuition of how things will sound and won't have to spend your time awkwardly writing your leads from a MIDI keyboard.
The only caveat is you will have to have a basic understanding of music theory in order for this to work. You will still need to know which notes will fit into which scale to be used for which key. You still need to have an understanding of chord progressions and arrangement. The benefit of learning a musical instrument is these topics come naturally.
Another benefit of skipping the MIDI controller is you don't have to buy one! I know a lot of music producers are strapped for cash. There is so much gear to buy that no matter your budget you can always be buying more.
Spending Your Money On The Important Things
The problem is many new producers spend most of their initial budgets on gear they don't really need. They buy expensive near-field monitors only to use them in untreated rooms because they see ever professional producer using them.
My producing only began to take off when I had quality source material to use. This means buying top of the line VSTs and mixing plugins. This also means digging around for quality sample packs or creating the samples yourself.
Using quality source material is going to cost a lot of money. Usually, hundreds of dollars. If you can find a way to purchase this gear earlier, it will really help your sound in the long run. Saving money on gear you won't need is a great way to make this happen. MIDI keyboards are one, near-field monitors are another.
Don't get me wrong, I completely understand the benefit of a great set of studio monitors - I just know they are expensive to buy and only really become useful when you have some mixing experience under your belt.
Do yourself a favor, if you aren't going to be producing musically completed tracks or if you don't have any background playing keys - skip the MIDI controller. However, if the answer to either of these questions is yes, then, unfortunately, you will have to purchase one. You can use this guide if you don't have an idea where to start.
What do you think? Can you get away without a MIDI controller or is it a must have piece of equipment for every producer. Let me know in the comments below!