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A hardware synthesizer works on the same principles as a software synthesizer. But they serve different purposes based on your requirements. In this post, I am going to break it down for you. Based on my little experience with the most experience I have gained using various software synths, I will talk more about software synths.
If you’re new to music production or a wannabe musician undecided on your take, this is for you. I will also share my experience with the software synth.
It is a physical gadget that will occupy space in your room. Physical synthesizers are huge if you have restricted space, then a physical keyboard is not for you.
What I am aware of is that a hardware synth, workstation or arranger is a one-man-band. You can hook it to your recording software on your computer to create music. I am not sure if you can do mastering as well. If not then you will either need someone to do it for you or do it yourself.
You can also do your recording and mastering in a small studio. It will cost your money. So there are lots to think about.
If you choose to learn to master it, then understand the learning curve may or may not be steep.
Hardware synths have their pros. The first thing I would say that a keyboard player on a synth, workstation or arranger are musicians first. Choosing this path will make you well versed in music theory should you choose to take up lessons.
It is portable. You can carry it everywhere. It entails performing in places like clubs, bars or studios, whatever venue you choose. The benefit is you make yourself known in public. When you are well known enough, you can also earn a decent income. However, this is not the path everyone would choose.
The biggest con is that hardware synths have a steep learning curve. The presence of lots of buttons, knobs and sliders are intimidating enough to overwhelm anyone. Let’s agree on one thing – the complexity will stare at you in the face!
Price is another factor. They don’t come cheap. So, buying it is a large investment to consider and may even cost above and beyond the best PC you wish to buy! But, if you are serious about hardware synths, then the complexity, learning curve and price matters little.
Let’s now talk about Software Synths commonly known as VST or VSTi plugins. To run them, you need a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation. Most DAWs work on low spec. But, it is recommended to have a better system in place.
The choices for software synth is vast. You get both paid and free synths, plugins and even instruments. This is the biggest pro I can think of – variety and you are spoilt for choices!
On my LMMS, I have all synths and plugins that are free. When you are starting from a novice to a beginner as a music producer – it is imperative to keep your investment to a minimum until you get some revenue. I
am such a person, I don’t mind spending the right amount until I know it is worth it.
Compatibility with your OS is also of concern. For example, I specifically wanted a synth for creating atmospheres and ambience. I found one called Serenity. Luckily it is free – unluckily, it needs a 64-bit system to run – which is uncommon.
You may get what you want but you still can not have it!
Here’s another con: software synths, plugins and instruments are created by different software companies. Their interface is also bound to be different. It entails a steep learning curve though not all software synths have their tutorials on YouTube for making it easy for you. You must learn by your self.
Hopefully, when I can afford it I can have a fixed team of freelancers in place to assist me in my quest like most big independent music producers do. I digress.
Coming back to the synths. The biggest con about software synth is it demands a presence on your PC or laptop. If you are a music producer then, then the portability is of little concern. If you are an artist, then you need a system that you can carry with you. It involves logistics like DJing.
For music producers like me, portability is of little concern. I do not look forward to performing in public – I suffer from stage fright.
What would I choose? I am happy with software synths, other instruments and plugins. As an upcoming music producer, I know the basics of operating a synth but I am yet to master them. This is the learning curve I was talking about. You must know what every knob, slider and button does. There is no need to get too much into the technicality of how it works. The basics operations will suffice.
Physical synths, workstations and arranger keyboard never figured on my to-buy list. I love to browse through the choices available online – but buying them is different.
My plan for building a home music studio does not need a synth keyboard but a midi keyboard instead. In the next few months, I plan to buy one – possibly a 32-key. Studio monitors among regular monitors and a studio monitor headset. Suitable hardware to serve the purpose. I ultimately dream of having a small place in the confines of the bedroom or a dedicated room to operate from.
Cutting the long story short: Hardware synths are for performers both on stage and studio. A software synth is mostly, for music producers like me.