Making Music
You CAN make album ready music with an iPhone, just ask Steve Lacy and Kendrick Lamar. In this blog we look at ways to optimize your set up with less £££

Updated 24/04/2019

Doing A Lot With Very Little

We’re a music retailer, so we can be somewhat guilty of this, but sometimes, the amount of gear you’re told that you *need* to make music can be overwhelming, especially on a budget.

We’re here to tell you that you can make music on a limited budget, and I’m not talking the roughest of rough demos. I’m talking Grammy award nominated music, just see Steve Lacy’s production on Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

In today’s blog, we’re going to talk through some high quality and versatile gear that you can get on a budget of under £200. We’ll assume that you have some tech (a computer, a smartphone), but hopefully there will be something for everyone.

The Interface


IK Multimedia iRig

Back to Steve Lacy, who simply plugs in a guitar to his iRig and records from there. The iRig is a pocket-sized interface that connects with guitar, bass and most other electric instrumentation. It comes with a Headphone out for personal monitoring too. This is truly portable recording, and ideal for people like Lacy, who demo their tracks through the iPhone. No file transferring necessary!

Next, you’ll need a guitar to plug into the iRig…

The Guitar

Squier Bullet Stratocaster

Lee was really impressed with the Bullet Strat when he demo’d it, and as you can tell from the video, it plays beautifully. If you have the chops, you can really make this guitar work for you.

Mac Demarco has also used a similar instrument when touring. He says: “I don’t think it’s about the medium or even the gear”, going to show that you can play to tens of thousands of people without paying out tens of thousands of $$$.


A DAW can be easily sourced, whether it be a free version of Fruity Loops (see Hudson Mohawke), or if you’re an Apple user, GarageBand. In terms of scope to development though, in this blog, we want to highlight Ableton.

Ableton Live – Intro Version

Ableton Live Intro

If you’re a frequent reader of the Dawsons blog, you’ve probably heard us wax lyrical about Ableton before. It’s intuitive, has great tools to help you learn how to use it, and it’s a really powerful musical tool. In essence, it represents everything great about the home recording revolution.

With that said, the full version software is quite expensive, at least for this particular blog post… Despite this, there are affordable options to get started with Ableton.

  • Intro version software

This is a basic package of Ableton which is a multitrack recorder/sequencer and instrument. This version is optimised for 32-bit systems instead of 64, so if your computer isn’t the most powerful, the software will work fine. It enables you to record 16 MIDI or audio tracks (plenty) and includes 3 instruments; Simpler, Impulse and Drum Rack.

  • Controller Packages

You can forgo the cost of this intro software if you buy certain audio interfaces or MIDI controllers for example, the Alesis VI25. The VI25 comes with Ableton Live 9 Lite, and is also a very useful piece of gear in its own right…

The MIDI Controller

Alesis VI25

Alesis VI25 USB Controller

The VI25 is arguably a preferable choice to some MIDI controllers due to the fact it has full sized, semi-weighted keys. This makes it optimal for the musician with experience playing keyboards or piano. If you’re new to computer music but miss the tangibility of a traditional keyboard instrument, we’d recommend it.


I want to make clear that you don’t need all of these things to record. You might fancy the keys and computer combo. Maybe you’re more portable and the guitar and iRig are more your vibe. The point I’m trying to make is, you can be creative with minimal gear, and if you so desire, build it up over time.

Get in touch

As always, if you’re looking for a bit more advice or have some questions, get in touch with our customer service team on 01925 582420 or via email at [email protected] Alternatively, head to your nearest Dawsons Music store where our in-store specialist will be more than happy to help you out. They’re all musicians and knowledgeable at that!