Whether you just need a fun stocking filler or a feature-packed drum machine, picking out the right present for a musician or producer can be difficult. In this list, FACT gives all the gift advice you’ll need to score a hit this holiday season.
Coming up with gift ideas is never easy, but it can be especially hard if your friend, family member or partner is a producer. Can you buy a drum machine for under $100? What patch cables should you buy for a modular? The market is a minefield of potential disappointment, and it’s no wonder most producers end up with socks instead of synths on Christmas Day.
Well, we’ve put our heads together and come up with the first ever Make Music gift guide to help you. Whether you’re a producer looking for things to put on your Christmas list or a family member stuck for ideas, this collection covers all bases, from books and stocking fillers to high-end studio gear.
If you’re trying to buy for someone who’s already got a studio full of gear don’t panic – there are books out there for every producer or synth fanatic.
Push Turn Move by Kim Bjørn
This book is the most in-depth survey of musical instrument design you’ll find anywhere, featuring interviews with key artists, designers and synth makers.
Making Music: Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers by Dennis DeSantis
Ableton’s book of creative strategies is the ideal way to beat producer’s block and the perfect way to prepare for the release of Live 10 in 2018.
Fowre #1: Synthesizers edited by Andrew Siskind
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and M. Geddes Gengras are among the musical experts who contribute to this gorgeous book on synthesizer culture.
Looking for something fun that you can fit in a stocking or entertain the family with over Christmas? Below we’ve rounded up everything from a synth-based card game to pocket-sized hardware that’ll let you build a whole battery-powered studio for not much money.
Vintage Synth Trumps 2
It’s a Top Trumps game with vintage synths, making it perfect for any studio-dwellers who refuse to join in with family board games at Christmas.
This modern version of the classic Stylophone will get older relatives feeling nostalgic, and you can always try circuit bending it after Christmas is over.
Korg Volca FM
Korg’s Volcas are still some of the best mini synths you can buy, especially the FM model, which will add some ‘80s flair to any production.
Bastl Instruments Kastle
Bastl’s Kastle is a patchable mini-synth that runs on three AA batteries. Ideal for anyone who can’t bear to leave their modular at home.
This mini-mixer has a built-in battery that can be recharged over USB. Its glowing LED light mean you won’t have trouble seeing it in the dark either.
Bastl’s Dude won’t drink White Russians or go bowling with you, but it will let you plug in all your mini-synths for recording tracks out of the studio. It runs on four AA batteries.
Even if you’re buying for a musician that makes all their music on a laptop, a drum machine will always be appreciated. They’re fun, hands-on, it’s easy to learn the basics and don’t have to cost the earth either. For more advice on choosing a drum machine, check out our in-depth guide.
Modal Electronics CRAFTrhythm
This DIY drum machine can be built without tools in under 10 minutes and has its own companion app for controlling parameters. It’s the perfect LEGO substitute for grown-up kids.
Price: £79 ($104)
Teenage Engineering PO-32 Tonic
Teenage Engineering’s latest Pocket Operator is a tiny but formidable digital drum machine with wireless transfer capabilities for uploading new kits.
Elektron’s Digitakt drum machine is one of the year’s best new pieces of hardware. It’ll keep any beatmaker busy long after the decorations have come down.
The TR-808, one of the most iconic drum machines in history, is now available as an official reissue from Roland. A sure bet for any drum machine fan.
Modular synth essentials
If you’re buying a gift for someone who’s got a Eurorack system but don’t know what module to buy them, you can’t go wrong with a few studio essentials. Think of it as a more useful alternative to that pair of Christmas socks that’ll only get worn once.
Tiptop Audio Happy Ending Kit
Modular owners never have enough rack space, so Tiptop’s case and power supply will give them more room for extra modules.
Nazca Audio braided patch cables
Modular synthesists can never have too many patch cables either. Pittsburgh Modular’s Nazca braided multipacks are great quality and include a few different sizes.
Price: $20/£20 for 6 cables, $50/£50 for 18 cables
Tiptop Audio Stackcables
These cables are an essential utility for anyone that owns a Eurorack system and more modules than they can use at once.
Universal modular cable holder 11″
Are patch cables cluttering up every corner of the home? This handy holder screws into the wall and keeps them tidy and close to hand.
Synthesizers are getting smaller and more affordable every year, and while a good one will still set you back a few hundred dollars, you can pick one up for less than the price of a new games console. Consider a synth if you need a high-end gift idea for a musician or producer. For more advice on choosing a first synth for someone, check out our in-depth guide.
Korg’s latest monophonic synth is under $300 and Aphex Twin made presets for it. What’s not to love?
Roland’s SH-101 is one of the latest synth classics to get remade for its Boutique series. This new version improves on the original with the addition of polyphony.
Novation Circuit Mono Station
Novation’s follow-up to its Circuit groovebox is both a fun synth and the ideal studio brain for anyone with a collection of analog gear.
If you want to start building a modular synth but don’t know what module to buy first, Moog’s Mother-32 offers great value and fantastic sound.
Software and controllers
You don’t need hardware to make music: software like Ableton Live will give you a whole studio to use inside your computer. Of course, a MIDI controller will make the process even easier, and there’s some very affordable (and portable) ones on the market.
Ableton Live 10
The next version of Live isn’t out until early next year, but if you buy Live 9 now you’ll get 10 for free. Or, treat someone to an upgrade so it’s ready on release day.
Price: $449-749/£359-579, upgrade price depends on user.
Native Instruments Maschine MK3
The latest version of NI’s beatmaking tool is the best yet and an essential upgrade for anyone still using the original. It also comes with the Maschine 2 software.
Korg nanoKEY Studio
This MIDI keyboard with touch and trigger pads is one of the smallest on the market. It also connects over Bluetooth, making it ideal for making music with your phone.
Stands, cases and storage
What do you buy for the producer who already has all the gear they need? Something to display it or keep it safe.
Synths & Wood stands
These custom stands are some of the most attractive and most affordable you can find, and they can fit a whole collection of Korg Volcas or Roland Boutiques.
No matter what gear you have, there’s probably a Decksaver for it. These plastic covers will keep precious synths and controllers free of dust and safe from spillages.
A good pair of studio headphones will never go unappreciated, whether it’s a high-end brand or just a cheap back-up set that can be thrown in a backpack without worrying about getting them damaged.
TMA-2 Studio Preset
AIAIAI’s TMA-2 modular headphones are a modern design classic. Though they’re popular with DJs, the studio version is equally good for monitoring.
Sennheiser HD 280 PRO II
These headphones from Sennheiser are commonly described as having a very neutral sound, which is ideal for studio monitoring. They’re a bargain too.
Tascam’s TH-02s are a solid pair of headphones that also work for DJing and only cost $30. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything better for monitoring at this price.
Scott Wilson is FACT’s Make Music editor. Find him on Twitter