Recording setup essentials: powerful pop sounds for under £500

powerful pop sounds for under £500
(Image credit: PreSonus)

RECORDING WEEK 2022: While garnering the respect of other artists, and your own simple artistic satisfaction are reasons enough to make music, you’d be lying to yourself if you didn’t admit that achieving commercial success was always lurking somewhere in the back of your mind. 

While ‘pop’ as a genre is less consistent than the other styles we’ve honed in on, there are some general aspects that you’re going to need to think about when aiming at the charts. (Remember the charts? Whatever happened to them...)

Firstly you’re going to need to study the musicological structure of the best pop songs. Writing an effective pop song is all about the development and dynamics, centring on emphasising your big hook(s), how you use tension and release to build anticipation, as well as crafting an effective core theme on which to base your song.

You’ll want bright instrumentation, strong beats and compression that lets your track stand out among the many thousands of other hopeful hitmakers

You’re going to want an impactful lead vocal at the centre of your mix, and it’s increasingly popular these days to pitch-shift, warp or robotise it. You’ll want bright instrumentation, strong beats and compression that lets your track stand out among the many thousands of other hopeful hitmakers.

For our powerful pop studio, we’ve put together some of the tools that we think will stand you in the best stead. Firstly, Presonus’ Studio One 5 Artist is a feature-packed DAW aimed at writing, with unlimited tracks and a whopping suite of virtual instruments.

We’ve also included some robust, yet affordable mini-monitors, a vocal processing suite par excellence and a means of generating some seriously thumping beats. As before, we’ve also considered which item from our buffet of free plugins would be most beneficial for the pop producer. Then again, with the assortment of characterful synths, EQ and mixing tools and more within said suite, you’d be wise to nab it all.

Here then, is our power pop studio, with everything you really need to get started on a smash hit.

The DAW: PreSonus Studio One 6 Artist

PreSonus Studio One 5 Artist

(Image credit: PreSonus)

£85 | Buy from Thomann

For a laudably low price, PreSonus’ Studio One 6 Artist is really all you’ll ever need as the hub of your writing, mixing and mastering. Offering unlimited tracks, a range of virtual instruments such as the Impact and Presence XT drum machine and sampler respectively, and the rich Mai Tai modelling synth, it’s the perfect pop station.

Read our full PreSonus Studio One 6 review

The synth: Korg Legacy M1

Korg Legacy M1

(Image credit: Korg)

£82 | Buy from Korg

Retro flavours are still in vogue, and nothing says old-school like the sound of the very first workstation synth, released back in 1988. Korg’s software M1 is a faithful reproduction of the machine whose sound permeated the latter half of the 80s and early 90s chart. Its cheesy, bright sound might make you smirk at first, but start from the presets and you’ll be building out your own nostalgic pop anthems in no time.

The monitors: JBL 104-BT

JBL 104-BT

(Image credit: Future)


Pop production is all about making the mix sound good on a wide range of speakers, but as we’re working on a tight budget, a bedrock pair that has a superb frequency response are the JBL 104-BTs. Their coaxial 4.5” LF drivers are coupled with an integrated 0.75” tweeter and rear port bass. They pack a not-insubstantial punch.

Read our full JBL 104-BT review

The freeware: eaReckon CM-COMP 87

eaReckon CM-COMP 87

(Image credit: eaReckon)

£FREE | Download from eaReckon

While making your track is all well and good, you’ll need to make it stand out from the crowd. Thankfully, there's more than a few free compressors available online that will do just that. Of particular note is the eaReckon CM-COMP 87, which can be scaled to apply a reactive, analogue flavour.

The beats: Sugar Bytes Drum Computer

Sugar Bytes Drum Computer

(Image credit: Sugar Bytes)

£100 | Buy at Plugin Boutique

Beefy beats are the order of the day with Sugar Bytes’ flexible Drum Computer, from short-sharp pitched kicks to hefty bass-driven oomph, your options are fairly limitless. The eight sound machines, expansive pattern sequencer and wide open sample import options make this an all- round beat boss for any and all needs.

Read our full Sugar Bytes Drum Computer review

The vocal machine: Native Instruments Glaze

Native Instruments Glaze

(Image credit: Native Instruments)

£44 | Buy from Native Instruments

We’ve skirted around recommending a mic here, because for pop, we’d argue it’s more important how you treat vocals as a mix element. NI’s Glaze provides all manner of vocal licks, riffs and runs, as well as chopped vocal runs that you can sonically experiment with. Using Glaze’s Sound Editor allows you to manipulate the various sound sources in play.

Total cost = £490.99

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