Finding the right gear and configuring the hardware for your workflow is the first major hurdle for every new producer. If you are struggling with figuring out these details, this article will resolve – once and for all – how much RAM do you really need for music production.
Generally, 8GB RAM is considered to be the ‘bare minimum’ for music production processing. Most DAWs insist on 16GB RAM for adequate performance. It is possible to record, compose, and produce music on a computer with 4GB memory but it means you will be functioning with limited capabilities.
A computer is the heart of your home recording studio and/or music production setup. What to buy can seem complicated and overwhelming to a beginner as there are multiple factors to consider. Yet, today the costs are at the lowest, and options are at the zenith.
RAM – Random Access Memory – is a temporary data storage space in your computer that functions as your computer’s short-term memory. This is the ‘pool of things’ that your computer needs in the present or forthcoming moment. Once it is no longer needed, it goes into storage. The speed and performance of your memory are proportional to the RAM.
As a rule of thumb, you need sufficient RAM for the largest ‘imaginary’ project you can think of. It means you should figure out your needs first. If you are reading this post, there is a good chance that you are building your new computer for music production. I advise getting 16GB RAM and keeping the rest of the slots free for future upgrades (up to 64GB).
In this post, I’ll explain the ins and outs of CPU Memory or RAM to help you set up your music production computer.
RAM, CPU Memory And Music Production:
It is 2021. Technology and hardware are raging forward in gargantuan leaps. 4GB RAM, at heart, feels like a primitive consideration. It might cut it for a basic or generic music production workflow, but you will find it lacking in many ways. Before we proceed, let us see a small sampling of ‘RAM requirements’ based on the manuals of famous DAW/software makers:
|DAW/Software||Min RAM Required||Recommended RAM|
|Image Line FL Studio 20||NA||4GB or more|
|Studio One (Presonus)||4GB||8GB or more|
|Ableton Live 10||4GB||8GB or more|
|Logic Pro X||4GB||NA|
|Pro Tools||4GB||8GB or more|
6GB for large KONTAKT Instruments
If you are a student or beginner, 4GB will allow you to make tracks using loops and a software synth or two. But don’t expect to achieve a smooth performance if you load too many plugins. Think of it like this – a single piano library or VST Drum plugin can suck up 4GB of RAM.
You will need at least 8GB if your production is at an intermediate level. It is relevant for any project with 6 to 20+ audio tracks, MIDI, VST plugins, and effects on the mixer such as reverb, compression, AutoTune, etc.
Anything larger than this may warrant 16GB of RAM to ensure that you can handle multiple applications simultaneously. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on the project. It only implies that you will face performance issues and risk a crash if you push the limits too far.
Why Do Sample Libraries Need More RAM?
Producers (who can play music) often use sample instruments that derive the sounds from libraries full of individual notes and phrases. For instance, a drum VST library consists of several hits of each part of the drum at multiple velocities, with different mic setups, and several articulations.
More advanced (or expensive) libraries also included samples with a 96kHz sample rate. These are bigger than 44.1kHz or 48kHz. That means they are more memory (RAM) intensive. It is quite common for these libraries to be 10GB in size, while some can be as large as 50 to 80 GB.
Of course, you are not going to be playing all the samples in that library. Plus, sample libraries often stream from your hard disk alongside using the RAM. So, you can improve the speed by upgrading to a 7200rpm hard disk or SSD. However, that is a different topic altogether that I’ll save for another post.
In a nutshell, all the parts of your computer work in synchronicity. You still need enough RAM to facilitate each preset, and most of them (individually or combined) can burn through 4GB to make your computer sluggish.
RAM: DDR4 and DDR5
Music production needs DDR4 RAM. This should not be a concern because DDR3 is pretty outdated. Unless your computer predates Fatboy Slim, the chances are that your motherboard supports DDR4, and you’ve already got it on your computer.
The word on the grapevine hints that DDR5 is around the corner – set for a consumer release in 2021. It has led many people to ask if they should hold out until it is available before they upgrade. There is no need for this as DDR4 will remain relevant for at least 3 to 5 more years.
RAM speed isn’t as relevant to music production as memory is. If you’ve got a compatible RAM with sufficient GB, DDR4 or DDR5 isn’t going to matter – not in the near future.
What Does RAM Do In Music Production?
Like performing musicians, music producers are also hungry for ‘gigs’. RAM plays a pivotal role in the speed and performance of your plugins and access to sample libraries. More RAM means you can load more plugins in your project.
For example, 16-32 GB RAM would be ideal if you intend to use large sample libraries. By large sample libraries, I am referring to massive VST plugins such as Trillian (Bass), Vienna Symphonic Library, or Omnisphere 2. With 4GB RAM, you can’t load too many instances of these and if you do, your CPU will fall over.
More RAM = Better Audio Production?
Wait up. Excess RAM does not improve performance by itself. For example, let us assume that your largest project needs 6GB RAM. You already have 8GB RAM. Now, upgrading to 16GB will not increase performance in any way. It will, however, allow you to further add instances (in the mixer) or VST plugins using RAM rather than disk-streaming them.
Many beginners splurge on 32GB and 64GB RAM just because they have the money, which is fine. But to put things into context, that much RAM is sufficient for running a small server or multiple VM’s. You are only future-proofing a part of your computer with overindulgence.
It is hard to vindicate the price for that unless you are an orchestral composer or scoring for films using the best sample libraries on big templates. For beginner-to-intermediate producers, there are better ways to invest in your setup such as a high-quality DAW, buying VST plugins, upgrading your studio monitors, etc.
Is 32GB RAM overkill for music production in 2021?
Music producers don’t need 32GB of RAM in most cases. It offers very little return on the invest you make. To put things into context, 32 GB of RAM is sufficient for running a small server or multiple VM’s. You should only contemplate that if you work on orchestral compositions or film scores using multiple plugins and large sample libraries.
Can FL Studio run on 4GB RAM?
FL Studio User Manual states that 4GB of RAM is enough to run the software. This may work better for synth-based electronic music production as opposed to recording. FL Studio will slow down if you open multiple instances of Kontak instruments and FX Plug-ins. Ensure that you fulfill the FL Studio minimum requirements for processor (2GHz AMD or Intel Pentium 3) as well.
Is RAM important for music production?
The right amount of it will allow you to access multiple programs efficiently without slowing your computer down. In simple words, it is important for performance, speed, and efficiency. Too much RAM is won’t speed up your processes any further – there is such a thing as overkill.
RAM or CPU – what is more important for music producers?
CPU (or processor) is important when you make the purchase because it cannot be upgraded. You have to replace the entire thing, and that can be significantly more expensive. RAM, on the other hand, can be upgraded at any point. Plus, you can do it incrementally. They both work in conjunction and are important in their own way. It would not benefit us to speculate what is more important.
How much RAM do I need for i3 processor?
8GB of RAM is recommended if you have an older version and 16GB if you have the new 11th generation Intel Core i3 processor. The older generations don’t support more than 16GB, and how 8GB can serve all your needs. a better investment of the money will be in upgrading the CPU rather than adding RAM beyond 8GB.
What is the best RAM for music production?
8, 16, or 32GB should be sufficient based on your needs. My recommendation is 8GB for beginners and 16GB for intermediate users. You can use 4GB if you are trying to learn the basics of production using built-in synths and drum loops, but it won’t serve you well for full-blown music production. Either way, keep empty slots and upgrade only when you need it. Additionally, it will ensure that you are future-proof.
While I’ve addressed the immediate question – is 4GB RAM enough – I hope this article has cleared your doubts regarding RAM requirements for music production. As a parting thought, I’d like to de-emphasize the hype around equipment beyond a constructive limit.
Producing and composing music is all about creativity. The machine is only a medium to facilitate that creativity. Any decent configuration that doesn’t get in the way of your production, is good enough – as long as you are churning out great tunes. Good luck building your mean-machine and let us know if you have any further questions.