Even the most skilled music producers once encountered the question of how much RAM they needed at one point or another, these types of questions come with the job, and it’s okay not be sure or not know entirely .
The amount of RAM required for music production is 16 Gigabytes for smooth workflow. 8 Gigabytes should be the minimum RAM you consider.
There are lots of myths that surround this topic and I will try and make sure you understand what you will need to take into consideration when trying to figure out how much RAM you will need.
Typically RAM usage will most definitely depend on the kind of production you’re trying to do and specifically the work load that comes with that production, and the hardware and software you intend to use.
Your production might fall under:
- Beginner or Starter Work
- Professional Work
- Advanced Work
Before you even think about what work category, here’s what you need to know:
I’d like to put everything about Ram into context.
Having a lot of ram to work with is a good thing but you need to understand how the ram works with your CPU.
So before you decide to spend any money on RAM, read through and understand how your computer works.
Ram is an important piece of hardware in a computer, but perhaps the most important part is the CPU, the central processing unit as it is the one that makes all the computations, that is why it is called the processor.
RAM stands for random access memory and it basically stores these computations that are carried out by the CPU.
The kind of CPU you decide to use will determine how fast these computations and calculations can be done, this is why I advise you to start out with getting the right processor first before you even start thinking about RAM.
An Intel i7 or i5 processor is a good start as far as processors go, the i7 processor being the number one recommendation in this case.
You will want to run your Intel i5 processor with at least 4 or 8 Gigabytes of RAM.
For your Intel i7 processor, 8 or 16 Gigabytes of RAM will work just fine.
Processors work hand in hand with your RAM.
Be careful NOT TO exhaust all your money on RAM, but rather invest in a good processor then get a good amount of RAM to match.
CPU designs are ever evolving year by year so it’s also important that you match your processor with the right motherboard, getting a new CPU will probably mean getting a new motherboard most of the time.
Beginner or Starter Production Work
In the beginner or starter level of audio production there will be a lesser need for RAM because the processing and overall work that will be required will be a bare minimal, in most cases the audio tracks recorded will be less than 20.
This kind of production can be essentially done from home or in a simple setting.
For example podcasting work can be done in a not so studio-like setting, you will not need a super complicated DAW to render and edit the vocals through, a simple DAW like Audacity will be able to handle the recording and Editing.
Small bands will also fall under the starter music production category, because in essence they do not need to use complex software and neither will somebody in a bedroom studio trying to record their next door neighbor’s song, because there workload will generally not beg for more RAM.
A simple DAW and a few plugins will be able to start and finish the process with no hassle.
When I got started making beats in 2008, I used a simple PC that was running on 2Gigabytes of RAM with a 2.20 Ghz processor but I was able to make it work.
I used it for as long as I could remember and I made a decent living selling my beats online.
This goes to show you that the amount of RAM (backed by the right CPU) that you will need will most likely depend on what kind of work you plan to do or are currently doing.
For light work like a bedroom or a small home recording studio setup or a podcasting setup you really do not need to be running on a lot of RAM to be able to do your work effectively, personally I say go for 4Gigabytes of RAM or more.
I won’t recommend using 2Gigabytes of RAM because most new and updated plugins and some DAWS require a minimum of 3Gigabytes RAM to run properly.
Running these plugins or DAWs on a system with less than 3Gigabytes of RAM would give you difficulties like latency and lagging issues.
Professional Production Work
This is typically a lot more involving work and will utilization of different music software in sessions.
In professional production, the workload may involve bigger bands, professional musicians, music composers, experienced producers and sound engineers will record and Edit 45 to 60 audio tracks in a DAW.
For example a band will be able to record guitar, bass, drums, synths and other instruments that they will need and be able to use a variation of plugins in the DAW to add effects to these instruments.
The workload will be bulkier and the recording and editing process even more complex.
In this situation 8 Gigabytes of RAM should be fine, but 16 Gigabytes will ensure that your programs run more smoothly and limit the CPU usage to avoid problems like lagging and latency.
For example orchestral compositions will require a lot of recording and a lot of plugin use which require enough memory and the right processor in order to run smoothly.
If you have recorded 45 audio tracks of different instruments, you will need adequate RAM to be able to add effects from different plugins to each individual track and edit them.
Be mindful that this kind of music production work will utilize a lot of gear and equipment in the sessions that will need to be plugged in and used in the session, having good RAM will save you a lot of hassle.
Most VST Plugins also require decent amounts of RAM in order for them to work. For example, the Native Instruments “Kontakt” plugin requires a minimum of 4Gigabytes of RAM in order to run properly, the REFX “Nexus” Plugin requires 3 Gigabytes of RAM in order to run properly.
In a situation where you have to load up 10 of these types of plugins to achieve your goal, it’s definitely important that your computer has a considerable amount of RAM and a good processor to be able to carry out your work properly.
Advanced Production Work
The work in this type of Production will be a lot more complex as compared to your everyday music studio work, and will require a lot more RAM and processing power and it is most important that you ensure that you get your specifications right, from the hardware to the software side of things.
This is type of advanced music production work and will be suited for:
Film Music Composers
Also referred to as film score composers, these composers make music specifically to accompany a film. This kind of music will incorporate a lot of different styles of music depending on the nature of the film.
Large orchestral bands with different instruments will be utilized together with the use of large sample libraries, choir, vocalists, and instrumental soloists. With this type of production there will be a substantial usage of RAM and the processor. 16 Gigabytes or more will be better suited for these types of compositions.
These will work to finish and process live recordings with the utilization of equalization, effects, mixing and re-production. DAW and plugin use will be heavy when engineering.
You’re better off opting for 16 Gigabytes of RAM or more if you are working on complex and advanced compositions that will require a whole lot of processing power and RAM.
For example, working on a film score with over a 100 audio tracks will take up a lot of RAM, and it is only right that you have your RAM and processor best suited for a situation like that.
These engineers will take a mixed musical composition and have it ready for distribution or use.
They will use DAWs such as WaveLab Pro, Pyramix, SawStudio, Nuendo and others.
It will be wise to have the right Ram and processor specifications when mastering a composition. The more complex the composition, the more software you will have to use to tackle different elements of the composition.
Make sure you accompany the RAM with the right processor for the most optimal production.
Is 32GB of RAM Overkill for music production?
Basically if you’re not running orchestral compositions then 32GB is definitely way much more than you need. But this is not entirely a bad thing because most music software will work fine on 8GB of RAM which means you’ll have free RAM memory to use as you choose on other applications.
Do Plugins use RAM or CPU?
Well plugins will mainly depend on your CPU, and not that much on your RAM.
But think of it this way, the more RAM you have present in your computer, the more processing power you reserve because some of the load will be taken off the processor and stored on RAM.
This means more processing power at your disposal.
You can read an in depth article of whether plugins use RAM or CPU here.
What processor should I get for music production?
I recommend getting an Intel i5 or i7. When it comes to processors the faster, the better.
The most important specifications for music production are typically CPU speed and RAM.
Keep in mind that all computer parts must work in harmony, hence you have to make sure that you add the right amount of hard drive space to your computer.
There’s no point in having a great processor with lots of RAM and a hard disk that has limited storage space.
Your hard disk size has a great impact on the load times so make sure you get at least a 500 GB Hard drive or bigger.
I personally have a 1TB hard drive installed on my system; this has optimized my system to run smoothly.
You can read an in-depth article about how much storage space you need for music production here