Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Cat Cornett

Cat Cornett

Composer, synth musician

in musician, windows

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Cat Cornett! I'm an independent composer and synth musician with about 3 years of experience working professionally out of my tiny studio apartment with my partner in upstate New York. In addition to making my own instrumental songs and albums under the name Space Vixen, I also do commission work for games, theme songs, and title card music. Unfortunately since making music isn't a particularly secure or lucrative job, I also work a full time day job as a helpdesk tech for a local college.

What hardware do you use?

As an independent musician with no background or education in music, I don't have a whole lot of money at my disposal, so most of my setup is designed to work on a tight budget. My work computer is my home computer, a CyberPowerPC GUA3600A desktop that I picked up for about $700 several years ago. It's important for me to balance buying equipment that is powerful enough, affordable, and will last me a long time, so I tend to focus on pretty basic tools over fancy or robust. My keyboard and mouse (my two primary musical instruments!) are very generic (the HP USB Slim Business Keyboard and HP Genuine 2-Button USB Mouse) but they get the job done.

I use a dual-monitor setup, one is a Sceptre 22-inch LED, the other is a ViewSonic 19-inch LED. I would buy another Sceptre to match, but I've had the ViewSonic for far longer, and will probably only replace it when it eventually dies.

For headphones, I use the Samson SR850 Open-Back Studio Reference headphones, which provide decent audio quality and muffle a lot of external background noise (perfect for working in the summer while trying to listen over the drone of a fan or AC!).

My desk is a simple Sauder Beginnings Computer Desk, and my chair is just an off-brand mesh-back office chair I found on Amazon years ago.

And what software?

Over the years, I've used three main pieces of software to create my music. Before I even started composing, I used (and still use) Audacity for basic audio work, like trimming, cutting samples, noise removal, and splicing songs together. The first program I used for composition was MilkyTracker, a free tracker program that can be used to generate chiptune-style sounds, or can be used to trigger pre-recorded samples. Despite its small interface, it's a very powerful tool that helped me learn a lot of important ins and outs of composing, looping, and audio manipulation tricks.

These days I use FL Studio 20, where all of my music is composed exclusively with software synths and no physical instruments or recording interfaces are needed. Initially, I had been given some advice that I would need to purchase and download dozens of audio libraries if I wanted to be a "serious" composer, but rather than spend thousands of dollars on all that, I instead opted to use freeware synth add-ins such as SQ8L and TyrellN6 by U-He. The only paid soft synth I use regularly is Ogun (which is included as a trial version in FL Studio); the entire rest of my audio library is filled with countless other free synths.

What would be your dream setup?

If I am one day able to pay my bills with nothing but money I make from selling albums and commission work, I would love to upgrade to a full recording studio in a much larger apartment! But realistically, that's still a lifetime away for an indie musician like me, so I'll have to keep my dreams small and manageable for now. Everyone has to start somewhere! My next step will be to upgrade to a proper MIDI keyboard so I can record songs more "organically", rather than simply filling in dots on the piano roll grid. Maybe something simple like the Alesis V49 keyboard. And eventually a bigger desk too! For now though, it's important to make do with what I have, and to show other up-and-coming indie musicians that you really don't need much to get started!

Uses This is supported by ZSA, makers of the Moonlander, ErgoDox EZ and Planck EZ keyboards. They also publish an awesome newsletter.