Maybe you're a rapper who is tired of wack producers approaching you with their wack beats. Maybe you've already dabbled in beat making but you're trying to brush up and learn more about the craft. Or maybe you are just a plain old music enthusiast who wants to take their passion for music to the next level and create your own. Whatever your reason, you've come to the right place.
Obviously this article can't teach you everything you need to know. There are entire books and even entire college curriculums dedicated to giving you a proper music production education. However this article will hopefully give you a start, and you'll be able to research more using what you learn here.
The first thing that you'll need is a method for creating beats. There are a number of different solutions here. If you are really only trying to be a mild hobbyist there are a bunch of online beat making programs that you can gain access to for around $30 to $40. These include DubTurbo, BeatThang, and Sonic Producer. However if you are really into making beats, you will outgrow them quickly.
At that point you should try out some of the more advanced software. Reason and Fruity Loops are two of the most popular programs (DAWs) for more serious hobbyists. There are a number of producers with production credits that use one of these two. However, professional studios almost always run either Pro Tools or Logic.
Although the learning curves for Pro Tools and Logic are a little steeper than those of Reason and Fruity Loops, they are more powerful programs and allow producers to do more with their music. They also accept what are called plugins. Plugins are additional effects or sounds that you can buy to expand the functionality of your music production software.
In addition to software you also need a fast enough computer to run it. I recommend having a computer with at least 2 GB of RAM. 4 or more is definitely preferred. Your processor should also be fast. A multicore processor with processors in the 2 to 3 GHz range should suffice.
No setup would be complete without speakers. Although many producers begin to producer using their regular computer speakers, these are not ideal for mixing your beats. Really, if you are going to be a serious producer, you are going to need real monitoring speakers. KRK makes a very good entry-level monitor, the RP-5 as does M-Audio, the BX5a. Either of these should be a good start for making beats.
Finally, you'll need a MIDI controller. This can be a keyboard, an MPC, a Native Instruments Maschine, or any other MIDI controller that you can use to easily play enter MIDI (musical note) information. Keep in mind, if you get a drum machine like an MPC or Maschine, you will be able to sample more easily than if you had a keyboard, however you will not really be able to play in melodies that you compose on your own.
If you'd like to get started, check out BeatMatters' free drum samples.