Who are you, and what do you do?
I'm Hot Dad/Erik Helwig. I make and release music and comedy and comedy music on the internet, the majority of it released initially through my modestly successful YouTube channel. My work is Patreon-supported. I've often described what I do as emotionally-charged comedy music. I'm responsible for that video with the Hedgehog image that a lot of people really, really, really like.
I always enjoyed making funny things, but it wasn't until I tried to make it in serious music (i.e. self-funded a pro album by my initial moniker, Girls Who Care, and couldn't find any record label interest; I, in my inexperience/naivety, took this as a "major defeat" and didn't release that album for 3 more years) that I realized comedy music offered me more creative freedom (which is where that whole "emotionally-charged" bit comes in) and less overall competition. And YouTube exists, so that gives me a place to post videos and stuff. My terrific video editor/graphic designer is Peter Bjorndal.
What hardware do you use?
I do almost everything "in the box" right now, for both creative and limited financial resources reasons. In terms of hardware, I use a UAD Apollo Quad FireWire audio interface, a Shure KSM32 microphone for vocals, KRK Rokit RP8 G1s as my studio monitors, Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, a Fender Telecaster + Squire Stratocaster + Squire Mustang bass, a Yamaha PSS-470 (not circuit bent), a Novation Launchkey 49 MIDI controller, and a Novation Launchpad Mini. I don't do anything all that crazy or interesting with anything – I tend to work in little flourishes of excitement + inspiration, so I'm just trying to capture ideas as quickly as possible and build, build, build from there. My current computer is one I built myself with an i7-3770k at its core(s). I will be building a new machine soon. My video camera is a Canon T5i.
I have plenty of equipment for live shows too (I haven't been doing many of those; I hope to soon, though!), but I don't use any of it in my current recordings. I just bought a Roland JC-77. I will say that my live backing tracks are run from a 2011 MacBook Pro with a MOTU Ultralite MK1 FireWire interface. It's an older interface that is "road-tested" and was recommended via internet forums for its reliability/stability.
And what software?
I record exclusively in Ableton Live 10. When I was first learning to compose music back in 2010ish, I realized that Live's session view was the most natural for me since my brain worked best when I just looped a section and built on that until I had something I was happy with. It allows me to work in manageable chunks instead of the vast expanse of a full song (scary!). I normally record gibberish vocals for each section as well, and figure out the words later. I then take what I've built in session view, and record it into arrangement view, one section at a time until I've got a song. It just feels right! Sure, I still need to record vocals and make plenty o' tweaks after that, but this method allows me to very rapidly create a pretty meaty skeleton, and, like the rest of us, once I have a skeleton, I feel much more confident.
As far as softsynths go, I primarily use the TAL-U-NO-LX/TAL-Noisemaker and Sylenth1. I use a lot of UAD plugins. I tend to use a lot of the same plugins over and over again until I arbitrarily read an interview with someone far more talented than me who has some other plugin they really like, in which case, I give it a shot and potentially make it a new habit. I use a lot of the 1176/LA-2A compressors, the SSL E Channel Strip, Pultec EQs, EMT 140 and 250 reverbs, the Ampex ATR-102, Neve 1073s, the Fender '55 Tweed Deluxe and Chandler GAV19T for guitars, and the list goes on. I also use some Izotope, Soundtoys, and Waves plugins sometimes as well. Superior Drummer 2 is what I normally use for drums, along with some of the Ableton Live Suite kits/sounds. I learned everything I know about mixing/mastering from the brilliant Andrew Maury (who produced/mixed/mastered my Girls Who Care record along with a handful of my other things), so often I end up using presets and tips he's taught me that have worked great in the past.
What would be your dream setup?
Doing what I do the way I do it, I wear a LOT of hats (some I like, others not so much), and that can get really exhausting. It's nice to have all of the control (and it definitely helps to not have to split up my streaming royalties between multiple performers/songwriters), but the knowledge that others are highly specialized and adroit in their respective fields weighs on me and it's true, I could be releasing even better (imho) stuff if it was all being professionally mixed/mastered, in the same way that my videos became so much better after Peter began editing instead of me (visual art is definitely not my strength). And that would subsequently free me up to work on writing something new instead of tweaking the mix all day (although I think I've definitely gotten better/more particular about what I like in that realm, and have grown to enjoy certain aspects of the process).
A dream setup for me would involve the option of delegating tasks like mixing/mastering to outside professionals when it felt right/necessary. Higher budgets would make that possible. As far as upgrades, I don't have any specific ones, but I have plenty of nebulous ones. I'd love some analog synths to play with, new and vintage, cheap and fancy, along with the capability to easily record a drum kit (I own a DW drum kit, but I never use it on my recordings because it's not convenient to record at the moment). Another set of studio monitors for A/B'ing mixes, and more microphones generally. More software plugins, naturally. And all of these expansions would need to be within reasonable limits since I don't want to end up with analysis paralysis regarding which random device I want to use when trying to get started on a fleeting idea. I think it's most important to just do it, even if it's not totally perfect (you can't edit/improve something that doesn't exist!), and without this philosophy, let's just say I never would have have finished much of anything. Sure, I have plenty of details I get neurotic about in every track, but that doesn't change the fact that it's totally fine that a lot of the time I just grab a preset and start quickly building those melodies while they're fresh in my mind. Maybe tweak them later, maybe not. Who knows!