So you want to record your own music, but you’ve never done it before and you don’t really know where to start… Well you’ve come to the right place! It all starts with the building of your home recording studio.
We are all about home studios. In fact, we are built around the whole idea that you can create music from wherever you are! So we are thrilled that you’re here, taking this leap into the audio world.
Now first things first, you don’t actually have to build a studio to have a studio. Many people create home recording studios in the corner of a bedroom, or a closet in the basement. Really, wherever you have space big enough for a desk with a computer will work. A place that is more open would be ideal, that way when you crank up the jams that you’ll be creating, you won’t get that nasty bounce-back from the walls around you.
However, if a small space is all you’ve got – you can still make it work! It’ll just take some acoustic treatment to make it useable – like thick blankets or acoustic foam. (I recommend this site for acoustic foam- they’ve got some good options you can purchase at a fantastic price)
Besides these items, there are a few other essential items you should get for your first home recording studio.
Home Recording Studio Essentials
1. A Computer
Here is where it all begins. This is the device that you will sit behind and stare at for hours on end. Therefore, it is obviously a big deal to decide which computer to purchase for your home recording studio.
For a first studio, investing in a laptop is a good idea. It’s more portable, so you can edit on your couch at midnight if you really feel like it! However, in the future (once you produce a few chart-topping hits) it would be a good idea to invest in a desktop computer.
As far as which computer to purchase – I am personally a Mac enthusiast. Apple provides stellar software such as Logic Pro, Garageband and Mainstage.
That being said – PC computers have some great qualities! I’ve met many people that prefer a PC to a Mac for a variety of different features. However, for music production in particular, Macintosh computers reign supreme across the board. Now, it is an investment to purchase an Apple product, so if you are faced with the choice of purchasing a MacBook or a PC at a difference of a couple hundred dollars, I highly recommend waiting a little longer and saving up for the Mac. It will make a WORLD of difference once you dive into the audio production side of things.
There are plenty of websites that review different types of computers if you’re looking for specifics. I highly recommend spending some time reading reviews from audio people who have used the equipment. Some great sites to check out are here and here.
Software is a necessity for a home recording studio these days. Some of the top Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) out there are: ProTools, Logic Pro, FL Studio, Ableton Live, Studio One, Cubase, Reaper, Reason, and the list goes on and on…
Your DAW will be the lifeblood to your studio operation. It will be the interface from which you record, create, edit, mix, and finalize your product. Whether you are doing simple voice recordings, sound effect creation, or recording a full-on album, your DAW will be at the center of it all!
So, how do you choose? Well first you have to ask two simple questions:
What will you be using the DAW for?
What is your budget?
Believe it or not, some of the best software for recording is available for less than selling your soul. If you don’t want to drop a lot of cash on your software, then one of the lesser expensive options would be ideal for you.
Free DAW Options
Reaper has a 60-day free trial, with a discounted license fee of only $60.
Garageband is an Apple-only DAW, which comes pre-installed on all apple devices, which means it is also 100% free, and can be used on your iPhone, iPad, and all Mac computers. This DAW also has quite a few capabilities, but it’s greatest strength is the ease with which you can make music. It doesn’t take hours of training to learn how to lay down a beat, which means you can get to the creative stuff even faster.
Soundtrap is a unique DAW that actually works out of your web browser. It is 100% free and has a variety of capabilities that will help you get started.
Paid DAW Options
If money is not an issue, then perhaps one of these options may be ideal for you:
- Pro Tools – $599 or $30/month
- Ableton – $99 Intro pack, $449 Standard pack, $749 Suite
- Logic (Apple-only) – 199
- Reason – $399
Personally, I have found Logic Pro to be a fantastic DAW for producers and songwriters. If you are looking for a DAW that will give you both recording capabilities AND a multitude of software instruments to create music with, Logic is your buddy.
Headphones are great for mixing on the go (or on your couch at midnight). They are also essential in a home recording studio because they provide isolation that is sometimes not available in your studio space. There are many times when I will edit a vocal line while only listening through headphones because it provides a closeness to my ears that monitors just don’t.
There are about a MILLION options for which headphones are best, and there’s really not a wrong answer.
Audio Technica has a wide variety of good over-the-ear options. I use the this model. It’s only $49 and sounds fantastic! Very clean and a flat frequency response, which means that the bass isn’t boosted through the ceiling (like Beats by Dre….don’t get Beats for mixing).
However, bass frequencies DO naturally appear to be slightly boosted in headphones because the speakers are so close to your ears, so that’s why it’s a good idea to have studio monitors as well.
Just like with headphones, there are SO MANY options for monitors. And there’s really not a wrong answer. You’ll find tons of forums with opinions on which is the best and why. It can be incredibly helpful to read reviews from other people who have been in your position, and honestly, that’s how I search for my equipment.
You’ll want to look for monitors that are powered. This means that the speakers plug directly into the wall and have their own “on” switch. Passive speakers will require you to purchase an external amplifier.
As far as size goes, most monitors are measured by the diameter of the woofer, or the larger and lower speaker cone. Common sizes are 3″, 5″, and 8″. I use 5″ monitors and am very happy with the volume level and quality of sound. As size of the woofer is increased, the range of frequencies that can be heard clearly is increased. In deciding which size is best for you, it may be good to consider both the size of your space, and how many frequencies you would like to hear.
If you plan on purchasing a subwoofer, then you most likely won’t need the larger 8″ monitors to fill in the low end. However, if you don’t plan on using a subwoofer (which, in smaller spaces they aren’t really necessary), then you may consider looking at some mid-to-larger options.
That being said, all monitors have different frequency responses. This means they all respond to high, mid, and low frequencies differently, and have different ranges of what can be heard. Reading reviews is really the best way to go when looking for home recording studio monitors.
5. Audio Interface
If you’re going to be recording audio, you need an audio interface. When I began reading up about recording, I was always SO confused at what exactly an audio interface does. So just in case there’s anyone else out there like me, let’s break it down.
The definition of interface is: a point where two things interact or connect. So, an audio interface takes the audio coming from the mic or guitar or keyboard and allows it to talk to the computer. In other words, you can’t plug a microphone cable straight into a computer. There’s just no connection for that (unless you’ve got a USB mic). Instead, you need something to go between the two. Enter: audio interface!
Some of the best options I’ve found are in the Focusrite Scarlett series. The model numbers will tell you how many inputs and how many outputs are available. For example, the 2i2 has two inputs and two outputs. Now, if you are planning on multi-tracking, say, a drum set, you will need more than just 2 inputs. I would suggest purchasing the 6i6 or the 18i8.
Again – this is just ONE company that has great audio equipment. There are many others that have fantastic products that may work better for you, or are closer to your price range. Another great option would be to invest in a bundle.
Choosing the right mic is a big deal. There are many different kinds of mics with all different kinds of features and tones. And you may end up collecting a number of different mics for your home recording studio over the years.
A good question to keep in mind is:
What will you be recording?
If you are planning to record vocals, a large-diaphragm condenser microphone will be your friend. Say you only want to record acoustic guitar, you might consider either a condenser or a dynamic mic. If you are looking to record a grand piano or a small jazz ensemble, you might consider setting up two microphones on a stereo bar, so you can get a L/R “audio picture” of the music.
A smart idea when beginning is to purchase one mic that will work for a variety of instruments. The answer to this will most likely be a condenser mic. This type of mic is very versatile and can make a number of instruments and vocalists sound great.
Good golly. There are SO MANY kinds of cables! If only there were a way to avoid the craziness that seems to ensue once cables enter the home recording studio..
But since there seems to be no other solution, it’s the duty of you as the head of your studio to learn the types of cables and to know them like the back of your hand.
Here’s a great visual of the most common audio cables and their common uses.
8. MIDI Controller
While MIDI controllers are not necessary to make sound in your studio, they can be incredibly helpful for the creative flow! They help the ideas come more naturally when writing music rather than clicking around on a piano roll.
There are a variety of options of MIDI controllers: keyboards, MPC-style, drum pads, etc. It can be helpful to have different kinds of controllers. However, a keyboard will probably be the most useful for your studio.