If you are a guitarist that writes your own music or in a band that makes originals or if you are thinking about building home recording studio there are many factors to consider…. You can build a simple recording studio using just the bare essentials to get by recording your music, for your own band or for music libraries, or you can get elaborate which can be very costly but will allow you to record demos for local bands in your own home.
I am going to discuss the bare essentials for those that just want to do small recording projects As that is what my home studio is set up for and it hasn’t cost thousands and chances are you already have a computer or lap top to utilize.
It doesn’t require much to have an effective home recording studio and it doesn’t have to break the bank, just a handful of accessories is all you need. Listed below are the minimal components required and in the last paragraph I will list some options that can make things smoother and easier but they are not necessities, they would be luxury extras as there are with automobiles, You can get what gets you by or you can get some bells and whistles added.
List of necessities
- computer / laptop
- DAW (digital audio workstation)
- Monitors and/or Flat response studio headphones
- Microphone (if you are recording live drums or vocals)
That is the minimum bare essentials, I will get in to brief details on what each one is and some options for each item.
Computer or Laptop
The first thing you will need is a computer or a lap top. With as much RAM as you can afford, the more RAM the better.
At one point, using a computer was more ideal for home recording studios but with the advancement in technology, you can get by using your lap top if you already have one. Ideally you would want one dedicated just for your studio but since this a stripped down inexpensive alternative, you don’t have to go out and buy another computer or lap top just to have a home recording studio.
Depending on what kind of computer you use, mac or PC or laptop may be a determining factor which recording software / DAW you use and vice versa as some only work with mac and others only work with PCs so once you decide what recording software you are going to use then you can decide which to buy if you are buying new. If you are using what you already have then you will need to find software/daw that works with that.
DAWs are going to be discussed in the next topic. They do make computers specifically designed for music recording which are expensive but if you want a top-notch studio and want to record other bands for pay in your home studio you may want to go that route.
DAW ( Digital Audio Workstation )
The digital audio workstation is where the recording of and mixing of tracks takes place.
There are quite a few different types of DAWs available to choose from. Most interfaces come with a free, light version so when you read the box it will tell you what is free with that particular DAW and you can upgrade for more tools but it is not necessary to upgrade for your own personal studio… And most interfaces can be used with other DAWs.
I have Studio one which came with my presonus interface but sometimes I use Reaper Daw with my presonus interface.
The most common DAWs are Studio One, Ableton, pro tools ( most popular and costs more but most pro studios use it so it’s easy to take your recorded tracks to have them mastered by a professional studio if you are using pro tools ) cake walk, cubase, fl studios.
I am not that familiar with Mac as I haven’t used it but reading about studios etc. over the years I do know that the newer macs come with garage band software.
Try a couple or try them all and stick to which one you like best, they all are pretty similar so don’t waste too much time deciding when you could be getting the rest of your studio set up and be recording in it.
The interface is what allows you to run your instruments / microphone/s through the device into your computer, and allows you to hear back what you recorded. It is the main connection to your recording experience. Interfaces come with a variety of inputs and variety of connections. Depending on what connections are available on your computer will help determine what type of interface you can use.
USB interface (that’s what I have). As you can guess a USB interface connects to your computer or laptop via USB. Actually I have only used USB interface as they are the cheapest form of interface but from research I’ve done the past couple of years, firewire and Thunderbolt are the best and more expensive to use.
If you are only recording 1 instrument at a time for personal use, a 1 input interface will work for you. If you want to record 1 or 2 instruments / microphones at a time, you can get a 2 input interface for just under $100. I have seen 4 input interfaces, 8 input interfaces.
Some newer digital mixing boards have built in interfaces that allow for even more inputs. If you plan on eventually recording bands in your home studio or micing each individual drum than you may want to just skip getting something with few inputs and get a mixing board with interface built in as you will need a mixing board eventually anyways and prices have come down on them.
Either way, when you go to get an interface keep in mind what you are going to be doing eventually with your studio and get one with the amount of inputs you will need in the future.
NOTE: I would stay away from buying a used interface because a lot of times the original owner has the Keyword for the better versions of the DAW that come with them. Even though you can still utilize free Daws with used interfaces, it limits the tools available from the daw which is why I am currently using Studio one prime as it is the free version that matches my Presonus interface where if I bought it new I could have the artist version. I can still upgrade for extra $ to artist for my own key code so if used is all that your budget allows until a further date it will get you up and running
Popular brands of interfaces are Audiobox, Focusrite and behringer. There are many more brands some of which may be popular as well but I see these as being the most popular that I am familiar with.
Studio monitors or flat response studio headphones
Monitors or headphones are what you need in order hear to mix your recordings I will get briefly into each from my few years of research and what I use personally.
There are 2 types of studio monitors, unpowered and powered. Powered studio monitors are ready to go right out of the box just hook them up and you are ready to go (make sure you have the right cords to connect them to your interface outputs). The unpowered studio monitors require power amps to supply which would be more to buy.
Our simple studio only requires powered monitors which are the cheapest route. When getting monitors, the bigger space your studio, the bigger size speaker your monitor should have. Most home studios are small rooms which would require just a 5″ speaker. Though 3″ speakers are less expensive and I did get great sounding mixes from them in 1999, I do not recommend them as the bass isn’t that prevalent unless the sound hole is in the front and then I would still probably stick with 5″ speakers.
If you have bigger space than your studio may require 8″ speakers.
Since this article is just the basics to get started I will not get in to using more than 1 pair of monitors or monitor management systems that make using referencing your sound through multiple pairs of monitors easier. If you plan on recording other bands in your home studio, you will eventually want multiple brands of monitors for a better overall picture or sound rather in this case.
Some popular studio monitors to check in to getting are KRK rocket which are higher priced, M-audio(which I am using), Alesis (which as I am going to be getting as my 2nd pair as I like the volume / on off switch in front rather than the back which most monitors are set up as)
Even though it is best to mix through monitors, you could get by on mixing with headphones especially if you like to record at night while others in the house are sleeping, like I like to do. But you don’t want to use just any headphones, you want to use flat response studio headphones since flat response doesn’t add any tonal characteristics to them like consumer headphones do (so don’t use your drebeats for recording).
Just because a headphone is labeled as studio, also don’t mean it is good to use for mixing as since ” studios ” are a big thing some headphones are labeled studio as a selling point. I will probably do an article on that alone eventually. But for the time being there are two types of studio headphones which I am going to cover briefly.
Closed back headphones
Closed back headphones or Isolation headphones are designed to keep outside noise out and inside noise in. If you are laying vocal tracks or drum tracks live or are working in a noisy environment you are going to want closed back headphones so the sound from the headphones don’t leak out and bleed in to the track you are recording. With them being closed back though it also keeps the music close in your ear especially the bass so it may sound that you have louder bass than what you actually have which is one reason it is better to mix with monitors.
Open back headphones
Open back headphones are suitable for mixing in quiet areas and getting a closer idea of how the bass actually sounds. With open back microphones you can hear what is going on outside the headphones and others around you can hear as well, which is why you would not want to use open back during track layering or recording.
Whichever headphones you use, you also have a choice of on ear or around ear headphones. On ear can be uncomfortable especially wearing them for any amount of time and sound also escapes so I recommend getting over the ear headphones since they are usually more comfortable since the pressure isn’t on your ear and it gives more isolation even with open back.
Click here for my review on a decent pair of open back headphones
If you plan on recording vocals or live instruments you are going to need a microphone. There are different types of diaphragms in microphone which are best suited for different applications. For vocals or live recordings I would get a decent condenser microphone which picks up noise from all directions, studio quality about $100 since you get what you pay for, wouldn’t go cheap on a microphone.
If you don’t plan on recording vocals or live (which if you know me you know my music is instrumental with no lyrics), but you do plan on micing individual drum (I use drum machines and I run my guitar direct in to input so I don’t need any mics) or micing a guitar or bass amp then you would probably want a dynamic microphone since it picks up just what is directly in front of it.
As I stated at the beginning of this article we are only talking about basic needs to get started and serve the purpose. Depending on what you want to do with your home studio there are things that will make recording / mixing easier for you and better quality of sound (especially live recordings) such as sound treatment, multi monitor and headphones, monitor management, port controllers, mixing boards, midi and more
I hope you have an understanding on basic essentials for building your own home recording studio, any questions or comments, leave comments in the comment section below