Recording 101: Getting A Home Studio Setup
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
If you're anything like me, inspiration strikes at the weirdest moments in life. The last song I wrote was inspired by a 10 second song behind a YouTube video! I couldn't get this new song out of my head and absolutely HAD to get it down! Fortunately, I have been running a recording studio for the last 5 and a half years, so this was fairly easy for me. I had a rough draft of the song in a couple hours and was able to finish it by the end of the day.
If you've been thinking about getting a home recording setup started but are unsure about how to ACTUALLY do that, you're not alone! There is so much stuff available for the average musician that it can feel overwhelming to start. My goal for this series of blog articles will be to have several tiers of gear and explain why in some areas you can save some money, where in others it is better to spend up.
Before we get started, let's figure out what level of home studio best suits your needs!
1. Demo Studio.
If your goal is to capture an idea with the least amount of technical knowledge needed, this will be your best bet. This level of commitment is also the best choice for those who want to learn more about recording without going too far down the rabbit hole.
2. Prosumer Studio.
If your goal is to be able to produce high quality recordings that you can use as a finished product, this is your category. The "prosumer" market is exploding with the lowering prices of quality recording gear. If you started out in the demo studio model, this is probably where you'll end up if you get the recording bug!
3. Professional Studio
If your goal is to record music as a full time career, this is your category. Most of the readers of this blog will not fall into this category (and I will spend the least amount of time in this category) but this information can be helpful for you still.
Now that you know what level of studio you suits your needs, let's talk about what every studio needs!
1. A Computer.
Unless you plan on getting a tape machine (and finding 2" tape somewhere on the internet) you'll need a reliable computer. Luckily, most computers today can handle recording at the singer songwriter level. If you fall into the prosumer category, a separate recording computer can make a difference but is not a necessity.
2. A DAW.
Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are the software that stores what you record and allow you to edit, mix, master, etc. There are a couple free options for both PC and Mac (with limitations), but prosumers will probably want to look into paid options. Some of the most popular options are Pro Tools, Logic (Mac only), Studio One, and Cubase. They all do the same things but some are better at different tasks. The best idea is to get one and stick with it for awhile - learn the in's and out's
3. An Interface.
This is what converts audio (Analog) to your computer (digital). Interfaces will connect to your computer through USB, Firewire, Lightningbolt, and PCI cards. Demo and Prosumer level interfaces will include mic preamps, headphone jacks, DI capabilities, and stereo outs for audio monitors. The number and quality of preamps, the quality of AD/DA converters, and the connectivity will all influence the price of these units.
4. Studio Monitors.
This is one of the most important elements of your studio! Being able to accurately hear what you are recording is the first step in the process. Each set of studio monitors "color" - or add unique frequency qualities - to the sound so best practice is to get a pair of monitors and learn what they sound like in your room. Listen to all your favorite albums and learn how the speakers play these songs.
5. Studio Headphones.
If you're planning on recording overdubs (recording over something you've already recorded) a set of headphones is necessary. The best kind of headphones for this would be closed back headphones since they have the least amount of audio bleed (sound leaving the headphones). These, like the studio monitors, will color the sound you hear, so getting to know your headphones is very important!
It is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole of microphones! There are several different types of mics, including: dynamic, condenser, ribbon, and tube. For most demo and prosumer studios, you'll want to focus on dynamic and condenser microphones. I will definitely go into detail about all of these mics in a future blog post, but for now, all you need to know is that the way each of these microphones capture audio is different and can change the tonality of the source. XLR cables will connect the microphone to the interface.
Setting up a home recording studio can feel overwhelming, but the goal of any recording is to capture YOUR ART! Don't let these terms scare you off from jumping in and learning more about how to better create great music!