04 OCTOBER 2017
written by Mathew Dunn
This article has been contributed as a guest post by Mathew Dunn. Mathew has been playing various instruments for a long time, and he is a self-taught musician. He started MusicAlien.Net to share his experiences and thoughts about instruments and music.
Most of us musicians would love to have their home recording studio and luckily for us, as the technology advanced, it is now way easier and cheaper to make your home studio than it used to be.
In this article, I will summarise the essentials you need to set up your home studio and what are the most important things to look for when choosing studio equipment and on top of this I will share with you some tips which may be of help to someone who hasn’t done this before.
One thing I would like to say upfront is that you should not have a spend more mentality when picking your gear. The needed studio equipment has gotten better and better with time and the cheapest things today will in most cases beat what used to be the best 20 years ago which is more than enough to get you started if you are a beginner.
However, if you need more professional gear, then I assume you know exactly what you need it for and you will know how to make a choice. Still, keep in mind that the essentials I discuss below do not have to be the most expensive ones as you should choose equipment that suits your budget and overall needs.
Now let’s go through the most important equipment for your home studio:
This is a no-brainer, but I want to share with you a few tips on how to pick yours. First of all, I don’t know what your preferences, PC or a Mac, Laptop or a Desktop are. Whatever they are, they are fine. And if you are a beginner looking to start simple, then if you are reading this on a computer, that computer is probably good enough to get you started, but I don’t know how far will it take you depending on its power.
Things to consider when choosing your computer are
RAM is your most significant friend as a recording musician. And you should have as much as you can of it. Considering that the RAM sticks are getting cheaper and cheaper this should be no problem. Pretty much any computer which was made in the last ten years will have a motherboard support for 16GB of RAM which is more than enough.
Now if you have 8GB of RAM you don’t have to upgrade to 16 immediately but when you see that your computer needs more of it. It is wise to have some widget on your desktop to notify you of the used RAM, and once you start making more and more complicated tracks on your computer you will notice when it reaches about 90%, and your music editing program(s) begin to lag, then you will know that it is time for an upgrade.
If you have 4GB of RAM, then you will be able to start, but an upgrade will be in order soon down the road once you reach the limits.
Same goes as with the RAM. Whatever you have now will get you started, but depending on the strength an upgrade might be in order. With CPUs getting more and more powerful it is easier than ever to get one that is good enough for music production. I would go with some CPU that has Quad Core and multithreading as it will give you additional virtual cores.
But today it is a standard for any decent computer to have a Quad Core CPU, so it will have you covered. The stronger the CPU, the faster your music editing program will work, and as long as the CPU has enough power to have the program running without lag, you will do fine.
You will spend most of your time working on your computer, so this makes it the most important element of your studio.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
This is where the magic is going to happen, and it is one of the most critical parts of your studio.
If you don’t know the digital audio workstation or shorter DAW, it is a computer program which you will use to record, mix and edit your music.
There are various DAWs out there, and if you don’t know about them, you should first research them and choose one that works for you. Make sure you select the DAW program that you are going to be able to get comfortable with since it is necessary for you to pretty much master the program (don’t be scared as that’s not hard as it seems).
You should work with the DAW program which can be an “extension” of you so that you can think about the music and not about menus, options, etc. You want to own the tool you are working with and not the other way around.
Now the good part comes in. Pretty much all DAWs will get you started, and you should learn about them and try multiple DAWs. Please do not waste too much time overthinking which program should you choose since all of them will get you started if you are a beginner and as time goes by and experience is piled up you will know if you need to change it.
Depending on the computer you use some of these programs might not be available to you as some like Logic is for Mac only but most of them work on multiple platforms.
These are some of the popular and incredible DAWs you should check out:
A solid audio interface
You will need something to get your analog sounds like keyboards or voice into your computer in the form of a digital sound, and this is where an audio interface comes into play.
You don’t need anything special here. Don’t go around spending your money on those crazy interfaces since a decent one with two channels will do just fine.
You should look for an interface that has microphone preamp, line inputs for keyboards and guitars, stereo out and a headphones out.
Make sure to check that the product you are going to get has good reviews and that it meets your needs and you will do just fine.
You need a quality studio microphone
Every studio needs at least one decent microphone in its possession as the microphone will have everything to do with how your recorded sounds will turn out.
There are three main types of microphones, but you will want to get a condenser microphone. The condenser microphone has always been used for studio recordings because their technology allows them to pick up the audio and convert it into electricity in a much more detailed way.
You shouldn’t spend thousands of dollars on your microphone since most of the cheaper microphones are good enough for any recording. However, you should research the mic you are buying well and read its reviews.
But the technology of condenser microphones has advanced, and there are so many manufacturers because of the increasing demand for this type of microphone that the prices went down over the years.
Unless you need some particular microphone for a specific purpose in your studio, don’t spend top dollar for it. Research your condenser mic thoroughly and go with some option that will fit your budget as most of these microphones will be a great choice.
You will need something to listen to your music
You have two options here, and they are headphones and monitors, and it is great if you could have both since they both have their uses.
But if you want to save a little money it is perfectly fine just to get the headphones first. But keep in mind that it is a bit tricky to record and mix using headphones, but it can be done.
Besides, you can always listen to your recordings on other people systems to get the proper reference on how the recording using headphones impacts the production.
It is okay to start with the headphones and acquire monitors later on. But if you do want to get the monitors from the outset you will want the monitors that fit your room, and that fit your budget.
Also do not overthink the choice of monitors since various factors will affect how the audio is perceived by the listener like the room shape, listener’s position relative to the monitors, your DAW, etc.
It is essential to research the monitors you are going to get and check their reviews but be aware that there will always be things you can’t control that are shaping the sound you hear so once you decide which monitors you want just to make the purchase and move on.
Creating is the key
Your primary focus should be on getting started. The creative process will make the magic happen not just the gear so make sure you get the gear you need and don’t waste too much time overthinking it. Once you start and once a certain amount of time passes and the experience is piled up, you will know if it is time for an upgrade or if you need another piece of the ear, etc.
You want to get started. That’s the main thing you should strive for, and everything else will fall in its place eventually. Don’t give up and create every day. Work on what you love, and it will pay off in more than one way.
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