Getting started designing a home recording studio can seem like a daunting task and, indeed, it is. It will require countless hours of research and product deliberation that can seem frustrating and overwhelming at times, but with the right amount of preparation it is entirely possible to have a cheap and effective audio studio right in your home!
Many factors will depend on what kind of music and instruments you would like to record, but regardless of this it is best to start simple, especially in the beginning. This avoids feeling overwhelmed or burnt out with too much gear. Once you have mastered the simplicity of a beginner’s studio you will know exactly what other equipment you require and what you can do without.
Developing a working budget is important because, although certain equipment can be bought cheaply, it is better to invest in quality gear for certain other times so that you avoid having to spend more in the long run.
The first necessary component of a home studio is a functional computer. If you already have one that works, great! Otherwise you are going to have to shell out quite a bit of money from the start to get something that will be fast and capable of handling heavy audio software. When purchasing a new computer consider the cost, processing speed, screen size, memory, and portability. Processing speed is usually non-negotiable as recording software can be very sluggish on slow computers.
Once you have the right computer, you will need proper digital audio workstation (DAW) software as well as audio interface hardware. Examples of DAW software to record, mix, and edit music on your computer are programs such as ProTools, FL Studio, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Cubase, Reaper, or Avid Pro Tools. These programs will range in price and ease of use, so be sure to do some research and check out their interface. Many will have free trials available, but at some point you must shell out the money for the full version to save yourself a lot of headache.
For audio interface hardware, which is necessary to send music to the computer when recording, many DAWs will come with bundles for both hardware and software packages. This can save you time and money in the long run, but if you are trying to get a different interface there are several routes to go with various different budgets. However, some key factors to consider are number of inputs and outputs, DAW compatibility, interface connections to your computer, and general form. Some of the best beginner interfaces are a 2-4 channel USB interface, although some people may want to start with an interface with at least 8 inputs. Although the price ranges may vary, a good bit of research can save you a lot of money in the long run.
The single most important home recording item is a good microphone. Although beginners may only need one mic, you will find that as you record more you will begin to accumulate more and more microphones of different varieties for recording different instruments. Starting out, however, the SM57 is a very versatile and widely used microphone. Later you can try and get specialty mics, such as condenser, dynamic, ribbon, or bass microphones. Getting a microphone stand will also be necessary.
Next you will need proper equipment for fully hearing the music. This will include not only a decent set of headphones but also studio monitors. Your first set of headphones should allow for optimal isolation when tracking, and your next set of headphones can be more focused on optimizing the sound quality. Studio monitors on the other hand are essential for mixing. Although many high-end monitors can cost thousands of dollars, there are also cheaper alternatives that aim to provide a flat equalization, which allows for studios to mix the music as it actually is. Several reputable home studio monitors include the KRK Rokit 5 G3, the Yamaha HS8, and the Dynaudio BM5A, although there are certainly many others.
You will want to make sure you have all the necessary cables to connect everything to your interface and back to your computer. Depending on the size of your studio, you may also want various different lengths of each cables. You will need ¼” instrument cables for guitars and bass, whereas microphones use XLR cables. Some need only be 6 feet long while others may need to be as long as 25 feet. Make sure you have all the necessary wires to connect your monitors as well!
Treating the room for the optimal acoustic sound is also extremely important, although this will ultimately depend on the size and shape of your room. A bass trap will help contain the low-end frequencies, which can give many audio engineers headaches when mixing, whereas acoustic panels will help absorb and deaden high and mid-range frequencies. Some larger studios will have a diffuser to hide unwanted lingering frequencies, but this is usually not necessary for smaller home studios.
For creating virtual instruments it is helpful to have a MIDI controller, as creating rhythms and melodies by clicking a piano roll can be very frustrating and time-consuming. These will range in price and versatility, with the Alesis Q being great for beginners and small budgets while the M-Audio Axiom AIR is much larger and expensive, but offers a wide array of functions and sounds. Some people may want to purchase an analog synth module for a less digital sound, but that depends entirely on your budget and audio needs.
Although starting a home studio can seem like a daunting task, it really just requires the dedication to learn and research the necessary requirements before beginning. Careful planning will save you countless time and money in the long run. Research every piece of equipment and compare it to other brands. Ask yourself if this will be useful for the kind of music you want to record and the budget you have set for yourself. You can always upgrade later, but starting off simple will ensure that you continue using your audio studio and learn to grow with it.