So you’re getting started with home recording.
Maybe you’ve started thinking it would be fun to try. Maybe you’ve done a few recordings already and want to improve your sound quality. Maybe you’ve been recording for a while now, and you’re just starting to think about setting up a home recording studio.
It can be hard to know where to begin.
I’ve been there.
I started recording when I was in high school. I had an old desktop computer, a copy of Cubase, and a set of little computer speakers.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot. And I’d like to share with you the bare minimum that you need in order to set up your home studio. You can always expand on it later, but for now, let’s get it set up, and get back to making music.
If you’re at all serious about home recording, chances are you’re going to need a computer. You don’t need anything super-fancy, just a decent machine that can run your software. I wouldn’t suggest getting the cheapest computer you can find, but you don’t need to beef it up either. If you already have a laptop or a desktop, chances are it will do just fine.
A Mac or a PC will both work. If you’re a Linux guy, you can still make it work, although it will probably be more difficult to find the tools you’ll need.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
To record into a computer, you will probably want a DAW.
A DAW is a piece of software that handles recording, processing, mixing, and playback of multiple tracks of audio. Some examples include Logic Pro, Studio One, Cubase, and Pro Tools.
There are some nice free/cheap DAWs out there as well. For Mac users, GarageBand is a perfect example. There are open source ones as well.
Logic, Studio One, and Cubase are fairly inexpensive. I would recommend one of these for someone just getting into recording, but serious enough to be able to spend a little bit of money on it.
Pro Tools is the industry standard of music production software. It is also pretty pricey. If you want to go with Pro Tools, that’s fine. But just know that you can get results that are just as good from any DAW. Don’t feel like you need Pro Tools just because it’s the industry standard.
I personally use Logic Pro 9, which is not even the latest version of Logic Pro. It works fine for me.
The next step is this. You need some way to capture audio with your computer. You will probably want something that has at least a couple inputs.
Audio interfaces typically plug into the computer via USB or FireWire. Either one will do.
Don’t worry about how many inputs you have. Usually, 2 inputs will be just fine. If you can see yourself recording a full drum kit in the near future, you may want to opt for something with 8 inputs instead.
I started with the M-Audio FastTrack box (I think it’s called the M-Track now). Then I wanted to be able to record drums, so I got the Presonus Firepod, which is now called the FireStudio.
If you’re going to get a FireWire interface, make sure your computer has a FireWire port. If it doesn’t, you should probably get a USB interface instead.
Another option here would be to get a microphone that plugin into a USB port on your computer, such as the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB microhone. While this can be an economical option, just keep in mind that it will not be as flexible as an audio interface as it will not allow you to use multiple microphones, only the one USB mic.
Finally, we’re going to need a way to pick up our actual audio. There are many different microphones, at a wide variety of price points. My suggestion would be to go with a large diaphragm condenser microphone. If you can, spend around $100 or so. Any less than that and the quality will start to suffer.
For a whole lot of information on the different types of mics, check out this awesome free video by my friend Joe Gilder over at http://understandingmicrophones.com/replay. He goes over the various types of microphones, some suggestions, and some things to think about when choosing a microphone. I won’t be able to say any of it any better than him, so please go check out his video, and then come back for the last (but not least) component that you need for your studio.
Studio Monitors and/or Headphones
Of course, you’re going to need some way to listen to the music you’re recording and mixing. Some people out there will tell you that you absolutely need studio monitors. Honestly, you can get great recordings on headphones. I would recommend studio monitors if you have the money, but a nice set of headphones would be just fine.
I started on computer speakers. I wouldn’t recommend that. The speakers are far too small to accurately reproduce the bass, and as a result your mixes will suffer.
If you’re going to get speakers, I would recommend that they be at least 5 inches in diameter. This will give you a better bass response.
Whether speakers or headphones, try to find something that is specifically for recording and mixing, and look for a “flat” frequency response. This will give you the most “true” and accurate sound for your recording and mixing.
Cables, stands, and adapters
Mic cables, mic stands, and audio adapters are a must. Get whatever you need, but don’t skimp! If you pick up a cheap mic cord, you may wind up getting the dreaded “buzz” sound in all of your recordings. Consider yourself warned.
So this is the list of what you’re gonna need in order to get started. You can cut some corners on some of these items, or you can choose to spend a little extra for nicer gear. If you’re just starting out, just get whatever you need in order to get to work. The practice you put in will play a much bigger part than the gear you purchase in getting your recordings to sound great.
That said, if you can see yourself doing this down the road, you may want to get gear that isn’t’ “bottom of the barrel”. Get some gear that you can grow with, or grow into. But don’t break the bank. You can get great recordings and mixes on budget gear.
What gear do you have already? Have any stories about people who have gotten great recordings on budget gear? Let me know in the comments!