There comes a time when making music on a laptop in your kitchen is not quite cutting it.
This is when you should consider putting together a Home Recording Studio. It doesn’t have to be grand or ambitious but it can be a place where your creativity has a better chance of growing.
In this article we’re going to look at how to build a recording studio in your own home. We’ll cover the space, the equipment, the possibilities and the essentials and hopefully inspire you to make some space for your own music making.
Here’s a comprehensive checklist of some key things to consider when building a home recording studio:
- The Space
- Desk and chair
- Recording software (DAW)
- Audio Interface
- Studio Monitors
- Acoustic Treatment
- Hardware Synthesizers
- Virtual Instruments
- MIDI Controllers
CareersInMusic is full of articles recommending the gear and software you should check out for music production. In this article, you’ll find links to other articles that cover the products in much more detail. As you ponder your home studio choices use this as a jumping off point into the information and detail you need.
How much does a home studio cost?
If you have a home and computer then it doesn’t have to cost anything. A pair of headphones and some free music making software is a valid place to start. If you want to record vocals and instruments and play software sounds then a basic setup of an audio interface, MIDI controller and a microphone would start at around $200.
Are recording studios dying?
The position of the traditional recording studio has certainly changed as computers and the lowering cost of musical equipment has enabled many people to do similar things at home. However, once you have a band or a number of performers then a professional space in which to record them is very useful. You also shouldn’t underestimate the skills of the people who work in studios. While we can do awesome things at home it doesn’t mean we have the ability to do so. And so recording studios still have their place and aren’t going anywhere.
How does a studio make money?
A studio can make money in a number of ways. It can rent out the studio space and equipment with or without trained professionals to help you produce your music. The studio can act as the producer for your project and work with you to create the best music you can. Studios can also provide training, be used as rehearsal space or even provide a venue for a live or live-streamed performance. Studios may also take on the work of producing music directly for clients.
Everyone’s got a spare room in their house, right? Yeah, most of us are already living to the capacity of our dwelling and so finding a space can require a bit of ingenuity. Common spaces that get reclaimed for studios include garages, attics and basements and actually that spare room often has a bed and furniture in it and is not perhaps as ideal as you first thought. Small spaces can be remarkably useful whether it’s a cupboard under the stairs, a walk-in wardrobe or a garden shed. Don’t assume you need a lot of space; as long as you can sit comfortably and undisturbed then that might be all you need.
My top tips for choosing a space are:
- Isolation – you don’t want people disturbing you so avoid hallways or parts of rooms used for other purposes.
- Empty – you don’t want to be climbing over furniture or beds you want to be able to put in the items that serve your creativity.
- Curtains – windows will reflect sound and so curtains will keep the sound under control.
Use what you have – don’t let finding the perfect space distract you from making music. If all you have is a corner of your bedroom then so be it.
The most vital piece of equipment inside the studio (apart from your heart or your creativity or your inner most honesty or some such meme of self-enhancement) is the computer. Never has there been a tool with such a vast array of creative tools available at your fingertips. Your computer can be your entire studio although there are reasons why that shouldn’t be the case which we’ll come onto. It can be an Apple Mac or Windows PC, desktop or laptop and it can even be an iPad. It doesn’t have to be the latest thing as long as it can run the music software you want to run.
Even if you are planning to go “DAWless” and use hardware instruments and sequencers you’ll need a computer to record onto for mastering and distribution.
You’ll need a desk with enough room for your computer. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in your studio then you’ll need a decent chair that’s going to support your back and feel comfortable. When making music on a computer you tend to spend a lot of time in one position and so think about the desk height, think about the ergonomics of how you’ll be sitting there.
The other consideration is the possibility of hardware outside the computer. It’s increasingly common to have a hardware synthesizer or two in your home studio. You are most likely going to have at least a MIDI keyboard and so you will need the space for that. You can get desks that put the monitor up so you can have a piano keyboard in front of you. Or maybe you could get a V shaped corner desk where you can have the computer on one side and your hardware to your right or left.
Consider how your studio might grow. There are some useful stands and gadgets out there for stacking synths and making good use of small spaces.
You’re probably already using some music software but fitting out a home studio is a good opportunity to try out some other options. Spend a bit of time trying out some demo versions and watching feature videos to see if there’s a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that fits your style or way of working.
Full version DAWs can be expensive but there are often entry level versions available that are more than enough for a home studio.
While your computer is running the music software the quality of your recordings is going to be down to the audio interface. This is usually a USB box that provides the physical connections to plug in microphones, guitars, instruments and synthesizers. They also ensure that the DAW is running efficiently and without glitches or latency (audio delay).
You should choose an audio interface based upon the physical items you are planning to record. Ask yourself if you need 1 or 2 mics, or if you are recording synths or a whole band in your tiny attic space?
We all like the look of impressively big studio monitors but they might not be appropriate in a home studio. Lots of people mix on headphones and for many spaces this is the only option. But if you do have the space for some monitors then they will help you listen to your music differently and mix more effectively than headphones alone. The important thing is that you get monitors that are appropriate to the size of room. 4 or 5 inch speaker cones are usually plenty for a small space.
If you are recording vocals or acoustic instruments then you’ll need a microphone or two. If your space is quiet then a condenser microphone will give you the best quality sound. They are very sensitive and have a habit of picking up a lot of background sound in noisy spaces. In a less than ideal space a dynamic microphone is a better choice as they are less sensitive and need to be used close to the source. They can still give excellent results.
Also consider how you are going to handle the microphone. What sort of stand you’ll need. Will you have the room for a free standing stand or will a desk stand be more appropriate. If you are using a condenser mic then a pop shield will be useful. This is a simple device that reduces the plosives from vocals and sits between you and the microphone.
For some home recording studios headphones is all you have for listening to your music. But even if you have monitors it’s worth getting a decent pair of headphones in order to give you an alternative perspective on your mix. For a home environment I’d recommend open-back headphones that don’t fully isolate you to avoid the ear fatigue that you often get with wearing closed-back headphones for long periods.
Trying to control the sound in your home studio shouldn’t be a high priority. If you are mixing on headphones then forget about it. If you are using monitors then well placed acoustic panels can prevent reflections and your music turning to mush. Any shiny or flat surface will reflect sound. Putting material on the walls and ceiling can help reduce those issues.
Hardware synthesizers are amazing instruments and can be remarkably affordable. If you’ve never used one before you’ll find a hardware synth to be a refreshingly creative device. Always leave some desk space for synthesizers. They have a habit of multiplying once you’ve got one or two. It’s that physical connection that makes them brilliant, the tactile nature of knobs and sliders that appeals to our creativity.
Your DAW will come with some virtual instruments and synthesizers. There’s a vast range of synths and sounds available in software that can rival hardware. They can range in price from free to hundreds of dollars and cover every conceivable sound. You can get simple synths that bleep, complex polysynths, beat based sample machines and entire acoustic orchestras. Whatever genre of music you want to make you’ll find virtual instruments to suit.
You can sequence music in your DAW with a mouse but it’s perhaps not the most musical way. A MIDI controller can provide the physical connection between you and the virtual sounds on your computer. A MIDI controller can be just a piano-style keyboard but it might also have knobs, pads and buttons that can be mapped to software controls to emulate the hardware experience.
Your home studio will typically focus on the music within the computer and so a traditional mixer isn’t always necessary. For microphones and a couple of instruments your audio interface takes care of the connections while your DAW handles the mixing. However, once you start adding more external gear a mixer might be useful. You can choose between getting an audio interface that has more inputs to accommodate your hardware or get a mixer that will mix the sound of several synths or instruments before being recorded through the audio interface. Some mixers have audio interfaces built in which makes it even easier.
The point is that you shouldn’t feel you need to get a mixer unless you have things you want to mix outside the computer. It’s one of those items people assume you need in a studio but if what you’re doing is mostly computer based then you’ll find you won’t use it.
A home studio can be anything from a laptop through to a rack of synthesizers, field of microphones and an acoustically treated space. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable and able to focus on your creativity. Then you can add the tools that enable you to do that in more ambitious ways. Start small and if you want to expand do so slowly and take your time to learn your new piece of gear.
You don’t have to buy everything at once or you might find yourself spending more time as a technician than a musician.