Home Recording Studio Basics for Musicians
At some point in time, many musicians have at least considered the idea of creating their own home recording studio. Years ago, this idea was folly for the majority of artists, as it required a huge investment of time, effort, and especially money to get anything usable going. But it’s no longer the case. The days when even a middling studio cost half a million dollars to launch are over. This is to the benefit of indie artists, many of whom have now found success creating their own music by purchasing and setting up everything they’ll need entirely on their own.
Now, that’s not to say establishing your own home studio is easy or cheap (a relative term, as you can tell), but it is something you can, and really should consider, especially if you’re in this for the long haul, or if you plan on being more than just a musician and getting into recording. That said, if you think you might someday want to attend recording school and work in the field, setting up a basic home studio is a good way to teach yourself some basic technique before graduating to more advanced professional-level software and gear.
But where does one even begin when it comes to selecting all of the equipment necessary? Below I have listed five items even the most basic studios can’t go without, no matter the type of music you plan on creating. I didn’t get into specifics, such as brand names or exact models because that could easily double the length of this piece but if you’re considering getting into home recording, here are the five things you’ll need from the beginning.
First of all, no matter what you’ve seen in pictures, videos, or what you’ve read on other sites, I beg you not to buy a desktop. There are very few benefits to owning a stationary computer and the negatives far outweigh the plusses.
A Great Computer
Most young people don’t need to be told almost all popular songs and albums are created on computers these days, but it’s worth putting at the top of this list nevertheless.
First of all, no matter what you’ve seen in pictures, videos, or what you’ve read on other sites, I beg you not to buy a desktop. There are very few benefits to owning a stationary computer and the negatives far outweigh the plusses. Many major studios do still stick with desktops but unless you’re trying to create a professional-grade studio that will turn into a business for you (in which case, this article is not for you), stick with a laptop. You’ll likely be on the road quite a bit, whether you’re touring, jetting off to college, or moving to a new town to pursue your music career and you’ll want to bring your top-grade computer with you, especially if you spend a fair amount of money on it.
When it comes to the Mac vs. PC debate, there seems to be a general consensus Apple products are better-suited for creative pursuits of almost any kind, though I can’t personally back that up. I am not a big time Apple fanboy, though I will concede the tech giant does make a wonderful electronic. However, I will default to the hundreds (or, more like thousands) of musicians who swear by the company’s options when it comes to making music, especially if it involves serious production software and not just recording and editing.
Having done some research on this, it looks like the best you can get (at least as a beginner who will likely be using this computer for almost everything in your life and not just crafting hit tunes) is a MacBook Pro. If you have also browsed the internet looking for advice on which computer to pick up to help you in your quest of becoming a successful musician, you’ve likely come across this answer as well, and it probably doesn’t make you very happy to see it in print here.
Because they’re the best and they’re so popular, MacBook Pros don’t come cheap. On Apple’s website, these items start at $1,300 and go up from there. If you’re a savvy shopper and you’re willing to put in the time to try and find a deal, you might be able to locate one somewhere for a lesser price. Just don’t go thinking they’ll be available for hundreds less. A used computer is an option but unless you are well-educated on refurbishing and cleaning one out and returning it to almost new status, you might not want to bother.
They can’t necessarily teach you how to produce music but these computers will have everything you’ll need once you have even the most basic understanding of that world. Besides, that’s what YouTube tutorials are for.
Many people think just because they have a bedroom, they have a recording studio. While it’s kind of true, it depends on what type of music you want to make. If you are working solely in the electronic, hip-hop, or perhaps even pop genres, you might be able to make this work, as you probably don’t require a lot of space for your setup. In those instances, you likely only need to have room to stand and sing into a mic (which we’ll discuss a bit later), but if you are working on anything involving real instruments, things can start getting tricky.
Before you start buying equipment and paying thousands for a new computer, look carefully at what space you have and consider the future. If, say, you have an extra bedroom in your apartment or home, it could make for a great recording studio, but only if you can afford to keep it free and if you’ll remain where you are for some time to come. Don’t set up a recording studio in what might be the guest bedroom if you’re going to need to find a roommate three months later because you ran out of cash. The same should be said for moving, as it would be a huge waste to go through all this effort and spend some real money only to pick up and sign on to a new place where you may or may not have the same situation.
A recording studio, even a small one, is something of a commitment. Don’t agree to it unless you’re ready to stick with it for a while and make good use of it.
Next to a computer, microphones are perhaps the second-most necessary item in any recording studio, no matter what kind of music you’re looking to create. Even if you think you’ll stick to only instrumental tunes, mics are needed to pick up the sounds made by many instruments. Also, while some artists start in one genre, they may not stay there and if you want your music to be heard by a mass audience, lyrics are probably a must-have and hence so are microphones.
So, you need a microphone, but which one? And do you only need a single piece of equipment or many? There are two different answers to this question: the simple one and the complicated one. I’ll begin with the former.
At the very beginning of your musical career, I’d suggest sticking with one solid mic. You never know how long you’ll be in this game and it would be a real shame to spend a ton of money on several different expert mics, only to put them away and neglect them after a short while.
The second answer is you’ll actually need a handful of microphones, as they are all designed to be the best at picking up different instruments or voices. If you’re only going to be singing into your mic, one will still be fine but if you are a part of a full band and you’re trying to get the best sound possible, the same device won’t do for everyone and everything. There are specific items engineered to be the ideal for recording drums, guitars (and of course different kinds of guitars), as well as singing.
There are hundreds of options out there but there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the most popular, highest-rated option to start and seeing where your music takes you from there.
It’s easy to hear the difference between a five dollar pair picked up at the drugstore around the corner and a one hundred dollar pair purchased directly from a high-end retailer but it’s far more difficult, if not impossible, to detect anything separating one $100 option from the next.
Once you’ve got your microphone (or microphones, depending on how committed you are to your recording craft), you’re going to need some filters to go in front of your new purchase. A filter is the circular mesh screen-looking thing you always see attached to a microphone stand (something else you’re going to need to invest in, though what works best for you will depend entirely on your setup and how much room you have) and its purpose is to block out some sounds that come from a person’s mouth when they are singing close to a mic that you don’t want on a recording. You might not hear them in your own voice and they don’t typically get in the way when it comes to live performances but you’ll want this item when working on a studio-quality version of your new song.
The good news is most filters are pretty much the same (a statement some would say is blasphemous, but for your purposes, just trust me), and they’re probably the cheapest thing on this list. Pick one up and stick with it for a while and only when you advance to the next stage in your career should you even consider splurging for a higher-end option.
There is a lot of discussion about which headphones are the best. Every company producing a pair will argue they have the best sound and the highest-quality and nothing else compares. Audiophiles and professional Recording Engineers truly enjoy sampling these products and trying to pick the best of the bunch but I have a secret to tell you: the vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between one pair and another if they’re of the same grade.
By this I mean to say it’s easy to hear the difference between a five dollar pair picked up at the drugstore around the corner and a one hundred dollar pair purchased directly from a high-end retailer but it’s far more difficult, if not impossible, to detect anything separating one $100 option from the next.
Again, in the beginning, don’t stress yourself out too much with which pair of headphones to drop a paycheck on as it probably won’t really matter, as long as they’re relatively high quality. Think Beats or something from major players like AKG, Harman, or the multitude of other large companies competing in that space. For under $200, you can get a solid pair of headphones that will suit you just fine at the outset of your musical endeavor and last you for a while. Don’t let anyone tell you spending a dime more will make a drastic difference because the truth is it will not.
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