Home Studio Basics: 10 Essential items for your Home Studio (Part 1)
So you have an interest in making music. It can be a fun and rewording experience, but it takes some equipment, knowledge, and most importantly practice. Whether you are just interested in making music through virtual instruments, recording, mixing, or even mastering. There are some essential items you are going to need to get started.
Over the course of this Home Studio Basics Series
I am going to show you how to setup your own home studio, record vocals and guitar, work with virtual instruments, and learn the basic of mixing.
So lets get started!
11 Essential items you need for your home studio.
- Acoustic Treatment
- Midi Controler/Keyboard
- Last but not least…
If you went to into a traditional recording studio, what will you be guaranteed to see? That’s right, a nice huge console. You can think of your computer as being your console and main piece of hardware that is essential to your home studio. It is your console…for now.
These days whether you choose to use a laptop or desktop doesn’t make much a different when you are just starting out.
A desktop will be good once you get to the point when you need to start expanding your studio.
Laptops have the benefit of being portable and it allows you to easily setup a portable mixing or recording rig. This can help you land some gigs if you decide to go the mobile gig route.
Optimize your computer
First thing we did to do is optimize our computer (Mac or PC) for recording. Avid provides a guide for optimizing your computer for running with Pro Tools, but many of these adjustments will benefit you no matter what DAW you are using. Click here to go to the Avid website to see the guide.
Next up is the Interface. This is how the audio is going to get in and out of your computer and the hub where you will connect microphones and other external gear.
It is important to consider how many inputs and outputs you are honestly going to need for your studio at this point. If you are a guitarist or singer/songwriter, you might just need 2 inputs. On the other hand, you might need more inputs if you are planning to do drum recording in your studio.
I might get some flack for saying this, but at lower and mid price points, I don’t think there is much of a difference in quality among the more popular interface brands. The sound quality of modern interfaces have improved so much compared to those of 5 to 10 years ago.
3. The DAW
The DAW is the program that you are going to use to control your audio and mix. This blog is mainly going to focus on Pro Tools. Below is some information about the various DAW’s out there.
- Ableton – This is a favorite about electronic music producers. It has a pretty unconventional structure, but once you understand it, it is very powerful.
- Logic – This is a pretty popular choice among all people getting intro audio. It comes with a pretty good set of stock plugins that will help you get the sounds that you want.
- Studio One – This one is made by Presonus. I don’t know too much about it, but they over introductory software with their interfaces. I have seen some people use it. It seems pretty intuitive to use.
- Cubase – Don’t have much experience with this one, just wanted to let people know it is there. I have heard good things about it though.
My DAW of choice:
Pro Tools – This is the DAW that has remained the industry standard. I can’t get into all the pros and cons, but, honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with using Pro Tools. Since so many people in the industry use it, it makes it very efficient when everyone on your team is working with the same program.
If you need to stay on a budget, many of the interface companies are offering interface and DAW combo deals.
The first microphone that you decide to buy for your home studio can be a very tough decision. The right microphone for you will depend a lot on your primary goals as a studio. Do you want to be able to record everything? You are going to need a lot of different microphones. Are you going to focus just on recording just a few certain instruments?
Your first microphone should be ideal for the instrument that you are recording and versatile as well, but there are hundreds of microphone choices that range from the a $100 to the thousands. The more you know about microphones and the various different types the better decision you will be able to make.
There are two main categories of microphones to choose from, the condenser microphone and the dynamic microphone. You should try to at least get 1 of each.
This is one of the most common microphones for recording vocals. You have probably seen pictures or videos of someone singing into one of these types of microphones.
Recommendation: These are both microphones I have used in the past and you can get them for a pretty good price.
- Blue Bird – This was my first microphone and it has served me well through the years.
- Rode NT1 – Everyone I talk to seems to have a good experience with this microphone
This microphone is a staple in the recording industry. You can not go wrong getting one of these as your first mics. It is most commonly used on guitar amps and snares, but I have used it on vocals on certain occasions. It is a very useful microphone.
- Shure SM57: I have used this microphone to record many guitar amps. Actually, It would be nice to have 1 more of these.
5. Studio Monitors
Next and the most exciting for me is speakers (monitors). You want to get something that are considered studio monitors consumer or professional level. They are made to have a flatter frequency response than standard speakers for your computer or audio system.
If you are just starting out you should be able to pick up a decent pair for around $300.
At a little higher price point, there is the Yahama HS8m. I feel it is great buy at around $600. In fact, these were my first speakers. I was able to get them a little cheaper because I bought them used.
- Yamaha HS8
- Yamaha HS5
- JBL LSR305s
So you got all this equipment now? How are you going to connect it all!? Below are some of the most common cables used in a studio. I would recommend getting multiples of each of these. You can never have too many XLR cables laying around.
- XLR Cables
- Instrument Cables
- TRS Cables – A balanced cable with
You don’t want to have to lay your microphone down on a desk or hold it in your hand when you are recording. So you are going to need a good mic stand. I would try to get the heaviest one you can find at a decent price.
Along with that, some mic clips and a pop filter will get you started.
- Microphone stand
- Microphone clips
- Pop filter
This is an important factor in the aesthetic of your studio. You are going to need a decent sized desk to keep your equipment and over the years it is probably going to expand so you want to keep that in mind.
However, if you google studio furniture, your mind will be blown by the outrageous prices for some desks and other furniture.
BUT if you are even the least bit handy with wood, you can build your own desk for less than $100. It just took me a few hours on a Saturday to buy all the wood, get it cut, and assembled. Quicker than IKEA.
Here are some pictures of the various desk that people have built from his plans.
8. Acoustic Treatment
This is an item people don’t realize they need until they already have it. After you get some real acoustic treatment, you will be amazed at the difference it can make on how you hear things in your room.
There are various different products on the market that market as acoustic treatment products. You need to do your research because honestly acoustics is a complex subject and room treatment should be done on a case by case basis. However, small rooms usually suffer from similar problems in the low end due to standing waves. I am going to cover some common broadband acoustic absorption materials.
First, I need to talk about acoustic foam. You have probably seen this in Youtube videos about acoustics or in some guy’s home studio. This does little if any to fix low-end frequency issues in your room. This will absorb the high frequencies. One good use I can think of for it is if you have a noticeable echo in your room (You can test by clapping). This will help with that.
If you feel your room with only this acoustic foam, you are going to have a dead sounding room with low end issues. In other words, It might sound worse! We don’t want that now do we.
So here are some other recommendations for materials. These are the most commonly used materials in home studios. And if you are handy enough to build a desk, you could definitely go the DIY route and build some acoustic panels to put up in your room.
• Owens Corning 703
• Rock Wool
If you want want to go through the hassle of building them, there are some places to easily purchase pre-made panels in various colors and sizes.
They also supply the materials if you decide to go the DIY route.
You were probably wondering when I could get to headphones. I can’t stress how important headphones have been to me in my journey learning audio.
There are many reasons that headphones are so important.
Let’s see why:
- They can give you a picture on how your recording or mix sound without the coloration of your room.
- If you are on the go and you use virtual instruments and synth, you can make music anywhere you go!
- It can help you hear the details that you might miss when listening on your monitors.
- Having a good set of headphones feels awesome.
I have used the Sennheiser HD 650 for over 5 years and I totally recommend them, but they are around $350 new.
If you plan on mixing music, I would recommend getting an open-back headphone. Open-back headphones generally have a better sound staging (imaging) and color the sound less.
- Sennheiser HD 598 ($158) This headphone is really hard to beat for under $200 dollars.
10. MIDI Controller
If you plan on using virtual instruments to make music, you are going to need to keyboard of some sort. Some programs key you use your computer keyboard, but it is very hard to be creative on it and is very limiting.
When you decide to get a MIDI Controller there are some factors to look for.
What size are you going to need? They range from from 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys. If you don’t plan on actually playing piano pieces on the controller, I doubt you are going to need the full 88 keys. Get the size that matches your space and needs. I feel the 49 key version is just big enough to get a good feel when going though the octaves.
Weighted keys will help give it a more solid realistic feel. Velocity Sensitivity change the volume level of the note depending on how hard you hit the key which allows for more realistic sounding parts.
M-Audio Oxygen 49 MIV – This includes 8 faders that you can use for modulation in virtual instruments and drum pads if you want to play in drum patterns
Nektor Impact – If you just want a simple controller without all the bells and whistles.
11. External Hard drive
We have finally reached the end of your studio essentials and you are probably wondering why an external hard drive?
There are a few reasons. First, it has to do with optimization. If you are using a tradition hard drive, running an audio session in your DAW you might run into problems saying your hard drive is too slow.
You should run all your audio on a different hard drive than your operating system.
Another reason is computer hard drive failure. I know this from personal experience this year. The hard drive in my Macbook Pro crashed and I lost everything on it. Luckily, I had all my important work in Dropbox and on my external hard drive so I didn’t lose any important work for my clients.
Hard drive failure does happen and you need to be prepared!
So speaking of that, having another backup of everything would be even better.
Since that experience, I have another hard drive to backup my Computer and my Audio drives. Then I have an remote backup through Crashplan (a cloud backup service). Call me paranoid.
So that is the end of this part of the series. I hope you have a better understanding of the items that are most commonly used in a home studio. In the next section, I am going to go over how to setup your studio and get your first recording. In the meantime, why don’t you start experimenting and make some music!