HOW TO BUILD A CHEAP AND EFFICIENT HOME STUDIO
The days where every artist needed to have a huge budget just to record and release their music is long gone. With modern DAWs and affordable monitor speakers, almost anybody can afford to acquire enough equipment to release radio ready music. In this article we’ll discuss what gear is necessary, and how to choose the best option for your needs.
First things first, short of going super old-school or DIY, a computer is necessary. This could be an entire article on its own, but the biggest consideration is whether to get a Mac or a PC. Most music software works on both now so it isn’t as big of a problem, but if everybody you know and work with uses a Mac, it’s generally easier to be on the same platform. As far as specs go, the more money you put into the computer, the bigger and more intense sessions that will be able to run. Getting one with a solid state hard drive is advisable, as they are extremely fast and get faster the larger their storage capacity is. Having lots of RAM is generally what allows the computer to run big complex sessions, so getting as much as possible is ideal.
With computers you really get what you put into them. Building a desktop PC is generally the most effective option as far as performance vs. price is concerned, but a lot of people can’t be bothered. Lots of producers and engineers use MacBooks, the author included, and have never run into any problems. Like with choosing your DAW, use the computer that available to you and that you know how to work the best.
Once you’ve got a computer, or if you’ve already got one, it’s time to think about what you want to do. Do you want to record demos of your acoustic songs? Do you want to make beats? Do you want to rap over tracks that are sent to you? Do you want to do everything? These are important questions to ask yourself before you buy any equipment. In this article we’ll discuss options for vocalists/instrumentalists looking to record their own vocals and instruments, as well as options for those who only want to make beats.
This is the second piece of gear you’ll need to create music. An audio interface is what connects your instruments and microphones to your computer, your computer to your speakers, and it’s important to choose the right one. Lots of options exist, generally with higher prices meaning more inputs and outputs and cleaner sound quality. If you’re a producer who works in the box, or a songwriter who only needs a couple of inputs, you can get away with a very minimal interface. Focusrite, Steinberg, Behringer, M-Audio and many other companies offer extremely cost effective options that will be more than enough to make beats with and even record instruments if necessary. If you’ve got a larger budget, companies like Universal Audio and RME make incredible interfaces that come with a ‘virtual console’, which allows you to monitor with zero latency separate from your DAW, which is very helpful. If you need a more complex interface because you plan to use outboard gear or work with full bands, most of the companies mentioned above sell interfaces with lots of ins and outs and a variety of other features.
Choosing your speakers is a fairly important decision. The main factors that come into play are what size room are you in, and what type of music you plan to work on. The average monitor is anywhere between 5” - 8”, with the bigger size of speaker providing more bass. If you’re an acoustic singer looking to record your own demos, you can get away with much smaller, cheaper speakers as it isn’t as important to hear the low end. If you’re producing beats or making edm or something bass heavy, it’s almost essential to choose monitors that have good low end response, or pair smaller ones with a subwoofer. Luckily, if you’re not looking to become an engineer, monitors can be fairly inexpensive in comparison to other gear and higher end monitors. KRK, Yamaha, and Focal all make great entry level speakers of all sizes and price ranges.
Like most of the sections of this article, choosing a microphone could be an entire article on its own, but we’ll break it down simply here so you have a better idea of where to start looking and some popular cost effective options. First off, there’s two main types of mics you need to concern yourself with: condenser mics, and dynamic mics. Condenser mics capture a larger frequency range, sound more detailed, and are generally the go-to choice for recording vocals and acoustic instruments in the studio. Dynamic mics are primarily used for live shows, as they’re very good at ignoring sound around them, but are useful in the studio for recording amplifiers, drums, and ‘grittier’ vocals. If you’re going to be recording your own vocals or the vocals of others, it’s a good decision to buy a condenser microphone. Each microphone has its own characteristics and reacts to sound differently, so if you’ve recorded your vocals in studio before and loved the way they sounded ask what mic was used and considering getting that one or a cheaper version with the same general characteristics.
As far as price goes, good mics start at about 1000$. Anything less than that, and you may notice your vocals not sounding as nice and clear and detailed as artists that you love. That being said, an amazing performance on a 200$ mic is better than a mediocre performance on a 9000$ mic, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t afford anything extravagant.
At first, stock plugins are going to be more than sufficient for the beginner. All DAWs come packed with tons of incredible processors that will tide anybody over for a long time. It’s important to master the resources at your disposal before acquiring more, so that when you spend money on 3rd party plugins, you’re taking full advantage of them and spending your money properly. Our personal favourites are SoundToys, UAD, and FabFilter, but there’s lots of other companies making incredible plugins in various price ranges.
Most of us already have enough equipment to make music before we even decide to start. If you’ve got a phone or a computer and any type of speakers, nothing is stopping you from starting. The equipment described in this article is what we’d suggest as necessary to be able to record something that sound professional, but sometimes the best way to go is to hire other people to get you the quality you want, and focus fully on your music without worrying about all the gear, money, techniques and tutorials you need to do it on your own. Don’t be afraid to seek out underground studios and smaller spaces, there’s plenty of cost effective options to achieve a professional sound nowadays.
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