Today’s home studio can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, costing anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand (+) dollars. Some might not even look like recording studios, yet they may be producing great “broadcast quality” material from within the four walls of a small, poorly treated bedroom on a weekly, or even nightly basis.
When it comes to audio production in the home, it’s all about knowing how to use the equipment you have to its fullest potential before making the attempt to acquire more equipment with the impression that this new expensive microphone (for example) is going to solve all of your problems.
To be perfectly honest, you could actually write and record a piece of music with nothing but a laptop and your desired DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)… You wouldn’t be able to record live instruments or
vocals without a microphone, but a full music track is definitely possible just from learning how construct midi tracks via your mouse and / or qwerty keyboard…
You don’t even need an audio interface for this simple setup… All instruments these days are being sampled with extremely life like sound making it very difficult to tell the difference between the
software version and the real thing…
As for the DAW, you can download “Audacity” for free which has basically the same signal and file conversion rates as the expensive stuff (Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic, Sony Etc.) Obviously, the paid-for DAW’s will have more cool tools and offer a slew of other advantages, but for a basic recording, Audacity alone can handle it… Or… Garage band if you’re an Apple owner… So, having said this, I guess a laptop (with a DAW) is the “absolute” minimum – nothing else needed;
If you’re looking for “a little” more capabilities and functions in your home studio then you may consider
getting your hands on some of the following (only a few more things really…)…
Basically, in “today’s” home recording studio, all you really need is the following:
Computer or Stand-alone recorder
Laptop, or desktop, or stand-alone multitrack recorder – This is where your audio projects will be stored, maintained, housed, whatever… If you are lucky enough to acquire one solely for the purposes of audio
production, then you will have a definite advantage when it comes to storage space (for your recordings) and computer memory (how fast the computer can function with multiple programs running at the same time), but it’s not necessary to have one set aside for solely that purpose…
If you are buying one for the first time and you know that recording music will be a priority, you should check the computer requirements for the software (DAW) that you plan to work with and make sure your new computer purchase meets the technical requirements of that software.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation – software)
DAW – Again, the digital audio workstation software – there are quite a few. As you browse through forum after forum, blog after blog, site after site… you will read the “Pro’s and Con’s” of each one. IT really will come down to you just picking one and going for it – getting to learn it inside and out. There are many people that do often switch DAWs later down the road, but lots of times it’s because they have figured out what they really need from a DAW and they’ve found another one that provides this
I’ve found Logic Pro X to be really easy to use “right out of the box,” but at the same time I had used ProTools for a little while and it wasn’t that difficult to learn either (as for the basics anyway). I had actually intended to stay with Pro Tools, but had problems when upgrading to version 10x (I Think it was) from 8 LE. I switched over to Logic at the time and just got rather familiar with it and decided to stay (for now anyway)… I may go back, or just install it again for “GP.” I don’t know…
Bottom line, see the various DAWs in action on YouTube before you buy (if you’re buying)…
This piece equipment will be necessary if you want to record live instruments and / or vocals. You can purchase on for $100 (like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo), or one for several thousand more if you prefer… Some will come with many “bells and whistles,” while others will serve strictly as a means to hook up a microphone.
What’s most important with an audio interface (or at least one of the most important things) are the preamps, which are what transforms the audio signal into a digital signal for use inside your DAW. It’s always important to have the best sound you can produce prior to going into your interface because after that, you are limited to the preamps performance. The better the sound going in, the more potential for that good sound to be preserved throughout the recording process…
Mic & Cable
One microphone with cable (and this is if you’re going to be recording live instruments and / or vocals) – If you are planning to record a live guitar (electric with an amplifier, or acoustic), or you want to record live vocals, then you will need a microphone of some sort.
You have basically two types to choose from: Dynamic and/ or Condensor – there are other types but these make up the majority (especially for the home studio).
The all-time favorite dynamic microphone is still the Shure SM 57 and / or SM 58, both right at $100, or a little over depending upon where you buy it (them) from. These two work great for micing a guitar amp (SM57) and / or vocal recordings (usually the SM58). Although, condenser microphones like the Rode NT USB, tend to do a little bit better job with vocal productions and are still less than $200.
This will allow you to play software instruments (if you prefer), which is “a bit” easier than trying to plot them out as pure MIDI (although sometimes booth methods can prove useful at times).
As with all the other pieces of equipment, you can go for the $100, 25-key Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII keyboard, or “mucho” more “dinero.”…. The more money, the more keys (like having a full 88-keys) and the more overall options (like controlling your recording software from the knobs and faders on the keyboard itself)…
Headphones, or a pair of studio monitors
Let’s face it, you’re “gonna wanna” hear what you’re doing… I could leave it at that, but actually hearing your end results is rather important. If possible, you’ll want to audition your recordings on multiple output sources.
You do not have to own multiple headphone sets or monitors because this can be done by bouncing your track down to an mp3 or wav file and then listening to it in your car, on your home stereo (do people still own home stereos?), and any other pair of speakers that can give you an idea of what its sounding like so far…
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recording something that sounded “Sweet!!!!” on the studio monitors, but once bounced down for play in my car, sounded like…. Well…. “Not-so-Sweet.”….
This happens for a variety of reasons, the primary one being not schooled enough in the art of recording, but secondly for forgetting that pro studios tend to use very expensive monitors that aren’t normally affordable by the average home recording enthusiast.
And, like everything else, the more money, the better the capability. Those expensive monitors can reveal the tiniest of details to the mixing engineer making it a great deal easier to mix and master the music.
In the end, not a lot is needed as far equipment goes in-order-to record a few tracks of music. The real work comes from learning how to master the pieces of equipment that you currently have, or are able to acquire without much financial risk.
Hope this helps…