07 Aug 2019

How To: Set Up a Recording Studio at Home On a Budget

You’ve seen photos of musicians in their home studios. They’re like a scientist in a lab, everything in its place, everything within reach. A sea of sliders and dials adjusted just right laid out in front of them, and a face full of the kind of glee, concentration or frustration only recording can create.

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As a musician, your office is different from everyone else’s. Sure, you have a lot of the same trappings on your desk: a computer, a lamp, maybe a mini snow globe someone brought you back from New York. But you’ve also got a mic and an extra keyboard that only has keys from A to G#; you don’t spend your days filing emails and your computer has more sheet music saved on it than spreadsheets.

For a long time studio equipment was either too cumbersome or too expensive to make a home recording studio. Despite that, some of the last century’s greatest music was made in them. The Rolling Stones’ infamous album, Exile On Main Street, was recorded in the basement of a rented villa in Italy, for example. But while it was fine for Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to set up a home studio on a whim in the 1970s, most people had neither the space nor the money.

Fast forward thirty years and music production had completely changed. In 2001 Daniel Bedingfield’s hit single ‘Gotta Get Thru This’, which he recorded in his pants in his bedroom, charted globally and earned the artist a Grammy nomination.

In the proceeding years, the size and cost of the technology needed to record at home has continued to decrease. This has been vital, helping a generation with less financial freedom than their predecessors to enter the music industry.

The Most Basic Things You Need

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The first thing you need is a space. It could be a corner of your bedroom, a spare room, anywhere that you can reserve solely for work. Find an area that can fit a desk and the equipment you’ll need and get yourself a really good chair.

You could spend hours, days, maybe months planted in the spot you’ve chosen, a quality chair can help you be as productive as possible. It’s fine if you want to compose in your underwear, just make sure you’re sitting on something with good lumbar and pelvic support.

Building Your Studio

Every musician has different needs, budgets and preferences, so every home recording studio is unique. But there are still some things that most people recommend you have as part of your home studio setup.

Computer Hardware

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First you need a powerful computer. These days people generally prefer to use laptops as they offer more mobility than a desktop. You might be spending most of your time in your home studio, but sometimes you’ll need to work on the go.

MacBooks come highly recommended for producing music due to their reliability and power. They also notoriously cost a lot of money and other well known names like Dell, Microsoft and Lenovo offer alternatives. There is good news, though! All these brands, including Apple, offer student discounts.

Interface

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Audio interfaces connect your instruments and mics to your computer. It’s really worth investing a decent amount of money here, as a quality interface can substantially improve your recordings. If you’re using digital instruments like drum pads or synths, make sure you get the MIDI-interface required to connect them to your computer.

There are many options that come highly recommended for under £100, including:

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 – highly portable and simple to set up, you can take it with you anywhere and be recording in moments.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo – slightly more expensive than the AudioBox, but also comes with free recording software.

Behringer UMC 404HD Audiophile – cheaper than either of the others but built with more inputs.

Software

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Whole genres of music have been created that never use physical instruments. Instead the musicians compose and create their music on Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). With these, artists can produce, record and mix music with or without instruments.

Arguably the most popular DAW on the market today is Logic Pro, used by, among others, Calvin Harris, David Guetta and Disclosure. Getting the basics of Logic is simple, but as with all DAWs, there is a real art in mastering it. The main drawback with Logic is that it only runs on Mac operating systems, but if you’re looking for something compatible with Windows there are options.

Do your research and download the free trials available before you commit to buying any software, but as a place to start here’s some of the more popular Windows compatible DAWs and some of the artists that use them:

Ableton – Skrillex, Diplo, Daft Punk, Flume, Four Tet

FL Studios – Martin Garrix, Avicii, Skream, Tyler, The Creator

Cubase – Stimming, Beach, Zedd

Some Last Bits

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The one really obvious thing that’s missing so far is speakers, but they won’t be appearing here. Speakers can grow to be really expensive but if the space you’re recording in has terrible acoustics, then you’ll be wasting your money. A better option would be to invest in some good headphones.

The main thing you’re looking for is high quality sound, but you should also buy some that you find comfortable wearing over extended periods of time. Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic often rate as some of the best headphones for recording music, with prices starting at just under £100.

And finally, a mic. Unlike many other pieces of equipment, there is a general consensus over which mic is the best for beginners. In production for over 50 years, and used by seasoned professionals too, the Shure SM58 is instantly recognisable.

Remember, studios aren’t made overnight. Start off small and build up your equipment as and when you can. And don’t forget that there are loads of options out there for musicians who need funding!

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