If you’ve stumbled upon this article, chances are you’re looking into getting yourself a recording studio so that you can begin to record your music from the comfort of your own home. Believe it or not, booking studio time for a full album will likely run you the same price as investing in all the goods and getting started with a basic studio. And while it does take a big budget and years of experience before you’ll be able to attain the sound you are striving for, it will be worth it. Gone will be the days of booking studio time, feeling rushed and pressured to get your money’s worth. Gone will be the price of your visit skyrocketing as that last song gives you a bit of trouble and when you can’t quite seem to nail that guitar solo. With years of hard work and determination, you will no doubt be getting the most out of your own home studio. And who knows – maybe some day YOU will be the one inviting other musicians into your home, charging them an hourly rate, and making money off your skills as a sound engineer. Wouldn’t that be cool? So in this article I’ll be discussing how to make a recording studio.
How to Make a Recording Studio
Making a recording studio will take time and considerable effort. If you have the patience to follow through, however, you will no doubt be able to record music in the comfort of your own home. I’ll start by listing some of the essential items you will need to get started. Be advised, things can get pricey, so be ready to drop upwards of a thousand dollars or more when placing an initial investment in recording.
Computer / Laptop: You’re definitely going to need a computer or laptop to get started, as I’m advising against analog recording methods. (Unless you’re rich, then go for it! Hit up Ebay and pick up some old school mixing boards, maybe even construct yourself a sound booth!) Digital recording makes things worlds easier. I’d recommend a desktop if you plan on remaining stationary, but if you’re dead set on performing live (maybe getting yourself Ableton Live for live performances and gigs) you’re better off going with a laptop.
Your computer is going to be your base of operations. This will be your primary means of recording, so by all means don’t drop $300 at Wal Mart and expect the computer to run smoothly. Producing music eats up a lot of a computers resources, so do some research and save up a healthy budget. You can expect to spend nearly $1000 on the computer alone if you plan on recording with the utmost productivity. Research the specs of a computer, how much memory, what kind of OS you want to use and the compatibility of the software you plan on installing.
Studio Monitors: You’re going to need a professional set of studio monitors if you wish to attain a professional sound. Mixing and mastering will take years of practice to experience, but you won’t learn much mixing and mastering on a set of stock computer speakers. You need to go to a music store, a franchise outlet like Guitar Center or your local guitar shop, for example, and put money down on a set of studio monitors. It is likely this will be another investment of several hundred dollars, but you’ll only be doing yourself a favor in the long run. As I mentioned earlier, a set of crappy computer speakers will not help you hone your ears and progress as a sound engineer. In fact, a set of cheap speakers will only prove detrimental in your growth as a music producer, and it will be far harder to properly mix and master without buying a set of studio monitors designed for the purpose of music production.
Audio Interface: The audio interface is the key in everything. It connects your microphone and instruments such as keyboards, MIDI controllers, electric guitars, and other instruments and transfers the sound to your digital audio workstation of choice. The audio interface also brings the sound from the computer to the studio monitors. Another important aspect of the audio interface is the built in sound card. The sound card featured in your audio interface is almost guaranteed to be of a higher quality than the one that comes stock in your computer. To learn more about an audio interface, read this article I wrote previous about what an audio interface is. An audio interface is an important investment, and like all the other mentions I list will likely run you several hundred dollars. Take care of this piece of equipment and it will be your trusty portal into music production and recording for many, many years to come!
Studio Cables: You’re going to need cables to plug everything in. My setup is two 1/4″ studio cables running from my audio interface to my studio monitors. I use a MIDI cable to connect my MIDI capable keyboard (thus triggering VSTs and the like from within my digital audio workstation). And I have your standard 1/4″ instrument cables to plug in my guitar, acoustic electric bass guitar, and lap steel guitar. Cables will be the cheapest investment, only running around $50 – $100 for all items necessitated. Your audio interface will likely come with a USB plug which, allows it to power itself right from your computer.
Now that I’ve gone over some of the hardware necessary, I’ll start delving into some of the software you’ll need as I continue to teach you how to make a recording studio. Read on for some software advice!
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW): The DAW is where the magic happens. This is where your recorded ideas are brought to life, through the power of digital audio recording. Rip a guitar solo, apply some effects, and you’ve got an electric guitar sound right through your studio monitors, ready to be exported to WAV and shared with the world! Well…not really ready, but you get the picture. The digital audio workstation is an amazing piece of software that allows musicians from all around the world to record and compose their art on a much smaller budget. Compare this to a few decades earlier, where one would need to invest thousands upon thousands of dollars to afford the necessary analogue equipment and sound proofing to even record their ideas. Now with just a few grand, one can buy all the necessary hardware and record right on their home computers, all because of the great technologies afforded in digital audio workstations. There are a lot of choices, and while you can start with free products like Audacity or Garage Band, you might want to invest in a bit more. Even low-end products like Mixcraft offer so much more features than Audacity, including VST instruments built in. Some popular digital audio workstations are Ableton Live, FL Studio (formerly known as Fruity Loops), Steinberg Cubase, Bitwig Studio, Pro Tools, Cakewalk Sonar, Presonus Studio One, and more. Don’t be afraid to sample a few different demos and see which interface is the most easy to learn. Most DAWs have their own unique sets of positive and negative attributes, but you’ll want to try each out yourself and find out which one you are most comfortable with.
Virtual Instruments (VSTs): VST’s are a staple in the arsenal of most modern music producers. Essentially, a VST is an instrument you can either program on a piano roll or trigger with a MIDI keyboard. (Or even the keyboard of your computer, incidentally, although I don’t advise getting too attached to this method. Nothing beats learning the actual instrument!) There are also numerous effects plugins you can utilize, such as delay, reverb, chorus, tremelo, distortion, EQ, and more. Many popular VSTs can be heard in the soundtracks of popular shows. Comedy band the Lonely Island (of SNL fame) frequently use Nexus 2. How do I know this? Because I’ve used that soft synth before myself! I instantly recognized it in the track “Jack Sparrow” (featuring Michael Bolton.) Many film composers use Storm Drum 2, a product by East West, a company well renowned for providing professional level sound banks for aspiring composers. The sky is the limit with VSTs, and the best part is so many of them are free!
Following these basic steps and procuring these items will have you well on your way to having a full fledged music studio right in the comfort of your own home. Save up those dollars and start investing in your career as a sound engineer today! Be advised, it will take years of patience, practice, and dedication to the craft, but a few years from now you could be banging out tracks with a crisp audio quality and selling your albums on bandcamp. The sky is the limit, so reach for the stars!