Home recording studio basics: what do I need to record music?

Home recording studio basics: what do I need to record music?

If you want to record music for a pass time or build a possible career, building a home studio is easier than ever. So, let’s talk about how you can build your own recording studio with what you’ll need to record music at home.

  1. A computer/laptop*
  2. A DAW*
  3. An audio interface*
  4. One or two microphones*
  5. Some closed-back headphones*
  6. A microphone stand
  7. A pop filter
  8. A few XLR cables
  9. A pair of studio monitors
  10. Acoustic treatment
  11. A MIDI keyboard

There is an abundance of affordable equipment for a home recording studio, the only real limits are your budget and space size. You can get all the equipment to record music at home for a few hundred dollars!

Today, recording equipment is more compact than it was in the 20th century. As a result, you need only get a couple of pieces of equipment to record songs at home. While professional studios have masses of desk space full of equipment and cables, this isn’t necessary for a home recording studio. You’ll find professional home studio equipment to be small enough to sit on a small desk or even a kitchen table nicely. Depending on what equipment you get, you can make your home studio flexible enough to work around you and your day. As a matter of fact, it gives you the freedom to create your own music creation schedule. You can write when you want to write!

The home recording studio equipment list can get expensive. And while it’s important not to exceed a strict budget, we advise against looking for the cheapest way to record music at home because you may go “too cheap“. This leads to setting a low bar for what you can achieve with your home studio. An example would be only getting a 16-channel DAW like Ableton Lite. While the limited 16 channels may be enough for music hobbyists, if you’re serious about recording and producing music this won’t satisfy you. However, a 16- track DAW is a great way to dip your toes in so it depends on what your situation and experience may be.

Finally, before we jump right in, head our advice here. Start simple and treat music recording/production as a hobby – not a potential career. Making the mistake of running before you can walk by trying to learn too much at once will only lead to burnout. If you take one step at a time, you can avoid:

  1. Overwhelming yourself
  2. Discouraging yourself
  3. Quitting because “you’re just not supposed to make music”.

digital audio, and this is why home studio equipment is a hundred times more accessible than analog gear once was. Digital audio relies on computers as a centrepiece that equipment like audio interfaces and MIDI controllers can plug into.

As a result, your computer will be the foundation of your home recording studio set-up. An Intel i5 or equivalent multi-core processor with 8-16GB of RAM will provide the minimum processing power you’ll need. And a computer or laptop with at least 500GB SSD will provide you with enough storage. An SSD drive is more desirable than an HDD drive as SSDs are digital and have faster read/write times.

Additionally, If you are looking for a laptop you’ll want to pay close attention to battery life if you will be travelling a lot. Battery life between 4 to 8 hours should see you through on an average day.

5 affordable laptops for music production under £1000

Let’s break a computer down a bit further, shall we?

  • Quad-core CPU – an Intel i5, i7 or higher. A multi-core processor gives you more processing capability which is very helpful for processing multiple channels of audio, plugins and virtual instruments too.
  • RAM – meaning Random Access Memory, RAM temporarily stores information while it’s being processed. With more RAM, your computer can handle more information at once. As a result, RAM is something to pay very close attention to and spend big on.
  • SSD Drive – meaning Solid State Drive, SSD drives don’t have any moving parts (a spinning platter) like HDDs inside them. They’re entirely digital which means they use flash memory for storage. Flash memory mediums can access information up to 6 times faster than HDDs. Your software and files will load faster, giving you a smoother user experience. While recording, you’ll be making and working with some big audio files – so flash memory is the way to go! Furthermore, having enough SSD storage ensures there’s room for both your files and programs, so 500GB is a good minimum choice.

Logic Pro X and Avid’s Pro Tools are industry favourites. They offer workflows that allow for working quickly and trying out ideas seamlessly. Logic Pro X is renowned for its user-friendly interface and its library of 2800 instrument and effect patches and 7000 loops.

You can use Apple Logic Pro across your iOS devices for full home studio flexibility.
Image Credit: MusicTech

But these DAWs are a little on the expensive side. But don’t worry, there are free DAWs that will provide you with every tool you’ll need to get started recording music and producing.

3 free DAWs for professional recording, beat making and producing


3. An audio interface – essential home recording equipment

An audio interface is the crossroads of your home studio. They’re crucial tools if you want to record anything to a professional standard. Unless you make all of your music “in-the-box” by only using virtual sounds, you’ll need an audio interface to record anything.

In other words, an audio interface is a digital soundcard you’ll use to connect your microphone to your computer. Actually, audio interfaces embody just why music production is now so accessible. You’ll have trouble plugging a microphone XLR cable into a computer! Your audio interface will convert analog/electronic signals from your microphone into digital ones that your computer can read. Whether you’re singing or strumming a guitar into your microphone, it captures and sends your performance as an electrical (analog) signal to your audio interface which converts it to digital. From here, it sends the digital signal to your DAW so you can edit it.

Even if your computer does have a microphone or line input, the quality of its built-in analog to digital converter won’t be as good as that of an audio interface. An interface will provide you with more connectivity options too, so you can connect multiple microphones with XLR inputs. It’ll have onboard controls for gain and volume, and different output options too.

Best beginner audio interfaces for recording vocals and guitars


4. One or two microphones – essential home recording equipment

I’m sure this is the one piece of recording equipment that you are already aware you need. Of all the ways to record music at home, a microphone is always involved. But you’ll only need one or two microphones at first. But the microphone you choose will depend on what instrument you’re looking to record.

As we explained before, a microphone captures your performance and converts it into an electrical signal. It sends the signal to a receiving input (your audio interface) which converts the signal to a digital one. Dynamic and condenser microphones are the two types of microphones used most commonly.

The most durable microphones are dynamic microphones. Therefore, dynamic microphones are the best option for capturing live performances and loud sound sources like guitar cabinets. And the most common microphones for recording sources with a lot of high-frequency like vocals detail are condenser microphones.

Below is a list of microphones that’ll let you get started recording a variety of instruments.

  • Rode NT1-A

    For recording vocals and acoustic instruments that are rich in high-frequency detail, the NT1-A is the perfect choice for beginners.

  • AKG D112 or Shure Beta 52A

    For recording low-frequency instruments like a bass cabinet or a kick drum, the D112 or Beta 52A are great microphones to get started with.

  • Shure SM57

    If you’re looking to record loud sound sources like snare and tom drums or electric guitar cabinets, the SM57 is the most notorious microphone for handling these.

The Rode NTA-A is the best beginner microphone for recording vocals in a home studio.
Image Credit: Rode

As time goes on, you’ll be collecting microphones as if they were stamps. And each microphone will serve a different purpose. Below you’ll find a list of the best microphones for recording vocals.

5 best microphones for recording vocals at home


5. Some closed-back headphones – essential home recording equipment

For monitoring your recording, studio headphones are a crucial element. And we’re not talking about consumer-grade headphones either. There are three types of headphones you need to concern yourself with, but only one type is desirable for recording purposes: closed-back headphones.

While recording, you don’t want any sound to leak out of your headphones as it may tamper with the quality of your recording. The design of closed-back headphones is made to prevent any sound from bleeding out of the ear cup and into your recording. In contrast, the design of open-back headphones intentionally leaks sound. But there is a method to this madness, but we don’t need to talk about that here. But don’t forget to learn about the different headphone types here.

The purpose of studio headphones is to allow you to hear the details of whatever you’re working on. As we mentioned, closed-back monitoring headphones don’t bleed any sound so they won’t corrupt your recording. As another matter, studio headphones are usually more durable than consumer headphones too – a characteristic you will be thankful for one day.

5 best headphones for professional music production at home


6. A microphone stand

Let’s debunk a rumour together: not all microphone stands are the same. In fact, you’ll find the right microphone stand to be one of the most valuable buys. In short, a microphone stand is a mount for your microphone which enable you to position the mic freely – and there are six different mic stand designs.

The immediate benefit is that you don’t have to hold the microphone. But another, and perhaps the bigger benefit, is that it doesn’t allow for any artefacts to become apparent in your recording that would if you were holding the microphone due to static interference.

And a shock mount sits at the top of the microphone stand and houses your microphone. Different microphone shapes come with different shock mounts, and the sensitivity of a microphone plays a huge factor in how absorbant the shock mount needs to be too.

Here is a couple of affordable tripod microphone stands:

Samson MK-10

  • On Stage MS7700B
  • Auray MS-5230F

  • 7. A pop filter

    In short, a pop filter is the funny looking net things that vocalists have between them and the microphone. The design of a pop filter is intricate and cancels out the low-frequency blasts of air/pops (plosives) that naturally occur with words that include B’s and P’s. These pops are usually heard as thuds in a recording, making them very undesirable.

    Pop filters stop plosive sounds such as B's and P's from intruding your home studio recording.
    Image Credit: LEWITT

    Moreover, they also protect your microphone from saliva. So if you’re planning on recording vocals you’ll want a pop filter.

    Nady MPF-6

  • On-Stage ASFSS6GB Dual-Screen
  • Stedman Corporation Proscreen XL

  • 8. A few XLR cables

    Though we’ve briefly mentioned XLR cables before, we should talk about them a bit further. At some point in the future, you will amass lots of different cables. But for your small home recording studio, you only need three XLR cables.

    • 1 long XLR cable: to connect your microphone to your audio interface.
    • 2 short XLR cables: to connect your studio monitors to your audio interface.
    We use three pin XLR cables to connect our microphones to our audio interfaces.
    Image Credit: Wikipedia

    But before you do buy some small XLR cables for your monitors, make sure your audio interface has stereo XLR output connections. It may only offer 1/4″ jack connections, so invest in two TRS cables if this is the case.

    Here are a few XLR microphone suggestions.

    1. Pro Co AQN
    2. Mogami Silver
    3. Rapco Horizon N1M1

    Understanding the types of audio and digital cables


    9. A pair of studio monitors

    Honestly, studio monitors (otherwise known as nearfield monitors) aren’t essential in the beginning. Closed-back headphones should be your go-to for monitoring, but studio monitors should be your go-to for mixing when you can afford them. Though you can mix in open-back headphones, they’re more of a reference tool because their stereo image is often too wide and inaccurate. You may get ear fatigue after long headphone sessions too! And thanks to the bigger drivers in studio monitors, their frequency response is often more accurate too.

    Like studio headphones, comparing studio monitors to consumer-grade speakers shows us that studio monitors have a flatter frequency response. Again, this provides a neutral and transparent reproduction of your audio that’s left uncoloured. This enables you to make informed decisions when you’re mixing.

    Top affordable studio monitors for professional music-making


    10. Acoustic treatment

    You can buy the best studio monitors, but if your room has poor acoustics then your speakers just won’t sound optimal.

    Whatever room you’re recording in has a huge impact on your microphone recording too. Sound emits from a source and travels in every direction. That same sound will bounce off your walls and back into your microphone. This is called reflected sound, and it’s the bain of every recording engineer. Rooms that have good acoustics are those that have tall ceilings and internal structures that disrupt reflected sound. Rooms with naturally good acoustics require a lot of money and time… which most of us don’t have. Many of us have a room with four parallel walls which is where reflected sound thrives.

    So despite the perks of near field monitors, if you can’t apply any acoustic treatment to your room (say your parents won’t let you or you’re renting) you’ll be far better off sticking with studio headphones. As for microphones, record in a space where reflected sound won’t cause you problems if you can’t apply any acoustic treatment.

    Though you can dampen these reflections with fabric tapestries that hang on your walls, acoustic treatment minimises the amount of sound that’s bouncing off of your walls more effectively.

    You’ll need a combination of three things to get the best acoustics, but you don’t need all three whatsoever.

    1. Bass Traps
    2. Absorption Panels
    3. Diffusers

    And before you start throwing cash, measure your room before you purchase. That way you can be sure that you’ll get the right amount of treatment for your room size.

    Image Credit: Home Studio Today

    12 Pack Set Acoustic Foam Panels, Studio Wedge Tiles, 2″ X 12″ X 12″

  • AcouFoam 30cm Acoustic Panels
  • JBER 4 Pack Acoustic Foam Bass Trap Studio Foam 12″ X 7″ X 7″
  • AcouFoam Bass Traps

  • 11. A MIDI keyboard

    The last thing on our list has to be a MIDI keyboard. Again, not an essential – but a handy tool that makes composing music easier. A MIDI keyboard, where MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Instrument, is a digital controller that enables you to play virtual instruments and operate your DAW without using your mouse and computer keyboard.

    For example, if you weren’t sure where to take your idea, you can load up a virtual instrument and test out ideas on your MIDI keyboard! MIDI keyboards allow you to test ideas with sample libraries and VST (Virtual Studio Technology) instruments without the need for committing to a recording. You don’t need any knowledge of music theory to use a MIDI keyboard, but it’s handy to know the basics.

    Affordable MIDI keyboards for beginner home studios in 2022


    Final thoughts

    A multiverse of creative potential awaits you in your own home studio. Whether you want to be a musician, a singer song-writer, a session performer, or record for your own amusement, a home studio unlocks that potential as you won’t be dependent on hiring equipment.

    But remember to only buy what you need first. It’s easy to overwhelm yourself by learning too much at first, so if you’re new to music recording then don’t bite off more than you can chew. You’ll find that music stops being fun when you run before you can walk.

    So, what equipment is right for you?


    Once your recording is ready, don’t forget to get it in front of a global audience with RouteNote. We’re the largest digital music distributor in Europe and we can send your music to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and YouTube for free!

    The post Home recording studio basics: what do I need to record music? appeared first on RouteNote Blog.

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