“If you’re in the business of recording, and you don’t have a recording setup, you’re like a guitar player without a guitar.”
- My professor said that in class one day at the University where I studied Music and Sound Recording. But guess what, you just simply do not need to go to college to record yourself anymore.
You might be a songwriter, instrumentalist, or singer and have little to no interest in being a recording engineer, but you do want to create music, and music needs to be recorded to be shared. That means you will benefit from being self sufficient and having a recording setup. Having to pay an engineer, pay someone else to record your idea, and wait so long for other people to get to your project is just such a loss of time and money. Yes it will take a little time and money to get set up and learn how to run your own sessions, but the dividends will be well worth it.
Become extremely productive, and build your music career so much faster with your own home studio. If you’re feeling some resistance, and the task of learning how to engineer is daunting, you’re not alone. Read more on how to get over that hump at the end of this article. Let’s dive in to the recipe for a professional home recording studio:
The Main Ingredients
You can definitely get started on a lower budget, and then over time upgrade things. But these first two ingredients are important to get right from the beginning because you will likely continue working with these two things for the rest of your career.
If you’re already a Mac user, great. If not, also ok, but when it comes to all things audio and also visual, Apple just always comes out on top. You can certainly make it work on a PC, and I know some successful producers who do, but as an Apple convert, I can say I’m never going back to PC. Here’s a cool article by Producer Spot on the differences between Mac and PC for audio engineering.
Recording Software aka DAW
The Digital Audio Workstation is what we call our recording software/computer program. Depending on what you do, many professionals share similar opinions on which software is good for what. The consensus is that:
Logic is great for both recording and producing instrumentals.
Pro Tools is ideal for recording, editing, and mixing- so if you’re only recording voice or instruments, but not really producing, this is my go to.
Ableton tends to reign king when it comes to producing instrumental electronic music.
Garage Band is free with Apple computers and it is basically a very limited version of Logic. So even though I’m totally Pro Tools bias, I do encourage a lot of people to start in Garage Band, and then upgrade to Logic in the future because it’s super similar.
None of this is law. You can do anything in all of these DAWs. I produce instrumentals in Pro Tools, which not a ton of people do. And some people record vocals in Ableton, which sounds weird to me haha. There are no rules. If you’re on a budget, get started in Garage Band, and move over to Logic when you can.
Starting out, I recommend a condenser microphone for pretty much all recording. I rock a tube mic myself- Manley Labs makes my favorite mics for vocals hands down. Here is what my journey of microphones has been, and I’ve had a great experience with them all in the many phases of my career:
Sterling Audio SP150 $99 https://bit.ly/3KFiJvp My first mic <3
Bluebird $300 https://bit.ly/3w3wJLC
Slate ML-1 $800 https://bit.ly/3q0ODuu
Manley Reference Cardioid $3,300 https://bit.ly/3MMUugL
Neuman U87 $3,650 https://bit.ly/34DlJJq
A lot of people suggest the Rhode NT1A. I had one, but I prefer a little more brightness in my mics so this one wasn’t my favorite.
This is the device you plug your external gear into so it can communicate with your computer. That would be your mic, speakers, headphones, direct inputs like a 1/4 inch guitar cable, and any analog outboard gear (which you don’t need).
M-Audio Solo $49 https://bit.ly/36cCv2v (super basic, the speakers outputs are 1/8”)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo $120 https://bit.ly/3KDqGBp (pretty basic, but professional)
Presonus Studio 24 $170 https://bit.ly/3t9G6aQ (make sure you get the right USB version so your cable fits your computer. USB-C is the latest apple connection, but they also have a regular USB connection)
Universal Audio Apollo Solo $700 https://bit.ly/3IlxthL
Universal Audio Apollo Twin $1,100 https://bit.ly/3IlxthL
If it’s in budget, I recommend Universal Audio. I’ve had my Apollo for 5 years and it’s still running great. It has a built in preamp, and I feel that sounds just fine without buying an additional preamp. If you plan to record instruments like acoustic guitar, you may want to have 2 mic inputs (twin, not solo), so you’ll have the ability to use two microphones! I use the Presonus Studio 24C when I’m on the road, and it does sound good! It just annoys the crap out of me that the mic plugs into the front, and the headphones plug into the back. Super weird design.
I always recommend full over the ear closed back studio headphones to best minimize “headphone bleed” (the sound from the headphones gets picked up by the microphone), and you can usually work on a good mix in the headphones if they’re good quality. I use Focals, but I’m not gunna lie, they’re on the bright side which isn’t ideal. You’ll want to find a great “flat frequency response,” so you can mix in headphones and get a true sound in your ears. Beats by Dre’s, for example, boost the low end, which is a satisfying listening experience, but when you’re mixing with those, you’ll probably turn your bass too low to compensate for the elevated bass that Dre likes. Here are my recommendations:
Sennheiser HD 280 $99 https://bit.ly/3I7MOCc
Sony MDR $99 https://bit.ly/3t6WlVM
Focal Listen Pro $300 https://bit.ly/3w7KU26
AKG K271 MKII $255 https://bit.ly/3t8n1Ws
We call em monitors in the studio ;) Top favorites in most home studios are:
Adam T7V $550 https://bit.ly/3tVhhOY (make sure you buy 2 lol, these are $275 each)
Yamaha HS5’s $400 https://bit.ly/3w3TL4R
Yamaha HS8’s $750 https://bit.ly/3MJYKh3 (what I have!)
KRK Rokit 5 $358 https://bit.ly/3KAq1Aw
If you have the space on your desk, you could just put your monitors on em, but ideally you want them to be placed at least 6 inches away from a wall (or the frequencies hitting the wall will multiply, giving an untrue sound), and create an equilateral triangle between the two speakers and your head (aka the sweet spot). You may opt to get speaker stands: $229 https://bit.ly/3i0S7sJ
Microphone cables tend to be the culprit when something starts buzzing, crackling, or overall sounding weird through the mic. I think it’s important to get great mic cables, and I always choose Mogami. They have a lifetime warranty. $60 https://bit.ly/3KAsfQu
Monitors usually come with a power cable, but don’t always come with cables to plug into your interface. If you need cables, two basic TRS 1/4” cables will do the trick: $38 https://bit.ly/3t5JyDg
If you will be singing, you need this. If you’re just playing instruments, you don’t, but 10 bucks says you’ll lay down some hot fire eventually ;) A pop filter prevents too much air from hitting the microphone’s diaphragm and causing ugly pop sounds, primarily on plosives like words that start with P or B. I have gnarly plosives, it’s the death of me- so I got a fancy pop filter AND I put a windscreen on my mic (cheap Amazon windscreen). Try a basic one and just don’t get too close to the mic. The general rule is to sing 6-8 inches away from the mic itself.
Gator Pop Filter $25 https://bit.ly/37tHfBB
Hakan Pop Filter $99 https://bit.ly/34EUKxh
If you’re leaving the mic stand in the same place all the time, basic stands will be fine. Mic stands used for live shows that are constantly moved and adjusted can fall apart pretty quickly. The key is making sure that when you make any adjustment on a mic stand, you loosen the mechanism and then re-tighten it when it’s in the right place. People like to just force the tightened mic stand to move to their whim. This is how they break. Gator and On-Stage make super decent basic stands. Always get a boom style stand so you can move it into the right place. Straight stands only look cute in live shows, but have limitations.
On-Stage Standing $38 https://bit.ly/35OONyr
Gator Standing $70 https://bit.ly/36f7UBo
Gator Desk/kick $50 https://bit.ly/3tSqPu2
Ideally you want to record in a “dead” space, where there are little to no reflections (aka reverb, aka echo). Walk-in closets have been my primary vocal booths for years and years because clothes absorb the sound and don’t reflect back into the mic. If you want to create an even better situation, I’m a mega advocate for making your own acoustic panels (check out my DIY guide). “Foam” has failed me. I’m sorry, I think acoustic foam (aka egg crate) is basically a joke and doesn’t do much. Fiberglass insulation is the best. Many of my friends do swear by their Kayotica Eyeball $175 https://bit.ly/3MQK28e, but it looks like a fancy piece of foam to me. Making your own acoustic panels will lead to the most ideal quality in room sound around $200 (also they look super cool, like a real studio lol).
Bundles for your Budget
Sweetwater.com is my favorite place to buy gear, plugins, and whatever I can get through them. Their customer service is unparalleled, and they have great specials. Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and Sam Ash all tend to run bundle sales, and you can get major discounts if you’re ok with the packages they put together. Here’s a search for bundles on Sweetwater: https://bit.ly/34HAawc
From my recommendations, assuming you already have a Mac and can get started on Garage Band for free, you can get the most basic (but decent, cheaper does exist) studio setup for $333!
Sterling Audio SP150 $99 https://bit.ly/3KFiJvp
Pro Co Mic Cable $23 https://bit.ly/3i6WT7Q
M-Audio Solo $49 https://bit.ly/36cCv2v
Sennheiser HD 280 $99 https://bit.ly/3I7MOCc
Pro-line Standing $38 https://bit.ly/35OONyr
Gator Pop Filter $25 https://bit.ly/37tHfBB
[Skip the monitors for now, just mix in headphones]
Already have headphones you wanna use for now? Save a hundred bucks. Start small and then over time, upgrade a piece of gear when you can!
Read More: The Number 1 Reason People Quit Learning to Record
You tried to learn it while you were in creative mode. Vibe killer like woa. When you’re inspired, you wanna stay inspired and ride that high vibe! If you don’t have your recording flow yet, just voice memo and write down what you’re working on so the idea is out there and won’t be interrupted by technology fails and trouble shooting. Commit to making learning time it’s own designated time. Work on recording a cover song that isn’t super important to you. Use it as practice. After 12 years of recording, I finally gave in and chose to become a producer and make my own beats. I realized that I failed every attempt in the past because I was inspired but got stuck. I’d started working on a beat and then got lost not knowing what I was doing. Buzz kill. I’d be over on Youtube searching for answers, getting frustrated. Or I’d be trying to find the right percussion sounds and nothing I had is in the right tempo, so I’m searching Splice, getting dizzy and overwhelmed by all the sounds I have to go through. It’s not fun. But when I decided, ok, I’m gunna learn how to side chain a kick to the bass today… that was my only mission; I did it, and then I got excited. Little mission was accomplished. I would designate a day to only go find percussion sounds I liked, so when I was in creative mode, they were already on deck. There was also a time when I didn’t know that I had to learn how to side-chain a kick. How would I just know about that? I’ll give you a hint :) There are endless resources on the internet now, just like this one! Start searching how to do the basics. Make it a point to figure out what you need to figure out. THEN commit to learning one thing a day. Let me help, kinda.. I’ve made a list of the super basic things you need to learn to become a self sufficient recording engineer. One topic at a time, one day at a time. When this stuff starts to click, you will feel proud. Eventually you will not need to think about all the little details because you’ve already absorbed that information. Need a studio setup? I gotchu. When you are turning an idea into a finished recording in one day, you will be a competitive force in this music industry.