So you want a killer home studio that can deliver great sounding tracks and not break the bank? I have good news for you my friend: you happen to be living in an incredible moment of history for anyone with a home studio setup.
Gear has never been more affordable and more powerful, but even so, many home studio owners have a “spend more” mentality when it comes to recording and mixing gear, and it’s easy to get confused and frustrated about what you actually need for your studio.
I’m here to try to clear things up and deliver you the simple truth about what you need to get killer recordings at home. Guess what? There are only five things I think you truly need, and the good news is you probably already have one of them.
1. You need a decent computer
When it comes to home recording, 99% of the time you’re going to want to go with computer recording. More often than not you already own a computer that is capable of being the hub of your home recording studio. If that’s the case, you’ve already eliminated one decision.
If however you need a new computer, or you’d rather keep your personal computer separate, you have a lot of options awaiting you. Let me make it easy for you.
Go with what is familiar to you. Mac or PC, laptop or desktop. What matters most is that you like the product and you feel comfortable working with it on a regular basis, not what brand it is.
I work with producers all the time who record and mix great music on both Macs and PCs, so let’s not go there right now. Instead use either what you have or what you know. My only suggestion is get as much RAM as you can afford and don’t look back.
These days, working on a laptop doesn’t mean sacrificing power, so if you like to be mobile, or intend to take your gear to other places to record, then go portable. It’s a great option. Plus, when you’re back home you can hook that laptop up to a bigger screen if you need to.
Just pick something, don’t spend too much, and move on. Plan to keep it for at least three years and then reassess the situation.
2. Any DAW will do
Once you have your computer picked out, that makes your recording software decision much easier, as not all DAWs work on both Mac and PC.
Logic is Mac only. Sonar is PC only. Digital Performer, Audition, Pro Tools, Cubase, Live, Reason, and Studio One are all dual platform. They are all fabulous programs and will get the job done for you. Which one should you go with? That’s a question only you can answer.
Most producers have their favorites, and I’ll come out right away and tell you I’m a Pro Tools guy. I’ve used most of the programs out there, but at the end of the day I always come back to Pro Tools for writing, recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. Do I recommend Pro Tools? Yes! But will it be the deciding factor in how your songs turn out? No!
Investing in a piece of recording software is indeed a big deal. But don’t over think this decision. Pick a piece of software that fits your budget and go with it. At the end of the day, when people listen back to your finished songs they aren’t going to be able to tell what program you used to record or mix. Nor will they care! All they care about is whether or not the song sounds good.
I will say this, however. If you intend to get into this business professionally one day (i.e. work in a studio, mix for big name clients, engineer music for picture in Hollywood) then you probably want go the Pro Tools route since that is the most widely used program in the industry today, by far.
But other than that, it really doesn’t matter which program you go with. People waste too much time on Internet forums debating DAW software and being big fan-boys. Don’t be one of those people; limit your options, pick a piece of recording software, and get to making music! You’ll have a lot of time left over for something more important, like finding some sort of life outside your studio walls.
3. The audio interface is your friend
Since most of us don’t have a $200, 000 mixing console in our spare bedrooms, you’ll need some way to get all of your sounds (guitars, vocals, keyboards) into your computer’s recording software. This is where an audio interface comes into play.
Most DAWs work with just about any brand of audio interface. This leads to an endless list of boxes to choose from. Let me give you a suggestion: limit yourself to just 2 channel interfaces.
What I mean is, don’t buy more than you need.
Most people buy into the hype that they need a fancy audio interface that can do everything and is made with premium components that give you “that sound.” While it’s true that many of the features available in today’s high-end interfaces are great, they aren’t necessary to make killer recordings and be prolific in the studio.
Unless you need more than two channels to record drums (and that’s debatable to some) all you’ll ever need is a simple two-channel USB audio interface. You’ll need it to come with at least one microphone preamp with phantom power (see the next section), line-in inputs for guitar cables and keyboards, stereo outs, and at least one headphone out. That’s it!