I get loads of people asking me what the recording process looks like and what sort of ‘tools’ or equipment are needed to make it happen. So I’ve decided to take a few months and write these blogs with the premise being – “how to make great sounding records in your bedroom“. I’m by no means Quincy Jones or Rick Rubin, but I have made a ton of records over the years and spent an incredible amount of time in the studio and so I feel I have something to offer those of you who are looking to get into the recording industry whether be for hobby or trade.
So we’re going to kick off this web series with the 5 Most Important Tools To Start Your Home Studio. I know you’re probably anxious to dive right into “how to get those monster drum sounds with just two microphones” – but that will have to wait a few more weeks. There are some foundational things that you need to know and learn before you can even start your first session. All trades require proper tools and you need to make sure you’re purchasing the right ones. So let’s get started:
1 – Computer
This might seem painfully obvious, and yes – even my 5 year old knows that Daddy uses his computer to record music. But we need to make sure we’re using the right computer with the right components within that computer. I’m not talking Mac vs PC, I’m talking a computer that’s set up for Audio production and not for something like gaming. What you’re looking for is a computer with a fair amount of memory (RAM) and processing power (CPU). If you have a computer already, you can most likely upgrade your RAM and CPU and you’ll be fine. If you’re in the market and haven’t yet purchased a computer, spend the extra money and max out your RAM and CPU and I promise you, it will be worth the extra cash.
2 – Software or DAW
You may have already heard the term DAW when listening to guys talk about their recording rig. A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is simply the software you use to record, edit and most likely mix your recordings. This could be Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase, Ableton, Garage Band, Reason, etc. They are ALL great programs and just like the Mac vs. PC debate, I’m not going to say that one is better than the other. I use Pro Tools and that’s simply because it’s what I learned on and it’s what I feel most comfortable in. I will say this however, choose a program that someone you know uses and has been using for a while. This way you have someone to go to incase you have questions (and you will have questions). There are also great educational resources out there that can teach you everything you need to know about these types of Software. Lynda.com and MacProVideo.com to name a few are incredible resources when you’re just starting to learn a new piece of digital software. The last thing I’ll say about this is, once you find a DAW and start learning it – stick with it and learn the crap out of it. All of the above mentioned programs are monster programs and their capabilities are endless. I’ve been using Pro Tools for 15 years and I’m still learning things about what it can do.
3 – Audio Interface
When you think of a recording studio, you probably picture a great big recording console with endless buttons, lights and faders. That is for sure a big part of the studio nostalgia, but it’s no longer necessary in making professional sounding records. Besides, try fitting an SSL 9000 into you dining room or even affording one for that matter. Your audio interface is what now replaces that big recording desk. It’s a piece of hardware that takes your analog sound (guitar, drums, vocals, etc) and converts it into a digital signal which is then made available in your DAW so you can hear it, edit it, manipulate it and mix it. This is a key component to your home studio and can cost anywhere from $100 up to $10,000+. Where to start? There are loads of great YouTubers out there that have spent the time and money to do audio interface reviews and comparisons and I would recommend spending a few nights to watch them in order to get a feel for what all is available and in your price range. For those of you interested, I’m currently using the UA Apollo and I love it!
4 – Microphone(s)
A microphone is another no-brainer when it comes to recording, but which one should I buy when first starting out? Good question because the options are endless and can be a little overwhelming if you’ve never purchased one before. My advice on this is to start with a mid-price-range, large diaphragm condenser microphone. Again, price can range from $100 – $10,000+ but for now, find something for around $300 or less and you’ll be surprised with the quality. Having a good size, diverse microphone collection is something you’ll eventually want to have – BUT you have to start somewhere and unless your uncle is Donald Trump, you more than likely can’t go out and spend thousands of dollars on vintage microphones. So my advice is to find a large diaphragm condenser, buy it, use it for a while and then when you can afford another one, buy it too. Or maybe after you’ve had some experience with a condenser microphone, try out a dynamic microphone. There are so many flavours of mics out there and they can all work for different recording scenarios, so you really just have to get out there and try some to see what you like. Once again, on YouTube you can find all sorts of guys doing “mic shoot outs” and that’s a great way to start learning some of the brands and models of microphones that are available.
5 – Monitoring (playback)
Whether this is an actual set of reference monitors or even just a pair of headphones, your studio isn’t complete until you have a way to listen back to the audio that’s inside your computer. Oh, and that pair of computer speakers (complete with sub woofer) that you bought at Staples just isn’t going to cut it, sorry! Purchasing a good monitoring system can also become overwhelming but I personally wouldn’t get too hung up on this one. Not because they’re not important – but because whatever you choose as your monitors, you will eventually get used to how they sound and how they respond to your recordings. I’ve been using the same pair of KRK’s since I started producing and I know them inside out. They were’t expensive and they’re definitely not top of the line, BUT they get the job done and I know where I need to make tweaks in order to compensate for how things are sounding through them. Most guys say to buy “flat” sounding monitors so that you are hearing as true of a sound as possible and yes, I think that’s valuable, but don’t get hung up on it. If down the road you’re able to pick up a pair of Yamaha NS10’s in order to be able to A/B some monitors, than do it (I also have a pair that I can refer to if needed). It’s just not a necessity in order to get your studio up and running. So just get online or to your local musis store and buy a pair of monitors or headphones that are meant for audio production and then crank em’ up!
So there you have a quick breakdown of the essential tools needed for home recordings. If you have a few of these components already, you’re off to the races. Now, go purchase, rent or even borrow the remaining elements just so you can get started. If you’re in need of ALL 5 things, just remember that you don’t need to break the bank on ALL 5 components. Spend the money on a solid computer and maybe your audio interface and just remember that everything else can be added or upgraded down the road. Even if your computer isn’t amazing but it’s capable of getting you started – that’s great. Jump in and start learning the software (DAW) that you’ve chosen. Experiment with the microphone you have. Invite one of your musician buddies over and start messing around with the song they just wrote. The key to making great sounding records is experience. Trial and error. Don’t be afraid to spend countless hours just trying stuff or even watching YouTube videos of other guys who’ve tried stuff.
Comment below if you have any questions and I promise I’ll respond as soon as I can. Also, feel free to use this post to suggest specific pieces of software, hardware, microphones, etc. Let’s all learn from each other and push ourselves to make the best sounding records we can make.