This blog is going to look at the essential pieces of equipment that are in my opinion needed to set up a home studio so that you can record, monitor and mix a track successfully and professionally.
1. Computer with sufficient RAM and Hard Disk Space drive
Having a computer with enough processing speed and hard disk space is crucial to run programs that allow you to make, record and mix music. This is very important if you are working with lots of different tracks that contain multiple audio processors, effects and virtual instruments as they will all affect your computer's performance.
I personally found that replacing my laptop's hard drive with a SSD (Solid State Drive) made the biggest improvement to my computer's performance. I also increased my RAM which made a noticeable difference to the speed of the different music software programs I was using.
2. Choosing a DAW
DAW Stands for Digital Audio Workstation and usually refers to software. It’s a computer program that allows you to record into it via an audio interface, play back what you have recorded and mix a combination of different midi and audio tracks using various features, audio processors and effects.
There are numerous DAW’s on the market and on fundamental level they all pretty much allow you to do the same thing in terms of recording, mixing and creating music. Some do however come with specific features or inherent designs and workflows that suit different people's approaches to making music. So it’s worth accessing a free trial of different DAW’s or kindly ask a friend (bribing with a beers if necessary) to use theirs and see which one feels most intuitive to yourself.
3. Audio interface
An audio interface is a piece of hardware equipment, typically connected via usb, that improves the sound quality and capabilities of a computer. At a rudimentary level it gives you the ability to record external sounds like a guitar or vocals, converting them from an analogue to digital format to be used on your computer and also from digital to analogue to be played back through a monitoring system such as speakers or headphones.
There are various audio interfaces on the market that offer different features such as; the number of inputs, outputs, phantom power, headphone monitoring etc. It's important when buying any equipment to ask yourself what you actually need from it and what you will be using it for. If you only need to record vocals and acoustic guitar using an entry level professional microphone then an audio interface with two inputs and two outputs should be more than enough however if you are looking to simultaneously record a three piece band or mix in surround sound then an interface with more inputs and outputs would be a more suitable choice.
If you would like the ability to record an instrument to use within your musical compositions then a microphone is essential. To capture a sound of an instrument a microphone is typically connected to an audio interface with an XLR cable which converts the sound from analogue to digital to be used within a DAW.
There are numerous different types of microphones out there that are used for different recording scenarios based on their design and inherent recording characteristics. Some are better suited to record quieter details such as soft vocal passages, whilst others are better dealing with louder sounds such as a kick drum. So when choosing a microphone it’s important to think about what sounds you would like to record and how you would like to record them as this will impact what type of microphone would be best suited for the job.
5. Audio Monitoring
When mixing music it’s important to accurately hear back what you have recorded or played.
There are a number of different things that can colour/affect the accurate playback of a sound such as; the physical design of speakers or headphones, the room that you are listening to the music in or the position you are in a room in relation to the speakers.
An ideal listening environment would not colour the sound or have very little impact when played back. For this reason I would recommend initially investing in a good pair of headphones before purchasing speakers as headphones negate the way that the room affects the accurate playback of sound.
If you did decide to purchase speakers you would need to consider other factors such as isolating the speakers, room treatment to deal with sound reflections off walls and speaker positioning within the room, all of which start to increase the cost of your set up.
6. MIDI Keyboard
If you would like to use the virtual instruments and synthesizers that usually come as part of a DAWs package then a midi controller is essential. Midi controllers typically look like keyboards (however not all of them do) and allow you to connect and communicate with different parts of your DAW including the ability to affect the notation, pitch and velocity of virtual instruments and synthesizers, essentially playing them through a keyboard. These virtual instruments and synthesizers can be used to further enrich your musical compositions as well as expanding the pallet of sounds at your disposal.
There are of course numerous ways to set yourself up to make music and a lot of these decisions come down to personal preference, workflow and budget. Having said that these are in my opinion 6 home studio essentials that you need if you would like to record, mixing, make and play back music professionally.
Do get in touch via email if you have questions! I’d be happy to give more details.