Updated: Apr 21
Getting a home studio up and running might seem daunting, lengthy and expensive, but getting started is actually far easier than you could imagine! Whether you're a singer-songwriter that needs to record rough demos, a rapper wanting to produce beats and record your rhymes or even a dedicated band member that's determined to get your bands next single out online, it all starts with these 5 essentials.
It is important to note that each of the essentials mentioned can vary and be upgraded depending on your recording needs and budget. For example, a producer of beats and vocals might only require one microphone as opposed to an individual that's looking to record a full drum kit, in which case multiple microphones will be required.
For now we're going to stick to the very basics and provide you with a list of essentials that you will need to start recording instruments, vocals and producing music all from your computer.
1. A Computer
Now this might seem like an obvious one, but a computer will be required in order to sequence and record your ideas. Whether you have a Desktop, MacBook, Laptop, or iMac it is important to understand that music software and plugins (synths/EQ/compressors/reverb) can require quite a bit of processing power. It is therefore important that you have a machine powerful enough to run this software.
Whether you run OS or Windows makes no difference as most of the software out there are available for both Operating Systems, with the exception of Logic Pro X that is only available for Apple users. Herewith some general suggested guidelines regarding computer spec’s: • The fastest processor you can afford (i5 – i9 spec) with preferably 4 cores or more • 8GB Ram as a minimum (you can always add more later if required) • Preferably a large SSD drive. Additional hard drives can always be purchased at a later stage. It is preferable to install your operating system and application programs onto the main drive and to use an external USB3/Thunderbolt drive or another internal drive for your audio files and samples.
2. Recording Software | DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A digital audio workstation (DAW) can be defined in many ways, but the most basic terms, is an application or software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. Regardless of configuration, modern DAW's have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced song/piece.
It might seem overwhelming at first, but most of these DAW's have Start Up guides that teach you step-by-step how to use them. There are many schools of thought regarding which of these applications are best and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately the best software, will be the one that serves your needs the best.
Most software manufacturers offer a demo/trial period, so this is a good way to see if the DAW software is suitable for you.
Here’s a list of popular DAW’s:
· FL Studio
· Logic Pro X (Available now for a FREE 90 day trial!)
· Pro Tools
· Studio One
To get the most out of your sessions it is advised to choose one application and take time to learn the ins-and-outs. The more efficient and productive you are with the software, the more time it will allow you to spend being creative.
3. Audio Interface
This the device will process the sound going into and coming out of your computer and is often also referred to as a Sound Card. A more complicated process in the past, now simplified through technology allows us to connect these devices externally to our computers via USB or Thunderbolt.
Most of these devices include microphone inputs and line inputs for instruments and other devices. Basic interfaces come standard with one or two inputs where the higher-end interfaces can have 8 or more inputs. As per our earlier example, your needs will determine the level of interface you require. You can use up to 8 inputs to accommodate all the microphones needed to record a full drum kit, as opposed needing only one input to record solo vocals.
The outputs of the interface connects to monitors or headphones in order to provide a playback of what you're recording or producing in your DAW.
4. Monitors & Headphones
The world of monitors and headphones offer many tiers in quality, size and application all with unique nuances. A good place to start would be looking at the size of the room you'll be recording in. Big 8” monitors might be overpowering in a small room, where smaller 5"
monitors might not provide adequate bass in a larger room.
Other factors to consider would be the genre or type of music you will be creating. The tone of some monitors might be more favourable for referencing instruments, where other might serve better for heavy electronic bass lines used in trap music.
At TOMS we have Studio Specialists that will gladly assist you in comparing and providing advice on monitors to suite your application and budget.
If you're looking to record vocals and monitors are not yet in your budget, it is crucial that you have a set of headphones. When recording vocals you will need a way to listen to the reference track without the microphone picking up the reference track and re-recording it. This is commonly referred to as bleed and to avoid this it is crucial to play back the reference track through headphones.
If you have any intention of recording vocals or even perhaps that old acoustic guitar of yours that does not have a pickup, you will need a microphone. The world of microphones is vast and seasoned recording engineers all have a collection of microphones for different applications.
For now we'll focus on Dynamic and Condenser Microphones. The classic Shure SM58 is a prime example of a Dynamic Microphone used mostly for live shows. It can however be used to record vocals, but will unfortunately not provide you with the clarity that a condenser microphone will in a studio environment.
It is therefore advised to invest in a good quality condenser microphone in order to get the best quality recording.
6. Bundles and MIDI Controllers
To ease most beginners into recording at home, many manufacturers offer bundles that include most of the essentials discussed: a basic 2 in/out USB audio interface, condenser microphone, headphones and entry level software (DAW).
Herewith top suggested brands and bundles:
Focusrite 2i2 Studio Bundle
M-Audio Studio in a Box
Presonus AudioBox 96 Studio Package
Depending on brand and price these bundles can vary in the extra's they include.
Extra's often include monitors, software such as VST Plugins and MIDI Controllers.
A MIDI Controller is not an absolute necessity when starting out, but is most certainly one of the first upgrades most make. They can ramp up your productivity, save you time and most importantly allow you to express yourself musically and creatively.
MIDI controllers can differ in their function and array of features. For now it's important to understand that they allow you to input or program MIDI notes into your DAW by simulating a keyboard or a pad. These MIDI notes would otherwise have to be drawn with a mouse.
A classic example is a MIDI Keyboard. This is perfect if you prefer the feel of actual keys. These range from smaller than 25 keys to 88 key (full keyboards size) controllers. Some offer knobs & sliders that can be used to control additional parameters in your software and others even offer drum pads.
These are the essentials needed to start you off on your journey of recording, forming your ideas into a tangible pieces of music and sharing it with others. If you are unsure of any of the above or want to learn more, speak to our Studio Specialist the next time you're in any TOMS store. They will be glad to assist you and answer any of your questions.