Ten years ago it costed a fortune to record and mix good quality music. The instruments were massive and you needed a highly engineered studio. The thing is, it didn’t sound as good as the music we make today, in our homes, for a fraction of that cost.
We’re living in happy times nowadays. We get to play music, record it, mix it, and even sell it. It’s not costly and you don’t need to know a lot of stuff. Some of the best producers I know aren’t well versed in music theory.
Let’s see now, in the following 10 steps I’ll tell you more about what you need to have and how this thing works.
1. Find a Reliable Computer
First things first, so we’ll start with the basic equipment and build around it piece by piece. Work with what you have, and then you can expand your home studio.
I’ll assume that you have a good computer. A PC or a laptop will do, as long as it has good processing power, large RAM, and sufficient storage. I’m not very big on the apple vs. windows debate, so let’s just stick to the computing power.
You might be at the point of upgrading your system, and if that’s the case, I’d recommend the SkyTech Shadow II. It’s a powerful desktop computer that’s beautiful inside out, it has all the needed hardware requirements, and it comes at a very reasonable price.
I prefer working in a dedicated space, where I can leave all of my stuff and organize my gadgets. There are some very practical desks in the market, like the Omnirax Presto.
It’s compact so it can fit anywhere, but it has multi-levels, which would be a perfect place for my massive monitors, and there’s plenty of room to arrange my gadgets.
It’s a matter of personal style and individual needs of course, so here are some extra suggestions for studio desks and workstations, choose the one that best suits you.
2. Choose Suitable DAW Software
This is the platform where you upload your music, mix it with different tracks, and edit it in all sorts of ways. The right hardware and the right software go hand in hand.
There are so many available options nowadays for Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, that choosing the right one seems overwhelming. Here’s a tip: get the platform that you feel comfortable working with. This applies to music and all other applications.
I tried working with software that was highly publicized, nicely praised, and it was very pricey, but I didn’t feel like I could navigate the menus and use the various functions and plugins. It never gave me what I hoped to achieve, and I used to get frustrated and abandoned my work halfway through.
Having said that, I believe that some programs are worth trying. There are some free programs that you can sample at first, and then upgrade as you gain more experience. Some of these come as a package with MIDI devices or audio interface units.
The most popular DAWs are Cubase, which works well on Windows and OS x. There’s also FL Studio, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, and Logic Pro 9 professional package. Some of them have versions for apple and windows, others are system-specific.
Naturally, their prices vary considerably, and some of them require yearly subscription fees for full support. I recommend starting with an open-source program, a free to try copy, or free DAW software like WavePad.
There’s a very nice feature in all software programs, they have similar interfaces. Once you get yourself acquainted with one, you automatically enter the domain of all the other packages. I prefer using simple software, learning the ropes well, and then I move on to more complex stuff.
3. An Audio Interface Comes Next
Your computer is now good and ready with the proper software that could record, mix, and edit your music. The next step is getting a device to transfer that music to your computer. This is the audio interface.
Most PCs have ports where you can attach your mic and speakers. The sound quality, however, is very primitive and you have zero control over the signal. This is the main reason why an audio interface is needed.
A good audio interface should have an input port for a mic, another for an instrument like an electric guitar, an output port to headphones, another to studio monitors, and a USB connection to the computer.
I think the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is an amazing device. You can use virtual instruments and effects with it, it has high-quality preamps, it can monitor live or digital capture signals, and it has 48 V phantom power for condenser mics and similar devices.
In simpler English, it’s everything you need to generate good music, including recording vocals from a high-quality professional mic.
There are other units with 4 input ports, but I believe that’s out of the scope of a home studio, in terms of both tech and cash.
4. Get a Good Quality Microphone
When music enthusiasts start talking about mics, it’s very hard to make them stop! It’s like talking about football for regular people, and it has the same heated debates about which mic is best.
For the sake of the article, I won’t go there. I’ll just say that mics are classified into dynamic and condenser models.
Dynamic mics are rugged, they’re designed to be used on the move like in concerts or live performances. They can take a fall, and the good ones isolate the signal from the surrounding noise.
Condenser mics are much more sensitive to the variations within the sound. They pick up on the emotional content you put into your music, and they pick up everything else around it, so it’s necessary to have sound insulation when it’s used.
Most musicians own more than one mic, as they perform differently with various instruments. A good quality large-diaphragm studio condenser microphone for beginners is the Samson CO1. It’s very affordable and its performance far exceeds its cost.
5. Headphones are Essential
Headphones are essential and critical to your work, so choose a good pair. You’re probably familiar with the consumer variety of headphones, but you might want to try a more professional model.
There are two basic categories for headphones: closed-back headphones that isolate you from the outside world and open back headphones which let you hear the playback in your ears plus some of the action taking place around you.
Open-back headphones offer better quality sound, but you won’t get that shut off from the world sensation. Closed-back headphones offer the opposite situation.
I prefer the open back type, but it’s a matter of personal taste. It could be a matter of necessity if you work in a noisy environment, and efficient sound cancellation is the only way to work.
The Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones are essential for your home studio. They’re lightweight, ergonomic, and they give a natural sound reproduction. They’re also quite affordable.
6. Studio Monitors Display Sound, You Need Them
These are actually speakers, not displays. The music production world calls them monitors so we’d go with that.
These devices translate the recorded digital files into very detailed, clean, and well-distributed sound arrangements. Surround sound and stereo effects are some of the areas where monitors excel. They provide a wholesome experience, not just sound.
Home studios could actually do without monitors, for a while at least, and depend solely on headphones, but it’s not the same thing, and I strongly recommend getting a good set like the Presonus Eris.
Monitors can easily be affected by the place they stand on. The material and stability of the surface could detract significantly from the sound quality. That’s why it’s advisable to use monitor isolation pads to neutralize these negative effects.
7. A MIDI Keyboard is very Useful and so Much Fun
A musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) isn’t an essential part of your home studio, but it’s so much fun to have!
I’ve created some tunes with this little device that I couldn’t believe was actually a homemade recording.
The new MIDI keyboards are affordable enough to be included in this initial setup, and they come loaded with so many features, so I know they’ll take your work to the next level.
One very versatile MIDI is the Alesis VI49 USB MIDI Keyboard & Drum Pad Controller. It’s a dream come true for so many musicians, myself included!
It has 49 full-sized keys, 16 velocity-sensitive trigger pads with illuminated RGB, 36 assignable buttons, and 12 assignable knobs.
This is a fancy way of saying that it’s a wide keyboard, plus a full base drums set with really cool lights, and some extra keys and knobs that you can program to play your favorite instruments and effects.
It integrates with almost any software and connects seamlessly with your computer via a USB connector. It also comes with free software, and all in all, it has plenty of value for money.
Learn more about the best midi keyboards for beginners here.
8. Cables, a Microphone Stand, and a Pop Filter
You need good quality audio cables to connect your devices. Buy them extra long, and get the types that can stand a bit of pulling without coming apart.
There are so many brand and generic cables, just buy what’s convenient. You need three XLR cables: one to connect your mic to the audio interface, and two to connect the interface to your monitors.
A microphone stand is used to position the mic in a proper spot to gather the best possible sound. If you’ve played guitar before in front of a mic you must know how hard it is to get the correct distance. It’s even harder with a piano!
Get a tripod shaped mic stand with a movable boom. Make sure that the joints are sturdy and won’t become loose after a while. This could be annoying and it makes the recorded sound inconsistent.
A pop filter is a small device with a big effect. Positioning it in front of the mic adds a professional feeling to your recordings right away. It eliminates the blowing effect of the B’s and P’s. It also keeps away the unwanted air whiffs and any other unintended sounds.
It’s wise to put in a few bucks and buy these filters, they seriously make a huge difference in your recorded vocals or instrumental pieces.
9. Power up Your Devices
There’s a correct sequence to powering up your setup. That’s because of the initial ‘pop sound’ or electric spike and high pitched sound that’s created when some devices are turned on. A similar sequence should be followed when shutting them down.
Failing to follow the right steps, could seriously compromise your equipment. Some devices need to be freed from static, others need phantom power, so you have to plug them into a suitable port.
This sounds more complicated than it actually is. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it right away. There’s also the MIDI, the audio interface, and the DAW software. Take it slow, and concentrate on one of them every week. This should be fun!
10. Make Some Music
Listen to a lot of music, this will automatically sharpen your musical skills. Choose an instrument and learn it so well, and if you can take music lessons go ahead and do that. The next best thing is to study online.
Compose a song or a piece of music. Think about an image or a story. Music is an art form, so it needs to start from a premise and reach a destination. There’s always something that needs to be said, a feeling you’re aching to express and articulate. Do that.
Some Parting Thoughts
This setup is more than sufficient to get you going. Start right away and experiment with everything, this is how we all got better.
Once you’ve established yourself as a music producer, you can upgrade your workspace, first of all by getting a sound room. But that’s a story for our next article, let me tell you all about it then.
For now, make music, translate your ideas into tunes, and share them with the whole world.
Be sure to check out my in-depth reviews to find out the best laptop for music production.