How to Set Up a Simple Home-Based Recording Studio
By Tennyson Williams, Author of The Essential Guide To Guitar Virtuosity
In this day and age, setting up your very own home based digital recording studio is extremely affordable, as well as easy to do. Not only that, but its a lot of fun! In this article I’m going to be talking about how to get started with a home recording studio that will cost around a $1000 – that’s right, one thousand dollars. Don’t worry – our little studio is going to rock!
After that I will also be discussing how to expand this same studio into a more diversified and fully functional studio, but first – let’s start with the basics.
The computer that you choose to operate with is very important. Recording software can take its toll on just any ordinary computer, so there are some performances issues that we need to keep in mind.
Its true that your computer will require a good amount of RAM, but this isn’t the only big thing. The CPU is also very important. In my opinion, I believe that anything above 3GBs of RAM is overkill. I also believe that anything above a Dual Core Processor is overkill. My personal preference at this moment in time is to work with a computer that has 3GB of RAM and a Dual Core processor. That combination working in unison is outstanding. When it comes to processors, both AMD Athlon and Intel make exceptional processors. However, their is a sort of mini war that goes on between those who use either processor. It is very comparable to being a Mac guy or a Windows fiend. The truth is that you can’t go wrong with either of them.
A computer that contains these simple features, and a decent amount of Hard drive space will run you five to six hundred dollars, and when you think about all the bang that you’re getting for your buck – its really not that bad in terms of price.
As a side note, computer maintenance is very important. On my personal recording system, I have no other programs running either than recording related programs. I keep this computer very clean, and I keep the files that I am working with named properly, so that I can find them on down the road.
2. External Hard Drive
This isn’t mandatory, but considering that anyone can pick up a relatively affordable external hard drive, you might want to consider doing this. Now, raw audio files eat up a lot of space, so if you do decide to do this, make sure to get a hard drive that holds at least 250GBs on it. LaCie makes excellent external hard drives.
The most important reason for having an external hard drive is the preservation of your work. My old computer crashed over and over again, and had it not been for the fact that I had all of my audio files on an external hard drive, I would have lost them forever.
3. Audio Interface
You can think of the interface as a sort of digital mixer. Its a little different though, as it doesn’t actually have any physical mixing knobs. Instead, it acts primarily as a gate way for your recording devices. An interface usually comes with several XLR, or mic ports, as well as patch ports for guitar or bass. It also will generally feature a headphone input, along with a corresponding volume knob, and numerous other volume knobs. These other volume knobs are generally for mic inputs, 1/4 patch inputs, and monitors.
The interface will connect directly to your computer either by way of a USB cable or Firewire. An interface also tends to come with some nice software, that will help with pre-EQ-ing, or general tones and sounds.
There are two excellent and affordable choices for audio interfaces.
a) The M-Audio FireWire Solo Audio Interface
b) The Line 6 USX2 TonePort
Both are firewire, and both have excellent features. My recommendation is the TonePort, because it comes fully loaded with guitar and bass amp emulators, that span four decades. It also features cabinet emulators, EQ, effect pedals, and a lot of other settings, as well as settings for mics. Both of these choices run around two hundred dollars, and in some cases much less.
The best part about these audio interfaces is the fact that you can directly record into your recording software, and then work from their.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on studio monitors to get an honest clarification of your music. In all reality you can purchase a set of monitors that are very nice for between 150 and 300 dollars. A good place to start if you are just getting into recording, would be the Samson 50A, Samson MediaOne 5A, M-Audio BX5a, or the M-Audio Studiophile AV40. All of these monitors fit within the price range of 150-300 bucks.
5. Head Phones
Headphones are really important when it comes to the actual recording process. Depending on what you get, you can receive a very clear sound when you are laying down that track. Still yet, you don’t need to blow hundreds of dollars on a nice set of head phones. Samson makes a good set of starting headphones like the RH100s, but I highly recommend starting out with the NADY QH460s. These will cost you about thirty dollars, but they are totally worth it.
This is always the big topic. What recording software should I actually get? Well, this always comes down to a point of preference, but in all honesty, you can’t go wrong with either Ableton Live or Reason Propellor head. Both of these programs run in the three to four hundred dollar range, and both are jam packed with enough features to keep you busy for years. There is also Steinberg Cubase and Pro Tools, which make outstanding software for the home recording enthuisiast. I am personally a die hard Ableton user, but the best thing to do is to try and address what kind of recording you plan on doing, and how you need this software to function for you. Then do a little studying up on all of the programs, watch some youtube videos to see if you think you might enjoy it, and pick people’s brains on recording forums.
7. MIDI Controller
You don’t need a MIDI Controller to get started, but it does certainly help. When it comes to a controller, you can’t go wrong with a sure thing. M-Audio makes phenomenal MIDI Controllers, and again, they are all reasonably priced.
Anything beyond this is up to you, but a word of advice. Get your computer, get the software, get the interface and then acquire a pair of headphones. You can be recording in no time with this small amount of equipment. Don’t feel pressured, because you can add the other stuff as you go along.
Another point that I would like to make is the matter of changing out equipment over time. Make sure that you keep every bit of documentation and packaging with anything you purchase. If you take good care of your stuff, you can sell it on Ebay and take that money and put it back into expanding your home studio. If you sell a pair of monitors for three hundred, and you put two-fifty of your own money with that three hundred, then you can upgrade your monitors to something better. If you go about it in this manner, then pretty soon you’ll have a multi thousand dollar studio to work with.
Also, be sure to educate yourself. There is a lot of free recording knowledge out their, just waiting for you to take hold of. Happy jammin’!
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