Looking to write and record your own music? Here's a list of the bare minimum must-haves in audio recording technology to get you started.
We can assume that you'll have the basics like a desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor, cables, instruments... But what else is required to start recording your own music? The following list is a generic starting spot to get you up and running.
1. Computer - Needs a fast CPU, at least 4GB Ram, and a couple hundred GB of hard drive space for programs, projects, and sound libraries. You may consider building your own or hiring someone to do so to save money instead of purchasing your tower pre-made.
- Laptop/MacBook: If you're planning on editing or mixing on the go this might be the right purchase for you. If you plan on keeping your studio stationary, I suggest purchasing a desktop for larger hard drives, more ports, and the ability to upgrade hardware.
- PC Desktop: Windows hasn't been a powerhouse for audio and video in previous years but recent improvements in stability and performance have made PC's a strong choice for today's audio professionals.
- Apple Desktop: A long-time staple when it comes to audio and video work and a great choice for speed and stability. Be cautious, not every program is available for Apple like it is for Windows and the entry point can be quite spendy.
2. Interface - Converts your incoming analog audio to digital for recording and your outgoing digital audio to analogue for monitoring. Most entry level interfaces include microphone preamps needed to boost the level of your mics.
- If you don't plan on recording live drums: I recommend a small USB interface like the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 or Presonus 26C. They have 2 inputs as well as outputs for monitors, headphones, and outboard gear.
- If you do plan on recording live drums: I recommend the Focusrite 18i8 or Presonus Studio 1824C. Each has at least 8 inputs as well as outputs for monitors, headphones, and outboard gear.
3. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) - A fancy acronym for your recording software.
- PC: I recommend Reaper, Studio One, Audacity, FL Studio, or Mixcraft as cheap or free alternatives to Cubase and Pro Tools. Reaper is especially praised as an affordable DAW for professionals.
- Apple: Logic is a professional yet cheap alternative to Cubase and Pro Tools.
ools 4. Monitoring - Hearing our songs in the highest fidelity is so important to getting great tracks.
- Headphones: There's plenty of great headphones below $200 from Shure, Audio Technica, and AKG. You're looking for closed back headphones that will work for both tracking and mixing.
- Monitors: For entry-level monitors check out KRK and Yamaha but remember that room treatment can be even more important than the quality of your monitors if you don't have the best room.
5. Guitar and Bass - If you're writing piano-based or Hip Hop material you can skip this step.
- DI Box: A high-quality DI box is a must-have to convert your instrument signal into TRS/XLR signal even if your interface has an instrument input. Check out Countryman, Radial, and Little Labs.
- New Strings: Duh!
- Professional setup: Nothing beats taking your guitars and bases to a professional to be restrung and properly set up.
6. Drums - If you're starting up your home studio for a solo project or your own band, don't bother learning how to record the drums yourself. Just hire a pro with a nice room, equipment, and years of experience.
- MIDI: If you're not tracking live drums, you'll need to write the drum MIDI in your DAW and purchase drum software like EZ Drummer or Steven Slate Drums to convert your MIDI notes into beautifully recorded drum sounds. The ability to write MIDI comes built in to every DAW.
- Live drums: You'll need an interface with at least 8 inputs, 8 microphones, 8 mic stands, 8 XLR cables, a properly treated room, and tons of trial and error.
7. Vocals - Test out a few mics to find what's best for you.
- Microphones: For screaming vocals, a mic like the Shure SM7B is always a great choice. For singing, check out Large Diaphragm Condenser mics in the $200-$500 range from Audio Technica, Shure, and Blue. Just know that condenser mics require phantom power which comes on most or all interfaces these days.
- Tracking Environment: If you don't have a well treated room, at least hang up some blankets or build a fort out of mattresses. Anything you can do to cut down the room reflections hitting the mic the better. Even a closet full of clothes is better than nothing.
Just so we're all on the same page, the guitar plugs into the DI box, the DI box plugs into the interface, the interface plugs into the computer, the computer is running your DAW, your DAW collects the incoming audio and sends outgoing audio back to your computer - interface - monitors. There’s plenty of additional pieces of hardware and software and instruments you could buy but this is the least amount of gear necessary to start recording at home.