Building a home recording studio is a HUGE project…isn’t it?
It takes months of planning, research, and preparation…doesn’t it?
Well most people think so, but the truth is…
Getting started is far easier than you might imagine.
Because REALLY… all you need is a few basic essentials.
And in today’s post, I’ll show you exactly what they are…
As I walk you step-by-step through the entire process of building a basic home recording studio from scratch.
So let’s get to it. First up…
Why Simple is Best
The fact is, not only is it possible to start off with just a simple studio…it’s actually preferable.
Because just like with any hobby, by attempting too much too soon:
- you get overwhelmed,
- you get discouraged, and…
- you eventually quit.
And all the time and money you invest is wasted.
So to avoid this fate, just keep it simple. But you might be wondering…
How cheap is too cheap?
Since home recording can be expensive…musicians often search for the cheapest possible solutions to recording their music.
And that’s fine, except…there is such a thing as “too cheap“.
While it is technically possible to build a working studio for as little as $400-$500…
There are low limits to what can be accomplished in such a studio…and I really wouldn’t recommend it to anyone truly serious about recording their music.
Instead…here’s what I do recommend:
The Perfect First Studio for Newbies
With the following 9 items:
- A Computer
- DAW/Audio Interface Combo
- Studio Monitors
- One or Two Microphones
- A Few Cables
- One Mic Stand
- A Pop Filter
- Ear Training Software
What you have is a simple working studio, perfect for anyone just starting out with home recording.
And here’s why:
- It allows you to start ASAP with a minimal investment in both time and money.
- More importantly…it’s the perfect foundation to build upon later as your skills mature.
Now let’s talk more about each item on the list…
1. A Computer
When starting a studio from scratch, the computer is the biggest expenditure by far.
Because as common wisdom states:
Ideally, you want the fastest one you can afford.
But these days, virtually everyone already has a computer of some sort. And virtually all computers are fast enough to at least get you started.
So in the beginning, regardless of your budget, I recommend using what you have for now.
If and when you want to upgrade later on, here’s what I recommend:
2. A DAW/Audio Interface Combo
If you don’t already know…
The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the software used to record, edit, and mix music on your computer…
And the Audio Interface is the hardware used to connect your computer with the rest of your gear.
These two items can either be bought separately, OR as a combo. But your first studio…I highly recommend the combo.
- It’s one less item on your shopping list.
- It’s cheaper than buying them separately.
- It offers guaranteed compatibility and tech support.
Plus, the two companies that offer these combos are among the best in the business: Presonus and Avid.
Presonus offers a free copy of their Studio One Artist DAW with the following popular interfaces:
- PreSonus AudioBox USB – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- PreSonus AudioBox iOne (iOS compatible) -(Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Presonus AudioBox iTwo (iOS compatible) – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Presonus Audiobox 44VSL – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/Thomann)
Avid offers a free copy of their Pro Tools 12 DAW with the following interfaces:
- Pro Tools DUET – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Pro Tools QUARTET – (Amazon/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
Personally, I’d recommend the Pro Tools option to those willing to spend that much. But for most people, the Presonus options are priced a bit more reasonably for first-timers.
Having said that, if you don’t mind purchasing your DAW and interface separately…
There are still tons more options to explore, and I cover them all in the following two articles:
As your studio matures over time…
You will eventually amass a collection of dozens of different microphones, each for different purposes.
For now though, all your really need is 1 or 2 to get started.
And the ones you choose will depend on the instruments you plan to record.
Since most people start out just recording vocals, the “classic” large diaphragm condenser vocal mic I recommend is the:
For any “high-frequency-rich” instruments such as acoustic guitar, piano, or cymbals…the small diaphragm condenser mic I recommend for starters is the:
For drums, percussion, and electric guitar amps, the best mic to start with is undoubtedly the:
For bass guitar, kick drums, and other low frequency instruments, a great mic to start with is the:
If you want to get started ASAP, the 4 mics I’ve just shown you are perfect.
However, as you’ll eventually discover, the topic of studio microphones is a pretty huge subject. Which is why I’ve actually dedicated an entire chapter of this website to just that. Here it is:
When you’re just starting out, most of your time is spent recording by yourself.
Which is why in the beginning, all you really need is one pair of headphones.
For studio purposes, there are 2 very specific designs considered standard:
- Closed back headphones for tracking – which offer optimal isolation at the expense of lesser sound quality.
- Open back headphones for mixing – which offer optimal sound quality at the expense of lesser isolation.
While open back headphones are considered more of a luxury…for your first studio, closed back headphones are a necessity.
And in this post I reveal the best options for both:
- Sennheiser HD280 – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
- Sony MDR 7506 – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann)
As a supplement to your headphones, I also recommend an extension cable…since standard headphone cables are always too short.
A word of caution though: With THIS cable especially, I highly advise getting the best one you can afford, as cheaper ones have horrible signal problems from the constant movement.
5. Studio Monitors
Despite the fact that many home studios now do the majority of their mixing on open back headphones…
Traditionally, mixing has always been done on speakers…
Or as they are commonly known in pro audio: studio monitors, or nearfield monitors.
Compared to consumer speakers, which are designed with various tonal “enhancements”…
Studio monitors have a much flatter frequency response, which provides a more neutral, uncolored sound to objectively judge your mix.
And while they can get pricey…there are still plenty of affordable options for beginners as well.
These are the top ones I recommend:
6. XLR Cables
One day, your studio will have a TONS of different cables…
But for now, you only need 3:
- 1 long XLR cable for your mic, and…
- 2 short ones for your monitors
For a standard project studio in a small 10×10 room, these are the EXACT ones I recommend:
- Mogami Silver XLR 25ft (1x) (for your mic)
- Mogami Silver XLR 6ft (2x) (for your monitors)
But before you buy those monitor cables, double-check that the stereo output of your audio interface has XLR connectors.
Sometimes they use TRS, in which case, you’ll need these instead:
As you can see, good mic cables can get fairly expensive, so if you’re looking for something in a different price range, or you just want to learn more about mic cables in general…check out this post:
7. A Mic Stand
While many beginners assume that all mic stands are the same…
The truth is…a solid mic stand is one of the most worthwhile investments a new home studio can make.
However, since mic stands can get pricey, and most beginners are on tight budgets…
A cheap reliable stand is more than adequate when you’re first starting out.
But if you’re looking for something specific, check out in this post to learn more:
8. Pop Filters
You know that “cliche” scene from the movies…
Where a young beautiful pop star is in the studio…
Recording her vocals through some mysterious mesh screen covering her microphone?
Well that, my friend…is a pop filter.
And its purpose (besides looking cool) is to filter-out an unpleasant vocal artifact known as “popping“…
Which is a low frequency blast of air caused by the pronunciation of “P” and “B” sounds.
Is it a “must-have“ item for your studio? Absolutely not.
But they’re pretty cheap, and they do help. And for some strange reason, many beginners still feel they must have one, which is why I’ve included it on this list anyway.
To see which ones I recommend, check out this post:
9. Ear Training Software
On a typical list of “home recording essentials” that you’d find on the internet…
Ear training software is definitely NOT one of the items normally included.
Because the truth is…you don’t technically need it. Not now, not ever.
But here’s why I’ve included it on my list:
More than any piece of gear you might buy for your studio…the ONE THING that will make the biggest difference in the outcome of your recordings is your EARS.
And while you might believe your ears are pretty good already…
Having a good “musician’s ear” is not at all the same as having a good “sound engineer’s ear“.
As musicians, we learn to recognize notes, intervals, and chords. But as sound engineers, we learn to recognize bands of frequencies.
And until your ears develop a basic grasp of this skill, you won’t really know if things are sounding good or not.
Which is why I believe that if you start training your ears from DAY ONE, the speed at which you improve will skyrocket.
For more detail on this topic, check out this post: