Given the availability of home studio hardware and software to the everyday musician, home studios are quickly becoming more and more popular. Even renowned studio Big Sky Recordings have found ways to do recording sessions online, a process that’s made easier by musicians having their own DIY studio setups at home.
If you’ve always wanted to have your own at-home studio, what are the most fundamental hardware and software you’ll need?
Your central workstation.
Nowadays, there are plenty of laptop and desktop computers that can take on the challenge of being your home studio’s central workstation. You’ll need a computer that can properly operate a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) without getting overworked, which means that you’ll need at least an i5 processor with 8GB of RAM. Higher specs are of course most welcome.
This is why many work-from-home studio musicians use the free Garageband DAW on their Macbook Pros. Mac users may also want to try Ableton Live or Logic Pro. For Windows users, there’s the fairly affordable Reaper, or the more expensive Image-Line FL Studio, which is compatible with either OS. Apart from the OS you’re using at home, your DAW will also depend on your goals for your home studio. Bedroom Producers overview of DAW software can help narrow down your choice of which DAW to start working with. Try to pick the ones that are most in-tune with your long-term goals as a home studio musician.
While expensive studio monitor speakers are the ideal way to listen to your output, cash-strapped beginners will find that headphones are not only more affordable but are also well-suited for the job. In a nutshell, the purpose of monitor speakers are to let you hear your intended sound with as little change or coloration as possible – something that can also be achieved on a pair of good headphones.
The reason why albums like Ethan Daniel Davidson’s Come Down Lonesome and Judy Banker’s Buffalo Motel are best heard through headphones is the same reason why these output devices are essential pieces of studio equipment. By using the best headphones you can find or afford, you can hear a lot of the nuances in the audio which you are likely to miss with just regular or non-monitor speakers. So until you can afford proper studio monitors, you can do a lot with that pair of hi-fi headphones you might already have on hand.
While your computer’s keyboard can be turned into a MIDI input device using your DAW, if you’re a beatmaker or electronic musician, nothing beats having an actual MIDI keyboard. Combined with your DAW and whatever software plug-ins you want to use, a MIDI keyboard can function as a hundred different digital instruments.
From simpler and more user-friendly devices like the Akai MPK mini and the PreSonus Atom SQ MIDI controllers, to the more coveted vintage Moog synthesizers, there are tons of choices in terms of MIDI keyboards and similar input devices. Much like choosing your DAW, choosing your MIDI depends a lot on your goals and current setup. And while there are many MIDI keys and controllers that can directly interface with your computer via USB, some will need extra help, which brings us to our next essential studio item.
If you intend to record music through external sources such as a mic, electric guitar, synthesizer, vintage keyboard, or some other instrument, you’ll need an audio interface. While there are microphones and instruments that can be connected straight to your computer via USB, having an audio interface will solve connectivity issues between your computer and every other electric instrument or audio input device.
For singers, this means being able to connect virtually any mic to your computer. For guitarists, this means having access to different guitar effects that can directly enhance your audio input. What’s evident from the equalizer pedals on Tonebox is how the frequency content of your guitar signal can be balanced directly using these effects units. This means that an equalizer pedal can be used to fine-tune your raw audio input into the computer, which will make mastering the audio on your DAW easier down the line. The same can be said if you use a mic designed for recording hi-res vocals for raw audio. And for either, you’ll need a proper audio interface.
These essentials are of course not the only things you’ll need to have a successful home studio. However, keeping these things in mind will put you on the right path to planning a formidable DIY home studio setup that’s well within your budget.