What you need
If you are reading this article, you are probably looking for information on how to put together your own home recording studio. With the vast selection of equipment available nowadays, putting together a home recording studio can seem a bit mind boggling. This article is here to break down the basic elements that you will need to build a home recording studio from the ground up. Once you understand what elements are needed, you will find that building a home recording studio is easier than you think.
The first item you need for your home recording studio is a great computer. A computer is the foundation of your home recording studio. It will determine how fast and effectively your recording software will run and how much storage space will be available to hold all of your recording sessions.
Both MAC and PC can effectively get the job done; its simply a matter of individual preference. The main things to look for, when purchasing a computer or having one custom built, are the specifications (specs). What you should try to do is get the fastest processor (CPU), the most memory (RAM), and a largest hard drive you can possibly afford. You should also make sure that your computer meets the minimum system requirements of the recording software and audio interface you plan to use.
All computers have motherboards; the place where the CPU, RAM, hard drive, and many other components are connected. Your motherboard will have minimum and maximum specs that let you know the absolute slowest and fastest speeds that your computer is capable of. This is great to know because it will help you determine how much your computer can be upgraded in the future, if you decide to start off with the minimum specs now. This way, if you cannot afford the fastest components immediately, you are able to start off with a more affordable configuration (closer to the minimum specs) and upgrade later.
When I first put together my home recording studio, I decided to use a PC running on Windows XP Home Edition. Initially, my computer had a Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, and an 80GB hard drive. These specs worked fine until I started mixing sessions with a lot more tracks and plug-ins than usual; my 2.8GHz CPU simply could not keep up. So I upgraded to a Pentium 4 3.2GHz Extreme CPU that was able to handle the workload. I also added another gigabyte of RAM for a total of 2GB. Then, since I was running out of storage space, after recording over 5 albums worth of material on my 80GB hard drive, I upgraded to a 250GB master hard drive and an additional 160GB slave drive; giving me at total of 410GB of storage space. And the best part was, I never had to change my motherboard and my computer system was still running below the maximum specs. So, if you simply do not have the funds available now to build a super-computer with the fastest components, you can start off smaller and build up later.
You should also make sure that your computer system comes with some type of CD burner. This way you can burn CDs and make backups of all your projects just in case your system crashes (it can happen).
If you are totally confused about computer specs, you should definitely contact a computer specialist to help you decipher all the technical computer jargon. There are also many great articles online.
2. Recording Software
The next component that you will need for your home recording studio is multitrack recording software. Multitrack recording software allows you to record, edit, and mix multiple tracks of music or sound on your computer. For example, on track 1 you could record an electric guitar, on track 2, an acoustic guitar, track 3 bass, track 4-10 drums, track 11 vocals and track 12 strings. Once everything is recorded, you can edit any mistakes, make new arrangements, mix your tracks, and save multiple versions of your music. Then you can burn everything to CD for future sale or your listening pleasure.
There are many multitrack recording software packages available. Although they all function in similar ways, each has their own unique platform and individual functionality. Some of the most popular software packages are Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, Sonar, and Digital Performer.
One point to consider when choosing your recording software is portability; the ability to take a session recorded at your home studio to another recording studio. If you plan to work with others, find out what software theyre using, and get that software too. This will allow you to easily interchange sessions and collaborate with others. Choosing a software program that is very popular among industry professionals, like Pro Tools, can make portability easier, should you decide to have your home recorded projects edited or mixed by a professional engineer.
3. Audio Interface
An audio interface is the link between the outside world and your computer. It connects your equipment, instruments, and microphones to your multitrack recording software via USB, Firewire, or other connection types. When choosing an audio interface, you should determine how many inputs and outputs you will need simultaneously. If you will be recording an entire band or multiple instruments at the same time, make sure that your audio interface has that many inputs. On the other hand, in many home studio environments, such as those generally recording Hip Hop, R&B and Pop, only one input is needed at a given time. Therefore, you can effectively record as many tracks as you need with only one MIC input and one LINE input. This is because multitrack recording software allows you to record each instrument, one at a time, while listening to your previously recorded instruments (this is called overdubbing). Many audio interfaces are built with this in mind, and can be very affordable. Also, make sure that the audio interface you choose is compatible with your recording software. Failure to check compatibility can put you in a situation where the recording software does not recognize your audio interface; making it impossible for audio to be recorded.
The next component you need is a preamp. Heres the deal, most audio interfaces have built-in preamps. A preamps job is to boost signal to the optimal level for recording sound to your multitrack recording software. Although, you can achieve professional sounding results by connecting your microphone or instrument directly to your audio interface and using its built-in preamp, another consideration may be the use of an external preamp made for recording a specific instrument; like vocals, electric guitar, bass, keyboard etc. For example, if you plan to record vocals, you may consider getting a higher-end vocal preamp for a more detailed and higher quality sound. However, if you decide not to get an external preamp, be sure that the audio interface you choose has a preamp built-in. You can also find an all-in-one unit that contains an audio interface, preamp, and mixer. If you decide to go this route, as with the audio interface, be sure that your all-in-one unit is compatible with your recording software.
Your studio microphone will allow you to record vocals and other instruments to your multitrack recording software. Your microphone will be connected to either your preamp or audio interface. One of the most popular types of recording microphones is the condenser microphone. Many of the CDs in stores today were recorded with the use of a condenser microphone; both for vocals and other instruments. Condenser mics generally require a special type of power called phantom power, in order to work properly. Most microphone preamps and audio interfaces have a phantom power switch readily available. Be sure to check for the availability of phantom power on your preamp or audio interface, if you plan to use a condenser microphone.
In addition to the condenser, other types of microphones, such as dynamic mics and ribbon mics, may also be considered for home recording; depending on the instrument you plan to record. Each microphone has its own sonic character and application. You can find lots of information on when to use a specific microphone type online and in recording books.
In addition, a few accessories that you should have are: a mic stand, pop filter and a shock-mount. A mic stand will allow you to effectively position your microphone for optimal sound, while recording a vocalist or instrument. A pop filter will help eliminate unwanted pop sounds as a result of large gusts of breath caused by p words. And lastly, a shock-mount will help isolate your microphone from unwanted vibrations caused by external motion and rumbling sound waves. Many professional recording microphones come with a shock-mount included, so you may not need to buy one separately.
6. Studio Monitors/Headphones
A studio monitor is recording industry jargon for recording speaker. The reason it is called a monitor is that it is designed to give you a clear sonic picture and more detailed listening environment than the standard home stereo speaker. Studio monitors are used for critical listening while recording and mixing music.
There are generally two types of studio monitors; powered and non-powered. Powered monitors have built-in amplifiers and all you have to do is plug them in and turn them on. Non-powered, on the other hand, require an external power amp to function. So, if you simply want studio monitors that work, right out of the box and do not want to deal with buying an external power amp and having to match wattage levels, get powered monitors; its simply more convenient.
In addition to studio monitors, studio headphones are also recommended for detailed listening. If you will be running your entire home recording studio out of one room, headphones are essential. They will allow you to hear what is being recorded without having to play your music through the studio monitors. This way, if you want to record vocals in the same room, you can turn off your studio monitors and listen through your headphones. This will ensure that your microphone does not pick up music coming out of your studio monitors; just your voice or instrument. If you plan to record with others, you may want to consider picking up a more than one pair of studio headphones along with a headphone amp, allowing each person to listen and adjust their headphones to a comfortable level.
7. Acoustic Treatment
So far, you have everything to you need to record at home. Acoustic treatment takes home recording a step further by improving the sound of your recording environment (your room, vocal area, etc.). All recording studios use some type of acoustic treatment to improve both the quality of sound being recorded and the quality of sound being monitored. Most rooms are not built for recording and need to be adjusted for optimum sound. Failure to utilize acoustic treatment, especially when recording vocals and other instruments with a microphone, can result in unwanted room ambience being recorded as well; which can be impossible to remove once recorded. Auralex has a great free Acoustics 101 handbook that will give you more information on acoustic treatment and how to make your room sound better.