How to Set Up a Songwriting Home Recording Studio

Setting Up Home Recording StudioYou’ve written song songs and now you want to record them. The problem you are facing is you lack equipment and software to help you record your songs. On top of that you have a very limited budget. Is there any way you can get started and not spend a ton of money?

Yes, it is possible to do this. The cost of equipment and software can get out of hand. This is especially true if you go for the high end stuff. But there is an alternative that can save you money. You can easily start your own home recording studio that will allow you to capture your songs for a few hundred dollars. Of course there will be some limitation to what you can do. However, with some creativity you can work around these limitations. To get started you need to evaluate your minimum requirements. Keep in mind that you have the choice to either purchase or item or opt to find a free alternative.  Here are the components you need to set up your home recording studio.

  • Computer
  • Microphone
  • Audio Interface
  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software
  • Studio monitors
  • Headphones
  • Digital MIDI Keyboard
  • Cables
  • Microphone Stand
  • Audio Mixer Console

The Computer

ComputerThe main component in your system is the computer. A moderate computer will work fine for what you will be doing. Your computer does need to be reasonably fast. Chances are you already have a computer so if possible use what you have. At the very minimum you will need a Core-2 Series processor. Avoid using a net-book. There are too many limitations and won’t work that well for you.

The budget for your home recording studio will cost about $600. if you purchase all the items presented in this post, excluding the computer. However you might not need everything. You may also find some of the components for free. Another money saving tip is to find some of the used hardware. Just make sure it is in good working condition. Now let’s dive into the different components of your home recording studio.

The Microphone

Blue Snowbal USB MicrophoneOf all the components in your recording studio the microphone is perhaps the most vital part. The microphone is used to pick up audio. You will want to get a good one. For around $100 you can find some great microphones. This is of course on the lower end of the economic scale. Don’t go crazy, stay within budget. There are different types of microphones; one option for a basic USB microphone brand is the Blue Snowball. The price is around $70. It was primarily designed for podcasting. This means it was optimized for voice over music. That can affect the quality of sound. The key to a good microphone is to pick up a good full spectrum signal. The main advantage to the USB microphone is you may not require the audio interface.

MXL 990 Condenser MicrophoneIf you are able to pay more for a standard microphone then do so. This type of microphone will require you to purchase an audio interface. The first type of microphone you want to start with a condenser microphone with a cardioid pickup pattern. The cardioid pattern has a pattern similar to an apple. This offers a more directional pickup of sound. It is a good vocal microphone. An example of a good condenser microphone is the MXL 990. The price range for this style of microphone will run in the $100 to $200 range.

The second type of microphone you need to get Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphoneis a dynamic microphone. These are great microphones for recording instruments. They are also more durable than condenser microphones.  An excellent choice is the Shure SM-58.  The price range for this item is about $100.

The Audio Interface

M-Audio 9900 Fast Track Pro Audio InterfaceThe audio interface takes the analog signal from the microphone and converts it to digital. You can also plug instrument into it as well. You can also attach the studio monitors to the audio interface. When it comes to the audio interface don’t get the lowest end product, a poor interface will produce bad input signals. You are better off choosing a better quality interface like M-Audio 9900. You may even find a used one. A decent audio interface will cost about $200. The market is full of low end products. Therefore you need to read the reviews to find one that will work for you. Balancing features to your budget. The worst thing that can occur is to get a junky audio interface. A good interface will provide the best sound affecting the audio chain.

Digital Audio Workstation Software

Acoustica Mixcraft Digital Audio Workstation SoftwareThe next item you need to get is the digital audio workstation software. There are lots of options here. Some can get pricy. Chances are your audio interface will usually come with this software. In essence, it is free with the hardware purchase. You may find versions of Cubase LE, ProTools LE or some other DAW software. These are usually stripped down version. They will at minimum allow you to record, add effect, mix and edit your sound. However if your audio interface hardware did not come with DAW software, it is possible to acquire software fairly inexpensive or even free. If you own a Mac computer you can get Garageband. This is a good choice for mixing your sound. Keep in mind that there are some limitations; you will find that it will actually do more than you expect. It is a great way to discover the nuances of sound recording. Another choice is Sequel, a cross-platform software. It will run you about $80. For your PC based system you can also look into Mixcraft for about the same price. A free option for the Mac and Linux is Ardour. For Windows and Linux you can try LMMS.

Studio Monitors

Studio monitors is another name for speakers. Your desktopSamson Technologies Resolv A6 6.5-Inch Active 100W 2-Way Monitors Pair computer may already have speakers. But studio monitors are different. Your standard computer speakers plug into the computer’s sound card though a single wire. A stereo wire is used to connect it to the computer. Computer speaker have characteristics that will change and color the sound.  Their design will tend to emphasize certain frequencies.  Because of this, the music coming out will not give an accurate sound. For general use these speaker work fine. But in the recording environment you want the most accurate sound possible. That is why you need to invest in studio monitors.

Every studio monitor will have its own sound output.  None of them will produce perfect replication of sound. However, a quality set of studio monitor will produce sounds that are a whole better. The studio monitor is what you will use to listen to the mix of your song.  It is important that you look into getting good quality monitors. Purchase this piece of equipment new.  The worse thing that can happen is to buy a used pair only to learn there is a defect, buzz or rattle.  You will need to invest a few hundred dollars. One that I recommend is the Samson Resolv A6. They product a very clean sound and runs about $300. There are other products on the market as well.  A good price point is $300.  Therefore you should search monitors in that price range.

Headphones

Sennheiser HD555 Circumaural Open-Back Hi-Fi Stereo HeadphonesHigh quality headphones will cost around $300.  However there are other options that will cost you less. Headphones are used primarily for reference purposes not for your mix.  Studio monitors are used in the mix process. Referencing refers to checking the sound in general.  Headphone will lack some accuracy of sounds.  Headphone best use is for overdubbing. A good pair of headphone is the Sennheiser’s HD HD555.  This piece of equipment costs about $150. In a pinch you could use these for mixing if you had no other choice. Remember use studio monitors for mixing and headphone for sound reference.

Digital MIDI Keyboard

m-audio-keystation-49The keyboard is optional if you are only recording live music. The keyboard is used to play synthesized sampled instruments using MIDI technology and sound samples. For music created by software you will need to get one. A traditional keyboard has 88 keys. For your recording studio you can get by with a smaller keyboard; unless you prefer playing the 88 key version. If you goal is to emulate a piano you will need something more expensive. But, for a studio on a budget a 49 key keyboard is do just fine. And it will save you some cash. A good option is the M-Audio Keystation 49. There aren’t many features but it is adequate for basic notation input.

For lower end keyboard you are better off purchasing a new product. There is not much in ways of saving money and you may run into performance issues with used equipment. There is the possibility that when you will get a cheap used keyboard it could be at the end of its life. If you are getting a higher end keyboard you will get more for your money is you go the used equipment route.

Cables

XLR Microphone Patch CordsYou will need to attach each separate piece of equipment using cables. If you only got the USB microphone for your recording studio you probably don’t have a need for cables. At most you may need a USB cable, but most USB microphones will come with one. However the audio interface has a greater requirement for cables.  Unless your condenser microphone came with an XLR cable, you will need to get one.  You may also need 1/4 TS cables for your monitors, and musical instruments like bass or guitar. There are several sources for these items including your electronic store.

Microphone Stands

Microphone Stand Tripod base with boomIn order to position your microphones you should also get some microphone stands.  These need to be fairly durable and lightweight. A good feature to get is one with a boom.  The tripod base is nice because it makes the mic stand easy to store.  There are many options available on the market.  This is also a great item to get used.  If you do get them used check the condition and make sure that you can tighten everything.  The microphone stand allow for hands free use.

Audio Mixer Console

Behringer Audio MIxer 16 inputIf you are recording a live band you may want to consider getting a basic audio mixer.  This piece of equipment is really optional but it will give you the ability to record live instruments like drum kits. acoustic guitars or other similar musical instruments.  If you decide to get a mixer make sure you have enough input for you specific requirements.  Actually is better to have more than enough.  Watch of signal to noise ratio as this will affect the incoming sound quality.  A basic mixer will cost around $200.  Take a look at the Behringer XENYX series mixers.   Again, this piece of equipment is really optional, but is nice to have if you are recording music for groups and bands

Where to go from here?

You’ve compiled all your different pieces of equipment.  Now you need to attach them together and install any necessary software drivers. Install your DAW software and configure it to work with your audio interface and MIDI keyboard.  Learn the basic of mixing and working with your software package of choice. You can save money by going to the local pubic library. You may actually find resources that cover basic audio mixing. Don’t be put off is the resource look dated.  The principals of mixing haven’t changed dramatically over the years. There are online learning sites like Lynda that provide an abundance of resources.  They may even have one on your particular brand of software. There is a fee to use these courses, but they are fairly nominal.

Easy Home Recording BlueprintTo learn more about how to set up your home recording studio get the Easy Home Recording Blueprint.  This is a comprehensive guide that will lead you through the process of setting up, recording, and mixing your songs from start to finish.   This informational product was created by an award winning major label recording artist Owen Critchley. The material is present in a simple, step-by-step method to record hit-quality songs at home.

Everyone is unique in regards to the type of audio equipment they use. There are tons of option from which to choose.  And there is a lot a great products in the market.

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6 Responses to How to Set Up a Songwriting Home Recording Studio

  1. This was seriously helpful! Thanks Man!

  2. Hello , I’ve been studying and Mixing and Recording for about 5 years, if any songwriters in the upstate NY area is Looking for a demo of there song, I’d be happy to track them for free. I could use the experence.

  3. I’m looking for someone to recap some boards on an old console if you know of anyone.

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