For most of the twentieth century, a home recording studio was the preserve of the rich and famous. But as the sequencing software of the 1980s and 1990s became more advanced, the possibility of creating your own studio seemed more and more possible. Today, whilst the most expensive audio recording kit can still be found in high-end recording studios, it is possible to create professional audio from the comfort of your own home.
Here are the four essentials you should look at when planning your own home recording studio.
One of the big advantages that recording studios have over home studios is that the space is specifically designed to optimize room sound.
With this in mind, you should be very careful when selecting and setting up the room in which you choose to record. Generally speaking, a larger room offers greater variability in terms of creating natural reverb, but this not always possible.
Carpets tend to deaden the higher frequencies, which can create a muddy, bass-heavy sound which is difficult to manipulate in the mix. If you can, use a room that has either tiled or hardwood flooring to retain a crisp, bright sound.
The location matters as well. Naturally, the quieter room of the house is going to help remove any background noise issue. A ground floor room isn’t going to have sounds drifting up from downstairs, and a room at the back of the house is less likely to pick up outside traffic.
Once you’ve selected a room, you should make efforts to soundproof it.
The Right Hardware / Software
These are the key pieces of kit you should invest in when setting up your recording studio.
As there are a number of different opinions on what computer best suits home recording, here are a few key features that will dictate its usability in home-recording:
- Processing speed: The programs that you use in recording can take up a large amount of processing memory, so the faster a processor the better the sound quality is going to be.
- INs/OUts: Line-ins and Line-outs can become increasingly important as your recording progresses. For instance, live-recording a drummer will require multiple microphones, so if you intend on doing so, look for a computer that has more than one line-in.
- Customizable: Sound files can be very, very big. Ensuring that you have enough storage space is important when setting out on a project, so keep in mind how easy it is to add RAM to your machine of choice.
The software used in modern recording studios is actually not that much more advanced than those which can be used in home studios. Macs come with Garageband as standard, and for PC users the freeware FruityLoops has become an industry standard.
When choosing what program you should use, take a look through the many youtube tutorials on each program to get an understanding of how they work. Most programs come with a huge range of functions and effects which can be overwhelming to the first time user. You should remember though, that some of these functions cover the most complex of processes, and you may never need them.
Audio Interfaces are the stand-alone units which translate sound signals in and out of your computer. They can be tricky to choose from when setting up your studio, and you need to think hard about what you are likely to need the more inputs you’ll use, the more you are likely to spend.
For the vast majority of beginners you will need only a 2-6 channel, but if you start to consider recording drum kits or more than one musician at a time, you may want to think about investing in a larger one.
The Right Audio-Out / Audio-In Hardware
Having taken a look at the gear which enables you to record sound signals, we should take a look at the hardware which enables you to monitor and manipulate the sound.
Perhaps the first investment you should make before anything else is a good set of headphones. These should be the highest quality you can afford. A good pair of headphone will isolate the sound and optimize the sound quality as you listen back to your mix
The sounds we hear through headphones and the sounds we hear on a radio quality track are vastly different. The role of mastering a track comes down to having some very good studio speakers. Again, much of the reason why recording studios can still command high hire prices is that they have very high-quality speakers.
Though you may not be able to afford the highest quality, it is important to get high wattage stereo or, ideally, quadraphonic speakers so that you can ensure your music is playable in any scenario.
Microphone, Stand, Pop Shield
As you experiment with you recording studio set up you will begin to understand the complexity of using microphones. It’s a good idea to start recording with 2 microphones if you are recording live sound, this way you can get signal from your source (Voice, Instrument, Amplifier) and from the room, giving a rounded more tonally diverse sound.
You’ll also come to find that the position of a microphone can greatly alter the sound of a source signal, so getting some sturdy, alterable mic stands is a good idea.
If you plan on recording vocals, it’s also imperative that you get hold of a decent pop-shield. These are placed in front of a microphone to filter out overloading air signals (‘p’s, ‘b’s, and ’s’,s).
As a recording engineer, you are going to have to get used to being around A LOT of cables. They can be the most misused and yet the most important pieces of kit, so it’s wise to get hold of the most durable ones you can afford.
Most importantly, in order to make the most of recording music at home, you should be constantly seeking ways to emulate tracks that you like. Run them through your setup and break them down into their component part. The key to good audio production is having a good ear and being able to figure out why something sounds good. All the best equipment in the world is not going to cover for someone who doesn’t know why a piercing high frequency or a distorted low frequency are unpleasant for listeners.
Good recording doesn’t have to be expensive, but it always takes practice.