Whether you are a producer, engineer or musician, you want a home studio where you can do your recordings properly. Advances in digital technology have made home recording convenient and affordable. A well-designed home studio will allow you to create high-quality records anytime. Here are 50 tips for making your own home studio.
Choose a large room because it can accommodate your growing collection of instruments or gear and multiple musicians. You also need to pick the quietest room. Noise is magnified 100x when heard through a microphone. Cars, rain, plumbing, neighbors, crickets, birds and wind are conventional sources of noise that can ruin your recordings. Be wary of rooms that are the worst noise offenders. You should also realize that you will be a source of noise for other people. Look for an utterly silent room where you can make a nose anytime and as much as you want. Some soundproofing may be needed to create an ideal workspace for you.
Small rooms with low ceilings and parallel walls made of drywall are not ideal for a home studio as those features negatively affect acoustics. You should look for a large room with asymmetrical walls, high ceilings and plenty of irregular surfaces. However, the possibility of having such a room is almost zero. You have to compromise and pick the best option. You can add acoustic treatment later to improve the room sound. If possible, find a room that has great natural acoustics to make everything easier for you.
Hard flooring like hardwood, concrete, and tile is ideal for the recording room. Carpets wear out quickly and don’t absorb low frequencies, only high ones. Studios also get a large amount of foot traffic, so you have to replace the carpet once it wears out. This can get expensive in the long run. If you need a carpet, you can put an area rug instead. You should also watch out for unnecessary foot noise. A downstairs room is a good choice.
After choosing a room, you have to prepare it for your project. Remove everything that you don’t need. Anything that vibrates should be removed as well. Clear off the floor space and remove paintings or any trinkets on the walls.
The centerpiece of the room will be your desk and chair. Any desk or chair you have at home can be used for starters, but you want the workstation to look professional as much as possible. After all, you want to be comfortable while working on your recordings.
You should also add acoustic treatment to control sound reflections inside the room. This will help you create better-sounding recordings. You need bass traps for absorbing the low frequencies, diffusers for scattering the remaining frequencies and acoustic panels for absorbing the mid and high frequencies. There are complete room packages that include these three elements.
Some people put their gear around them in a circle so that they can work as a musician and an engineer from one spot. However, having a lot of gear around you creates extra reflections that hurt the acoustics. Noise can also leak onto the recordings. If you have to work with many people, this setup won’t work. You have to rearrange your studio to record others properly. There should be two stations so that you can handle multiple tasks.
One station should be recording area for the musician, and another is a desk or mixing area for the engineer. The station for the musician should include the microphones and any MIDI controllers or instruments they might use. The mixing desk should consist of studio monitors, audio interface and other standard gear.
This setup, however, is not practical when you are recording alone. If you’re the musician and the engineer, you’d have to go back and forth between stations. You can try the hybrid setup, which works for both group and solo recording. It closely resembles the dual setup, but you need a remote on station two so that you can press play, stop or record while away from your desk.
You may also want to get a headphone extension cable to make your home studio more practical for solo recording. Use a headphone extension cable that is at least 20′ long so that you can move around the room with ease. A secondary computer monitor will allow you to see everything that is happening in the session from anywhere in the room. You may also want to get MIDI controllers or virtual instruments. This can help you save space and money. Most virtual instruments have editing features that allow you to make up for your lack of playing skills on certain instruments.
You have to understand how your gear fit together to create one working system. The sound is picked up by the microphone. The mic level signal is delivered to the microphone preamp to amplify it. The mic preamp sends the amplified signal to analog signal processors. Less expensive studios often skip this step so that they can do digital signal processing within their digital audio workstation (DAW). The processed analog signal is sent to the A/D converter, which translates it into a digital audio signal.
The digital signal is then sent to the audio interface where it’s sent to the computer to be processed by the DAW. Installed plugins processed the signal and mixed with other tracks. The signal is then sent to the audio interface and to the D/A converter where it’s reverted to an analog signal. The D/A converter sends a new analog signal to either the monitor management system or the headphone amp. If the signal is passed to the monitor management system, it’s sent to the studio monitor. The sound engineer hears the signal. If the signal is passed to the headphone amp, it’s sent to the headphones where the musician hears it.
You also need to position the studio monitors. Proper positioning ensures good monitoring. It depends on various factors like the position of the walls, of your head and the spot acoustic treatment. You should also get high-quality studio monitor stands as it allows you to position the monitors anywhere thanks to its fully adjustable height, width, and angle.
Here are some tips to help you make better home recordings.
The right microphone positioning depends on the sound of the room it’s in and the sound of the instrument. Listen to where and how the instrument produces its sound and how the room affects that sound. Position the microphone to achieve the perfect balance between the two.
For most instruments, you want to adjust and add effects levels when you mix. Recording these with the original sound might not be a good idea. There are some exceptions such as electric guitar part where the effects are an essential part of the performance and the sound.
This is particularly important if you’re recording tracks little by little. By getting some beats down first, you have something real to play to. It also helps you shape the feel of your track.
Recording at 24-bit gives you a larger dynamic range, and it also allows you to capture more subtle details in your recordings. The greater dynamic range gives you more headroom when you are recording.
Recording separate mic and DI signals for bass and guitars give you a character-rich amp sound and clean DI sound. If you think that the original amp sound is not right, you can use an amp sim plug-in to work on the DI signal.
Using a lot of microphones to record drums won’t automatically make it sound better. However, it provides you with more balancing flexibility. You can use four microphones – a stereo pair over the top, one on the snare and 1 in front of the kick drum.
If you record often, you should consider using an analogue desk. A lot of audio interfaces now provide basic hardware monitoring, and you can find an analogue desk that offers the same options or more. It has a dedicated headphone send, and auxiliary sends for effects.
While giving a perfectly mixed headphone feed can make the musician feel good, it can be deceptive. You should focus on giving a solid timing reference, foldback of what is being played and a solid pitch reference. The musician will have everything they need to perform well.
Prevent the microphone from recording unwanted noise by choosing a pair of fully enclosed headphones.
You need to know how signal levels work to get clean signals to your computer. Set the microphone preamps to unity or zero for best signal performance. If you want to adjust the level, you only need to use the initial amp gain.
Recording at a sample rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz is still the norm. This is because 24-bit or 96 kHz recordings take up a lot of hard drive space. You may want to try a higher sample rate for simpler sessions, but make sure to keep tabs on your hard drive space.
You can drop in to record overdubs on a tape machine. This is not possible with every audio sequencer, but you will most likely have more tracks to work on. You can choose a monitor track and then drag your tracks onto it for playback. The best thing about it is that you can continue recording new tracks while doing this.
If you want to keep out unwanted room noise, you can use directional microphones. Try a cardioid that has a tight pickup pattern and good rejection.
Noise can be a problem if you’re recording in the same room as the computers. Point the rejection node points of your directional mic at the source of the noise. You should also manually reduce the fan speed of the computer. Don’t cover or hide the computer as it will get noisier and hotter.
You can EQ when recording if you are confident in your monitoring. Divide the difference between your preferred amount of boost and zero.
A bedroom can be a good dead space due to the soft furnishings it contains. You can use it as a separate recording space, so you can listen accurately while recording.
You have to set up your software properly. If you plan to record regularly, consider setting up a song template or two for various situations with outputs and inputs all properly routed.
Look for audio software that allows you to group tracks. By locking concurrent tracks together and keeping them in sync, you can edit them easily and quickly.
A high quality mic will not make a poor performance or instrument sound better. Address weaknesses in your instruments and playing and then get a new mic.
Consider sound, ruggedness, and sensitivity when choosing a microphone. Something quite sensitive is perfect for quiet sources. You can use a condenser mounted on a stand. A dynamic condenser is ideal for handheld use.
Before you record in any room, you should talk a walk around, clap your hands, talk and shout in different places. This way, you can determine how different parts of the space respond to a variety of sounds and volumes. You can then make the necessary changes or preparations.
Overdubbing and multi-tracking can help you identify tuning issues. Checking the instrument tuning between every take can also help. Tune at the recording stage, and it will be easier for you to finish the track. You can also listen back with the performer identifying the issues and fix them.
It’s hard to achieve a good room and direct sound balance when you’re using one mic. You can set up a separate mic for capturing natural ambiance. The best position depends on the size of the room and character. Experiment until you find the right one.
To avoid becoming accustomed to bad tuning or poor playing, you should maintain an overall sense of perspective and solve problems at the source.
Recording music at 24 bit and peaking recorded signals at 18 dBFS on your DAW digital input meters results in clearer sound, built-in headroom and lower distortion for the mixdown.
There may be some accessories that you want to buy, but you should invest in essential equipment first. Sidewall absorbers are perfect for early reflections. A ceiling cloud should be installed in front of and above your monitoring position. You should also invest in bass traps as it will make a significant difference to the accuracy of low-frequency response.
Bass build-up occurs when loudspeakers are placed against the room’s boundaries. There will be less bass tip up when the speakers are not placed in corners.
Doing so will help you know where you are with your mix-down. Most tracks will sound louder and have been mastered. You can reduce the volume of your reference tracks so that they meet that of your mix-down. This can help you get the bass levels right in an inaccurate setting before mastering.
When your system is authorized and configured, consider buying a SATA copy station and doing an identical copy of the main system drive. You will have copies even when your hard drive fails.
Buy a dynamic microphone or ribbon and double microphone sources. A blend of the two microphones can result in a great sound.
This way, you can measure 85dB SPL or the sound pressure level where the ear flattens its natural response. Listen to 85dB SPL sometimes so that you can get an impression of your mix-down. While there’s no need to monitor at this level at all times, it’s a good idea to have some short torrents of monitoring at this level.
Avoid finishing your last mix adjustments late into the night as you will be less perceptive and your hearing will be tired as well. Do the final tweaks in the morning, when your ears and brain are fresh and well-rested.
If you’re using a DAW, it’s a good idea to color-code your faders and tracks as it makes navigating large mixing sessions a lot easier. It also keeps you in control and reduces your stress levels.
Wear ear plugs when gigging or clubbing. Avoid listening to loud sounds. You can use an SPL meter to ensure that your hearing is safe. The damaged hearing is irreparable, so it should be avoided.
The audio interface is where you will plug in speakers, headphones, and microphones. Some interfaces are equipped with knobs to adjust the volume of the mic and speakers. Other interfaces have a software control panel. A great audio interface is transparent. It doesn’t add any distortion or noise to the sound. When choosing an interface, consider the number of mic preamps. You can record more microphones if the interface has more preamps. One mic is enough for those who are only recording vocals. If you’re recording instruments with multiple microphones, you need at least 2. Use 4 or more microphones if people are playing together or you need to record drums.
You have to consider the speaker output as well. The interface should have the same kind of outputs as the speakers. If it doesn’t match, you need to use a special cable or adapter to connect them. The quality of preamps is essential. Cheap preamps will add distortion and noise to recordings. Avoid a cheap interface with eight preamps. Choose one with 2 or 4 preamps. You will get a higher-quality interface that is perfect for your recordings. The interface should have a 1/4″ input so that you can record bass or guitar without an amp. You can shape the tone by using the software. Although this feature is not essentially required, it is quite handy. A direct box has the same function.
Make sure that the interface has a headphone jack, so you can plug in headphones and listen back to your tracks while recording. Most audio interfaces will connect to a computer using Thunderbolt, USB or FireWire. The computer should have a free port. The interface should be compatible with the recording software as well.
The computer is the brains and brawn behind your studio’s operation. Get a computer that can keep up with your demands. If you plan to produce electronic music or take on projects with many tracks, this is more important. If you have to record on the go, you may go for a laptop. However, you should be prepared to use a less capable machine. Use a desktop computer as much as possible. It’s more powerful, has more storage, and faster than laptops. Desktop computers also fail less and last longer. The noise from its fan won’t be much of a problem as well.
When choosing a computer, consider its CPU. The higher the clock speed, the faster the computer’s CPU. This means that it can accommodate large recording sessions. It’s even better if the CPU is equipped with multiple cores. This way, you can multitask properly. The best CPU is a 3+ GHz quad-core. More RAM will also make the computer run faster. A computer with a 16+ GB RAM is a good option.
The port is an important consideration as well. If you’re using a MIDI keyboard and other accessories, make sure that the computer has enough ports for it. The audio interface will connect to the computer using USB, so there should be a port for that as well.
Since recorded audio takes up a lot of space, you want a computer with plenty of storage space. If you fill up the hard drive, you can purchase an external one. Speed is also important. Solid-state hard drives are the best option. Although they provide less storage space, they are faster than mechanical hard drives. It doesn’t have moving parts, and it uses flash memory. Recording and playing back projects with many tracks will be faster. If you want a mechanical drive, choose one that turns at 7,200 RPM as it will deliver data approximately 33 percent faster than a 5,400 RPM drive. As much as possible, choose a 500+ GB solid-state drive.
A large diaphragm, cardioid condenser sounds great on almost anything. The diaphragm picks up the sound and makes the microphone great at picking up low frequencies. It can capture the sound’s full tonal range. The polar pattern of the mic is called cardioid, and it dictates what the microphone will pick up and will not. A cardioid microphone will pick up what is in front of it. This feature can be used to reduce the level of unnecessary noise in your recordings such as noisy neighbors and fans.
You only need to position the back of the microphone towards the noise source. The condenser pertains to the technology used by the microphone to capture sound. A condenser microphone is great at picking up high frequencies. Don’t use a USB mic as it is not future-proof. If the USB port becomes obsolete, you will need to purchase a new microphone.
However, you may want to buy another mic if you plan to record lots of guitar amps. This is because a condenser microphone doesn’t sound great on amps.
Studio monitors can be used to mix and playback recordings. It’s different from the usual speakers you buy to listen to your favorite songs. Studio monitors are uncolored and neutral and may sound dull. If you listen on studio monitors, you will hear what is going on in your tracks. A high-quality studio monitor will encourage you to create a mix that sounds great. Tracks that are mixed on headphones may not hold up on speakers. If you are simply doing basic voiceover work, you may forgo studio monitors. However, if you are recording music, you should invest in a studio monitor.
When picking studio monitors for your home studio, you may want to consider its frequency response. Most studio monitors produce a flat frequency response. They sound neutral. Studio monitors, however, will sound different in home studios as room acoustics affect speakers. You can use software to flatten things out. Consider how far the studio monitors extend down the frequency range. Find studio monitors that can extend to 40 Hz or below to make it easy for you to hear what is going on in your recording.
Speakers also require an amplifier to create sound. Passive speakers require a separate power amp to function, while active speakers have a built-in amplifier. If you want to save space in your home studio, it is best that you go for active speakers as you only need to plug them into your audio interface and the wall. You need to choose between mid/far-field and near-field monitors. The latter is designed to be used in close quarters, while mid/far-field monitors are ideal for large spaces and designed to be placed farther away from the ears. Studio monitors will have RCA, XLR or 1/4″ inputs. These should be the same kind of connectors as the interface uses. You will need a cable or special adapter to connect mismatched studio monitors and audio interfaces.
The best way to choose studio monitors is by visiting a music store that allows you to hear the models they offer. Bring a track that you know well on your MP3 player or phone. Place yourself in the middle of the two studio monitors at ear level. Each monitor and your head should form a triangle. Play the track and compare how it sounds at the same volume on each monitor. Choose the studio monitors that sound closest to what you know the track sounds like. Good studio monitors have a clear high end and nice low end and sound flat.
Headphones can be used while mixing or overdubbing. You can also use headphones if you don’t want to disturb your neighbors. Studio headphones are tonally neutral and provide unbiased and accurate perspective on your recordings. When trying to find the right headphones, consider its design. Closed-back headphones feature a hard enclosure which prevents sound from escaping, making it a good option for recording when maximum isolation is required. Open-back headphones are equipped with perforations on the outside of the cups to allow sound to pass through. This kind of headphones is the preferred option for mixing. It’s not ideal for recording as sound escapes from it easily. If you need a pair of headphones for your home studio, you should choose a closed-back version given that it’s more versatile.
You will be wearing headphones for hours, so it should be comfortable. Look for one with comfortable foam padding. The headphones should also rest over. If possible, you should try the headphones on before buying them. Check the headphones’ connectivity as well. Most pro studio headphones feature a 1/4″ plug. If you want to plug the headphones into a laptop, you can use a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter.
DAW or digital audio workstation is used to play back, manipulate and record audio in your computer. With a great DAW, you can make excellent recordings. All DAWs sound the same. The only difference between them is the workflow. Logic is a popular DAW among producers. It has an extensive library of plugins and sounds. However, it is Mac-only. Ableton Live is another popular DAW. It is ideal for sample-based and loop engineers and even EDM producers. It has innovative and flexible audio manipulation tools.
When choosing a DAW, you can download several trial versions and explore your options. The features of major DAWs are similar, but you can find others that do some things better than others. If you have to work with other people, you should check out what DAW they are using. It will be easier to work together if you are using the same software.
You should also avoid unnecessary plugins. If you’re a beginner, the stock tools of your DAW are enough to create great recordings. Master your DAW first before getting more plugins.
An XLR cable is required to connect the microphone to the audio interface. A pair of cables are also needed to connect the speakers to the interface. These cables will be RCA, 1/4″ or XLR, depending on what connectors the interface and the speakers use. You should consider the mic stand as well. Don’t buy a cheap, fragile stand. A stand with three legs is more stable than one that has a circular, weighted base.
You may also want to consider getting a pop filter. It’s a mesh screen that is placed between the vocalist and the mic. The pop filter helps in diffusing the gusts of air that accompany some consonants such as p sounds. If these blasts are left alone, it will overload the mic’s diaphragm and produce boomy recordings. A pop filter will considerably enhance the quality of your tracks. There should be a few inches above the mic and the filter as well as the vocalist and the filter for the pop filter to work well.
Getting the speakers onto stands will improve the quality of your sound. You should get a comfy desk and chair. If you are going to spend hours in your home studio, it is only practical that you keep yourself comfortable. Buy a chair that has good support to avoid back pains.
If you are using a DAW, you will need a MIDI controller as well. This tool allows you to control your favorite soft synths and VST plugins. It becomes a hardware version of your DAW and multiplies the possibilities that your DAW offers. You can tweak accurately and mix more easily. Investing in good music production books is also a good idea. These books are detailed and beneficial for improving your skills. It is a great source to have when you don’t know anything.
You don’t need to purchase everything right now. Build up your home studio as you go. Buying as you go also allows you to learn about different or new pieces of equipment that might be more suited for your home studio. Every home studio is going to be different, so the owner needs unique pieces of equipment to make the place as functional and comfortable as possible for them. Purchasing as you go helps you determine what else you need and enables you to make more educated choices with your next purchase.
Remember that the decisions you make while recording is based on what you hear. You will not make the right decisions if what you are hearing is not accurate. Your recordings might sound great in your studio, but sound bad on other speakers. This can be avoided by setting up your home studio properly. Once your studio is ready, you should consider investing in acoustic treatment panels to improve the sound of the room by solving acoustic problems.
You should consider your studio’s portability. Determine how much of your studio you will take on certain locations. You may want to have insurance as well. Remember that inviting other people into your home comes with some risks. You’re exposing your personal life and equipment to them. What if they get hurt while in your home? What if someone falls down the stairs? What if one of the performers you invited trips over cords in your home studio? Risks are always present, and you need to protect yourself should something unexpected happens. You should think about yourself as well. What if someone has sticky fingers and takes something from your home studio? Having business insurance can protect your business activities from the unexpected. You can also protect yourself from any damage or loss.
Another factor that you should consider is taxes. Contact your accountant and make sure that everything is in place for proper tax filing. Using your house as a place for business offers some benefits. Your accountant will help you follow all procedures and submit the necessary paperwork. This professional will inform you of the right business practice when it comes to taxes and finances. You don’t want to skip this step as it will significantly affect your business.
Setting up a home studio can be overwhelming. Which software should you get? What equipment should you buy? Don’t be pressured. Just relax, follow these tips, and you will be able to set up your home studio in no time.
You don’t need to buy the most expensive equipment. Your home studio should be perfect for your recording needs. Start small and customize your setup. You can build it up as you improve.