If you’re a musician, composer, or producer, chances are you’ve thought about putting together a home studio at some point in time. Like many of us, maybe you’ve picked up a microphone or two, looked at some videos on Ableton Live or Pro Tools, but are unsure if you want to pull the trigger on your own home setup. It can be hard to commit to a project that seems daunting, especially when gear discussions and opinions can get needlessly convoluted in the music community.
This guide aims to simplify the process of creating a home studio so that you can spend less time researching equipment and more time doing what you set out to do—making music. Getting started with a home studio isn’t as difficult as it is sometimes made out to be; you really only need a few key pieces of gear.
Let’s get started with the basics so that you can start recording.
Unfortunately, many of us will not have a selection of rooms to choose from when building a studio, and many home studios are created in bedrooms or living rooms. However, if you do have a choice, there are some things to look out for when you decide on the room for your studio.
Typically, larger rooms sound better than smaller rooms, and also provide more room for your ever-growing stash of musical equipment—high ceilings can also be a plus. You’ll also want to pick a room with minimal background noise; street noise, plumbing, and other buzzes and whirrs can negatively impact recording quality (the quieter the better). As far as the shape goes, asymmetry and angular walls help reduce reflections that introduce undesirable effects when recording with microphones and listening to mixes on your studio monitors. A hard floor made of wood, tile, or concrete is ideal, and if you need a textile surface for a drum kit and the like, an area rug will do the trick. However, if your room does not possess these qualities and you feel it may affect your recordings, you can always supplement a normal room with acoustic foam boards, sound diffusers and bass traps.
If you don’t have a room with perfect acoustics, don’t be discouraged—you don’t need the perfect room to build your first studio.
The Backbone of Every Home Studio
These days, most studios are centered around a computer, whether in a professional setting or in a bedroom, and your computer may be the most important piece of equipment in the studio. Your computer may not impact your recording quality as much as some fancy microphones, but when you’re using programs to mix and master, the last thing you need is for your computer to slow you down. Essentially, the fastest computer you can afford reasonably would be the way to go, but there are a few criteria that hit a nice sweet spot in performance without emptying your bank account all at once.
For music production, CPU processing power and RAM are the two most important factors when selecting a computer. If your computer has enough of both, it will be able to run a variety of plugins at once without slowing down, and crashes/freezing under load is less of a risk. Whether using Mac or PC, a quad-core processor is hugely beneficial—ideally with a clock speed above 3.0Ghz, and 8GB of RAM will have you sitting comfortably.
Expect to pay around $1000 for a solid music production computer, but PCs are often cheaper than Macs with similar hardware if you’re on a budget. We won’t get into the whole Mac vs. PC debate here, but as a rule of thumb, Macs are often simpler to operate with music production software and plugins, but come at a premium price.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
You’ll definitely need one of these. A digital audio workstation is the program that you’ll be working in constantly, whether composing, recording, mixing, or mastering. Some common DAWs are Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic, Reason, FL Studio, Cubase, Studio One and Reaper. Each DAW comes with its own set of features and pros and cons—you’ll have to look into which program fits your needs and makes the most sense for your workflow.
MIDI Controller or Keyboard
While this step is technically optional, nearly all composers and producers have some kind of MIDI controller or keyboard. While it is possible to input piano notes, drum beats, and other sounds with only your computer keyboard and mouse, in many cases it is much more intuitive to use a MIDI keyboard or drum pad. This can be as simple as an Akai MPK Mini, which is a compact 25-key setup with 8 drum pads, and comes in at $99. There are even simpler options as well, but the Mini is a great place to start because it has a reasonable amount of piano keys and its inclusion of drum pads is a plus if you’d like to lay down some drum tracks. The Novation Launchkey 49 at $169 is a great option with more flexibility—its 49 keys and 16 pads is enough for many producers.
If you want to try something a little on the unique side, try the various 3D MIDI controllers from OWOW, including products like an air drum and wave motion kit. They will definitely add a new angle to your production, and being fans of adding new dimensions to music we definitely approve of their mission. You can read our interview with them here.
Studio Monitors and Headphones
If you’re going to be making music, you’ll need a way to hear it as you go. Studio monitor speakers can range from $150 for a set to $3000 or more, but for your first studio, a solid pair of entry level monitors will suffice. You’ll also probably want to grab a pair of active studio monitors rather than their passive variation, because the passive monitors will require a separate amplifier to power them. For entry-level monitors, the KRK Rokit at $149 is a common choice, as is the JBL LSR305 at the same price. If using headphones, good sound quality and accurate frequency response is key, and a set like the OSSIC X can help with mixing in stereo or 3D sound.
Learn more about how the OSSIC X is changing the future of music production with Abbey Road Red:
Common Additions to the Home Studio
Beginning with the audio interface, the rest of the equipment is supplemental to the computer, DAW, MIDI controller, and speakers. You won’t need any of this equipment at the outset, but if you plan to record instruments and vocals at your home studio, it will become a necessity.
When working with microphones, you’ll need a way to power them and send the signal to your computer. You can think of the audio interface as the middleman between the microphone and the computer. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 features two XLR inputs with two microphone preamps so that you can plug your mics straight in and get recording. The Scarlett 2i2 is known for its natural sounding preamps, and it also provides phantom power for condenser mics, all at the reasonable price of $149.
If you’re looking for more than two microphone channels, such as if you’re miking a full drum kit, there are many options that feature eight or more channels, but generally as the number of channels and preamps increases, so does the price.
Once you’ve selected your audio interface, you’ll definitely want to grab a mic or two so that you can start recording. Choosing a microphone can be difficult because of the countless options and wide price range, so if you’d like some help, check out our introduction to microphones guide for a selection of our favorites.
If you just want to pick one mic that doesn’t break the bank and gets you recording as quickly as possible, you really can’t go wrong with the Shure SM58 for $99.
Mic Stand/Pop Filter
Once you have your microphone, you’ll probably want to pick up a versatile mic stand—you’ll find that you need one pretty quickly, whether for vocals, guitar amplifier, or live instrument. Having multiple mic stands always comes in handy, so if you can afford to purchase a couple, it will likely benefit you in the long run.
A pop filter is that cool-looking mesh thing that artists sing into in front of microphones in recording booths. Besides looking cool, a pop filter reduces the effects of low frequency blasts resulting from “P” and “B” sounds, thus eliminating “popping” sounds.
External Hard Drive
This one is definitely optional when you’re just beginning to compose or record, but as your studio journey continues, you’ll likely need to pick one up at some point. Pretty much everything to do with music production and recording takes up a lot of hard drive space. Recording high-quality audio, saving projects with heavy effect and plugin use, and storing all of your projects, stems, and virtual instruments can eat up 500GB very quickly.
It’s up to you if you decide to purchase one, but a fast 1TB external drive can be a great luxury when it comes to storing your projects.
There isn’t a whole lot to say here, but it can be frustrating to begin setting up all your new gear only to forget a cable or two. When purchasing cables, make sure to purchase quality ones—there’s no need to go crazy, but you want to avoid running an expensive microphone through a $1 bargain bin cable. Low-quality cables can be noisy or cause interference and other audio problems; it’s best to avoid them if you can.
We’ve made it to the end. But now that you’ve got all your gear ready to set up in your new studio, pick up a power strip before you plug it all in. It would be quite the tragedy to lose a few thousand dollars in equipment because of a power surge. Make sure to protect your gear!
That’s all there is to it! To sum it all up, the bare minimum for a studio is typically a computer, DAW, MIDI controller, and speakers. For people who want to record, an audio interface is required, along with a few microphones, and probably a mic stand and a pop filter. For some extra goodies, grab an external hard drive and some nice cables—and don’t forget the power strip.