Please note: This is a guest post written by Caleb J. Murphy is a musician and Reaper user that works mostly on folk/soul music. He writes helpful guides for musicians over at MIDI Lifestyle and blogs on his personal website, CalebJMurphy.com.
All Recording Studios are Alike
In reality, your studio is the same as Skrillex’s, Foo Fighters or Willie Nelson’s. They all have the same basic pieces of recording equipment, some are just more evolved or loaded with more expensive equipment than others.
Think about it the basics: a computer, mics, cables, monitors, some sort of audio interface. Of course price and quality of each will differ between yours and other producers’, but it’s all essentially the same type of skeleton.
Below, we’ll go over the bare bones of every studio.
What you’ll learn from this article:
- The four essential components of a home studio
- Optional gear that can increase your studio productivity
- 2 must-have MIDI accessories
The First Piece of Gear You Need: A Computer
Whether you’re a college kid in your dorm or rubbing shoulders with Ryan Tedder, you’ll use a computer to record music. If this were the 1970s, you’d whip out your 24-track recorder.
But not today.
This is the most basic piece of equipment on your desk.
Although you can record on a desktop, a tablet, or even your phone, I’m going to recommend a laptop. They work well in your home recording space, your fancy studio, or really anywhere.
Recommended: MacBook Pro
Yes, it’s a beautiful looking computer. And it’s also beautiful on the inside.
Why recommend this one over the hundreds of other great options?
Well, the MacBook Pro is a great recording computer for a few reasons: 1) It comes pre-loaded with GarageBand, a simple but awesome DAW; 2) if you’d rather, it also runs pretty much any other DAW; 3) and the operating system is easy to use.
It has 8GB of ram — plenty for recording music — and the screen is 13.3 inches (or 15 inches and 16GB of ram if you upgrade). That screen is big enough to see your workspace, but still small enough to carry around in a backpack.
However, in your research process, do not completely throw away the idea of a Windows computer. The biggest criticism that Mac users get from PC users is that you can buy a much beefier Windows computer for a fraction of the price of a Mac. Of course, with a lower price point, you tend to be sacrificing the build quality, beautiful design, and simplicity of an operating system that a Mac has.
The Second Piece of Gear You Need: Audio Interface
The quality of your audio interface is crucial if you’re at all passionate about the quality of your music. The recording signal travels through it, so that beautiful guitar part you just played could be hurt by a bad interface.
Out of all the audio interfaces you could pick, the one I recommend is the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Generation).
Recommended: Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Generation)
Focusrite is a reliable company, especially when it comes to audio interfaces. And the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Generation) interface is an easy 4.5 stars out of 5.
The features that will make your engineering heart jump are the four analogue inputs, four analogue outputs (for monitors — more on those below!), backed by two Scarlett mic preamps. And all those wonderful guts are protected by a sturdy metal body, so it’s great for on-the-go recording.
A couple things to note: it’s limited to two XLR/quarter-inch inputs, which could be a downside to some people. Also, some Sonar users have not been totally happy with its compatibility.
But otherwise, it’s your go-to audio interface.
The Third Piece of Gear You Need: Studio Monitors
Headphones are a good way to start off with music production, however, when you start to get more serious with your sound, you’ll notice that studio headphones don’t produce as accurate of a sound as regular studio monitor speakers. This is mainly because of acoustics.
Headphones should not be the sole way you mix your tunes, and that’s where studio monitors come in. Yeah, you should listen to your mixes out of every possible speaker — headphones, car speakers, and even your crappy built-in cellphone speakers — to get all the levels just right.
But you should take care of the nitty-gritty through some good quality studio monitors.
Recommended: Presonus Eris E5
It’s often true that you get what you pay for, but don’t be scared away by the affordability of the Presonus Eris E5 studio monitors. At just under $150, you still get high quality audio delivered to your earholes.
The two-way front-ported box has a 5.25” Kevlar (yes, like a bullet-proof vest) woofer and a 1” silk dome tweeter. It also has 45 and 35W Class AB amps so you don’t miss out on those highs and lows. Plus, they have acoustic tuning control so you can get the most accurate mix possible.
Overall, these are a smart choice, especially if you’re recording in a small home studio.
The Fourth Piece of Gear You Need: Studio Headphones
Inspiration doesn’t always happen right in the studio. Maybe it will happen to you on a plane trip. Maybe it will happen to you on a lengthy Uber ride. Maybe it will even happen to you the second you wake up with your laptop by your side.
The point is that studio headphones allow you to be able to mix and create music no matter where you, at any time (Producing throughout the night is a lot of fun and with headphones, you won’t have to worry about sleeping neighbours getting mad).
Recommended: Sennheiser HD-280
Sennheiser is another name you can trust when it comes to recording equipment. And the HD-280 pair of headphones is one of the most liked and used among producers.
Not only is the audio quality top-notch, the design is sturdy, and the cups collapse so you can easily store these puppies out of the way.
Some Extras You’ll Probably Want
Don’t skip this section. You should know that just because a piece of equipment is “not necessary” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in your studio.
So here are some pieces of gear you’ll probably want if you care about making your recording space as efficient (and fun) as possible.
There are some producers that simply can’t live without either MIDI keyboards or drum pads. Whether or not you need a MIDI controller completely depends on what workflow you most prefer.
Keyboards are great because you can get the feel of a grand piano for much cheaper and with a smaller footprint. But you can also have access to some of the coolest synth sounds around.
And Drum pads are great for similar reasons — you can record beats or get the sound of a drum kit all by just using your fingertips! This can also be achieved using a drum plugin, but if you prefer to play the beats with your hands, then you should pick up a MIDI drum pad.
I’d recommend the IK Multimedia iRig Keys Pro. It’s the perfect balance of affordability and versatility — you can get both a beautiful piano sound and dirt synth sounds. It’s not a beat maker, but again, you can make beats with a decent drum plugin.
MIDI Must-Have Accessories
If you’re going to use any type of MIDI controller, you’ll need some extras to experience their full potential.
The first piece of MIDI gear you’ll need is a USB hub, which allows you to connect multiple USB devices to the same USB outlet. It’s a genius invention and you should really have one. One really good one is the Anker 10-Port USB Data Hub.
The next piece of MIDI gear you should consider is a MIDI-to-USB cable, which lets you convert MIDI Ins/Outs to USB. This means you can use pretty much any synthesizer or digital piano as a MIDI controller. I’d recommend the M-Audio USB Midisport Uno.
Hope this was a helpful article. If you have any questions, drop us a line in the comments below.
Written by Caleb J. Murphy.