You’ve written some songs and you want to start recording at home, but you don’t know where to begin.
The videos and blog posts you’ve researched are overwhelming and you’re wondering if it’s worth even starting…
Don’t worry I’ve got you!
This is part of a series on home recording for songwriters. If you want to record your songs and start recording them this series is written just for you.
The Singer Songwriter’s Ultimate Guide to Home Recording
I’ll give you the basics you need to get started, with a minimum of $, a minimum of confusion and the truth about what you’re getting into.
Yes, it can be confusing… there’s a steep learning curve, but I’ll help you climb it.
Yes, you’ll record some things that are terrible… I did, but I took the time to figure it out and I’m a professional music teacher so I know how to break it down so you can follow along and make music that you can’t wait to share. It’ll take some time to get everything working for you, but I’ll help you along!
Unlike a lot of what’s out there… this isn’t a series for producing hip hop or writing beats.
This series focuses on recording your voice and your instrument
So you can showcase your songs and share them. I won’t waste your time with a lot of information that you don’t need, or that’s just wrong. Your time is more valuable than that!
Step 1: the Essential Gear You Need to Start Your Home Studio
This article explains what you need to get started.
Some gear can wait, I’d rather you started with the basics and once you understand how it works you can always upgrade your gear later. Everyone has slightly different needs so I won’t waste your time or money recommending my favourite gear. I’ll tell you about it but I’d rather give you the guidelines you need to find and pick out the gear that’ll work best for you and your situation!
This article has no affiliate links, I don’t want you to buy expensive gear or anything particular I recommend. Honestly, I’d rather you go to your local music store and talk to the sales reps and have them help you pick out what you need and what fits your budget… shop local, they need your help!
Rent a few similar pieces of gear for a week, try them out and buy the one that you like the best… you can’t do that with an online music retailer! That’s how I choose my first few microphones and my studio monitors… I spent about $40 to rent two sets of studio monitors and tried them out in my home studio. I bought the pair that sounded the best in my recording space, they actually sounded better than the pair the sounded better in the music store.
I’ve done this and I know how to help you out.
Below the video lesson is a written summary and suggestions for choosing the gear that will work for you!
Click to watch the video lesson
6 Must Haves For Your Home Recording Setup
3. Audio Interface
5. Headphones (and Studio Monitors)
6. Recording Space
Here are the details you need to know for each!
Home Recording Must Have #1: Computer
You can get started on the laptop or desktop computer you already have. Double check the stats to be sure you’ve got the minimum requirements for the DAW you’re considering.
While you can play around with an iPad or tablet, if you want to get serious, you’’lol need a computer. A tablet just doesn’t have the resources to give your professional resolutes for audio processing.
Audio processing is CPU and memory intensive, especially when you’re listening to several tracks that are all being processed at the same time. The more tracks and the more processing on each track then more power you need in your computer, it adds up quickly.
It also takes a lot of computer resources to render an audio file… you don’t want a computer crashing because you’re stretching it beyond its capabilities!
Home Recording Computer Recommendations:
Start with the computer you have and make sure you have more than the minimum resources needed by the DAW you’re considering (see #2 below). A laptop has the advantage of portability, while a desktop usually has more computer resources and is easier to upgrade.
If you can, upgrade the RAM… most computers can take either more RAM chips or you can replace the ones already on board for ones with more capacity. Audio and video processing use more resources than most other applications, so spend a few dollars to upgrade the RAM if you can. When I bought my latest laptop I tripled the onboard RAM for about $60US.
You’ll need at least one free USB port or a thunderbolt or firewire connection for your computer to connect to an audio interface.
Home Recording Must Have #2. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A Digital Audio Workstation is a software application that lets you record multiple audio tracks, manipulate and process them independently and mix them together to create a store audio file.
There are dozens of excellent DAW’s available, with prices ranging from free to I can’t believe that’s what they charge for that. Some DAWs only work with PC or Mac, most have a version for both.
Everyone has their preferences DAW and their own biases. Talk to anyone and the DAW they use is the best DAW there is. The short version is they are all good and all work, but they all have different advantages or specializations. Some are more confusing to learn because they are more complicated while others are more intuitive to use.
My personal recommendation is pick one and try it out. The basics are the same with every DAW, once you have some experience you can always upgrade to a more expensive or more complicated DAW.
Home Recording DAW Recommendations
Start your research with these DAWs…
I’ve used this DAW since it was called SONAR. It’s excellent and will keep you recording, mixing and mastering for years.
GarageBand (Mac only), included free with Mac computers
GarageBand is a lite version of Logic X. I’ve used it on iPad but I don’t own a Mac computer. It has some excellent virtual instruments. It’s a great learning DAW because it’s less complicated (but also less powerful) than other DAWs. Once you have the basics, the next step is to try Logic X.
Logic X (Mac only) $279US
A professional version of GarageBand. It’s harder to learn because it’s got more power and more options. If you like GarageBand this is your next step.
Home Recording Must Have #3. Audio Interface
An audio interface connects your computer to microphones and speakers. It converts analog microphone signals into digital information your computer and DAW can understand and process and converts the processed digital audio into sound through headphones or studio speakers. A sound board (even with a USB connection) doesn’t usually work well in a home studio because every channel is summed to stereo. You can record the house mix to your computer but you can’t record each track separately into your DAW, because they are mixed together before the signal leaves the mixer.
Home Recording Audio Interface Recommendations
A 2 input entry level audio interface costs about $100US. Virtually any brand you buy will serve you well. At this price you won’t hear much difference in the audio quality. Just pick one and start making music. Think about it this way, even if it only lasts you for only a year, it’s still costs less than a year’s worth of Spotify, Netflix or Amazon Prime.
# of Inputs two is fine to start, modern recording is usually multi-tracked, one instrument at a time. You’ll only need 2 inputs unless you’re recording a drum kit or a band.
Phantom Power is necessary for condenser microphones (see #4 below)
Bit Rate (16bit minimum) 24 bit or 32 bit is better, but not a deal breaker
Sample Rate (44.1kHz minimum/48kHz minimum for audio used in video) more is nice to have, but not a deal breaker
Direct Monitoring (listening to yourself as you record)
Computer outputs: options USB is standard, get one with USB3 if your computer has it. Thunderbolt or Firewire is nice to have if your computer only has a few USB ports or can accept them (they transfer data faster).
Midi In/Out is a bonus, you won’t need a midi input/output converter ($30+US and needs its own USB port) if you want to use a midi piano or midi controller.
Home Recording Must Have #4. Microphone (and Accessories)
Microphones are one of the most crucial pieces of gear. Once you know how to use it, a great microphone will get you better sounding recordings. It takes some time to learn to use a microphone (don’t worry, I’m working on an article to help) so don’t think you need a super expensive microphone to start. As long as you have a microphone with an XLR jack, it will run with enough voltage to get you a good recording signal.
Home Recording Microphone Recommendations
Start with any microphones you already have.
Dynamic mics are best on stage, they are more durable and they are slightly less sensitive (great on a noisy stage) but still work fine in a home studio.
Condenser microphones usually give you a better sound when you record, but they can be too sensitive for a stage environment. Condensers need phantom power (48v) from your audio interface.
An entry level dynamic mic is $70+US, condensers vary more $100-300US. Top of the line professional microphones can cost many thousands $…
5. Headphones (and Studio Monitors)
Start with a pair of Closed Back Headphones because they’re best for recording. There is no sound bleed into a live microphone. They are sometimes less comfortable because you might find they feel hot on your head while wearing them for a long session.
Open Back Headphones are more comfortable, but not suitable for recording. Some sound escapes and you’ll hear it behind your vocals. Get a pair of these after you have a pair of closed back headphones.
It’s fine to start with commercial headphones, but you’ll get better results with a pair of headphones with a “flat frequency response.” Many commercial headphones (for example Beats) don’t work well for home recording because they intentionally change (colour) the sound (often with bass boost) so you don’t hear accurately. If you’re listening to a mix with “bass boost” you’ll reduce the bass so it “sounds right” and end up without enough bass.
Expect to pay between $80-200 US…
Good brands to consider include but aren’t limited to:
- Audio Technica
The weakness of headphones is they aren’t large enough to reproduce low frequencies. You won’t hear much bass. Check the frequency response chart for your headphones to find out the lowest frequency they can reproduce. That’s why earbuds (and laptop speakers) aren’t appropriate for home recording. You can use them when you’re done to check your mix but not to create the mix.
Home Recording Headphone Recommendations
Start using the best set of headphones you already have. Then look for a pair of “closed back” “flat response” headphones, expect to pay $80-200US for a good pair that’ll last you for several years.
Home Recording Studio Monitor Recommendations
Studio Monitors are the next step up for mixing and mastering (starting at $300-800 a pair). They are a bonus because they reproduce lower frequencies so you’ll hear lower bass frequencies. Adding a woofer to your studio set up is the next step, but you won’t need to add that upgrade for a while unless you want to mix bass heavy electronic dance music or get into professional mixing and mastering.
Home Recording Must Have #6. Recording Space
You need a place to set up your gear and record your song. It’s best if you don’t have to set up and tear down every time.
Home Recording Space Recommendations
Choose a space where you don’t hear sounds from outside your room and where you won’t bother others.
Most household rooms aren’t great for recording. They have annoying echoes that you’ll hear when you record. Using carpets or floor rugs reduces some echo, as does curtains, furniture and other soft surfaces. When you’re ready you can also add acoustic treatment, such as sound diffusers, sound absorbing panels (like the two behind me in the video) and bass traps. I’ll post a link to an article with more about acoustic treatment once I’ve written it…
Home Recording Must Haves: Summary
To get started, use what you already have, purchase what you don’t and get started. I prefer to buy new gear, but I’ve bought some great used gear, too. As you learn and practice recording yourself, you’ll know when you’re ready for better gear. Don’t wait, just get started and learn and upgrade as you go. Enjoy the journey!