With the price tag of professional studio time, many professional musicians as well as those just starting out are looking to create their own home recording studios. Before you start to climb the investment ladder and buy any recording equipment, it’s important to consider what you want to accomplish, then you can use this Essential Home Recording Studio Checklist when you create your studio.
What do you want to accomplish?
First, challenge yourself or your band to decide what you want to accomplish with the recordings. Do you want a way to save song ideas or a tool to write songs? Do you want to create demos for your friends or to chase gigs? Do you want to record songs to post on Facebook or to try to get on radio?
There are lots of recording platform options and determining your home recording studio goals first will help dictate how far up the equipment investment ladder you’ll need to climb. It’s best to step on the ladder at the lowest rung possible with a plan to climb – learning and building your investment as you climb.
Let’s start with the essentials – after all, this is The Essential Home Recording Studio Equipment List!
1. A garage, a barn, a basement or a room
Above all, you need a space that keeps other sounds out, and for the benefit of the other home dwellers, keeps your sounds in! It doesn’t have to be completely soundproof. If it can be a dedicated room, it helps reduce setup and breakdown time. From here, let’s follow the sounds from their source to the recorded media and see what we need.
2. A good “go to” microphone
The Shure SM57 is widely respected as among the most reliable and versatile mic’s out there and it’s a great place to start. It is fantastic on a snare drum, but it CAN do a good enough job on vocals, guitar amps, saxophones or just about anything else if you’re just starting out.
3. A second ‘nice’ microphone
The next mic you get should be a higher end condenser. These are better suited for capturing detail and high frequencies that make cymbals, vocals or acoustic guitars sound clear and bright in the end product.
Well, of course, unless
you’re strictly a capella.
5. Microphone stands and cables!
Pair a mic stand and mic cable (“XLR”) with each mic you own so you can use them concurrently, and have an instrument (1/4 inch “TRS”) cable for each instrument to be recorded.
Not critical, but to get a guitar to produce big sounds with lots of character, you should run it through an amp and turn it up. There are lots of alternative ‘direct’ devices than can let you simulate that live amp sound if you need to stay quiet or save space.
7. A mixer
If you plan to capture more than one source at a time (like a guitar and vocals) you need a mixer to take those signals in, establish signal levels and control that sound heading out to whatever is being used as recording media.
8. Recording media
You’ll want to be recording onto some form of digital storage (vs. analog tape), ensuring that sounds are recorded withclarity and the least amount of noise. There are lots of options here, from stand-alone digital workstations, to PC’s and Mac’s (a.k.a.Digital Audio Workstations.) If you are computer based, you’ll also need an interface to sit between the mixer and the computer to convert the analog signals to digital typically via USB or Firewire. Another approach is to use an iPad if you have one. You can hook it up to the family stereo or headphones and run Garage Band on it. Everything you learn in Garage Band is like boot camp for taking the next step should you do that later.
9. Monitors and/or headphones
These provide a way to not only hear what you’ve done, but hear what your doing. Often you’ll record new tracks by playing along to recorded ones – and you’ll want to hear both. Using headphones prevents the recorded sounds from bleeding into the new tracks being “overdubbed”.
10. A familiar listening reference
This last piece may be the most valuable. Once you have a mix of your songs, the most important thing you can do is listen to them on something you are very familiar with – like your car stereo or your ipod. You might not realize it, but as you listen to music, your brain keeps pretty good notes about how things are supposed to sound. When you listen to your own song on a familiar reference, anything that is out of balance will be far more noticeable.
You’ll need to be able to burn a CD or use software like iTunes to get it onto your iPod, but that happens to be the first step of the next part of the process – getting it “out there” in the digital world for your fans to hear.
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