When designing a studio and purchasing the equipment for it, you need to decide what you’re studio is going to be used for, and what kind of music you are going to be making?
This guide to studio equipment is the essentials for a home-studio based songwriter looking to do very professional releases of worthy recordings made right in the comfort of at home.
So Where Do You Start?
In current times the most popular kind of multi-track for sound recording is a DAW (digital audio workstation). Depending on what DAW software you choose should reflect what you want to do in your studio and how advanced you would like your music production skills to be. An industry leader is of course Avid's Pro-Tools. Practically a household name, Pro-Tools can do it all and is a favorite of studios both large and small.
After you’ve decided on your computer and DAW software the next step is to pick the best audio interface. A high percentage of signal path fidelity is in converting your signal from analogue to digital and vice versa.
So think carefully about how much you can afford to spend and how many simultaneous inputs and outputs you’re going to need and whether you require External Word Clock, S/Pdif, Optical and MIDI connections and if so! How many ports are you going to be using.
One of the simplest and favorite units on the market right now is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface.
This compact power-house unit is suitable for mic's. including; moving coil, condenser and ribbon microphones regardless of the source. Phantom power is provided for mics that need it. It's become a favorite for many home studios world-wide!
Monitoring your recording
At this point you need to think about how you want to monitor your music production or recording, mixing and mastering. What’s best for you, passive or active monitors. What are the acoustics of the room you’re going to be monitoring in like. Will your house mate’s be trying to sleep in the room upstairs while you’re slaving away on your next “big mix”. The Mackie CR4 Monitor pair are a home studio favorite and can't be beat for their power, quality and low price. The CR4's are top-notch and sell for under $150.00.
Once you’ve got the basic idea of what gear you need to get started, your next step is to look at what essential and variable peripherals are best for you and your situation.
If you are a singer songwriter then you’re after recording vocals with the best clarity possible. The SM58 is and has been the industry standard, close proximity vocal microphone for many years. However you may want to look into some other options like the Shure SM7B Vocal Dynamic Microphone, Cardioid (shown below).
For home recording a condenser microphone would probably be far better suited than a dynamic microphone in 90% of your recording scenarios. A good condenser microphone gives you a much warmer sound with more clarity, as well as, a lower signal to noise ratio.
For acoustic guitar songwriters, you might want to look into a second condenser microphone so you can record your guitar in the same performance as your vocals. While you might be happy with the sound of your acoustic guitar pickup plugged straight into the audio interface. A microphone gives you a way better sound due to the wider scope for recording in terms of proximity and axis to capture the exact representation of the guitar sound you desire.
Another benefit to having a condenser microphone is you could simply place the microphone in the room and capture a natural room recording along with close proximity mic placement.
For the piano based songwriter there is a few different options to consider when it comes to how to record any acoustic piano parts. The most obvious is simply to place a pair of good condenser microphones on an acoustic piano and hit record. Though for a novice at recording, a piano can be a very complex instrument to both mic and capture well. Plus, if you’re acoustic piano is out of tune then it will also be out of tune on the recording.
The second option would be to buy a full size MIDI keyboard with sustain pedal and connect this direct to your interface via MIDI or direct to your computer via USB. The signal from the MIDI keyboard will be recorded to your DAW and you’ll need a Virtual Piano instrument like the XLN Audio addictive Keys to playback a piano sound. It really is very simple and the software provides you with a range of piano sounds to choose from.
Speakers or Headphones
You may be all set to record your songs, but you’re also going to need a pair of speakers or headphones to listen back to your recordings.
While you could plug direct into your Hi-Fi from your audio interface, it would be more suitable to listen back for through a pair of proper flat response studio monitors in order to give you a true representation of what you have just recorded, in terms of both performance and for understanding your overall signal clarity. KRK Rokit speakers are an industry favorite, and you cannot get much better than these speakers, for under $300.00.
Should you be doing overdubs such as backing vocal then you would also need a pair of high-quality studio headphones to avoid getting bleed from the speakers into the microphone while you're recording.
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones are one of the industries favorite pairs of head-gear and when it comes to quality and price the Audio-Technica headphones win time after time.
Last up you’re going to need to put a little aside for cables etc. For a recording setup of this caliber, be prepared to spend up to $200 of your studio budget for professional studio cables and microphones stands, etc.