Setting up a home recording studio is a dream shared by many musicians and music editors. However, only very few people will actually take the necessary steps to realize this dream, for fear that the process would be far too arduous and/or technical for their skill set.
But here's the thing: those fears are misplaced and frankly just not true.
Setting up a home recording studio can actually be accomplished in just a few simple steps, and the benefits of completing such a task are abundant.
What are the benefits to setting up my own home studio?
Here are just a few of the cool benefits associated with establishing a home recording studio:
- Convenience. Traveling to and from a professional recording studio can be extremely time consuming.
- Affordability. Owning a home studio will keep you from paying the often exorbitant fees charged by professional studio owners, leaving you more money to invest in your passion.
- Flexibility. With your very own home recording studio, you’ll be able to work when you want, at any time of the day or night.
- Fun. As musicians are sure to tell you, having your own studio will provide you with hours of wonderful entertainment. It's a great little DIY project too.
- Innovative. Home studios are all the rage right now, and have played an integral part in much of today’s music.
Convinced? Good! What follows is a comprehensive guide to setting up your own home studio set up. Here's a quick navigation if you'd prefer to jump to particular section. For most newbies, I suggest you start at the beginning.
1. Where To Build Your Home Recording Studio
When you’re ready to build your home recording studio, the very first step is deciding where to put it. You have three potential places for this project—a spare room, the garage or a mobile studio—here are the advantages and disadvantages associated with each option.
1. The Spare Room
If you have a spare or unoccupied room in your home, maybe a bedroom that never gets used, you may want to consider setting up your recording studio there. Here are some of the pros and cons associated with this option:
- Very convenient. Just a few steps away.
- Temperature Controlled. Work in any type of weather, day or night.
- Easier to Sound-Proof. Much easier to sound proof than an open and airy garage.
- Takes up space. You’ll be eliminating the possibility of using that room for other purposes.
- Can Be Noisy. No amount of sound proofing is fool-proof.
- Strangers in the House. If you plan to work with different bands and artists, a spare-room studio will give them access to your home.
2. The Garage
The garage is another popular destination for home recording studios. However, like the spare room, there are some advantages and disadvantages associated with this option, including:
- Out of the House. No strangers in the house.
- Easy access. A garage studio has easy access from both the house and outside.
- Weather Sensitive. Garages can be very hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter.
- Difficult to Sound Proof. Garages have plenty of open spaces for noise to escape and come in, making it a difficult room to completely soundproof.
- Lose Car Access. By opting to build your studio in the garage, you are sacrificing a space that you may be parking your car (s).
3. Mobile Studio
Our final option—the mobile studio—can be a terrific option for some, and a not-so-terrific option for others. Here are some of the most obvious pros and cons:
- Flexibility. You can actually go to the musicians rather than having them come to you.
- No house or garage noise. You won’t have to worry about upsetting the neighbors with noise.
- Can Record Anywhere. You are not limited by distance, allowing you to branch out and expand your operation.
- Sacrifice Acoustics. In almost all cases, you will probably sacrifice the acoustic quality with a mobile recording studio.
- More Difficult to Set Up. Unless you have a large motor home, trying to fit everything you will need into a mobile recording studio can be quite the challenge.
- Expensive. The price-tag for a mobile recording studio is much higher than with the other two options.
2. What Home Studio Equipment Am I Going To Need? (What Is The Perfect Setup?)
Once you’ve chosen the “where” with regards to your home recording studio, it’s time to start assembling the equipment you will need to make this all happen. Here we describe the 9 most crucial pieces of equipment you will require.
The computer is typically the most expensive item in any home recording studio. And while conventional wisdom would suggest you should get the fastest computer available, most of today’s machines are powerful enough to handle the job. That being said, if you already possess a modern computer, you may just want to use what you already have—and upgrade later as your needs change.
2. Recording Hardware
Recording hardware, also known as the “audio interface,” is used to connect the computer to the rest of your gear.
3. Recording Software
Also known as the “Digital Audio Workstation” or “DAW,” the recording software is the computer-based program you will need to record, edit and mix music in your studio.
Sophisticated recording studios may have dozens of microphones used for creating different sounds, but for now, merely one or two microphones will be sufficient.
You will need two pairs of headphones: Closed-back headphones, used for tracking music; and Open-back headphones, used for mixing music.
6. Studio Monitors
A “studio monitor” is music-speak for a speaker used for mixing music. Initially, you will need at least one or two studio monitors.
7. XLR Cables
The XLR cable is a style of electrical connector, primarily found on professional audio and video equipment. You will initially need 3 XLR cables: 1 long XLR cable for your microphone; and 2 shorter XLR cables for your studio monitors.
8. A Microphone Stand
Hands-free recording, which is essential for great audio quality, is only possible with a microphone stand.
9. Pop Filters
If you have ever seen footage of musicians recording in the studio, you have no doubt seen a pop filter. Pop filters are the mesh devices that cover the microphone in the studio, producing a much cleaner and clearer sound quality.
3. Preparing The Room For My Home Recording Studio
Now that you have chosen the perfect room and assembled the basic equipment for your home recording studio, it’s time to start putting it all together. However, before transporting your new equipment into the chosen space, you will first need to make some adjustments to the room so as to create the best sound quality in your recordings and the least amount of noise.
Here's a simple home recording set up, with the different components labelled:
How to Reduce Unwanted Noise in Your Audio—Acoustical Treatments
A certain amount of unwanted noise in your audio may be inevitable, but there are several steps you can take to reduce this noise.
Because the room you have chosen was probably not built for great sound, you may have to fake it using a digital reverb software program, which can simulate the sound of almost any acoustical environment, making it sound as if the recording was actually made in a room other than your studio.
However, before you can simulate this good reverberation, you will first need to remove the natural, unwanted reverb of your studio. To perform these acoustical treatments you will need three things: Bass Traps, Acoustic Panels and Diffusers.
1. Bass Traps
Bass traps are portable and porous broadband absorbers that are ideal for eliminating/absorbing any low, mid and even high frequency noise. Designed to go into corners of the room, they are essential pieces of equipment available for reducing unwanted noise in your studio recordings.
2. Acoustic Panels
Acoustic panels are foam panels designed to line the walls of your studio. These panels are very adept at absorbing mid to high frequency noise. However, because they are essentially useless for absorbing low bass sounds, they should always be used in conjunction with, and not in lieu of, Bass Traps.
Sound reflections can create problems in your studio because they get trapped in one spot, amplifying some frequencies, while canceling out others. This problem can be handled with diffusers. Shaped almost like backwards cubby holes, diffusers work by scattering reflections around the room, preventing them from getting trapped, and thus preserving the natural sound tone.
4. Soundproofing The Room
Now that you have acoustically treated your new studio, it’s time to soundproof the room. Soundproofing is a technique designed to keep outside noises out of your studio, so as not to disturb your work; and to prevent inside noises from escaping your studio, so as not to disturb your household members or neighbors.
There are four steps for properly soundproofing a room: adding mass, dampling, decoupling and filling air gaps.
- Adding Mass
Much like it sounds, the process of adding mass or density is one in which you must thicken the inside walls of your studio, as thicker walls = less noise. This can be accomplished using panels known as Mass-Loaded Vinyl, or Sheetblock.
Damping is a soundproofing technique that helps diminish the energy from sound waves by converting that kinetic energy into heat. Now this sounds really technical, but it’s actually quite easy. Using a compound known as “green glue” or any similar product on the market, you can create a makeshift sound barrier around the walls, floors and ceilings of your studio. Simply use the glue to attach two rigid panels—such as sheetrock or plywood—together, and place the barrier completely around the room.
Whenever two structures in your studio are in direct contact with each other, the sound vibrations from the first structure can transfer to the other, creating unwanted noise that can be picked up on your audio recordings. To remedy this problem, you will need to “decouple” or separate these structures by placing some sort of pliable rubber between these two contact points.
- Filling Air Gaps
Every room has little cracks or holes, some more than others. Together, these deficiencies can allow outside noise to enter your studio, and vice versa. To ensure this doesn’t happen, you will need to fill these air gaps. Smaller holes in the walls and ceilings can be filled with a product known as “acoustical caulk,” while the space under the door can be eliminated with automatic door blockers. Finally, foam gaskets can be used to seal up holes around electrical outlets, windows and inside doors.
5. Setting Up My Recording Studio - What Do I Put Where?
With the soundproofing and acoustical treatments completed, you’re now ready to start moving into your new studio. However, before you start hauling in all that gear, you may want to create a mental map as to where everything will be positioned. Here are some helpful ideas for setting up your studio:
- Computer Work Station
The computer work station, or engineer station, will be the focal point of the room. To create this station, choose a position near one of the walls, and move your desk and (hopefully comfy) desk chair into position, leaving ample room on both sides of the desk. Next, center the computer on the desk, again leaving ample room on both sides for your work materials. Make the necessary power and component connections with your computer, making certain that all connections are properly grounded.
- Vocal Set Up/Recording Station
The vocal area, also known as the recording station, is the next piece to your studio puzzle. This is where the musicians will record their vocal tracks, and thus the place in which to put the microphones and the microphone stand. Many amateur music editors tend to locate their recording station very near the computer workstation, allowing them to record, mix and edit music from the same station. And while this is certainly acceptable, you may find that this setup sacrifices the acoustic quality of the music, as the fan from the computer and other nearby devices may be picked up by the microphone.
A better option is to essentially split the room in half, with one side serving as the vocal recording area and the other as the computer workstation. This strategy will not only eliminate the aforementioned background noise, but allow you to work more efficiently with other musicians.
If you plan to record bands with multiple instruments, the next part of the setup is to create a space for the guitar rig and drum set. However, in most home recording studios, these instruments are substituted with “virtual instruments” or MIDI controllers. Virtual instrument/MIDI controller combos are readily available and a great way to produce multiple instruments sounds in a small space.
- Audio Interface/DAW Setup
Next it’s time to connect your computer to all the rest of your gear using the recording hardware known as the audio interface, and install the DAW or “digital audio workstation” software into your computer.
Connecting the audio interface to your computer is a fairly basic process. Most interfaces come complete with a diagram, showing you exactly where to make the various connections with the computer and the rest of your gear, including microphones, headphones and the studio monitors.
Two of the best audio interfaces and DAW combos on the market today are the software programs known as Audacity and Garage Band. Below is a closer look at each.
Audacity is an open-source program designed exclusively for the recording, mixing and editing of music. The product has a number of cool features, including:
- Playback Control Tool Bar.
The Playback Control Bar functions much like the buttons on an old tape deck. It enables you to preview parts of your project and add (record) new ones.
- The Tools Toolbar.
The Tools Toolbar in Audacity allows you to perform tasks such as selecting a particular piece of an audio track to work on, controlling how tracks fade in and out, and changing the positioning of tracks relative to one another in time.
- Edit Toolbar.
One of the hallmarks of Audacity, the Edit Tool Bar, allows you to move selected audio data onto a “clipboard,” delete tracks, undo editing operations, and zoom in on displayed tracks.
- Meter Toolbar.
The Meter Toolbar on Audacity allows you to control the input and output levels of your recordings.
- Mixer Toolbar.
The Mixer Toolbar, used for mixing audio recordings, enables you to control things like volume, input and output.
Audacity also comes with a track window, where new or existing tracks (or audio clips) in your project are lined up in the sequence that they are recorded or imported.
The Garage Band Audio Interface works in much the same way as Audacity, but is designed to work with Macintosh computers only. Let's take a look at some of the features of the Garage Band interface.
Garage Band 101
- A Project Chooser.
The Project Chooser lets you sample and experiment with several different types of audio projects, including keyboard collection, ring tones, hip-hop music and electronica music.
- Control Bar.
The control bar has “smart controls; library and quick-help” functions that make it easy to learn how to edit music.
- Play Controls.
Much like iTunes, the play controls allow you to rewind, fast-forward, stop, play, and record audio selections.
- Display Area.
The bright Display area in Garage Band enables you to keep track of all your projects.
- Master Volume Slider.
As its name suggests, this feature lets you adjust the overall volume of your project.
In addition to these convenient functions, Garage Band comes with a great library of practice projects and a help bar through which you can receive tips from veteran music editors.
For more about music production software, check out this post.
6. Setting Up A Home Recording Studio—What’s Next?
As you can see, creating you very own home recording studio is not as difficult as you might think, and the costs for this project can be significantly lowered by using equipment you already have, such as a desk or computer. So let’s quickly review the steps involved in this process:
- Choose the Room that Is Best for You. Spare rooms, garages, or a mobile studio—they all have certain drawbacks and advantages.
- Collect the Equipment. For a very basic home recording studio, the nine items listed above are all you need to get started.
- Prepare the Room. Once you have chosen the room, you will need to make the proper acoustical treatments to improve the audio quality, and soundproof the room to keep outside noises out; and inside noises in.
- Set Up the Room. Beginning with the computer work station and recording area, arrange your gear in a way that gives you the best access and sound quality.
- Select an Audio Interface/DAW. Audacity and Garage Band are two of the best audio interfaces on the market today.
Have fun with your new studio, and if you’re just starting out, remember you can collect more equipment as your operation matures and grows.