The self-contained nature of computer-based recording in the digital age has made obsolete the idea that a recording studio has to be a large space. Gone are the days when your studio had to have enough room for monstrous mixing desks, huge tape machines and endless racks of outboard hardware processors. These days a digital studio only has to be large enough to house a computer and speakers on a desk, and whatever room you need for a guitar, keyboard and a mic stand. If you have a spare bedroom, basement or study, you have all the space you need to set up your own recording studio. Here's how to get started.
Things You'll Need
- Computer and desk
- External hard drive
- Recording interface
- Recording software
- Instrument(s) of choice
- Monitor speakers
- Mic and instrument cables
Designate a room that you'll use exclusively for recording. It can be difficult to concentrate on recording tracks when the space is being used by other people for other purposes. Even if nobody is around while you're actually working on your music, it can still be distracting to have a room filled with items unrelated to the task at hand. If the rooms functions exclusively as a studio, you're more likely to know where everything is, and the atmosphere will be more conducive to your creative endeavors.
Give your computer a performance checkup. Just as it's wise to have a space dedicated to recording music, the same is true of the computer you'll be using. Using it purely for recording music will help you streamline and improve its performance. The simultaneous use of other software programs, backgrounds and taskbars will slow the performance of your computer, which can lead to dropouts and latency problems. You want the computer to run as efficiently as possible, since recording and editing music files can use a lot of processing power. To this end, disable all unnecessary services. If possible, use a different computer for your Web browsing to avoid the risk of viruses and spyware that could infect and compromise the performance of your recording software.
You may also want to consider upgrading your machine. At the absolute minimum, you'll need 1 GB of RAM, and ideally, you want to have 2 GB for your computer to be able to comfortably record music, especially when multitracking or using effects plug-ins.
Choose your recording software. This is the application that you'll be using to capture and then mic your musical creations. Pro Tools is generally referred to as the industry standard, although fans of MOTU's Digital Performer, Cubase or Logic Pro may beg to differ. It all comes down to personal preference, but the industry leaders all offer high-quality performance.
Settle on an interface to enable you to get the signal from your instrument into the computer's recording software. The interface will have preamps that boost the level of low output sources such as electric guitars and condenser microphones. These devices don't have to be expensive, especially if you're a solo artist who'll only need a couple of inputs. Of course, if you're looking to record a full band, you'll need more inputs and the price goes up accordingly.
Connect an external hard drive to your computer. Use this to store all of your files after each recording session. Using your computer's hard drive as storage will use up valuable hard drive space very quickly and will ultimately affect the efficiency of your recording setup. Storing your files externally will also provide added flexibility, giving you the option of taking the hard drive with you to other studios should you wish to collaborate with other musicians. Perhaps most important, it means that your files will be safe should your computer crash.
Add monitors. Now that your recording system is set up, you'll need to add monitor speakers for the mixing of your tracks. Studio monitors differ from regular hi-fi system speakers in that they offer the flat frequency response necessary for critical listening. Top-of-the-line monitors can sell for ridiculous sums, but many budget models do a fine job. See Resources below for some examples.
You may be tempted to forgo the monitor purchase and mix with headphones. Don't do it. Headphones are fine when tracking, but they will color the mix and amplify certain frequencies which can make it very difficult to get an effective mix. This will become apparent when you audition a headphone mix on a system with speakers.
Create some atmosphere. When your studio is fully functional, spend a little time to dress it up to make it a comfortable and relaxing place to be. A couple of Oriental rugs, a candle or two, or some cool ambient lighting can work wonders. Anything you can do to make your studio a relaxing and inspirational place that you love to go into will help get those creative juices flowing and will improve the effectiveness of your new home studio.
Tips & Warnings
- Since many instruments can be recorded direct and monitored with headphones, there's often no need to worry about disturbing the neighbors. However, if you have the necessary space and will be recording live drums, then you'll probably want to invest in some soundproofing supplies (see Resources below). When it comes to acquiring a hard drive, make sure that it's fast (at least 5400 RPM), and go for fire wire connections. This will ensure smooth operation. If you're a little old school and have reservations about mixing with a mouse rather than twiddling actual knobs on hardware, you may want to consider an all-in-one stand-alone digital recorder. These machines offer the convenience of digital recording and editing but also have real faders and knobs for a true hands-on feel. Manufacturers such as Roland, Korg and Yamaha all have models available, usually with on-board effects. It's entirely possible to make a complete studio album totally within the recorder. See Resources below for a price comparison of various models.
- Don't fall into the trap of thinking that the acquisition of more gear will advance your production skills. While quality equipment is nice and can often make things a lot easier in the studio, there is no substitute for experience. Working with the equipment you already have and developing your critical listening skills will be more beneficial. Don't attempt to equip your studio with an out-of-date Windows operating system. If it's not current, your recording software and some audio devices may not work properly. To be on the safe side, go to Microsoft.com and look for updates.
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