In the past, recording music was notoriously an expensive endeavor. However, in the modern age, people are finding ways to make the home recording process more affordable than it has ever been. Technology has dramatically reduced the labor, cost, and space requirements of specific techniques.
At a basic level, many standard recording techniques are the same at home as in a studio. The equipment is different, but you will be looking for great sounds and the right gear for the job.
Of course, the recording and mixing processes will be different if you’re working alone or with a group. If you’re alone, you need your instruments and likely a decent amount of software. If you’re working with a group, then obtaining instruments and equipment to use during recording might take a bit more time.
The recording process is a mixture of multitasking and problem-solving. Musicians will have to play their parts to the best of their ability, while engineers work with all technical aspects to record each component accurately. Mixing is an equally tricky task because it requires both skill and patience.
The first step is to make a detailed plan listing everything you need, including instruments, amplifiers, effects, microphones, speakers, computer hardware, and software. Break down each track in detail and create a recording timeline.
While each musician has to learn how to play their part, whoever is in the engineer and producer chairs (it may be you in all three roles) must also learn how to work with the gear. Focus on setting up the instruments so they can be recorded and isolated decently enough for mixing purposes.
Learn how to integrate live instruments with fully digital tracks. Having a plan will make for a smoother mixing process.
High-quality recording requires a lot of data processing. Fortunately, technology has enabled people to make this whole process much more manageable. More powerful computers have made it possible to create more robust software packages.
What do You Need?
Before you invest in an arsenal of audio equipment, you need to consider your goals. If you intend on recording Mumford & Sons, you will need more equipment than if you plan on recording an acoustic guitar and vocals.
We will give some examples of things you might consider investing in, but some of these may not apply to you. Think about the kind of music you will be making and only invest in what you need.
Reel-to-reel. Don’t you want to be like Jack White? This is a joke, but if money is no object, grab an excellent vintage Otari one-inch recorder for five grand and go buck wild.
For serious audio production, you need a powerful computer. If you try to use your stepdad’s crappy Dell, you will deal with frequent lock-ups and crashes. This slow performance will make you depressed and kill your creative spark.
I don’t have much experience with using Macs for audio production. However, it should not be a problem as long as whatever Mac you’re using has enough power. There are plenty of DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) available, and you won’t have to worry about building anything.
You can save money by sourcing parts and building your PC for a powerful machine with so many custom specs. It may seem daunting, but building is the best way to go. If people send me money, I will write an article on building a music production PC.
For Windows, you want a 64-bit Windows 10 computer. The more RAM, the better, depending on your budget. You should plan for at least 16 GB, ideally going with 32 GB. This range will handle most audio production tasks with ease. You can always add more RAM if you start going completely bananas.
CPU. Because you can upgrade RAM at any time, CPU is a more important consideration. You need at least a quad-core processor (Intel i5). Pro Tools, however, requires an i7 and 32 GB of RAM. What a resource hog! Not all DAWs need so much juice.
While you’re out shopping, I recommend a CPU at the level of an Intel i9 or an AMD Ryzen 9. These chips are high-end equipment, and you will be in good shape with one on board. You will also spend around $400. Please don’t yell at me; you pay for quality!
Motherboard. You don’t need to overthink this. Any quality motherboard used for gaming will work for audio production. I always use ASUS motherboards. Rock-solid quality and the company has been around forever.
GPU. You don’t need to go ape on the graphics card if you’re not doing video production or gaming. You may have heard that there’s been a crazy GPU shortage happening. It’s true, although as of late 2021, it’s easing a bit.
Hard Drives. I recommend two internal SSD drives—one smaller drive for the OS and a large drive for storage. Having the OS on a separate drive improves system performance. I recommend having at least a 250 GB drive for the OS and a 2 TB drive for storage. Audio files are large, so it comes down to how much you’re recording. Having an external 4 TB SSD on hand helps get files off the internal drive.
Cooling. Liquid cooling is a niche that’s best left to an article on PC building. If you’re buying fans, you goddamn need to get crazy light-up fans.
An audio interface is a device connecting your computer with your guitars and microphones. An audio interface allows you to convert analog signals to digital, allowing you to record multiple sources concurrently.
Audio interfaces allow you to control output regarding what goes to headphones and what goes to speakers.
Interfaces are available for individuals up to large bands. You need to determine the required number of inputs. Audio interfaces provide 48v phantom power. This allows use of condenser microphones that require external power.
Direct monitoring is when audio from a sound source routes to the audio interface’s audio output without going through the computer. Direct monitoring is useful when recording live music. Without direct monitoring, delays in audio playback appear because audio must first travel through the computer, which can be very frustrating for musicians.
If you don’t want to use direct monitoring, audio delays occur before reaching your interface because the signal must first go through the computer. You can solve this by using a separate audio cable for audio to your speakers and audio to your audio interface.
Most DAW’s require Audio Stream Input/Output (ASIO) drivers, which help your computer communicate with audio equipment correctly and provide low latency recording. ASIO Drivers bridge the gap between your computer and the DAW. Macs work with any audio drivers, so once again, Mac owners can plug and play.
- Focusrite Scarlett Solo
- Focusrite Scarlett 18i8
- PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
- Behringer U-PHORIA
- Steinber UR12
- MOTU M4
For home recording, you will likely want “near-field” monitors, which means that the speakers will be close to your listening position or chair.
It’s important to hear your music on a neutral speaker while recording and mixing. Good studio monitors will give you an accurate representation of what is coming out of your speakers.
Make a distinction between studio monitors and home stereo speakers. Home stereo speakers can play pre-recorded tracks, but they are not made for recording or mixing purposes because they do not reproduce sound accurately.
Home stereo speakers typically have poor bass reproduction and overly emphasized treble. On the other hand, Studio monitors are designed with recording and mixing purposes in mind. They have a flat frequency response that allows the user to hear what is actually being recorded or mixed.
If you mix or master music on home stereo speakers, you will likely get poor results because the sounds won’t be right. That’s why it’s essential to have the proper gear.
You will need to choose between active and passive speakers. While one form isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s vital to comprehend the distinctions.
The main difference is the amplifier. Active speakers contain a built-in amplifier that requires a power source, while passive speakers need an external power amp.
Active speakers cannot be modified or upgraded. Passive speakers have separate parts that you can individually swap out.
For home recording, it makes sense to go with active speakers. They’re much easier to set up and require less technical knowledge. Active speakers also have the internal amp pre-calibrated to work well with the speakers.
You will lose some ability to customize your speaker system, but active is usually the way to go for a home setup.
Studio monitors are measured by how large the woofer is, determining the lowest reproduced frequencies and how many drivers there are for reproducing higher frequencies.
Most near-field studio monitors are five-to-eight inches. If you’re recording in a bedroom, for example, five-inch monitors are OK. If you have ample basement studio space, you can go with eight-inch.
Just like with any speaker or audio gear, you must consider how it sounds. Home recording is all about getting great sounds, and there’s no way around it; if you get poor quality speakers, your recordings will sound poor too.
Buying quality monitors doesn’t mean that you need to sell your Star Wars figures. You can find quality speakers in the $300 range.
- KRK Classic 5 Professional Bi-Amp 5″ Monitors
- Donner Studio Monitors 4″ Near Field Studio Monitors
- Yamaha HS5 Pair 2-Way Bass-Reflex Monitors
- Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers
- JBL Professional 305P MkII Studio Monitors
Headphones are either open-back or closed-back.
Open-back headphones have the ear cups open to allow air to flow in and out freely, allowing for a total frequency response, which is ideal for mixing and mastering music.
Open-back headphones are generally more expensive than closed-back headphones because they require additional speaker drivers with better acoustics to achieve this “open” sound.
Open-back headphones produce a far more natural sound than closed-back headphones and provide the best possible representation of your mix.
The main drawback to open-back headphones is that they leak sound and do not block out exterior noise as effectively as closed-back headphones. This leakage makes them unsuitable for recording purposes but great for mixing and mastering purposes.
Audiences, sound engineers, and musicians mainly use open-back headphones to hear their music mixes or recordings as accurately as possible.
A closed-back headphone is a type of headphone that contains solid plastic or metal backing on the back of each speaker housing.
The backing reduces sound leakage and bass response, creating a more accurate audio signal reproduction than an open-back design.
Closed-back headphones diffuse sound in two ways: they seal the ear and create a resonant chamber that generates bass frequencies. The resulting bass response is robust and more resounding than an open-back design because it resonates within the closed speaker housing rather than escaping into free air.
A closed-back design also reduces noise leakage from inside the headphones, which is valuable for anyone who does not want to disturb nearby people or large crowds.
Closed-back headphones are popular among musicians, DJs, and studio engineers. Home recording artists also use closed headphones because the enclosed design blocks the ambient sound that microphones could pick up during practice or recording sessions.
- bopmen Over Ear Headphones
- OneOdio Adapter-Free Over Ear Headphones
- 50MM Drivers Studio Headphones MAONO AU-MH601
- beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 80 Ohm Over-Ear Studio
- Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Headphones
- Shure AONIC 50
There are three main microphones used in recording: dynamic microphones, condenser microphones, and ribbon microphones.
The most flexible but straightforward microphone setup is to have one condenser and one dynamic microphone. Add a ribbon if you’re classy. You can find relatively good budget models that will serve you well in basic home recording. The Shure SM57 is the all-time classic dynamic microphone. The Rode NT1 is a popular, affordable condenser mic.
What Is a Dynamic Microphone?
A dynamic microphone is the most popular type of microphone in recording studios. These microphones are usually more affordable and durable than condenser or ribbon microphones.
In the past, musicians used dynamic microphones primarily in live applications due to their high resistance to feedback. Today, these mics are also used in studio settings because they produce a warmer tone and have a more comprehensive frequency response range.
Dynamic microphones use a magnetic field to convert vibrations from sound waves into electrical energy. You can use these microphones with most sources of audio signal because they have a high input impedance.
Dynamic Microphones do not require external power and are typically less expensive than other microphone types. Home studio owners will often use dynamic microphones for recording vocals and guitar amplifiers.
Dynamic mics can achieve high-quality results across a wide range of frequencies, and they have a relatively flat frequency response. You can use dynamic microphones in loud settings because they are less sensitive to high decibel input levels.
Popular dynamic Microphones:
- Shure SM57
- Shure SM58
- Sennheiser MD 421-II
- Shure SM7B
- Rode PodMic
- Electro-Voice RE-20
- AKG D12 VR
- sE Electronics V7
- Sennheiser e 609 Silver
- Telefunken M80
- Audio-Technica ATM230PK Drum Microphone 3-Pack
- Audio-Technica ATR2100
- Pyle-Pro Professional
- Behringer Ultravoice Xm8500
- AKG D5
- Sennheiser E835
- MXL BCD-1
What Is a Condenser Microphone?
Condenser microphones require phantom power (48v) to run. This power transfers via the XLR cable. Dynamic microphones do not need phantom power because they do not contain active electronics.
Condenser microphones are used for recording applications when more a sensitive response is required.
There are two types of condenser microphones available: large diaphragm and small diaphragm. Each technology favors applications in different fields, with small diaphragm microphones being more commonly used for acoustic instruments, whereas large-diaphragm mics are for vocals and speech.
Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamic microphones, which means they can capture sounds from a broader range of sources and in a more extensive range of environments.
Condenser mics are also typically better at reproducing high frequencies, and their diaphragms deliver an extended low-frequency response. As a result, you can use condenser microphones for a broader range of applications than dynamic microphones.
Popular condenser microphones:
- Shure SM27
- Slate Digital VMS ML-2
- Rode NT1
- Lewitt LCT 940
- Aston Microphones Spirit
- Audio Technica AT 2035
- Neumann TLM 103
- AKG C414 XLII
- Sennheiser e 965
- Neumann KM 184
- Blue Spark SL
- Miktek MK300
- Warm Audio WA-47 Jr.
What Is a Ribbon Microphone?
The Ribbon Microphone arrived in the 1920s. It became popular in professional recording studios during the 1940s and 1950s because it provided a warm sound.
The ribbon microphone is the oldest type of magnetic sound recording microphone.
Ribbon mics consist of a thin, very flexible metal ribbon electrically connected to the output. The whole assembly is magnetically shielded so that it will not interfere with magnetic tape.
Since they are only used in studios now, ribbon mics need to be carefully checked after each recording session to ensure they are not picking up any magnetic particles.
When sound hits the diaphragm, the ribbon moves back and forth, which causes a voltage induction in the coil around the magnet. This induction passes through the preamplifier circuit of the microphone, where the signal amplifies.
There are two main types of ribbon microphones, active and passive. Active microphones require phantom power for internal signal-boosting circuitry.
Popular ribbon microphones:
- Royer 121
- Avantone CR-14
- Audio Technica AT4081
- AEA R84
- Beyerdynamic M160
- sE Electronics VR2 Voodoo
- Golden Age Project R1 ST
A MIDI controller is significant for the home producer. There are controllers with just 12 keys ranging from controllers with the full piano keyboard scale of 88 keys. Many of these will have additional MIDI controls you can assign to other parameters within your DAW.
Many MIDI controllers are “playable” instruments in their own right, with velocity-sensitive and semi-weighted action. MIDI keyboards act as control surfaces for DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations, like Logic Pro or Ableton Live).
You can also use MIDI controllers for virtual instruments (VSTs in a MIDI track in a DAW). Producers, musicians, and DJs use MIDI keyboards to add MIDI-assignable controls that allow users to trigger specific effects in real-time easily.
MIDI is a language that allows electronic devices to communicate together. MIDI is not an audio format (like WAV or MP3); MIDI only describes the MIDI events sent between MIDI devices to describe musical gestures like note on, note off, velocity, modulation wheel, program change, etc. MIDI tracks do not contain any audio information.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The essential software for your home studio is the digital audio workstation (DAW). It is the DAW that you will be spending the most time with, so it’s vital to choose one with all of the features you need.
You can purchase all of your recording equipment, from mics to preamps to interfaces, but it’s like trying to build a house without any tools or materials if you don’t have a DAW with which to record.
I will not recommend a specific DAW here, but I will talk about some of the most common ones used by home studio producers. I will also try to list which features are essential so that you won’t have to do all of the research yourself.
|Ableton Live|| |
|ACID Pro 10 || |
|FL Studio|| |
MOTU Digital Performer 11
N-Track Studio 9
Since you are opting for a more affordable home recording set up, you will probably use technology to help you attain certain sounds (grand piano, symphony orchestra).
Below are free and paid plugins you can use on your projects. These are a lot of fun to play with.
Free VST Resources
- TDR Nova (Fantastic EQ)
- Helm (Crazy synthesizer with fun modulation system)
- NI Komplete Start (Massive library. Don’t get overwhelmed)
- OTT by Xfer (Famous compressor)
- Ample Sound Guitar M LITE II (Acoustic guitar)
- Ample Sound Ample Bass P LITE II (Classic electric bass)
- DSK Saxophones (Alto and soprano sax)
- DSK The Grand (Grand piano)
- Pendulate (Insane synth)
- Sample Science Cassette Roads (Lo-fi Fender Rhodes)
- Spitfire Audio LABS (Piano, strings, percussion. Excellent quality)
- u-he Tyrell N6 (Fun synth with hundreds of voices)
- Vember Audio Surge (My favorite synth. Open source)
- Dub Turbo DrumTroop (20 drum kits to play with)
- MT Power Drumkit 2 (Nice drumkit sounds)
- Steven Slate Drums SSD5 (Freeware version of the famous drumkit plugin)
- IK Multimedia Amplitube (Classic amp simulator)
- Black Rooster Cypress TT-15 (Emulates Orange Tiny Terror head)
- Mercuriall Various Pedals (Models a chorus pedal and two distortion pedals)
- XLN Addictive Drums (Free demo version available)
- Heavyocity Damage 2
- Toontrack EZ Drummer 2 (Free 10-day demo available)
- Toontrack Superior Drummer 3
- Native Instruments Studio Drummer (Free demo version available)
- Native Instruments Drumlab (Free demo version available)
- Native Instruments Battery 4
- Impact Soundworks Momentum
- Music Weapons Drum Weapons 3
- DrumDrops Vintage Funk
- Tony Coleman Drums (Trial version available)
- Spectrasonics Trilian Bass Module
- IK Multimedia MODO Bass (Free demo version available)
- Chris Hein Bass
- Native Instruments Scarbee MM-Bass
- Native Instruments Scarbee Jay-Bass
- Toontrack EZbass
- Manytone Music ManyBass
- Organic Loops Complete Electric Bass
- AmpleSound Ample Bass (Free Version Available)
- Ilya Efimov Bass
- Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 6
- Line6 Helix Native (15-day free trial)
- Archetype by Neural DSP & Plini
- Toontrack EZMix 2
- Overloud TH-U Full (Free trial available)
- IK Multimedia Amplitube 4
- Matchlock by Kuassa (Free demo version available)
- Positive Grid BIAS FX2
- Softube Vintage Amp Room
- Toneforge by JST
- TSE x50 v2 (Free demo version available)
- Waves GTR3
Keyboard / Piano
- Garritan CFX
- Spectrasonic Keyscape
- XLN Addictive keys (Free demo version available)
- Vienna Imperial
- Synthogy Ivory II Grand Piano
- Ravenscroft 275
- Piano Teq 7 (Free demo version available)
- ERA-4 De-Esser
- Klanghelm SDRR
- Fabfilter Pro-Q 3
- Antares Autotune Access (Free 14-day trial)
- Plugin Alliance MAAG EQ4 (Free 14-day trial)
- Soundtoys Radiator (Free 30-day trial available)
- UAD 1176 Collection
Libraries / Samples
- BBC Symphony Orchestra Core
- Abbey Road One Orchestral Foundations
- CineBrass Horns of the Deep
- Century Brass 2.0
- Omnisphere 2.6
- Damage 2
- Pharlight (Free demo available)
- Native Instruments Hybrid Keys
- Native Instruments Rise and Hit
- Output Substance
- Morphestra 2
Soundproofing Your Recording Space
Although your studio is small, it’s critical to soundproof it effectively. While the procedure is straightforward, there are a few stages to complete. We’re focusing on cheap and easy here. If you want to deal with wall insulation and floating floors, there are resources on YouTube.
Soundproofing doesn’t change the acoustic character of a room, and acoustic treatment does nothing to soundproof a room. You need both.
For soundproofing, you need to think about high frequencies and low frequencies. You can either absorb frequencies or reflect them. Broadband absorbers (foam panels) absorb sound, whereas broadband diffusers scatter sound.
It’s not enough to just put up a lot of foam tiles. The goal is to keep sound waves from exiting the studio. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths and can penetrate through wall cracks and outlets.
Low frequencies have longer wavelengths and cannot pass through wall cracks. It’s considerably more challenging to soundproof for low-frequency noise since these frequencies travel through walls and studs.
A tall bookcase over a thin wall can help. The bookcase should cover the whole wall and should be full of books. Heavy furniture is also ideal. Place it against the wall to create padding. Paintings, photographs, and tapestries will help.
A White noise maker is fantastic for blocking out other noises. You can use carpets and blankets to help soundproof. Sound absorption blankets work well, but heavy moving blankets are less expensive. Solid core doors are durable, but you can fill hollow core doors with spray foam insulation if you want to go bananas. Drill a hole and squirt it in there.
Try applying soundproofing wallpaper or paint. A sound sealant fills wall cracks and makes windows soundproof. You should seal any gaps at the bottom of any doors.
Building a guitar isolation box is a good idea for a couple of reasons. First, it will prevent noise from leaking out of your studio and potentially bothering others. You can make your amp as loud as you want without much sound getting out of the box.
Second, it creates a consistent recording environment. Dial-in the sound you want. You can move the box around and know the sound will remain the same. See the video posted below.
A sound diffuser is an acoustic treatment designed to scatter sound waves in all directions, minimizing the concentration of sound energy in one area. You don’t want so much soundproofing that all natural reverb is gone. This kind of dead area sounds weird and makes your brain hurt. The diffuser scatters the sound evenly without totally killing all room reflections.
You can build your sound diffuser if you have time. The design is not random; it’s exact. You can use an acoustic calculator to design your diffuser. See the video posted below.
How to Record Electric Guitar at Home
Electric Guitar can be recorded at home using several methods. It depends if you want to mic your amp or run direct.
Guitar Direct to Audio Interface
The simplest way to record electric guitar is to use a straight cable that goes from the guitar’s output jack into the input on your audio interface, then into your computer.
Amp Direct to Audio Interface
Use the record out on your amp to run directly to the audio interface. This output works well on my Boss Katana because most of the effects are coming from the amp.
Microphone to Audio Interface
Microphone in front of an amp that runs through an audio interface. Mic placement has a significant impact on the sound, so do some experimenting.
The audio interface provides phantom power, which allows you to use a condenser microphone if desired.
Reamping is an excellent option to add some versatility to the recording process.
First, you record a dry guitar track direct through a reamp box. Then you re-record the track by sending it back out through amps and effects. Is this blowing you away?
There are benefits to reamping. You know guitarists can be moody, so if you get a couple of excellent dry takes, you can send the musician off to take a nap while you play around with sounds.
Nap time also gives you opportunities to alter the sound of the track as the recording evolves. You can just run the original track through a new setup.
You need a reamp box. You run the signal from your recorder/computer into the box and then connect the box to the amp. You can then mic the amp and record. This box is also helpful for running synthesizers through guitar amps. See the video posted below for more detail.
The affordable solution for an individual’s recording practices will differ between each person. Not every home producer will be making the same kind of music, so each will probably have a setup that differs from the one outlined in this article.
Hopefully, I have provided some inspiration for you to plan a simple home studio. Use this guide to reference the kind of things you may need to consider, and tailor it to fit your own specific needs.