Are you starting out as a producer? Or do you want to record your own music? Then the chances are, you’re asking your self what equipment you need to record and mix. The good news is that in the modern age of digital recording, this process is more accessible to you now than ever before. This article will break down the 6 key studio components that you will need to record and mix your music.
Key home studio components no. 1: A Computer:
The first of the key home studio components that you’ll need in order to record and mix your music is a computer. The chances are that you already own one. But is it good enough to record with? After all, isn’t the recording software that you’ll be running on it pretty resource hungry? Well, the good news is that computers are getting increasingly powerful. All you need to do is check the ‘minimum requirements’ of different types of software against your computers spec to see if your computer will be able to handle the software efficiently.
Remember that you can often upgrade the RAM in your computer or swap a hard drive for a solid state drive to improve your computer’s performance. So don’t go out and spend tons of money on a new computer just yet. It’s likely that with a few tweaks, your current computer will do just fine.
Key home studio components no. 2: A DAW:
Item number 2 of the key home studio components list is the software you will need. This is known as a ‘Digital Audio Workstation’, or a DAW for short. Be aware that some DAWs will only work on PC, and others will only work on Mac. So your choice may be limited by the type of computer that you own. The good news is however, that DAWs are becoming more and more affordable, and many of the free versions out there will probably meet your needs.
Garage Band is a great free option for mac users. Studio One Prime offers you an entry level DAW free of charge. ProTools First is free and runs on both mac and PC. Software such as Reaper is very inexpensive and works fantastically well. Fully fledged DAWs like Logic Pro X can be purchased fairly affordably considering the capabilities of the software.
Find out what each DAW offers you and find the one that suits both your needs and your budget. Some of the free versions offer limited capabilities when compared to paid versions. But usually, for a normal recording situation, the capabilities will still be more than adequate. If in doubt, try some free versions first before you spend money on buying software!
Key home studio components no. 3: An Audio Interface:
Item number 3 on the key home studio components list is an audio interface. Your audio interface is the piece of equipment that takes the signals from your microphone into your computer. It also takes the sound from your DAW out of the computer to your monitors / headphones. Audio interfaces come in all different sizes and at all different price points.
Some will offer you only 2 inputs and 2 outputs. Others will offer you 8 inputs and 8 outputs and the option to expand further. There are many variants in between. Which one you should choose depends on how many signals you want to capture at once. If you want to record a drum kit and mic the kick, snare, toms, cymbals separately, then you’ll want to go for something with 8 inputs. The same is true if you want to record a full band live. You’ll want an audio interface with plenty of inputs for all of the different mics. In this instance you’ll also want one which allows you to plug in some headphones, or one that has enough outputs to connect to a headphone amp so that multiple people have monitors. In many cases however, a simple 2 input, 2 output audio interface will be absolutely fine.
Make sure that you check whether or not the interface is compatible with both your computer and your DAW. Compatibility is generally very good these days but there are still a few exceptions. You also need to check that the audio interface’s connections (i.e. USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt) will suit your computer. Many audio interfaces also come with free DAW software, so be sure to look out for these types of packages.
Key home studio components no. 4: A Microphone (or mic package):
Item number 4 on the key home studio components list is a microphone and a few associated items that go with it. For many, choosing a microphone is potentially the most confusing part of this process. After all, the amount of different types of microphones seem endless. There’s condenser mics, ribbon mics, dynamic mics etc. Some of them have small diaphragms, whilst others have large diaphragms. Not to mention all of their different pick up patterns: omni-directional, bi-directional, cardioid… So where do you start? Personally, I would recommend that you invest in one single mic to start with. That mic would be a large diaphragm, cardioid, condenser microphone. Why? This is the best all-rounder for recording a band or solo artist. You can use it for vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar cabs, pianos, an ambient recording of an entire drum kit etc.
There’s no one microphone that’s perfect for everything. That’s why there are so many different ones to begin with. But a large diaphragm cardioid condenser is as close as you’ll get. It’s a mic which will work for the largest number of applications that you’ll experience whilst recording in your home studio. Be aware that a condenser mic requires phantom power, so make sure your audio interface provides this. Most do, but be sure to double check. Don’t forget that you’ll also need a pop shield for recording vocals, a mic stand and an XLR cable. The reason that I include these along with the microphone itself as item no. 4 of the key home studio components list, is because many online stores will sell you all of these items as a bundle with a decent discount. Be sure to check out online deals for the best package.
Key home studio components no. 5: Monitor Speakers
Item number 5 on the key home studio components list is a pair of monitor speakers to listen to your recordings on. Whereas I suggested that you try to make use of the computer you already own earlier in this article, my advice is the complete opposite when it comes to your speakers. Unless the speakers you currently have are specifically designed for music production, you shouldn’t try to monitor your tracks on them.
You should use a pair of speakers which are specifically designed for music production. That’s because they’ll provide you with a flat frequency response. They are designed to give you an accurate representation of your recording. Speakers which are not designed to be used as studio monitors are unlikely to have a flat frequency response. Therefore, you will not get an accurate representation of your recording or mix. Of course, you can always monitor on studio headphones…
Key home studio components no. 6: A Pair of Headphones
The final item on the key home studio components list is a pair of headphones. You’ll need these for the musician recording their takes to wear. That’s because they’ll need to be able to hear the track that they’re recording their parts on, the click track, or the guide track etc. Having a pair of headphones which are designed for recording/mixing means that you don’t necessarily need to invest in monitor speakers as well. Or you could use them as well as your monitor speakers to get two different perspectives on your recordings.
There are two different kinds of headphones. You can choose from open back headphones and closed back headphones. Closed back headphones offer really good isolation which minimises the risk of your monitor mix spilling onto the microphone. Open back headphones give great sound quality but the isolation is not as good. You can read a full breakdown of open back and closed back headphones here.
As you can see, the list of things that you need to record a band is not all that large. The great thing is that these items can be purchased to suit almost any budget. You can invest in high end mics, speakers, headphones etc. if you have a large budget. But there’s no reason you can’t still put a great recording rig together for a modest amount of money if your budget is small. Which of these items do you already own in your home studio?