Picking a Studio

Vocalists & Musicians

Recording in your own home studio

If you have the room, setting up your own home studio is a great way to improve your craft while learning how to improve your performance.

It's easier than ever to get started with a home studio. However, there are a few things which you will need. 

  • Computer

  • Space for your setup

  • DAW - Digital Audio Workstation

  • Audio interface

  • Microphone and cable

  • Monitor Speakers

  • Headphones

Computer

The chances are that if you own a computer it will more than likely work fine for starting out. Having an older or slower computer usually means limitations with the number of tracks you can record, latency, and running some plugins. Just make sure you have a decent amount of disk space and as much RAM memory as possible.

Space

You don't need a huge amount of space to get started. It's typical for aspiring artists to set up a small studio in their bedroom. 

There is a lot to consider when setting up your space, but really when you're just getting going you only need a space that doesn't have a lot of external noise and it's free of distractions.

As you improve it's inevitable that you will realize some of the shortcomings of your space and over time make improvements. Most common are acoustical treatment of some sort. In smaller rooms sound bounces very quickly off of any parallel surfaces which will affect the quality.  

DAW - Digital Audio Workstation

This is a great time to get started as there are a number of very good, free DAW's out there which are great for getting you started. 

There are more, but any of these will do nicely to start:

  • Garageband

  • Audacity

  • Ableton Live Lite

  • Pro Tools First

 

There is a learning curve in using any of these DAW's, but for the most part they are similar in regards to being able to add a music track and sing over it (overdub). They also come with a variety of simple plugins which will help you sweeten the sound with effects such as reverb and delay.

Audio Interface

The audio interface is what you plug your microphone into and that will allow you to record. It is also where you should connect your speakers/monitors and headphones. The interface usually connects to your computer via a USB cable.

You can spend less than $100 all the way to several thousand dollars on an interface.  The biggest difference in these audio interfaces is the sound quality, followed by latency and the number of inputs and outputs. 

If you are just recording one microphone at a time you only need a single input interface. A good starting point is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo interface. At just a little over $100 it has surprisingly good sound and has rock-solid design and build. 

What really makes the price go up on audio interfaces more than anything else is the quality of the preamp. In a pro recording studio, the mixing console will have a preamp for each channel. The reason why consoles such as our Neve are so expensive is that the preamps are the best in the world. For instance, a single preamp from Neve can cost in excess of $3,000, and our console has 60 of them.

Microphone (and cable)

If you are recording vocals you can find a number of very affordable condenser microphones in the market that will do the job. For around $70 you can start with something like a Behringer B-1 large condenser microphone which will sound fine for starting out.  I would suggest staying away from USB microphones. In general, they do not need an interface to work, but the latency issues nearly make it impossible to use. 

You will need an XLR microphone cable to connect the microphone to your interface. In most cases, you'll need a microphone stand as well. Both items are inexpensive and easy to find. 

Monitor Speakers

It is possible to find affordable monitor speakers but don't expect a big sound while using them. Monitors are not made to make your music sound good, they are designed to give you a very flat and transparent sound for mixing. Looking at recording studios they will usually have at least a couple of different monitors to listen back to recordings. The idea is to have the playback sound the same across various speakers, streaming services, earbuds, and headphones. Without a decent set of monitors, it will be difficult to know what your music will sound like played back on various devices. 

There are several monitors that you can get for around $100. However, most of these will have very small speakers and low output which makes it difficult while listening. The minimum we suggest is to find monitors with at least a 5" driver. This will get you decent playback, but very little in the bass/lower frequencies as a small speaker just cannot produce sound in these ranges. If you can afford to get speakers with at least an 8" driver the difference is like night and day. The other option is to purchase a separate subwoofer. This will specifically play the lower frequencies that the smaller speakers miss. 

Headphones

When you are recording you should be using headphones. This is especially true for vocals. If you have the music playing through speakers while recording you will get a certain amount of bleed whereas the music from the speakers is being picked up by the microphone.  Along the same lines is open versus closed-back headphones. Closed-back headphones will help keep the music in your ears and not bleed out onto your recording. 

Recording in someone else's home studio

Like building your own home studio, recording at someone else's studio you will still face the same issues. You'll be limited to their equipment and their knowledge of recording and mixing. This can be okay for many up-and-coming artists as it allows you, the artist to concentrate on your performance instead of having to worry about the technical end of things. The other downside of someone else's home studio is that it may not be available when you want to record. 

Recording in a Professional Studio

This is when the fun really starts. You'll find that in pro studios that you won't have to worry about any of the above-listed items. A good studio will have gear that is up to the task of capturing pro-sounding recordings. This means preamps, microphones, interfaces, space, and more. Additionally, a pro engineer will be fast and efficient. They will also know how to get the best coming from your voice.  They can also add things like compression, eq, reverb, and delay while you are tracking to give you a better experience while recording. You'll find that you can record much faster with a much higher quality product at a pro studio. 

Conclusion

Artists that are the most successful will have a combination of all of the things discussed here. In many cases, artists will have their own modest set up at their home. This is usually used to capture ideas and work out parts prior to going into a pro studio. Once they have caught their ideas and worked out all of the parts including ad-libs, harmonies, and dubs, they will make the move to a pro studio.  This way when they go to a pro studio they already know what they are going to record and they are looking to capture the best performance and quality recording. 

Recording Session