Are you ready to trade up your Audigy card and Band in a Box for the next level of recording equipment? Maybe you’re thinking about owning the ultimate piece of gear: your own actual recording studio. Well you don’t have to be Paul Allen to get a completely professional level recording studio up and running.
So, how do you make an Abbey Road in your mom’s garage with 10 minutes of reading and a weekend?
I can tell by search terms being used on the Internet that there are a ton of people out there looking to build their own recording studio. Building a studio is not something you want to do. It’s equivalent to owning the biggest yacht you’ve ever seen. It costs that much and it’s that much trouble. I know. I own one. My guess is that I haven’t talked you out of it. So, may I suggest that you do something more moderate: find an extra room (big if possible), take 10 minutes to read this article, and then plan a weekend to buy and setup your gear.
If you want to do more than what I just described, or spend more than $10,000, read my other article on building a higher-end studio. Or, go buy a ton of books at Barnes and Noble on recording, save up some dough, and you’ll be on your way. I took this route (well, almost). I hired the recording engineer for the Steve Miller band and found out after 30 years of experience he knew nothing about acoustics. (How does that happen?) Anyway, learn from my hard knocks, take the easy route, and never stop learning….
Acoustics for Dummies
You must know three simple concepts…
Isolation: This is the ability to keep wanted sounds in your studio from getting out (and being annoying to others). And, it’s the ability to keep unwanted sounds out (fire engines screaming by while your 10 minute drum solo is being recorded).
Absorption: This is the ability of certain materials to absorb sound waves across the human hearing range. Using different materials allows you to “tune” your room to sound good on the inside. For example, carpet is great for absorbing high frequencies (crash cymbals) but awful at absorbing low frequencies (your 13-year old playing bass).
Diffusion: This is the ability to “spread” sound waves around the room at different frequencies. Good diffusion in a room allows you to hear a pleasant and reasonably accurate acoustical “image” no matter where you are in the room. Without diffusion, certain frequencies will “pile up” in certain parts of the room, giving you a distorted “picture” in those spots.
Buy the acoustic materials ($250-$1000). Now that you know some basic lingo, get out a tape measure and measure the height, width, and length of the room you want to use for your studio. Then log into the website for Auralex, a maker of acoustic materials. Follow the links for their free “Personalized Room Analysis.” Download and fill out the form and fax it back to them. When they get back to you, go to your nearest Guitar Center to buy the stuff. Make sure you buy the Auralex adhesives to stick the stuff on the walls. You’re done.
Recording Gear for Dummies
Buy a good computer ($1000-$1500) You can buy ones tuned for audio from Carillon. Or, you can buy an off-the-shelf Dell or Mac. Get 512MB to 1GB of RAM and make sure your system has a firewire card and CD-RW. For Windows, get a PC with Windows XP. If you already have a Windows PC, upgrade to XP. It will solve a ton of problems regarding your audio hardware.
Buy a computer recording interface (about $1400). The best thing going right now is the Tascam FW-1884. Check it out on Musician’s Friend. It’s firewire so it will work with Macs or PCs. The Digi002 is another good choice. These are good midrange devices that don’t require a separate mixer. Just plug in the firewire cable to your computer and go. They’re portable too. Lower cost recording interfaces are available, but this article is for dummies, so save yourself the time unless you want to do the research.
Buy a software recording platform (about $100-700): There are many choices, but some good ones are Cakewalk Sonar, Sony Acid Pro, Adobe Audition, FL Studio, or Digital Performer (mac). If you buy the ProTools Digi002 recommended above, then the ProTools LE software is included with your hardware. LE is the “lite” version of the DigiDesign ProTools software. DigiDesign ProTools is considered the gold standard for pro studios, but if you want the “full” version you also have to buy DigiDesign’s high-end gear. For the home studio, this is usually beyond the budget. If you are a songwriter, Acid and FL Studio are good choices as they allow you to quickly and easily compose songs using “loops” of real recordings of various instruments.
Buy some speakers (about $1000-$1500): Get a pair of Mackie HR824s or HR624s. The HR824s are the most accurate speakers on the market. The 624s aren’t bad but you’ll be lacking some bass – so you may eventually want a subwoofer. The trick here is that even with good speakers, the best tool you have is your ears. Learn to listen. It may take years to hone this skill. You can get cheaper speakers, but I wouldn’t skimp here.
Buy some microphones, if you need them ($89 to $infinity). Many keyboardists and guitarists don’t need mics. Just jack in. If you are a singer, get the Audio Technica AT3035 – it’s cheap and good. If you are a guitarist, get an SM57 for $89 and stick it 6″-12″ in front of the cabinet. If you are a drummer, well, you’re beyond the scope of this article. Drums are a pain to record and they typically require a lot of mics and a lot of knowledge. Sorry, maybe next time.
Buy a few cables ($100-$300). Buy some mic cables, as well as a pair of balanced 1/4″ cables for going from your audio interface to your speakers, and unbalanced 1/4″ cables to go from your keyboard or guitar processor to your audio interface.
Buy a pair of good headphones ($100). Most studios are using Sony MDR-7506. They sound great, period. Don’t put them on your chair unless you want to buy another pair!
This is the quickest recipie I know of to create a studio in your home for a reasonable amount of money. You can do it cheaper, but you’ll have to do some research, visit pawn shops, and spend time on eBay. At least you have a handle on the major components that you’ll need. If you need more info, visit my reading list on amazon.com.
I’m not an employee of Auralex, Guitar Center, Mackie and any other manufacturer mentioned here. I also don’t own their stocks. I’m just a guy with a PalmPilot trying to organize my life and write meager articles for a few friends.