How To Build Your Own Home Recording Studio
If you’re thinking about building a home studio, there’s no better time to do it than right now.
You don’t need a large budget, you don’t need specific equipment for your genre, and you don’t need the same stuff that everybody else has.
To build your home studio and start producing music at home, all you need are five simple things.
In this article, you will learn:
- Why building the perfect home studio is easier than you think
- The five essentials that every home studio should have
- The right way to grow and evolve your studio over time
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Designing Your Perfect Home Studio
When you’re shopping for home studio equipment, your goal should be to make the best possible studio for you. You only need the equipment that’s going to enable you to make the music you want to make, and nothing more.
When you take a look at what you really need, chances are, it isn’t very much. There’s a lot of studio equipment on the market today, but the right studio for you won’t cost a lot, take up a lot of space, or be complicated to shop for.
In my opinion, you really only need five things to have a fully-functional home studio that will enable you to make great music.
Note: The following recommendations are based on my personal experience and opinions. I am not getting paid to make any product recommendations.
Home Studio Essential #1: A Computer
The easiest way to produce music today is with a computer. Luckily, if you already have a one, chances are it’s adequate for music production.
It doesn’t matter if you have a laptop, a desktop, a Mac, or a PC. Most computers, aside from ones that are very old or very cheap, will be fine. You probably don’t need to go out and buy a new one.
If you are thinking about buying a new one, look at computers with at least 8 GB of RAM and at least 256 GB of storage.
While there are many music production apps for smartphones and tablets, I recommend using a computer for music production. The full-sized screen, keyboard, and mouse/trackpad will make the production process much easier.
The easier it is to use your tools, the more productive you will be.
Home Studio Essential #2: A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A digital audio workstation, also known as a DAW, is a piece of software designed to produce music.
DAWs have everything you need to make music. They allow you to record, pull in samples, play virtual instruments, arrange, mix, master, and much more.
There are lots of DAWs on the market today, and they all offer a complete suite of music production capabilities. Almost any DAW will be more than powerful enough to meet your needs.
DAWs come in a variety of prices, from free all the way up to hundreds of dollars. No matter how much your DAW costs, you’re still going to be able to produce great music with it.
Here are five DAWs I recommend, from cheapest (free) to most expensive. You can’t go wrong with any of these options.
If you want a free DAW and you have a Mac, I recommend GarageBand. GarageBand comes standard on all Apple computers.
If you want a free DAW and have a PC, Cakewalk is the DAW for you. Cakewalk is easily one of the most feature-rich free DAWs on the market today.
If you are fine spending a little money, Reaper is a great pick. Reaper is $60, and it is a very customizable DAW with a growing user base.
If you have a Mac and you are open to spending money on a DAW, I recommend Logic Pro. Logic Pro is an upgrade from GarageBand and it does everything you would want a DAW to do in a very effective manner. It costs $200.
If you make electronic music and/or are more focused on the writing and composition phases of music production, Ableton Live is a great pick. It’s a little pricy at $449, but it’s unmatched for creating electronic music.
Learn more about how to choose the best DAW for you here.
Home Studio Essential #3: An Audio Interface
An audio interface converts digital signals to analog signals and vice-versa. It provides a connection between your monitors, headphones, computer, and recording devices all at once.
Audio interfaces handle all of this conversion using high quality hardware to ensure that you are hearing and capturing the highest quality audio possible. Your computer has a basic audio interface it uses in conjunction with its headphone jack, but the quality is far lower than what an audio interface offers.
Producing music at as high level of quality as possible is important to get decent results. An audio interface helps this process immensely.
When you’re shopping for audio interfaces, there are two questions to keep in mind. The first is how many recording inputs you need at once. Most audio interfaces support 1-2 inputs, but some support more.
The second question to ask is if the audio interface in question has phantom power. Phantom power is used to power some types of microphones, so it’s important to have for many people. Most audio interfaces have phantom power included, but it’s worth checking just to be sure.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
My pick for audio interfaces is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo. The Scarlett Solo retails for about $119. It has one XLR recording input and one quarter-inch recording input. It does everything you need an audio interface to do in a small, simple form factor.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
If you need two XLR inputs for recording or two quarter inch inputs for recording, you can upgrade to the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for $169. This audio interface will give you two combo XLR/quarter-inch recording inputs, delivering more capability and flexibility to the recording process.
Home Studio Essential #4: Studio Monitors or Headphones
If you don’t have studio monitors or studio headphones, I recommend buying one of these things now and waiting to buy the other item down the road. Buying quality monitors and/or headphones is more important than having both immediately.
Deciding to get monitors or headphones depends on your situation. Monitors are a better choice than headphones, but that depends on if you have the environment and the budget for monitors.
To use monitors effectively, you will need a decently-sized space, such as a bedroom (around 10’x10’ or bigger) to ensure that room reverb is not an issue. If you are cramming your studio into a tiny closet, the reverb created by the space will undo all of the benefits of using monitors.
You also need to be able to use your monitors in a space that won’t disturb others. If your studio is going in a place where monitors are going to cause issues with the people around you, sticking to headphones will be the better option.
Finally, good headphones will be cheaper than monitors of a similar level of quality. If you have a tight budget, opting for headphones instead of monitors will save you money without sacrificing quality.
When it comes to your home studio, not just any speakers will do. You want to be shopping for studio monitors, which have a flatter, more objective frequency response than speakers built for general listening.
Most speakers have specifically altered frequency spectrums to make them sound better. To make the best music possible, hearing what you are producing as accurately as possible is important. This makes studio monitors a little more expensive, but they are well worth the price.
You need a pair of monitors – a left monitor and a right monitor. There are studio subwoofers out there, but this is a luxury you don’t need when you’re getting started.
Monitors don’t have to be large to be effective. Listening is best done at moderate levels, and since your monitors are right in front of you, they don’t need to project across the room.
PreSonus Eris E4.5
I recommend the PreSonus Eris E4.5 studio monitors. This pair goes for about $200 and it is high enough quality to start offering a better listening experience compared to headphones.
If you want to upgrade, I recommend the Yamaha HS5 monitors. Yamaha’s HS series is nearly an industry standard these days, with these monitors popping up in countless amateur and professional studios.
They retail for about $400 for the pair. If you can afford the higher price, I highly recommend these monitors.
Learn how to position your studio monitors in your room for optimal listening performance.
Choosing headphones over monitors is perfectly fine, but like monitors, you’ll want to get a pair that is designed for studio use. This means a pair of headphones with a relatively flat frequency response and a large, over the ear design.
My pick for studio headphones is the AKG K240s. The K240s are only about $75, which is a steal. The K240s are a great pair of headphones that provide a lot of clarity and detail.
Note that the K240s are “semi-open” headphones, meaning they have openings on the outside of the headphone cups that leak low levels of sound out into your environment. This feature improves the listening quality, but it might cause problems if you’re using them in quiet environments like libraries or offices.
As an upgrade pick, I recommend the Beyerdynamic DT770s. These headphones cost about $160 and they are a slight upgrade from the K240s. They are also closed back, meaning they won’t cause any issues with the people around you.
Home Studio Essential #5: A Microphone
The last thing you need for your home studio is a microphone, but you might not actually need this depending on the music you make. If you don’t need to record vocals or instruments, you can save your money on microphones and put it towards other areas of your home studio instead.
If you need a microphone, I highly recommend getting an XLR microphone and not a USB microphone. An XLR microphone will plug directly into your audio interface and utilize its high-quality analog-to-digital converters, whereas a USB microphone will use built-in (and usually inferior) ADCs to process your recordings. There are some nice USB microphones on the market today, but for their prices, you can get much better XLR microphones instead.
There are two common types of microphones: dynamic and condenser.
Dynamic microphones are meant for louder recordings, like instruments and loud vocals. They are durable, resistant to noise, and cost less than condenser microphones.
Condenser microphones are more popular for vocals, as they are very detail-oriented and pick up even the faintest sounds. However, this means that they will also pick up noise, so there is a tradeoff. Condenser microphones are also less durable and cost more than dynamic microphones.
My microphone pick is the Shure SM57 or the Shure SM58. These microphones are very similar to each other. They both run about $100, they are both dynamic microphones, and they are both some of the most popular, most common microphones in existence.
The only difference between these microphones is the built-in pop filter on the SM58, which makes it a little bit more suitable for recording vocals, while the SM57 is best for instruments. However, both microphones can still be used to capture both types of performances.
Shure SM57 (left) and Sure SM58 (right)
If you want to spend a little more money and enter the world of condenser microphones, I recommend getting the Rode NT1-A. This microphone costs about $225, and it’s a great entry-level condenser microphone to start recording high quality vocals with.
Now that we’ve covered the biggest parts of your home studio, keep in mind that there are some accessories that you will need to purchase as well. Luckily, these items are relatively cheap and aren’t very difficult to choose from.
XLR cables, microphone stands, and pop filters are all accessories you may need to purchase immediately or in the short term to get your studio up and running. There are tons of brands selling these products, but cost is not a big factor in buying these things.
Common studio accessories like XLR cables, microphone stands, and pop filters
You can simply go to Amazon, Guitar Center, Sweetwater, or wherever you are shopping for studio equipment, get the cheapest and/or best reviewed options, and you’ll be good to go.
Beyond The Basics
If you have these five studio essentials, you’ll be well on you’re way to making great music.
But what about all that other equipment you see people buying and talking about? It looks pretty interesting. Should you buy it?
The answer is yes and no. There is a lot of great studio equipment beyond the basics, and a lot of it can be a valuable addition to your studio. As some people say (myself included), “the studio is never finished.”
If you buy more equipment, make sure you are focused on improving your studio experience and your musical results, and not just buying equipment because you have the money to do so.
It can be tempting to buy things because they look cool, other people have them, or they seem like they will make your studio “more professional.” However, those purchases will be a waste of money if they don’t contribute to your music in a meaningful way.
Make sure what you buy is going to add value. If not, save your money for something else.
One way to approach additional studio purchases is to focus on making quality upgrades. By upgrading the equipment you already use, you know you’ll be impacting the parts of your studio that matter most.
Just be careful about going too far. Diminishing returns are bound to occur as you shop for higher and higher priced equipment.
Equipment To Take Your Studio Further
When it’s time to expand your arsenal of equipment, here are four great options to consider.
Headphones and/or Monitors
If you only have headphones or you only have monitors, buying the other item is going to improve your studio experience tremendously. Having two listening sources will help you understand how your music will sound across different sources, and you will have access to all of the benefits and flexibility of having both headphones and monitors.
To compliment your studio monitors, room treatment is a great way to ensure your listening experience isn’t being tainted by your studio space. Almost all rooms have at least some reverb, so eliminating this with room treatment is a worthwhile endeavor.
To take your melodies to the next level, getting a MIDI keyword can be a great purchase. A MIDI keyboard will help you hardness your virtual instruments more effectively and give you an easier, more authentic way to craft your melodies.
Groove Box/Drum Controller
While a MIDI keyboard will help improve your melodies, a groove box or drum controller will help you improve your rhythms by giving you a tactile method for creating drum beats. Groove boxes are great for making hip hop music, sampling, and much more.
You Make The Music, Not Your Equipment
Remember that your studio is just a tool, and that making great music is your responsibility.
If you are struggling and want to make better music, putting in the time to improve your creative skills is going to do a lot more than purchasing additional equipment.
To make this creative process easier, I want to give you something. It’s my free guide for music production:
Five Steps To Make Professional Quality Songs In Your Home Studio.
If you’re a musical artist or producer and you want to improve your skills, I highly recommend downloading this guide.
Once you get your studio set up, this guide is going to help you improve your skills on the creative side of things and take your music production capabilities to the next level.
Instant access – just tell us where to send it: