Making music at home has never been more popular or accessible. Access to audio recording technologies that were never available to the public before are now incredibly common, from digital audio workstations to condenser microphones.
While the recording industry is still alive and well, more and more aspiring audio producers and performing artists are building in-home studios. Whether they are working on their own music and audio projects, to produce music for other artists, or simply for fun. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to make music in a studio at home.
The first priority of any audio producer is a computer or laptop. The computer used for audio producing should be the best the audio producer can afford. However, it’s perfectly alright if the one they can afford is the one they have. Most of the time, an audio producer’s existing home machine can do the job effectively. Those with a bit of money to spend on building a studio at home may want something more robust.
The studio computer should have a decent-to-good grade processor, a quality audio card, and plenty of storage space for digital project files. Apple computers are used widely in professional audio recording, including the Mac Pro, the iMac, and the iMac Pro.
For audio producers who don’t particularly want to use a Mac or can’t justify the expense, a broad variety of good PC options are available. Hewlett-Packard, Asus, Dell, and LG are all good brands to look at, as are Toshiba and Acer. In particular, the HP Envy, the Dell Inspiron, and the Lenovo Yoga 3 are all excellent models to seek out.
Refurbished and less expensive models are always an option, so ultimately, the audio producer should simply go with the best specs they can afford.
The Music Software
Right after the machine, all music at home begins with a digital audio workstation (DAW). A good DAW doesn’t have to cost a great deal of money, and some fantastic DAWs are even free.
If it’s in the budget, one of the industry-grade DAWs, like ProTools is a good option. Some less expensive, but still excellent, options are Magix Acid Pro, Reaper, Logic Pro X, and Cakewalk Sonar. Last but not least, some of the best free DAWs on the market are Garageband (for Apple users only, but incredibly robust for freeware), Audacity, Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite, Rosegarden (Linux/Windows only), and Giada.
When searching for a DAW, the audio producer should take the time to test any free trials available to get a feel for the software interface. DAWs are not one size fits all, and ensuring that the interface and mechanics are to the audio producer’s liking will save a lot of time and frustration down the road.
Aside from a DAW, a music notation program and ear training software are also great ideas for audio producers intent on expanding their musicianship and active listening skills. Paid and free options exist, but among the best-paid models are Sibelius and Finale, and for freeware options, MuseScore has lots of fantastic capabilities.
For ear training, audio producers don’t necessarily need to download any programs. Teoria and MusicTheory both have a number of exercises intended to train and improve the musician’s ear. Developing ear training skills can be immensely helpful to recording artists in the studio, and subsequently are well worth developing.
The Music Studio Hardware
Even for audio producers who are already using a DAW to make base tracks, there’s still a range of hardware that every good audio producer needs.
For home studios that will record instruments and voice, a condenser microphone, and preferably a good quality one, is at the top of that list. Industry-standard brands like Sennheiser, Neumann, Shure, and Rode are all options for consideration, depending on the desired features and, of course, budget. Audio producers who go for condenser mics will also want to procure a pop filter, which helps avoid redlining on plosive sounds.
However, a condenser mic is not the only option for a home studio’s first mic. Dynamic mics are also a great option for less money, especially the Shure SM58, long upheld as an industry standard for both recording and live shows. This durable mic can record almost anything with decent proficiency, especially with a well-trained audio producer at the helm of the recording process. For audio producers who cannot afford a condenser mic, a refurbished SM58 is a good second choice.
In addition to a mic, a decent stand and a few cables are essential. Some mics come with cables, but it might be necessary to buy them separately. These will typically be XLR cables. For mic stands, a straight stand is fine, but a boom stand is more versatile and can be adjusted to record everything from vocals to hand drums, so it might be worth making the somewhat larger investment in a boom stand.
A good pair of mixing headphones is also a valued friend to the dedicated audio producer. While the casual listener can just use earbuds for their music, the audio producer needs specialized headphones to ensure that the overall mix is where it needs to be and is ready for distribution. Audio producers may use either closed-back or open-back headphones, but while open-back headphones are optional, closed-back are essential.
Industry-standard mixing headphones include brands like Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, and AKG. Some less expensive brands include SONY and Audio Technica.
An in-home studio keyboard is also a great investment for audio producers, whether it’s being used by performing artists, or to create loops for base tracks. Yamaha, Korg, and Nord are all great keyboard brands that offer a variety of options for most budgets, especially refurbished.
Last but not least, home audio producers may want to consider a good set of mixing speakers. While most mixing can be done with mixing headphones, testing a mix via speaker is also considered an important part of doing a thorough job of the recording, mixing, and mastering process. If speakers are in the budget, audio producers might want to consider the KRK Rokit 5 G3, Yamaha HS8, Neumann KH 120, or Mackie HR824 mkII.
The Home Music Studio Accessories
A fair number of other items go into a home music studio that, while not totally critical to being able to make good music, can make the process easier and tighter and the end result more professional.
While a great deal of mixing and mastering can be done in the DAW, a mixing board, even a small one, wouldn’t go amiss. Mixing boards feature anywhere from four to twenty channels, and can be used to set recording levels, add special effects, and control volume and redlining. A wide range of industry-standard brands are available for every budget, including Yamaha, PreSonus, and Alto.
Even refurbished speakers can cost more than the audio producer’s computer, so while they can help make mixing more effective and professional, they are not a requirement for the beginning producer.
Some audio producers may want to invest in materials to acoustically treat the room they use as a home studio. If the floor is hardwood, area rugs are a vital purchase. Wall hangings, or even carpets simply hung from the walls, can also assist. Sound baffles are also a very sound investment if there is room in the budget, and sound baffles that create different acoustic environments are available to audio producers at a variety of price points. A home studio should ideally be somewhat acoustically “dead,” so that a fairly dry quality recording can be ensured. Effects can be added in post-recording to create an auditory space that suits the mood and style of the music.
Building a music studio at home can seem like a daunting task, but it need not be. Audio producers who take the time to list out the equipment they know they’ll need, establish a budget, and carefully price their items will find the endeavor well worth the time they spend on it, and will reap incredible creative rewards for their diligence and hard work in the studio both for personal projects and those they help other artists to envision and realize.
Audio Production Program
The Audio Production and Engineering Program at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.
At the end of the Audio Production and Engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.
Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.