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What is Needed to Start a Recording Studio?

Producer with an at home recording studio

So, you want to be an audio producer. This might sound like a fanciful dream to some but turning that dream into a reality is much easier than you may realize. Technological advancements have led to a wider availability, and affordability, of all the tools necessary to start doing just about everything the big-name record labels are doing in a dedicated recording studio all from your living room.

Now, being an audio producer and getting paid to do it is a different matter entirely, but you have to start somewhere. Many of the most famed audio producers started with next to nothing and built up their recording studio piece by piece, so why can’t you?

What is Needed to Start a Recording Studio?

What are the basics that every recording studio needs? A good set of headphones, instruments, software, hardware, sound dampening equipment, microphones, and a recording booth are just a few of the items you will need to create your own recording studio.

Headphones and Speakers

It’s critical that you hear what you’re making when working away in your recording studio. In order to get as much perspective as possible on your mixes, you need the ability to hear how music sounds in different mediums. Quality over-the-ear headphones are essential so you can fully immerse yourself in the sound and hyper analyze every pan and stereophonic decision. A good set of quality speakers will then give you the full force of your mix, allowing you to crank up the volume and feel the vibrations in your whole body.

Instruments

Depending on whether you’re an instrumentalist looking to record parts that you lay down yourself or if you’re interested in finding musicians to bring into your studio, musical instruments are often still a critical part of making music, no surprises there. Most musicians will bring their own instruments, but it’s good to have backups on hand, as well as spare parts in case someone breaks a string or a reed.

If you’re recording in a specific genre, following standard instrumentation for that type of music is a good rule of thumb for beginners. You can always get more experimental once you’ve built up some rapport. It might be necessary to fill out the recording space with miscellaneous instruments that come in handy on a variety of mixes, auxiliary percussion in particular, like bongos, shakers, and tambourines.

MIDI or digital instruments are flexible and convenient. You can have them anywhere that your computer setup is, and they’re easily programmable and adjusted to help you get the exact sound you’re looking for. One of the best things about using MIDI is that they can plug directly into your DAW, which leads to the next area of essential studio tools.

Software and Hardware

In today’s digital, tech-based world, you can’t hope to keep up with the modern professional audio producers without operating on the same playing field. Digital audio workstations, commonly called DAWs, have completely revolutionized what’s possible with a minimal setup. DAWs also make every step from recording, mixing, and mastering, more reflexing, meaning that more people can learn how to do it without devoting a lifetime.

Once you have everything set up in your recording studio, you’ll need the computer power to run these oftentimes weighty programs. You’ll need plenty of processing power and RAM and ample hard drive space for digital storage. Project files for any DAW tend to take up a lot of space, and every audio producer’s worst nightmare is losing all their hard work, so backing up your files is a must.

Every studio should have plenty of computer monitors so you can see what you’re doing and not be limited by the space you’re working with. An ergonomic mouse, keyboard, and chair are recommended so you don’t wear your body out with all the hours you spend in your recording studio. And while many DAWs come equipped with their own digital mixer, the most serious audio producers still opt to invest in a physical mixing board.

Sound Dampening

No matter what type of music or audio you’re thinking about producing, if you’re physically recording sound and not working entirely digital with MIDI and DAW tools, you’re going to need a properly treated room. Besides blocking out unwanted ambient, and sometimes not so ambient, sounds from outside your studio-in-progress, dampening panels are a key component of sound absorption. This is how radio announcers and other voiceover artists manage to get such a full sound from every syllable they pronounce.

This type of treatment is just as important when recording instruments, sound effects, and just about everything else. Without these panels, the soundwaves can fly freely in every direction instead of going into the microphone, where you want them to go.

Microphones

It’s important to know which types of microphones you’ll need before you go online, start getting overwhelmed, and order one of everything from Amazon or Sweetwater. While it might be tempting to go for overkill and buy every tool you might need to have the best recording studio, this can quickly drain your budget and leave you ill-equipped for the other essential elements, like hardware and software. Familiarizing yourself with the basic microphone types will help you narrow your search and ensure that you don’t end up with a lot of expensive mics that you don’t actually need.

Condenser Microphone – ideal for acoustic instruments, lead vocals, and voiceovers. These are extremely sensitive mics, so they require particular recording conditions in order to get the most out of them. Any and all background noise will be picked up, and while that’s something that can get lost in the mix when laying many different parts on top of each other in busy multitrack projects, it will stick out like a sore thumb if you’re recording voiceover.

This microphone in particular is one you’ll want to use a pop filter on when recording vocals. What is known as “plosives” in the audio world, that is, those consonant sounds which cause explosive pops into the microphone, are especially prevalent with these highly sensitive mics. Pop filters do little to nothing to weaken the sound of your vocals, and it certainly makes the end product a lot easier on the ears whether it’s a podcast or lead vocals.

Dynamic Microphone – perfect for capturing bigger, in-your-face sounds. The wailing tones of a horn or most kinds of percussion are best recorded using dynamic mics. You can place one directly in front of your amp to easily and cleanly capture electric instrument sounds. They’re also great for capturing vocals of any kind in the recording studio, particularly those that are belted, raw, and dirty. While it might sound counterintuitive, it’s easier to make your voice sound good with a less sensitive microphone, if you’re having trouble dealing with the sound of your own voice, as many vocalists do.

You don’t have to worry so much about having a completely soundproof room when you use one of these microphones, either. They’re great at picking up the sound the goes directly into them, but once you back off just a few inches, the sound dies away dramatically. Those who are working in suboptimal conditions can take advantage of this to create some quality recordings until they can save up enough money to treat their space.

Ribbon Microphone – a less common type of microphone is popular among radio and podcast hosts. It’s also a great way to get every nuance of an impassioned vocal performance. This usually isn’t the first microphone type to turn to and is definitely on the pricier side, so it might be worth trying out a quality condenser mic to start with. But if you’re truly committed to capturing recordings that sound as close as possible to the way things sound in the human ear, ribbon is the only way to go. You can use it for everything from vocals to lighter instruments, as well as various types of ambient elements and sound effects.

Recording Booths

Depending on how many tracks you plan on recording at once, you might require multiple soundproof rooms to avoid loud instruments bleeding onto other microphones. This is particularly the case when recording drums and percussion of any kind. It’s also essential to provide enough windows for everybody involved to have visual contact. Otherwise, it’s hard too hard for musicians to perform as if they are playing in the same room. Simply being able to make eye contact and read each other’s facial expressions enables smoother communication between artists and audio producers.

Of course, most audio producers can’t get their point across to the artists using their faces alone. Professional studios have to be fully wired up with speaker and intercom systems to enable seamless communication.

When recording vocals, you’ll need a special type of booth in order to get the full sound that’s expected in the singer and vocal artist world. Vocal booths are smaller, oftentimes about the size of a phone booth, and are fully padded from floor to ceiling. This means that every bit of sound will be absorbed, and the booth can be completely filled with your singer’s vocals and nothing else.

Some Home Studio Considerations

If you dream of being a work-from-home producer, there are some unique challenges you’ll probably face that audio producers working from a dedicated professional studio don’t usually have to deal with. Additional soundproofing and dampening panels might be required if you have noisy neighbors or housemates. Taking extra measures to ensure that everybody in the household knows where, when and for how long you’ll be recording, and what the expected and agreed-upon etiquette is for that period of time can save you the frustration of having to do re-recording sessions as well as avoiding unnecessary tension in your household.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know what goes into creating a recording studio, it is time to start building. Whether you’re creating a small studio in your apartment with a few items or a grand recording studio with every bell and whistle, you can’t start making music without a DAW and a computer. Learn all about this and more during an audio production program. Learn what to buy and what not to buy as well as how to use it. You will be happy you did.

Audio Production Program

Ready to get into audio production and start creating music? 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.