Have you always dreamed of making your own records? Maybe you just had a few songs and thought you could put them out yourself? Or do you just want to quickly jot down some songs to show to your band at the next rehearsal? Recording has never been as easy or affordable as it is today. Depending on your needs and skill level, you could get going for just a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. A far cry from the hundreds of thousands it cost just 20 years ago for even a decent, viable commercial setup.
This of course depends on the one thing that hasn’t changed: the skill it takes to build and run a recording studio. If you have the knowledge to get there, no problem. If not, I’m here to help!
*for the wiseacres out there – before you rush to send me hatemail that I have not really mentioned acoustic considerations here, save your electrons. While this is certainly true, and I may be one of the biggest advocates for it, what this page describes are what I consider to be the very basics and minimal setups you could actually record decent tracks with. Yes, room treatment would be very, very helpful, but right now I’m pretty much talking about the basic electronics. I think I have a track record going way, way, way beyond to show what these types of setups are capable of.
If you zoom out all the way to take a bird’s eye view of the recording process it could look like this: You sing, a microphone picks it up, an audio interface connected to your computer converts it to a set of digital information, you record and manipulate this information on your DAW, then send it back out to speakers to listen to, and render it to files you can share with the world. Below, we zoom in a little bit more on these main four elements
The device(s) needed to get your sounds from the real world into a cable to bring them to your interface for recording. Instead of a mic, you might be using a direct box for plugging a guitar pickup into to accomplish the same thing. Or perhaps there aren’t any actual airborne audio signals that you need to capture, as the case would be if you were entering your performance in through a MIDI keyboard or electronic drum kit.
Sound card, audio interface, whatever you want to call the device that lets you take input from real world audio signal sources and send them to your DAW. At the same time these things receive information from your DAW setup so that you can return them to the world for listening to. Hopefully, the interface provides some volume or gain controls for signals going in (so you can set the levels just right, not so loud that they distort and not so soft that they have errors) and signals coming back (volume control for your headphones or turning your speakers to levels that won’t disturb the neighbors at 3 in the morning)
Digital Audio Workstation – a nebulous term usually encompassing a computer and a number of programs running on that computer that record, mix, effect and distribute your music and/or noises. Roughly analogous to the mixing console, rack mounted FX units and open reel tape recorders of yesteryear, plus many former functions of the post office, publisher and archivist.
Headphones and/or speakers. The parts that actually let you hear what you are doing and what you have done.
Some General, Suggested Packages
Let’s first look at your particular needs. Are you a singer, perhaps with an acoustic guitar? Are you a MIDI musician? Do you need the facilities to record a whole band, including a drumset?
A caveat: Though the prices can go from frugal to insane, it is important to note that, despite all of the bickering and snake-oil salesmen claims you will find at a music store, magazines and the internet, due to the nature of digital audio, and the performance of even the most affordable Analog to Digital Converters available today, there isn’t a major technical difference in the sound quality of the recording chains of these different systems.
If you are a singer and/or guitarist and need a simple, cheap, quick way to get your ideas into a format you can share, this is a good choice. Countless rappers and EDM producers use this same basic setup, often with the files recorded this way, ending up on the final album. This is also the number one choice of setup for podcasters and videocasters and is becoming more and more the situation for independent voice over actors.
Included: Microphone, boom stand, pop filter, two input audio interface, headphone set, and cabling
Optional: especially for podcasters and YouTube style videocasters, a desktop mic stand
About as small as you could comfortably get for a collaborative effort, similar to the micro, but including some actual monitor speakers.
Included: Microphone, boom stand, pop filter, two input audio interface, headphone set, monitor speakers, and cabling
Optional: Monitor controller
The basics of what you would need to record a whole band. This setup would be very much at home in a “glassless recording” setup, but equally well suited for the purpose built traditional recording studio. Expand this as your skills and needs grow.
Pair this setup with a decent laptop, and you have a mobile recording setup. Any place you could find and fit a band in, is your recording studio!
Included: Microphone, boom stand, pop filter, sixteen input audio interface, headphone set, monitor speakers, and cabling
Optional: microphone set, 16 channel snake, 16 channel cabling and monitoring set, headphone distribution, monitor controller
The Whole Enchillada
24 input full function recording studio with full compliment of microphones, mic stands multiple speakers, a band’s worth of monitor distribution, acoustic consideration, and the piles of cabling and all the custom routing my soldering iron can sustain.
Extremely abbreviated list of clients:
A&M Records – Albacore Studios – Arvins Garden – Audio Assault – Black Eyed Peas – Calabrese – Dave Mustaine(Megadeth) – Chester Bennington – CMC International Records – Cockos Inc(REAPER Digital Audio Workstation) – Curly Smith(Boston) – Dead Hit Workshop – Dokken – Fall of Empyrean – Fivespeed – Flotsam and Jetsam – George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) – Gin Blossoms – Hollywood Pictures – Jason Witte(Goaded) – Joey Difrancesco – John Hampton – KOAMA – Kompound Studios – Lee Ving(FEAR, MD-45) – Man on a String(Woody Wood) – Marty Friedman(Cacaphony, Hawaii, Megadeth) – Matthew Maikai Kahanaoi – Max Norman – Megadeth – Metal Blade Records – Mogollon – MVD Entertainment Group – Obie O’Brien – Ovis Records – Paniolo Prince – Peavey – Phunk Junkeez – Redfield – Rick Rubin – Rob Halford – Sacred Reich – Saint Madness – Salmon Hall – Sevenfield – Sheryl Crow – Sonic Foundry – Sonicrush – Sony Creative Software – Stereotyperider – Stevie Nicks – Sunset Alliance Records – Thiago Trinsi – Think Tech Hawaii – Tiki Entertainment – Tolerance – Tommy Gibbons – Toontrack – Vanilla Ice – Vehemence – Versailles Records – Westwood Studios Hawaii