One of the most homely things a person can do to their home is to create a part of it dedicated to their hobbies. It could be a home gym or an art room. Or, for the music lovers: a music room. A home studio, be it for practising or for recording, is undoubtedly a dream to have in any musician’s home. Personally, I have been playing the guitar for nearly 15 years and I dream of having a state of the art home studio some day. For now, this DIY guide is the closest I’m going to get!
That being said, this guide is written with a budget of over €500 and less than €2000. So the gear advised is advised with “bang for the buck” in mind, also taking into consideration availability in Ireland and usage at home. So this is what we would recommend you check out and consider in your home build project.
First things first: what are the essentials, and what are the privileges. Every home studio will need the following basics: a microphone, cables, good quality headphones, a computer, a quiet location/soundproofing, and a means of recording an instrument ie. a MIDI or some form of an interface. You will also need drivers on the computer, as well as a DAW (digital audio workstation), software for you to record and mix the inputs.
Extra gear that some might deem necessary include (depending on the purpose for use): a guitar amplifier, monitoring speakers, proper industrial soundproofing and any effects needed, be it on the instrument line to the interface or on the computer digitally. Further gear can be considered as non-essential or privileged gear. Such might include analogue recording devices, audio processors and dedicated channels on a multi-input amplifier/mixer.
This can be a lot to take in in one reading. So let’s break it down, starting with the essentials. Where can you get this equipment, and what does it do? Obviously, some of them, such as a microphone or cables, are more general knowledge. Some other gear may seem self-explanatory but bear with me as it may not be for someone new to the world of recording.
- So, to start with, we’re going to look at a computer. What does a computer for recording look like, you might ask? Well, it looks very different now from what it did 5 years ago. You can use just about anything these days, the main focuses of specifications required comes down to memory, storage and inputs. You can get a computer good enough for recording software for less than 500 euro, and some DAWs actually come free or have an unlimited free trial, such as Reaper. That being said, it is much better to buy a full version of recording software, as you get more features and effects.
- Next up: location. You’re going to need a medium sized room, one big enough to have this gear in it, but not so big as to create natural reverb. A carpet and furniture can help reduce and eradicate all unwanted background noises such as echoes and reverb. These things, if wanted, are much easier added in the controlled environment of the DAW. In more advanced builds, the room may contain 2 parts – the side with all the computer and tech stuff and the side for the performer, usually divided by a soundproof glass window. For this part, there is no recommendation other than what you’re comfortable with and can easily afford.
Means of recording – MIDI devices:
- A modern-day essential is an interface or a MIDI. This is a device that the sound is sent to and processed, before sending it to the computer. Usually, the monitoring happens at this stage unless an external one is purchased. The recommendation here for a guitarist is a Scarlett 2i2 or 2i4, the 2i4 being superior since you can use stereo headphone monitoring as opposed to the mono on the 2i2 model. A working standard one of these, at the best bang for the buck, will set you back about €150-160. They are available from www.gear4music.ie and www.thomann.de/ie.
- As for an actual MIDI, the Roland Go Piano is a work of art. It’s portable, and you can use it for inputting piano tracks as precisely as you wish. If the price is too steep, however, a reasonable alternative is the Arturia MiniLab MKII, priced at around €85 on Thomann. This is significantly lower than the €259 for the Roland Go Piano from the same retailer.
- As for what instruments you require, well, that’s up to you entirely. Are you a singer, a guitarist, a flautist or any other semi-proficient instrumentalist of any shape and size. You don’t even really need to be semi-proficient, a basic understanding is all that’s required to sound good in a studio. Personally, I would mainly play the guitar; 6 string, 12 string or bass. In my case, an Amplifier would be essential, as well as a good microphone for picking up the Amp sound. The Boss Katana 100 is regarded as the best Amp for the money these days. Despite the fact that it is solid state and not a Tube/Valve Amp, many people cannot tell the difference in tone. It costs €320 at my local guitar shop, Everest Music Bray, a bargain by any means of the word for the quality you get, especially when compared to its €1000+ counterparts, the Valve and Tube Amps.
Above are the essentials needed, but what if you have some budget left over that you really want to spend on making your studio just that little bit more special? Here are some suggestions:
- Old-School recording gear. This is the stuff the Beatles would have used to make their records. This is analogue equipment, the “how-your-parents-did-it” materials. Songs and tracks can be recorded onto tapes, films, and even straight onto a disk/vinyl. Definitely authentic and quite niche in the modern day world of computer recording.
- Dedicated processors/interfaces for each input. Most interfaces these days will allow for multiple inputs, but having a dedicated device for each one can just make things a little more controlled and comfortable. Think of it like this: who wants to say they recorded their vocal lines through an interface designed for guitar. For that extra peace of mind, it is recommended you buy an interface designed for what you will use it for.
- Audio Processors. Guitar pedals, vocal pedals or digital multi-effect pedals are incredibly handy for getting the exact sound you want. Most Amplifiers and DAWs will have the essentials, distortion, reverb, bass and treble, but if you want a certain tone – Fuzz, Delay, an Octave effect and many more – you’re going to need an Audio Processor. What it does is alter the signal it receives on the line of the instrument to the amplifier, shaping it into the desired sound.
- Mood lighting. Some dimmed lights or coloured lights can really add an aesthetic vibe to your home studio. And everyone knows that everything runs better and more smoothly under the right lighting. Just grab anything off a local DIY shop or Amazon.
So that’s the basics of building a home studio in 2018. I strongly advise you check out some YouTube videos, such as this one by Ryan Bruce; “Riffs and Beards“. He does an excellent break down of the absolute essentials and a couple of recommendations. In terms of extra gear such as instruments or amps/pedals, have a look at Anderton’s TV n YouTube too. It’s mainly a guitar-focused channel, but there is a lot of vocal and bass related gear showcased there too.
The advice I’ve given above is based on my personal experience in building a home studio. The best thing to do is have a look for yourself, go to your local guitar/music shop and have a taster. Try out that expensive guitar or amp, test that pedal, or just have a look. Store owners don’t mind, in fact, most welcome it. Trial and error is the only way to see what works for you. Hopefully, this article cleared up some questions you may have had, and maybe motivates you to take a step towards building a home studio if you’ve been considering it for a while. It’s a load of fun, and it’s very easy to do if you have a budget too.