Set Up a Home Recording Studio Right in Your Bedroom!
Are you itching to mix tracks with those catchy hooks that you have been humming for a long long time, but feel pretty overwhelmed by the technology currently available to do so? The Internet can get intellectually intimidating most of the times, and we understand this well.
In this article, we break down what constitutes a Home Recording Studio, and for all practical purposes, setting up a basic recording studio, right in your bedrooms, has become fairly easy and affordable (we suggest you go ahead and figure out which part of your house can give you the best acoustics for your microphone-enabled recordings).
Recording music can be a fun activity, especially with the development of easy-to-use music production software (or DAWs) that come with great GUI and allow multi-channel MIDI inputs and outputs, presets, virtual musical instruments, and a lot more! Plus, decent DAWs are not so expensive anymore. Gone are the days when recording was only possible at high-end studios.
But with easily accessible technology comes the challenge of making the right decision when buying software or hardware, as it depends on the kind of music you are planning to make and what kind of inputting hardware you are comfortable working with. This only marks the beginning of your learning process, perhaps the trickiest bit in all of this is getting familiar with the features that come with your DAW.
You will basically need a few essential things to start making music with (we will explain each of these components in enough detail for you to get started on them later in the article):
- A PC or a tablet with operating software that is still relevant today (For instance, speaking of Microsoft OS users in particular, software and firmware from Yamaha are only available for Windows XP enabled systems onward.)
- An audio interface (is essentially a sound card, whether external or built-in)
- A microphone
- A MIDI controller (this could be a standalone MIDI keyboard or a digital piano that can be connected via a MIDI-to-USB cable or an audio interface)
- A good music producing software or DAW
- Some great VSTs, free or otherwise (we will focus on these in a sister article)
- Headphones, speakers, monitors, cables, a stand for the mic, and the likes
Let’s simplify what all these components do and how to correctly set them up, and this set up, more or less, carries the same form across recording platforms for a range of music producing domains (whether you are podcaster or a DJ, you’ll need to hook all this software and hardware together in a particular manner).
A Typical Home Recording Studio Setup
This is the place where you will eventually carry out editing, mixing, mastering, and sharing tracks with the help of a DAW software. But make sure that the recording peripherals (the audio interface and MIDI controller) that you buy are compatible with the version of OS on your computer.
This is where lies the heart of your home recording studio setup. An audio interface allows you to get sound into your computer. (A basic form of an audio interface can be a USB microphone too.) In principle, an audio interface is very similar to sound cards that are physically installed onto PCs, but instead, help route superior quality sounds into your PC.
In simple terms, this device helps convert analog sound into digital sound that can be processed (edited, mixed, etc.) on your PC, and is converted back into analog sound that comes out of your speakers/monitors/headphones.
The advantage of using an audio interface is that it allows you to connect professional recording equipment to your PC apart from enhancing the general sound quality of your recordings as it comes with a superior analog circuitry.
An audio interface can be connected to a PC using a regular USB connection (USB 1.0 or 2.0) or more esoteric connections like the PCMCIA slots. There are others, such as the FireWire ports, that help with efficiently inputting signals from a variety of instruments and devices at a go without causing delays. USB ports work just fine when working with not more than two microphones at a time.
An instrument like a digital piano can be either routed via an audio interface or can also be directly plugged into the PC using a USB 2.0 Host Connector Cable. The keyboard will need a piece of software that will enable inputs from it to be recognized by your PC; for this, you will need to download appropriate drivers from the website of the makers of your instrument.
What are the various kinds of inputs available on an audio interface?
- 3-pin XLR inputs for professional microphones (combo inputs with XLR inputs and 1/4″ TRS inputs work fine too.)
- Line-level inputs and outputs are available as 1/4″ TRS jack slots or 1/4″ TS jack slots. 1/4″ is basically the diameter of the plug and TRS stands for Tip, Ring, and Sleeve (It is preferred that mic signals be inputted and outputted via 1/4″ TRS jacks as they help give way stronger signals.)
- These help connect your instruments like guitars, keyboards, etc. (guitars can also be routed into the interface via effect pedals that also use 1/4″ jack slots.)
- MIDI ports that help relay MIDI information between your DAW and the MIDI controller (more on MIDI later).
- S/PDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format) connectors (coaxial jacks) help input stereo signals from devices like FX guitar processors/synthesizers.
- ADAT connectors are similar to S/PDIF connectors but are capable of passing 8 independent channels of digital audio signals into your PC.
For starters, you can invest in “live-vocal mics” (the kind used in concerts or karaoke) that directly connect to your PCs through external 1/8″ (0r 3.5 mm) mic-in ports, or can also be connected via audio interfaces.
The other kind is a “dynamic instrument mic” (look like sticks) that are more than often used for picking up analog signals from drums or guitar amps.
Professional quality mics are called “large-diaphragm condenser mics” commonly found in studios that are used to record vocals and acoustic instruments, like the guitars.
Would you need these right away? Not unless you are planning to use virtual instruments present in your DAW (bass line, drums, etc.) and mix them into your recordings done over a mic or through an interface. You could create a MIDI sequence on a synthesizer, and then bring this sequence into your audio software with the MIDI interface on your audio interface.
In simple terms, MIDI can be thought of as a simple language that enables pieces of music-oriented hardware to communicate with each other. DAWs further allow you to arrange those pieces in all possible ways across bars, you essentially end up drawing MIDI maps in the process. This way you can turn a piece of music into something entirely new!
In case you already have a digital piano with a MIDI output port or even a USB port marked “to host,” you can use it as a MIDI controller, or else you can also get yourself a MIDI controller (Akai sells the best ones).
Disclaimer: MIDI controllers do not produce sound by themselves, they need to be connected to a PC for output.
A Good Music Production Software/DAW
We have reviewed the best DAWs for Windows, here, that will tell you which one to pick for what purpose.
MAC OSX comes pre-installed with the Garage Band DAW (Grammy-winning musician, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, arranged entire songs for her album, “Strange Mercy” on it.)
For Windows users, a free of cost and an easy-to-use software for basic sound recording and editing is the Audacity Recording Software. But we recommend that you try Cockos Reaper, which you can use for free for 60 days and is very inexpensive to purchase if you like it. Reaper comes with full audio and MIDI capability and is a full-fledged DAW. You will have to download VSTs independently though.
In order to hear what you have produced, you need professional quality headphones/speakers/monitors that can be connected via an audio interface.
Monitors help provide a neutral, uncolored sound that helps with mixing and judging tracks with precision, but we recommend that you first start out by investing in good quality headphones.
It is important that you get yourselves a mic stand, and would you need a diaphragm between you and your condenser mic? Maybe not so much initially. Diaphragms help eliminate the “ph’s” and “bh’s” when you record vocals. Those looking to do voiceovers or recordings for podcasts should invest in one.
It is also important that you invest in a high-quality XLR cable for your mic, this helps reduce “noise.”
So, go ahead and check what suits your needs and budgets the best. For absolute beginners, I suggest start with a MIDI-enabled digital piano and a mic that can be connected to your PC without having to route them through an audio interface. And once you get a hang of all of this, start working your way around a DAW of your choice.
You should eventually invest in an audio interface (decent ones start at about a $100); they will offer you a huge range of possibilities to work with.
Hope this post helped you get a brief idea of what a home recording studio looks like. We’ll be doing series of related articles that will help you get further clarity on sound production.
Next up, we cover VSTs and MIDI! Until then, start making some music already, and do not hesitate to drop in your queries in the comments section in case things still look blurry to you.
Want to create a DAW to suit your music-making needs? Start by honing your Java skills first. Check out AcadGild’s Advanced J2EE course today!
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