Beginner's Guide to Setting Up a Home Recording Studio
The Process and Parts You Need to Build Your Own Home Recording Studio
1. Pick the right room.
If you plan on using any microphones in your home recording studio, the room you choose drastically affects the sound you get. Thick carpets and heavy curtains absorb sound; too much can make your vocals sound dead and your drums muffled. Hardwood floors and wide-open rooms add echo to your tracks; a hint of echo can warm up your recordings, but you'll find it's easier to start with a neutral sound and add echo and reverb later. My own home recording studio has been in a carpeted room with a low, curved ceiling for years now and I've never had a problem with acoustics. Of course, if you plan on plugging your instruments straight into your recording device-say you use nothing but electric guitars and electric drum kits-you can record anywhere you like.
2. Find a mixer that suits your needs.
Your mixer is the heart of your home recording studio. It's where all the plugs go and where all the editing happens. If you're approaching home recording as a casual hobby, save yourself some money and find some mixing software for your computer (like Mixcraft for Windows or Garageband for Mac). You'll still need an add-on for your computer that can accommodate the cords you will be using (like the Line 6 Toneport), but overall you could save yourself $700 or more by not having to purchase a dedicated mixer. A computer/peripheral home recording studio setup is fine for anyone interested in podcasting or amateur recording.
If you're more serious about producing top-notch sound, however, Garageband and a Macbook are not going to cut it. You'll need a multi-track recorder, a box capable of handling multiple inputs at one time. I use a Korg D3200 in my home recording studio, and I have been impressed with its capabilities and intuitive interface. Having a multi-track recorder with effects and editors built in is definitely the way to go; you never have to transfer your tracks to another box to manipulate them, and you can burn the finished product straight to a disc.
3. Pick up the microphones you need.
I've recorded almost everything I've ever done in my home recording studio with only three microphones: one large-diaphragm condenser microphone, and two small-diaphragm instrument condenser microphones. With that trio in your home recording studio, you are equipped to record just about anything.
For vocals, you need a large-diaphragm condenser microphone like the MXL 2006 or the CAD GXL2200. Large-diaphragm microphones pick up all the subtleties of a singer's voice that smaller microphones miss, and the best ones make you sound better than you really are.
Large-diaphragm condenser microphones pick up absolutely everything, however, and all that power is too much for recording instruments. For that you'll need two small-diaphragm condenser mics, like the MXL 603 or the CAD CM217. You can use these cigar-shaped microphones in your home recording studio for anything from acoustic guitars to tambourines.
If drums are a major component of your home recording studio, you may find you need an extra microphone for the kick drum, as overhead microphones don't pick up on it as well. Dedicating a mic to the kick also allows you to add effects to that particular track alone, a useful tool for enhancing your bass drum sound. For that, I'd recommend something like the CAD KBM412.
What you should not use in your home recording studio are dynamic microphones, the kind of mics you see musicians using when they play live. Dynamic mics are designed to handle a lot of input and take a beating on the road. They are not meant for the perfect sound you need in the studio. You'll spend more time fighting mic pop and hiss than recording music with dynamic microphones. You may be able to get by with an industry standard like the Shure SM58 in your home recording studio, but once you switch to a condenser microphone you will be amazed at the difference.
4. Gather the bits and pieces necessary to plug it in an put it together.
Naturally, you need all the pieces and parts that string your home recording studio together. There are two ways to record sound into your mixer: through a microphone and through a quarter-inch cable. Microphones require XLR cables, the kind that have three prongs on one end and three holes on the other. These will often come bundled with the microphones that you purchase; they are available separate for less than $10.
Quarter-inch cables are the kind that plug into electric guitars. They have a quarter-inch diameter prong on each end; it doesn't matter which end goes into your instrument and which end goes into the recorder. Quarter-inch cables can connect a variety of electronic instruments to your recorder: keyboards, synthesizers, amplifiers, etc.
You'll also want to pick up a pop filter for your large-diaphragm condenser microphone if it didn't come with one. A pop filter is a circle of mesh fabric that clamps on to your mic stand; you place it between your mouth and the microphone where it deadens the "p" and "b" sounds that tend to overload your microphone and cause popping sounds in recordings.
With those parts assembled, your home recording studio is completely outfitted and ready for use. Take some time to get acquainted with your recorder and your microphones; learn their quirks and experiment with different settings and configurations. Trial and error are what turn clueless amateurs into seasoned professionals. Good luck!
- Home recording studios can produce professional sound.
- Your mixer and your microphones are the most important parts of your home recording studio.
- Your home recording studio is as expensive as you want it to be.