Music & Entertainment

Home Recording Studio 101: How to Set Up Your Home Recording Studio

Written by MasterClass

May 31, 2019 • 4 min read

It used to be that studio recording was the exclusive privilege of well-connected musicians with record contracts. They’d rent out space in a fully equipped studio, pay for a team of engineers, and a record company would foot the bill. That still happens in some circles, but thanks to rapid advances in digital technology, anyone with a personal computer can record full bands in their own private space.

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What Does Music Recording Mean?

Music recording is the process of memorializing a musical performance onto some sort of storage medium. For much of the twentieth century, this meant using magnetic tape. While this technology had certain upsides (namely, the analog “warmth” that many associate with tape-based recording), there were many inhibitive factors to this method. Most notably, magnetic tape was:

  • Expensive
  • Difficult to edit (it typically involved splicing the actual tape with a knife)
  • Prone to pitch-shifting if played back on a substandard machine
  • Could sometimes degrade if stored in the wrong environment

But as the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first century, music recording increasingly shifted from tape-based analog recording to digital recording, where audio information is stored on hard drives. Originally, this meant hard drives of computers or keyboard-based digital audio workstations. But today, many home recorders are tracking their songs on tablets and phones, in addition to traditional computers.

What Do You Need to Record Music at Home?

To create a productive home studio, you will need to focus on these different components of home recording.

  • Choose the right music recording software. Music recording software lets you record audio, edit its duration, and add effects to change its sonic character. Most music recording software falls into one of three categories: digital audio workstations (DAWs), digital instruments, and plugin effects. Learn more about music recording software here.
  • Create your own compositions using MIDI. Through the power of MIDI, digital instruments are able to send commands to one another, and also to computers—which in turn send commands back to the instruments. Learn more about using MIDI here.
  • Choose the best microphones for home recording. Whether you have a total recording budget in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, there are a number of different microphones available for home recording. Learn more about microphones here.
  • Learn how to record vocals. There’s a special skill involved in recording vocals in a home studio. A lot of this has to do with choosing the proper equipment, microphone placement, and use of effects. Learn more about recording vocals here.
  • Learn how to record drums. Traditionally, the most difficult part of home recording has been the drum kit. Many home recorders have achieved studio-quality guitar, bass, and keyboard recordings, yet strike out on the drums. But with the right equipment and disciplined technique, it is possible to get great drum sounds without shelling out for a high-end studio. Learn more about recording drums here.
  • Learn how to record other instruments. Once you’ve mastered the drumkit, it’s time to think about other instruments, like guitar, bass, keyboards, and brass. Learn more about recording instruments here.
  • Learn how to mix audio and effects. If you’re mixing in a home studio, it’s likely you’re simply clicking and dragging on digital faders in software like Pro Tools, Logic, Steinberg Cubase, or Garageband. Learn more about mixing audio here.
  • Learn how to use plugins. Most home recorders use plugins within their digital audio workstations. Learn more about plugins here.

Getting Started with Preamps for Recording Music at Home

Once the sound leaves your microphone, it will pass through a series of electronic devices. If you can afford a preamp (short for pre-amplifier), using one can add a great deal of “color” to your sound.

“Color” is actually a euphemism for mild distortion: a preamp will add a bit of “gain” to your sound, which can create a subtle but pleasing effect. You don’t need a preamp, but be aware that nearly all professional recording studios have multiple preamps available for their artists’ use. Some models to consider are:

  • ART ProMPA II. This is a bargain-priced preamp that, if used properly, can sound like something costing far more.
  • Universal Audio SOLO/610. Although it’s about three times the price of the ART, and only has one input instead of two, the UA SOLO/610 is actually considered affordable in the pricey world of preamps.

Getting Started with Digital Audio Converters for Recording Music at Home

Once your audio signal has passed through your preamp (which is sometimes abbreviated to just “pre”) it’s ready to be converted into a digital signal for use on your computer. For this, you will need a digital audio converter. There are numerous hardware options, including:

  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. This is one of many digital audio converters in Focusrite’s Scarlett line. It’s relatively cheap and gets the job done. Remember, you aren’t getting your “sound” from this device; that’s what your microphones and preamps are for.
  • Tascam Celesonic US-20x20. If you need more audio inputs, consider this 10-input device from Tascam, which has been an audio industry leader since the magnetic tape era.

How to Experiment With Your Recording Technique

Once you have your home recording setup complete, the best way to learn is to experiment.

  • Try adjusting the position of microphones when you record
  • Audition different preamps, if you’re able to borrow or purchase more than one
  • Play around with the software effects you have at your disposal

Since you aren’t paying by the hour for studio time, you have the luxury of experimenting. And remember that there’s a lot to learn about each individual component of home recording—from micing drums to working with vocalists to mastering. The great engineers and producers spend years honing their craft, so patience is essential.

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