Way back in the golden days of rock music, recording your songs was a real chore. There was really no affordable way of doing it if you wanted to get something that sounded half decent. The only real options were to bite the bullet and spend money at a recording studio, or get by with a shady demo tape. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Technology has advanced far enough where we can get studio like quality of sound at home, with no major investments needed. If you’re wondering how, you are in the right place. Today we are going to show you how to record a song at home by yourself.
Although extremely simplified compared to how things were done not so long ago, recording music at home still requires certain amount of equipment. The whole thing starts with a decent computer. This is your core component and the foundation for the entire build. Then we have the audio interface, which allows you to properly feed signal from your instruments and microphones to the computer. Next comes the microphone itself for those who need to record vocals. Monitors are among the most essential pieces of studio gear, along with studio headphones. You will need those as well. With all that said, there is also a software component. For this purpose, we are going to need a DAW, or a Digital Audio Workstation. All of these tools are necessary for a proper home recording setup. Now that we have them listed, lets take a closer look at each one.
In modern world of music production, everything starts and ends with a computer. Whether we are talking about small amateur studios, or large professional ones, a computer is always the core of entire operation. A lot of newcomers to this industry are convinced that you have to spend thousands on a computer if you want to get decent results. That isn’t necessarily the case. CPUs and other hardware has reached a point where we get a lot of performance at a rather reasonable price, making it pretty cost efficient to build a recording rig.
There are essentially two components in a computer that will dictate its performance in relation to recording music. Both of these are absolutely necessary due to the requirements of modern DAW software. The first one is the CPU. You will want to get something fast with at least four cores. Luckily for us, this describes your average CPU. The reason why we want a good CPU is because DAWs generally tend to be heavy on processing. When you compile all of the plug ins, effects and other tools we use on average, a lot of CPU power is necessary for smooth work flow.
The other component is RAM. Story here is similar to that of a CPU. Your average DAW will require a lot of memory to run all of its tools properly. There are a few more less essential factors to look for, which you can learn about in our dedicated guide for home recording computers.
Audio interface is a relatively simple device that is used to convert and adapt the signal coming from your instruments and microphones, to something your computer can work with. These come in all shapes and formats, but all essentially do the same thing. We have a guide on audio interfaces which will give you a more in depth explanation, but we are going to do a quick rundown on how to choose this piece of gear.
The most basic audio interface will have one input for your microphone and one for instruments. These can be had for at a very affordable price. The thing you need to figure out is how complex your projects are going to be. Depending on how you answer this question, you might need to get a more complex interface to cover all your needs. At the very least, an audio interface should meet a few simple requirements. First is that it offers a decent sound quality. This is dictated by the hardware inside and gets better as the price rises. Second requirement is low latency. Most modern interfaces still use USB 2.0 standard, although we are seeing more and more Thunderbolt, Firewire and USB 3.0 devices on the market.
This piece of gear is completely optional, although you might want to consider getting a decent microphone even if vocals are not your thing. Microphones in general come in two formats. You have your condenser microphones, which you can learn more about in our guide here. There are also dynamic microphones which we looked into in our dedicated piece here. Without going into much detail, the former is used more for recording vocals while the latter is your go-to choice for instruments.
Having a good microphone can’t hurt. If you are not a vocalist and don’t plan on recording vocals, you can use a microphone to record acoustic instruments. For example, acoustic guitars are one of the main reasons why people get mics for their recording studios. Deciding whether you want a condenser or a dynamic microphone is completely up to you. Once you reach a certain level of experience, you will quickly learn that one microphone won’t cover all of your needs. Most producers have a closet full of different mics which they use for different purposes. With that said, starting out with just one is more than enough.
Despite all the gear we have mentioned so far, there is only one way you can know what’s going on in your mix. This is where studio monitors and studio headphones come in. Monitoring is the crucial part of recording. Without it, you are basically working in the blind. A good set of studio monitors is going to be much more essential than a high end DAW or high end audio interface. With that said, you will need how to position them properly and how to choose the right size of monitors for your studio. You can learn all of this in our guide on studio monitors and also see which models are currently at the top of the food chain. Similar thing goes for studio headphones. They aren’t really a substitute for monitor speakers, but they can get you by if you’re on a tight budget. In a perfect scenario, you would want to have a good set of both. Find out more about this piece of gear in our dedicated section.
We have covered most if not all of the hardware you will need for a basic recording studio. Now we need to look into the software side of things , which ties all of this together. A DAW is a piece of software that allows you to record music, add various effects, master your mix and finally produce a finished product. There are plenty of DAWs on the market, all of which have their own unique take on how to get the job done.Choosing a DAW is a very personal decision. Most producers are used to working in one DAW and generally don’t like moving to another one. This software is often times complicated to a point where changing platforms could require years of learning. You can check out some of the most popular DAWs in our dedicated guide for this type of software.
Most beginners are nervous when it comes to choosing a DAW, which is normal considering that some of these aren’t cheap at all. Luckily for us, there are DAWs which are free but also very much capable. On a similar note, getting started in any DAW is fairly easy. It will take you maybe a couple of hours to figure how to record tracks and manipulate those recordings. Mastering, mixing and tuning everything to perfection is what takes most time. That is a skill that comes with practice, a lot of learning and experience.
At this point, all of the things we have discussed above may feel overwhelming. The important thing here is to start slow and cover all your basics. Recording music and music production in general is easy to get in to, but fairly difficult to master. Nothing happens over night, so just take your time.
We are living in a time where computing power and electronics are accessible as well as affordable. This makes recording music at home a very real possibility. As you can see from the content of this short guide, there are several components to every recording studio. If you are wondering whether or not it is possible build a decent setup on a budget, the answer is yes. You don’t need to spend large amounts of money to record music. On the contrary. It all depends on how far you want to take it and how dedicated you are to learning the ropes.