cover image: adi goldstein
composer, music producer
What gear do you really need to make quality recordings at home?
image: robinson recalde
This sounds complicated, but you can pull it off even if you’ve never set up a mic in your life before, but you will need to do some investing and your wallet will be sore for a couple of months. Once you have your setup working, you’ll ask yourself “why I didn’t do this before?” and you’ll use it more than you thought you would.
For a singer it is the most essential piece of equipment and mandatory to at least be able to share demos or ideas, but you can achieve good enough quality for a final product depending on the genre. All instrumentalists that record acoustic instruments will also need one or several microphones depending on their instrument. I would recommend prioritizing this and assigning most of your budget, investigate which kind microphone would be best for you. I would recommend the brands Sterling, Rode and Shure, they have good quality in all their products and have affordable options as well as high end microphones.
- A/D converter (Interface)
In order to get your sound into the computer you will need one of these devices. Fortunately, you don’t have to break your wallet anymore, there are many entry-level interfaces around $100 – $250 brand new, and you can get better deals with used gear. The interface I strongly recommend is the Scarlett Solo, it has a very affordable price and will give you enough capabilities to get you started.
This might be the most expensive of all, but if you already own one it is most likely that it will be enough to get you going to record yourself. If you’re also producing, then you probably already know you have to beef up your system with at least an i5 and 16GB of Ram. But if you’re just recording your parts or your ideas and will not be mixing or producing anything else, then pretty much any computer will do the trick, a laptop, desktop, Mac, PC or Linux they all work great.
- Acoustically Treated Room
So, this is a tough one, although not an expensive one. You would need to find a room in your house with the least amount of reverb (echo) possible. For singers usually a good option would be a full walk-in closet, but instrumentalists might not be able to fit comfortably. A good option is to take a small room and fill it with furniture, get rid of all the flat surfaces and place sponges or egg cartons, a bookshelf, curtains, bedsheets, etc. There are many ways to get rid of the echo in your room and many of them don’t require you to buy any extra equipment. You can also buy acoustic panels made out of sponge, foam or even fiber glass but I would go for the cheapest options first. You also have to consider that all of this won’t make your room soundproof so be aware that you have to avoid busy hours and street noise, and at the same time mind your neighbors, they don’t want to hear your trumpet in the middle of the night.
- Reference Monitors / Headphones
If you’re just recording you don’t need to pay much attention to these, even your computer speakers could work for you, but if you want to pay attention to tone, producing, mixing or even mastering then studio monitors are essential. You can find cheap options, but if you feel like spending more money and getting expensive monitors, consider that you would need a properly treated listening environment, because even if you have the best speakers, if you have a bad echo or a boomy room they would be wasted and you would be better off mixing in headphones. The headphones alternative is much cheaper but don’t buy those ones that “enhance” the music like Beats does, you need specific monitoring headphones like AKG, Sennheiser or Audiotechnica. If you’re producing and mixing it can get exhausting using headphones for long term and it might be harmful to your ears so also consider taking breaks more often. Headphones don’t offer a true “stereo” image so it might be helpful using plugins like Waves NX to simulate a professional mix room.
- MIDI Keyboard / MIDI Interface
This goes to producers and songwriters. In order to get your musical ideas into the computer you need a way to input your notes, MIDI is the code used to get those notes in, and there are keybords that will translate that language for you. There are already midi instruments you can use like guitars and wind instruments but they are pretty expensive while the MIDI keyboards are quite affordable like Alesis, M-Audio and Akai. There are hundreds of others but you can get a small one for as little as $50 brand new. If you’re a keyboard player it’s likely that the keyboard you use has a midi output, in that case you can use it as midi controller, you would just need a MIDI interface which is also around $50.
That’s it to get started, of course you would need a lot of cables to connect all of that, but you’ll figure that out eventually. Finally, you would need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) but that will be a whole article on its own. So, log into Amazon, Sweetwater, Guitar Center or your local music store and gear up cause it’s about time already!
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Alessa is an LA based pop singer, songwriter and podcaster from Paraguay.
KIA shares her unique story of growing up in The Netherlands to becoming an international artist.
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