Music Gear News
Home Recording Guide - What You Need to Make a Home Studio
Recording music at home is easier than ever before. To do so, you’ll need the right gear, so we’ve created this guide to help you build your own home music studio.
By Matt Wilkinson | Published 07.10.19
Twenty years ago, you needed a pro studio to make music. Equipment was big, expensive, and difficult to use. But with today’s gear, now anyone can make professional recordings from the comfort of their own home.
Yes, you need a little know-how, but this guide is here to help you get the right recording equipment and create your own home studio setup.
Want to jump straight to the shop? Visit our Home Recording Gear page.
What do you need to record music at home?
To record music at home, you need a recording device and a way of hearing your music played back. Simple.
Most people already own the means to do this - your very own smartphone or tablet! Free software (like Garageband) lets you record audio on your device, play with onscreen instruments and effects, and hear your track played back.
If you want to achieve better results, though, you’ll need some more specialised recording gear. And while it may be more specialised, it still does the same job of allowing you to record audio and hear your mixed tracks.
Here’s what you need for a home studio
These are our recommended essentials you need to create a home recording studio. Click each link to read more.
- Computer – the brain of your studio and the storage for your recordings
- Audio Interface - the bridge between your audio equipment and your computer
- DAW software – the organisational hub of your studio. Arrange your music here
- Headphones – for monitoring your sound clearly. The best place to start if you don’t have headphones or monitors.
- Microphone – to capture instrument sounds and vocals
- Microphone Stand
- Basic Cables
Here’s some extra equipment you could also consider
- MIDI Controller – control your computer instruments and your on-screen mixing desk with a MIDI controller device
- Studio Furniture – get your studio organised
- Studio Monitors – the ultimate way to make sure what you create sounds the best it can
An alternative to a computer home studio setup
- Digital Audio Recorder – plug in instruments and microphones without the need for a computer! Ideal for recording on location
The reason a computer is a fantastic hub for your recording studio is because most people already own one. If you don’t, today’s computers are so good that even a mid-level laptop will be adequate for starting out recording music.
The key things you’ll need are RAM and storage. RAM lets you run more software instruments at the same time and layer more musical tracks together. Storage is important as audio files can be large and you don’t want to run out of space.
Don’t worry about fancy graphics cards or super high-end processors. Look for a mid-level computer with decent RAM and a fair bit of storage space. A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a fantastic bonus if you can choose to have one. They speed up a computer greatly.
An audio interface is the bridge between your computer and other musical equipment. Audio interfaces expand the inputs and outputs of your computer, letting you plug in specialist music gear to record and playback music. Most audio interfaces are USB/Thunderbolt – simply plug in one of these devices to your computer and you’ll have a ready-made music studio.
Audio interfaces come with different configurations. Recording a podcast? You might only need 1 microphone input. Singer songwriter? Seek an interface with a few microphone/instrument inputs so you can record multiple sounds at the same time. Recording a band? You’ll probably need even more microphone inputs (6 is a good starting point).
If you don’t intend to plug in any microphones or instruments at all (maybe you’re planning on using your software’s built-in instrument sounds), you could even buy a super-compact interface with no microphone preamps.
Here’s a few options you may consider:
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) – a single microphone input makes this ideal for solo musicians, podcasters, vloggers, and producers.
PreSonus Studio 24C Audio interface – 2 mic/line inputs: perfect for capturing two sound sources at once.
ESI U22XT USB Audio Interface – a single microphone input and range of inputs/outputs at an affordable price.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio (3rd Gen) – complete with interface, microphone, headphones, and XLR cable, plus a suite of software. An all-in-one bundle to get you started!
Find out more | Audio Interfaces
The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the software that lets you record and playback music on your computer. It lets you layer tracks, add effects, and change the balance of your mix.
DAW software also frequently comes with extra ‘virtual’ instruments built in. You’ll be able to set these instruments to playback programmed notes via MIDI data (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Some instruments come with pre-made patterns, and you can easily download MIDI data online and set your virtual instruments to play it back.
Virtual instruments can be incredibly convincing, whether they’re emulating acoustic instruments or electronic instruments. Many TV and film composers use virtual instruments to create a complete track without needing a single musician. Some virtual instruments will even create a musical part for you based on different parameters.
DAW software also allows you to play with samples (recorded segments of audio). You could create an entire track by looping these samples and layering them together. Many online creators use Garageband software (free with iOS devices) to layer samples for YouTube videos.
You’ll often find that your audio interface comes complete with a DAW software, so you’ll be able to make music right out the box.
Find out more | DAW Software
You’ll need some way of hearing your music. While you could go with studio monitors, headphones are a solid choice if you’re on a budget and buying lots of gear at once.
Headphones will also allow you to monitor the live recording of vocals or instruments, so you can hear exactly what is being recorded. If you’re recording over a click track or some other instruments, you want to make sure that you can hear the music without it being captured by the microphone you’re using to record.
Closed back headphones ensure no sound escapes out the sides (ideal for recording instruments through a microphone). Open back headphones allow sound to escape – not ideal for recording but very comfy and with an accurate sound for mixing and long listening sessions.
Find out more | Headphones
Capture the sound of your voice or an instrument with a microphone.
Looking to record loud instruments? You’ll probably want a dynamic microphone. They are rugged and can cope with high SPLs (sound pressure levels). Dynamic mics are often used as vocal mics for live gigs due to their rugged nature and feedback-resistant designs.
If your instrument is quieter and more nuanced (acoustic guitar, cymbals, percussion) you should try out a small diaphragm studio condenser microphone (sometimes called a ‘pencil’ condenser mic). They are great at capturing detail without adding colour.
Vocals are generally recorded with a large diaphragm condenser microphone – they have a larger surface area that captures more nuance and detail. These microphones often impart a certain ‘character’ to the overall sound – in fact, professional engineers typically match certain models to different voice types. If you’re just starting out though, don’t worry about this character. Pick what you can afford and the features you need.
If you’re recording a podcast or want to try voiceover for a video, the Shure SM7B is one of the industry classics. While it is a dynamic microphone, it is incredibly popular for producers and podcasters due to its silky, characteristic warmth.
If you want to get set up as simply as possible, try a microphone with a USB connection. These will let you record to your computer straight away, without an audio interface!
Here are some microphones you should check out:
Shure SM57 – the world’s most iconic instrument microphone. Excels with guitar amps, drums, horns, and more.
Audio Technica AT2020USB Plus Cardioid Condenser Microphone – a fantastic large diaphragm condenser microphone with included desktop stand for podcasts and voiceovers. USB connectivity for instant connection to PC/Mac without an audio interface.
Rode M3 – a versatile and very affordable small diaphragm condenser microphone. Ideal for acoustic instruments, vocals, and even loud instruments with its sound attenuator.
Rode NT1-A Vocal Recording Pack with Mic Stand – all-in-one vocal recording bundle with a supremely clean-sounding microphone. Perfect for vocals.
If you’re buying a microphone to record vocals, don’t forget a pop shield. It helps reduce the sibilance and plosives in your voice (the loud ‘s’ sounds and popping ‘p’ or ‘b’ sounds). If you really want to isolate your vocal sound, you may consider a reflection filter – it’s like stepping inside your very own vocal booth.
Find out more | Studio Microphones
Remember we said that your DAW software could contain built-in instruments and samples to make music with? Well, you’ll need some way of controlling these sounds. A MIDI controller comes in many different forms, but they are all designed to plug into your computer and let you trigger sounds, instrument notes, and data.
You may consider:
- Keyboard MIDI controller: a keyboard with no built-in sounds. Plug it into your computer and play your software instruments with a traditional keyboard input. Some keyboards are weighted (like an acoustic piano), whereas others feel more like a synthesizer.
- Percussion pad MIDI controller: tap out beats on these percussion pads. They are sensitive to pressure.
- MIDI Control Surface: these controllers feature an array of sliders and controls. They allow you to control the main mixing desk inside your DAW, as well as many other parameters such as the playback controls.
- DJ Controller: DJ software is more specialised, and as such it requires a more specialised controller, often with turntables, crossfaders, FX controllers, and more.
Many of today’s MIDI controllers include a combination of the features described above, giving you multiple ways of controlling your computer software from a single device. You’ll also find many controllers that come complete with software instruments to make music straight out the box. Check out the Native Instruments Controllers if you’d like a premium set of software included with your controller.
Find out more | MIDI Controllers
If you’re putting together a home studio, a set of studio furniture is a very worthwhile investment. This could come in the form of a bespoke home studio desk, designed to organise your equipment and mount your monitors. The 3 Tier Pro Audio Studio Desk by Gear4music is an affordable option with a sturdy structure.
You may also consider acoustic treatment to make sure the room you’re working in has no unwanted resonant frequencies that could distort your mix. Check out the AcouFoam Room Kit as a great starting point.
Find out more | Studio Furniture
While headphones are ideal for starting out, there’s nothing quite like mixing a track on true studio monitors. Unlike hi-fi speakers, studio monitors are designed to give a true representation of your music. They won’t flatter your mix by making it sound better, and that is a good thing! You want a monitor which gives you an accurate picture of what your music sounds like, so you can mix it to the best of your ability and ensure it will sound the same (if not better) on other playback systems.
Monitors come in different sizes – we recommend you choose the size that matches your room. If you have a small bedroom or compact workspace, check out our 4” or 5” studio monitors. These compact speakers won’t overpower your room or flood it with unruly bass frequencies. The bigger the space, the bigger the size of speaker you can use at louder volumes.
Adam Audio T5V Studio Monitors with Stands, Pair – 5’’ monitors are ideal for smaller rooms. This premium pair comes with stands to make sure your speakers are isolated from the surface they sit on.
PreSonus Eris E5 XT Studio Monitor – Presonus’ latest Eris 5’’ monitors with an improved waveguide for a wider ‘sweet spot’, meaning you can sit in more positions in front of the monitors and still hear an even response.
Find out more | Studio Monitors
Digital Audio Recorder - An alternative to a computer home studio setup
A digital audio recorder combines the functionality of a computer, an audio interface, and DAW software. With just one device, you can plug in all your microphones and instruments, capture a recording, and mix your track.
While they may not have the same full range of features as a computer, they are highly intuitive to use and incredibly reliable (no competing with operating system updates, anti-virus software etc.).
A digital audio recorder may be the ideal solution if you simply want to record a band and create a fairly comprehensive mix. They are also perfect for videography, when you want to capture audio with lapel microphones or sometimes with built-in microphones.
Handheld recorders are ideal for videographers and podcasters, as well as for interviews or taking lecture notes. Multitrack recorders combine the functionality of multiple inputs with the portability of a battery-powered design. They are perfect for songwriters, bands, and capturing multiple tracks of audio.
Find out more | Digital Audio Recorders
Find out more - home recording
No two home studios look alike, and you'll find yourself making many decisions based on budget and requirements. The cool thing about a home studio is that you can build one up piece-by-piece, upgrading and changing gear as you go.
Start your journey today and shop our range of gear for Home Recording.
Read More | See the latest Music Gear News at Gear4music
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