Home Recording Studio Design
Nominated for Academy Awards, including an Oscar win for the best original song, Hustle and Flow is about DJay, a pimp, as he tries to make a name for himself in the local rap game. While his rhymes may be tight, he is woefully unprepared to do any recording at his home.
With the help of an old school pal, he turns a room into a studio, complete with fast food soft drink holders stapled to the walls. A mattress in front of the door and heavy blankets in front of the windows completed the “soundproofing.”
Not an ideal arrangement, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. When it comes to setting up a home studio, you may not be in a position to staple egg cartons all over your walls. In most cases, it’s just not feasible to completely renovate that spare room or basement to perfectly suit your needs.
Renting studio space is expensive and maybe a little overwhelming. Especially when you’re just learning how to make music in earnest for the first time. You want to be able to work when you can, not limited by someone else’s schedule.
Studio space is certainly an option, as is working with trained audio engineers once you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency. For now, let’s get back to the basement, bedroom, or den.
When setting up a home recording studio, try to find a room that’s relatively small. A cavernous space will make for unwanted echoing and make it much harder to find the sweet spot. What is the “sweet spot”? Similar to a surround sound home theater, it’s where everything comes together to create the optimal sound.
Removing as much ambient noise as possible is your primary objective, prior to setting up any equipment or gear. Again, going with a smaller sized room can help but, if you’re planning on having artists over to work on music, a closet just isn’t going to cut it.
Once you’ve selected the best space possible, you can use acoustic treatment panels to help improve the sound of the room and to help buffer any external noise. Next, think about the furniture you’re going to use. Opt for wooden or padded chairs that are comfortable, movable, and non-metallic since metal can interfere with your recordings. Remember, your studio is your sanctuary and it should feel like the artists’ sanctuary too when they come in to work with you.
Make sure your desk has enough room for your gear. Being organized will not only make you feel at ease in the studio, but it will also lend an air of professionalism.
Dimming the lights will set a mood, too. Stringing a few LED light strips from Amazon will give the room an ambiance similar to an all-night session in a studio even though it’s 11 a.m. Keep knick-knacks to a minimum. A clean work station and clean work is where it’s at.
If you already have a desktop computer or a powerful laptop, you already have a lot of the gear you need to start creating music. The next steps are deciding what gear you need, what gear you want, and how much it will cost.
Growing Your Gear
If you’re at the point of setting up a home studio, chances are you already have a digital audio workstation (DAW). Ableton, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and other interfaces are relatively similar and many can be had for a low price. This primer will give you a good idea about software and where you’re at in your career.
Many DAWs are packed with virtual instruments, sample libraries, and a host of other features that will allow you to be creative and hone your craft. By starting small here, you can upgrade as your knowledge base grows. So where to start?
When starting out, it can be difficult to amass the kind of gear you’ll need to be recording and mixing like a professional. Cost is always a consideration but think of it as an investment in yourself. Still, the smart move is to build your studio with a specific plan.
After a computer and a DAW, you’ll want to hear what your music sounds like. Not just with a pair of headphones from a department store, computer speakers, or stereo speakers. If you’re going to spend money, it makes sense to get a good set of open-or closed-back headphones and a solid set of monitors.
A good pair (or two) of studio headphones are very important. Sony’s MD7506’s ($100) or Beyerdynamic’s DT 770 Pros run roughly $150. The key is to find some flat response headphones – meaning they aren’t significantly boosted at any frequencies. High frequency doesn’t mean high quality.
Most consumer headphones like Beats by Dre, Apple Airpods, Skullcandy, or Bose headphones are heavily boosted in the low-end – an inaccurate monitoring source for you. Closed-back headphones mitigate all outside sounds so you can hear the music only. Open-back headphones allow that ambient noise in so you can hear how it sounds when you’re on the stage.
Studio monitors are incredibly important. The most common today are KRK Rokit 5’s (about $300/pair) or the Yamaha HS5’s ($400/pair). You’ll want your monitors facing you from the corners of your desk, forming an equilateral triangle from your listening position (the chair). Stands are often used to bring the monitors to ear-level.
When you’re ready to start pulling in other music, altering how notes sound, or just giving you another option to create sounds, a MIDI keyboard controller is a “must” piece of gear. We recommend the M-Audio Keystation 49 Key ($99.00), but something smaller like an Akai MPK Mini 25 Key ($119) will work as well. You’ll want one that fits nicely on your desk between you and the computer.
An audio interface is what you’ll use to get audio into your DAW and will allow you to control your output. The most common interface on the market is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo ($160), but I highly recommend the UA Apollo Twin ($800) as you progress. You’ll need an XLR cable to connect the microphone to the interface.
For recording vocals, there are a million good microphones on the market. There are many types for all different applications, including ribbon, dynamic, and condenser mics. For vocals, I swear by the Shure SM7B ($400), Mojave Audio MA-200 ($1200), Audio Technica AT4040 ($300), or AKG C214 ($400). Check out our interview with Evan Groom, product manager at Audio-Technica for some more great recommendations on mics and gear.
Of course, these aren’t all the pieces of equipment one can have when outfitting their studio. Audio engineers or music producers can spend over a million dollars to get their pro studios just the way they want them. However, with today’s technology and a nominal investment of one to two thousand dollars you can go very, very far. Today’s self starter, well-educated music producer has the capability to truly get their music radio ready right from the privacy of their own home studio. Have you got the chops?