So you know how to produce but you now want to get started in your own studio, on a fairly low budget. How do you do that?
One question we often get asked is, “How much do I need to spend to build a decent home studio?”This is a tricky question because for the audio enthusiasts amongst us, there is never enough sound or enough gear. Creating a home studio can be a wallet-draining hobby. But it can also be a streamlined affair if you know exactly what you want to get done. All you really need is a MIDI controller of some sort (to play your keys and your beats) and a decent pair of headphones or speakers. If you want to record live sounds such as vocals or guitar, you’ll also need an audio interface and a microphone to get those sounds into the computer.
Speakers vs Studio Monitors
Do you need high-end studio speakers? Not necessarily. I remember visiting a producer friend once and noticed that he was mixing tracks (that were getting published on the regular) with a pair of $20 computer speakers. He could do this because he knew from experience how to EQ his sounds and master his track to rumble a club sound system, so he didn’t need to hear the bass on his home system to know what was happening to the sound. For those of us who don’t have that skill (yet), it is probably wise to invest in a set of speakers that will give you a good idea of what you are creating. This is where the term “studio monitor” comes into our conversation. Studio Monitors are speakers that are made to give an accurate, transparent representation of the sound you are making. Where a pair of home theater or bookshelf speakers may “color” the sound to make it sound more appealing to the ear, studio monitors are made to sound accurate and therefore very flat. At first they may not sound as exciting as your other speakers. This is because you are hearing an honest representation of the music.
One crucial and often overlooked part of the home studio is an audio interface that will provide connections to route sound in and out of your computer. Your computer may have something like this (if you use Apple they provide decent sound output with the included 1/8th inch jack). But you may lack some connections such as input for a microphone or instrument. This is where you’ll want to figure out exactly what plugs into what in your studio, and purchase an audio interface to fit your needs. For a bit more information on audio interfaces, check out our Audio Interface Breakdown.
MIDI controllers or keyboards come in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices these days. If you’re a pro keyboard or piano player you may want to invest in something nice but for most of us a cheap, 25-key keyboard works perfectly well for almost everything. Some controllers also come with pads, sliders, or knobs on them. This can be handy when you want to use the controller to turn the virtual knobs in your software (for instance in Reason or Ableton this sort of mapping is very fast). When considering a MIDI controller look first at the comfort factor – do the keys feel good to you? Do you need 88 keys or will 25 keys work as well for you? Then look at the size factor – will it fit on your desk? Avoid MIDI controllers that are too complicated. A simple controller is easiest to learn and work with.
The $500 Studio – In this setup we have spent the bulk of our $500 budget on the speakers / studio monitors from Mackie and M-Audio. Both companies are making very nice self-powered studio monitors that rate well among producers. The Behringer audio interface is inexpensive but effective for a small home studio. The M-Audio and Akai keyboards are both highly rated and have been used on countless recordings. This package will give a clean sound with a simple yet effective setup.
The $1000 Studio – In this setup we again spend the bulk of our budget on sound – upgrading the speakers to an 8 inch driver that will deliver much more substantial (and clean) low-end sound. We’ve also upgraded the audio interface in this package with the highly rated Apogee One. The One contains a very nice microphone in the package so you can start recording vocals or instruments right out of the box. Apogee is also known for their DAC (Digital to Analog Converters) that will breathe beautiful life into your speakers. Lastly, we’ve chosen a more elaborate MIDI controller, the MPK 25, which adds pad functionality to our setup.
In Conclusion, If you’re new to making music there’s one great benefit for you today: it’s affordable! With the aid of a computer and some software you can get well on your way to creating professional sounding music for a fraction of what it cost to do 10 years ago. It’s easy to look at this list of gear and feel the need to get more things, more speakers, more components to create sound. But remember that we are at a unique place in history when this has all (for the first time) become affordable. Until now people were making music with much less. You don’t need much to make great sounding music.. you just need to understand your instrument.