This is a two-part article click here for the second part or click the link at the bottom of the article.
Let’s face it; recording music at home can be a daunting prospect! If you’re like me you love to write music and you’re passionate about bringing to life the masterpiece resounding in your head.
But where do you begin?
Even if you are fortunate enough to have a producer; someone to help you build your idea into a finished song; there are tones of benefits when it comes to learning the ropes.
Home recording isn’t to be feared; it’s empowering and gives you the flexibility to experiment with new sounds, instruments, and recording methods. You have more to choose from and are able to give your idea the best start you can.
So whether you’re a budding artist or an old pro with a set up to die for; you too can create beauty at your kitchen table.
Why record at home?
The success of your home recording project is entirely dependent on how honest you can be with yourself when it comes to your skill level and the project you’re working on.
There are some instances where you may need to choose a professional recording session over your home studio; however this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have you’re own setup on hand at home.
So what are the benefits of recording music at home?
1) Inspiration strikes. Get an idea at 3AM? Want to build that song idea now while it’s still fresh? Go ahead, your recording studio is a short carpeted-walk away.
2) Studio time is expensive. It can be costly to book a session at a recording studio and rightly so; producers and engineers are highly skilled! Whether you are paying by the hour or by the day, if you haven’t prepared every note to absolute perfection the cost can escalate. At home, you can take the time you need to refine and hone that track into the song you’ve been dreaming of.
3) More tools in your toolbox. By having a recording set up at home you are educating yourself in the production process. This is beneficial in a number of ways for example, let’s say you’ve completed your song and need to record live drums and guitar at your local studio. Thanks to your hours hunched over your laptop; you will be able to properly articulate to the engineer what it is you want. Why? Because you are familiar with the software and hardware.
Let’s talk money! The quality of work out there these days is staggering and in order to produce professional sounding work you need to identify the key items to invest in.
If you are passionate about having a home recording set up, remember this is a work in process. Don’t rush out and spend money you don’t have or can’t repay. The key is to start with a few essentials and gradually build up your studio.
Later we will discuss equipment and you’ll notice that these are all central to a good recording set up. However, if your budget can only stretch to one or two of these items to begin with then that’s okay. Building the perfect home studio is an ongoing process and life-long ambition with no stop date.
Not only are you investing financially in your craft, but you’ll also need to invest your time and efforts in learning the software thoroughly. Buying a grand Piano will not make you a concert pianist; only lessons, learning music theory, and regular practice will put you in the running to becoming accomplished. The same goes for home recording; buying new expensive software and failing to put in the hours is a waste of your money.
So let’s take a look at what should be at the top of your wish list.
#1 A Quality DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a decent DAW. There are so many to choose from out there from entry level Garageband to Ableton, Logic X, Reason and Pro Tools. If you are unfamiliar to software like this; then I recommend Garageband as a great starting point.
Purchasing the software is only the half of it; you need to learn it inside out. Just as guitar lessons, playing your scales or learning music theory will help you become a better musician; learning what the DAW is capable of will help you realize what you are capable of.
One look at Logic and I knew I needed some help. So in order to get to know Logic 9 fully I took a class at lynda.com. The classes walked me through everything I needed to know with handy exercise to do complete along the way. Online learning was great for me, but if you learn better with a teacher; there are plenty of music colleges and Apple Approved Training centers that provide training sessions.
Purchasing a good quality DAW will transform your writing but only in proportion to how much you are willing to learn. For me it has truly invaluable investment and has made me a better songwriter.
#2 A Pre-Amp
Second on your list is a pre-amplifier or pre-amp. There are many big technical words I could use to describe how a pre-amp works but I’m all about keeping it simple.
Essentially a pre-amp works by setting the volume level of your recording. It works by preventing distortion if the input instrument too loud by automatically turning down the volume. This also works in the reverse by turning up the volume if the input is too soft. This means your vocal recording won’t be unusable if it gets too loud and distorts or require a lot of editing if it is dramatically softer that the rest of the recording. You set your desired record volume and let your pre-amp do the rest of the work. There are several great options out there in all price ranges. I record mainly vocals and a little bit of guitar or viola from time to time, so for me Apogee One is perfect!
#3 A Good Quality Microphone
Third on your wish list is a decent microphone. Like me you’ll probably want something you can record both vocals and live instruments such as guitar or bass. What you need is a condenser mic. Again there is a never ending list to choose from so here are a few options:
Audio Technica AT4040 ($250) This is a large diaphragm condenser mic which is fantastic! In the past I’ve also been recommended Shure KSM27 ($550) and the RODE NT series ($229) as reliable sturdy microphones for recording at home.
If your budget can’t quite accommodate these mic’s yet, a great entry level mic is the Blue Snowball Microphone. It’s small, it’s light, it plugs straight into your computer’s USB port.
The Blue Snowball is a podcasting microphone and will not have the same crisp finish as the other mics; however if you are just starting out and getting your head around Logic it’s the perfect microphone for you. This was my first mic and it still does me proud when I’m traveling; and at $60 its much much easier on the bank balance!
No matter the price of your microphone, one essential item not to forget is a pop-screen. This handy little gizmo will reduce those harsh “P” and “B” sounds and will give a professional finish and save you hours of editing with a poor result. The good news here is they are relatively inexpensive starting at $10 upwards.
#4 MIDI Keyboard
Dependent on whether you are a guitar or piano based songwriter, it is always worth getting yourself a MIDI controller. MIDI is clean and efficient. You can edit it, make sure everything is in time and apply any sound you want.
I have two MIDI controller keyboards, one for when I am on the go and a larger 88 full size keyboard for home. I have the M-Audio Keystation 32 which is handy for traveling and for quick inputting; and the M-Audio Keystation 88es which is a semi weighted controller which is lovely to play.
I am a piano-based songwriter so I find the larger keyboard perfect for trying out the song as a whole. It’s perfect for figuring out new riffs and hooks or just for playing for my own enjoyment. Both are USB controllers and plug straight into your computer and the beauty of MIDI is you can have the Steinway sound even you don’t have the Steinway budget.
–Click here to read part 2 of Recording Music at Home.
–Heidi Fisher is a British songwriter, session musician, and music blogger based San Francisco. Heidi composes for the singer-songwriter/pop genre and specializes in emotive ballads and passionate upbeat melodies.
She also writes for “Sing for your Supper” a music blog which delves into all things musical. From interviews with up and coming artists, new music reviews & festival coverage as well as songwriting and home recording tips for aspiring songwriters and producers.