Building a Home Recording Studio For Beginners

The good news is it isn’t hard to build a home recording studio and setting it up doesn’t require vast technical knowledge. Myths abound about the difficulties of creating home recordings, but with open source software and a bit of hard work, you can come up with a decent environment in which to produce your audio creations. And you there’s no need to break the bank to do it!

The Software

Firstly in the Build a Home Recording Studio game decide which EDM software to use. There are a wide range of options to choose from such as Ardour, Audacity and Ecasound. These are all free software packages designed for multi track processing, mixing and recording. Audacity is a good choice for beginners because of it’s easy to use interface, but once you’ve mastered using it you may want to move up to Ardour or Ecasound.

Ecasound supports a wide range of features and is a great choice if you want to record new tracks at the same time as playing back ones you’ve already recorded.

With the advent of cheap Sound Mixing Software, just about anyone can record a song and so the competition has intensified dramatically.

Pic by 37Hz

Pic by 37Hz

Spending time mixing a song is essential if you want it to get noticed. It’s now possible for amateurs to produce decent music with a computer, sound card and sound modules.

Every song is different and the complexity of the mix depends on the instruments used, the bandwidth each instrument occupies and the frequency spectrums used. The dynamics of the instruments also differ and learning how to manage these successfully is an art in itself. But as the old adage says, practice makes perfect! If you have an excellent ear and an unlimited amount of patience, you too can master the art.

Be prepared to spend several hours with you Sound Mixing Software mixing one track. You’ll need to listen to it many, many times and then, once you think it’s perfect, call in a second and third opinion. Invite your friends over and take note of their comments. A fresh ear might pick up something you’ve missed or bring a whole new perspective to the recording.

There are 2 ways to mix music. You can do it with a software program like Pro Tools or Logic, or you can use a mixing board and outboard equipment. The concepts are virtually the same, but you’ll find the top audio engineers usually opt for the mixing board option.

Sound Mixing Software my top 5

  1. Pro Tools – High learning curve but industry standard once you get it.
  2. Logic – Better for musician as the interface is more intuitive.
  3. Garage Band – Comes free with a Mac and surprisingly good. Based on
  4. the Logic System.
  5. Cubase – The daddy of mixing for a long time but a little dated of late.
  6. Audacity – Very popular free tool that works great. If you just getting into this stuff start here

If you are serious about mixing your own music, it’s probably worth buying one of the many books available on the subject. At the very least you should be checking the Internet for tips on successful mixing. Here are just some of the things you will need to take into consideration when mixing your music.

  • Levels – the levels must be right or the listener will feel that the recording is unpleasant.
  • Panning – strange panning will cause a recording to sound unpleasant through headphones.
  • Treble – check the treble on your drum sounds; you may need to reduce it on the snare and increase on the hihats.
  • Compressors – making use of compressors to stop your instruments jumping up and down in the mix is a very important part of mixing music. They are used extensively with drum sounds but can also enhance the sound from all the other instruments.
  • Reverb – too much and it’s hard to distinguish the different instruments, too little and the mix sounds artificial. The reverb needs to be evenly balanced in order to bring out the best in your composition.
  • Vocals – a good vocal sound is essential, so take the time to remove any strange noises or unwanted bass areas.
  • Cymbals – these should form a subtle foundation for the rest of the instruments.

Once you’ve finshed with the Sound Mixing Software, you can make your ‘master’. This should be played on as many different types of equipment as you can find. Does it still sound perfect on all of them? If not, then return to the mixing process again until it does.

The Hardware

Once you’ve settled on the software package, you need to consider spending money on suitable hardware. A large amount of memory and hard disk space are essential due to the size of sound files. Working with audio is also CPU-intensive and therefore a dual-processor computer will enable you to work faster.

Buying an external analog/digital converter can prove expensive. An acceptable alternative if you only need to record one track at a time is to use your existing sound card. But don’t also forget to invest in the best synthesizer for beginners.

Sound Source

You’ll also need a position a good quality microphone close to your instrument or amplifier, or better still you can plug an instrument like a guitar straight into the sound card. Then once you get more experienced you can progress to a fancy sound card complete with a digital mixer.

A good low budget solution is a USB sound device, such as Emagic 2/6, which offers limited multi-track support. Go for a USB digital mixer with ADAT connectors and you won’t be troubled with interference in the connection. Otherwise opt for a PCI card from the RME Hammerfall or Delta lines. They offer multi track support and the Hammerfalls can expand up to between 32 to 64 tracks. Both also produce stunning sound and are marketed as high-end sound cards. For the budget conscious, Deltas are the cheaper of the 2 options.

The full-duplex sound card that comes along with your PC combined with a 2.4 series Linux kernel and sound card driver should be sufficient for a home recording studio. If you don’t have full-duplex drivers, you’ll need to get ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture). It’s available free and provides support for all types of audio interfaces.

Condenser Mics

Great mic pic by smaedli's

Condenser microphones operate either by way of a battery or by means of an external power source. They are sensitive and responsive which makes them suitable for capturing subtle nuances but this sensitivity can cause sound to distort making them unsuitable for high-volume work.

Condenser microphones are also more fragile and more expensive than the dynamic option. They come in two different types; LDMs and SDMs.

LDMs or large diaphragm microphones are usually used for recording studio vocals. They warm up the sound but because they’re so sensitive you need a pop screen to avoid any transient noise distortion.

SDMs or small diaphragm microphones on the other hand are the best for concert recordings and stringed instruments because they offer a wide frequency and transient response.

Dynamic Mics

pictures of microphones by the amazing laffy4k

Dynamic microphones are perfect for onstage use as they are moisture resistant and can stand a lot of abuse. Another benefit is they don’t require their own power supply but they do not give as accurate a sound quality as their condenser counterparts. They are particularly well suited to live vocals, loud guitar, and drums.

Before you rush out to buy, it’s important to identify exactly what you plan to record. To get the best out of your audio, you’ll probably need to purchase a combination of condenser and dynamic microphones. And always keep in mind that the positioning of the microphone is very important. You can buy the best on the market, but if it’s not positioned correctly, the recording quality will be sub-standard.

The standard of your recording will make or break your musical career and achieving a high quality vocal recording is absolutely essential. Even if you’re on a tight budget you should ensure that the microphones you use for voice recordings are ideally suited to the task.

As you’ll now have gathered, there are many microphones out there to choose from but here is a selection of some of the more popular ones that all come in at under $200.

Two more lovely Pictures of Microphones (Mic Love!)

pictures-of-microphones3

For Voice

For vocal and acoustic recording it’s hard to go wrong with the Rode NT1 at around $199. The NT1-A is very popular with recording studios because of its low self-noise so you don’t get extra static or hum when you’re recording.

Drums

The Shure Beta 52A is a dynamic microphone that gives a perfect kick drum sound. Virtually every rock club in the world will have at least one of these because they’re extremely hard wearing and can stand all the abuse that comes along with live music. The Shure Beta 52A retails at around $189.

The Oktava MC012 is a small-diaphragm condenser microphone that costs between $100 – $150. This microphone has multiple uses and is great for recording acoustic instruments and drums. It also works well for concert taping.

Guitars

The Audix I5 retails at about $99 and is the perfect choice if you’re on a tight budget. This durable microphone is great for drums, guitar and horns.

Overheads

The MXL 990 Small Diaphragm Condenser Pair retail at $179 for the pair. They’re perfect if you’re looking for a budget recording solution for drum overheads or acoustic guitar.
As we’ve already stressed your microphones must be the right fit for the sound you are recording. If you’re in any doubt about which to buy, do your own research. Ask people you know what microphones they use or check out the reviews on the Internet and read other users comments.

Simple steps

Once you have the requisite hardware and software in place, you can begin recording by following these simple stages:

  1. Record your first track using Ecasound.
  2. Record the next track using Ecasound, while recording, play back the tracks you’ve recorded previously.
  3. Continue in this way until all tracks have been recorded.
  4. Once all tracks have been recorded, import them into Audacity.
  5. Using Audacity, master the tracks and send the output to a stereo WAV file.

This is obviously a very simple example but really it’s as straight forward as that! So make the move and Build a Home Recording Studio…