Creating your own creative space can be a beautiful yet daunting experience. Your home recording studio will define your sound in many ways. From your studio equipment to your furniture, everything has an impact on your recordings and the songs you’ll create during your home recording sessions.
While there are plenty of beautiful pictures of recording studios on Instagram and Pinterest, let me remind you that you’re looking for functionality, not beauty.
Whenever you want (or need) to make your own music, your equipment must be easily accessible, intuitive, and ready. You can’t waste time plugging everything in whenever you want to record a new idea.
Simplicity is essential. Luckily, there are very few items you absolutely need to create your own home recording studio setup. These will become the foundation of your music-making process. Choosing the right environment and tools to make music defines not only your sound but your entire approach to music.
Let me ask you something: if you’re recording music on the desk where you work every day, using the laptop you use for work, do you think you’ll be inspired and looking forward to your creative sessions? I think it’s pretty unlikely.
In this article, I’ll focus on the essential equipment you need when you want your own home recording studio from scratch. Each item included in this list should have a dedicated article. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll introduce the essential concepts of each piece of equipment and leave part of the research to you. I’ll recommend only a couple of options that I used personally or know can deliver fantastic results.
Whether you’re looking for studio monitors, DAW software, professional headphones, or audio interfaces, the possibilities out there are endless. Make sure you take into consideration the budget you’re willing to invest before spending everything on your new DAW and some plugins.
I’ll conclude the article with some personal thoughts on home studios and what I think your approach to music-making should be.
Let’s start with the free stuff. Choosing where to record and listen to music is the first step to building your home recording studio. It’ll define how much space you have at your disposal.
In principle, if you have enough room, you can turn any part of your house into your own studio. This is especially true if you’re recording mainly using MIDI instruments, as you won’t have to worry about the room size or acoustics.
Regardless of the genre you work in and your recording style, you should keep in mind a couple of things when choosing a room for your home studio.
First, you need a quiet place. You need uninterrupted concentration if you want to make music, so choosing a room that will give you an hour or two of total focus will be perfect for your needs.
If there’s no such place in your house, then consider recording at a time when everyone else is away or asleep (if you use MIDI) so you can make music without interruption. I know of people who wake up at 6 AM to create music before going to work every single day. So, you have no excuses here.
Second, the place where you make music has an impact on your recordings. This is especially relevant for producers who use studio microphones.
If you’re recording vocals or real instruments frequently, you’ll need a room with little reverberation. Reverberation is caused by empty rooms with reflective surfaces, rooms with a high ceiling, or plenty of glasses or big windows.
Before choosing a location for your home studio, you’ll need to check the sound quality and make adjustments if necessary. For example, adding soft furniture or acoustic panels and bass traps reduces reverberation, as does removing the glass from the room.
As a last resort, if you need more space, you can always build your music studio in one room and then record the vocals in your closet.
The good thing about building your own home studio setup is that you have total control over how you use the space, so make sure you create the perfect environment for a relaxing and professional home recording session.
Before you panic, let me start by saying that you can easily use any laptop or PC to make music. You don’t need the most expensive computer on the market to achieve professional results.
People these days make great music with GarageBand on their smartphones, in the same way as some classic albums were made with affordable 4-track tape recorders. Therefore, my suggestion is to use what you have available and make the most of it.
It all comes down to the kind of music you make and how you’re planning to record it. For instance, if you’re a songwriter and mostly record vocals and acoustic guitar, all you need is a good studio microphone and a basic digital audio workstation like Audacity (which is free).
If, on the other hand, you’re a classical or soundtrack composer who needs hundreds of gigabytes of sound libraries and microphones to record different instruments, then you do need a powerful PC, more sophisticated DAW software, and a high-performing audio interface.
Now, if you have a decent PC at your disposal, let’s say 8GB of RAM, 30/40GB of available hard disk space, and a good processor, then you can pretty much use any of the most popular DAWs.
Overall, the computer you use must be reliable. Don’t overestimate the power of your PC. Choose software that runs smoothly without slowing down. Make sure you test it multiple times before planning to expand the sound library or going on tour with it.
The more complex the song (i.e., the more tracks there are in a single set), the more stress you’ll add to your computer’s CPU. This is something you must consider as your compositions will become more complex over time.
I strongly suggest you have a dedicated computer for music production and don’t install anything that’s not music-related in it.
First of all, this will help you make the most of your computer’s CPU power, which will be focused exclusively on running your DAW and digital instruments.
The second, and most crucial reason you should have a computer dedicated to music, is to improve your workflow. The downside of making music with a computer is that you can get distracted easily or end up spending precious time looking for a new plug-in online while you should be composing instead.
Your recording sessions should be as stress-free and distraction-free as possible. If you can, block all notifications, turn on flight mode, and get to work.
Choosing the DAW (digital audio workstation) will define your sound more than any other piece of home recording studio equipment you’ll need. That’s because it’ll determine your workflow and help you hone your skills as a music producer, so make sure you do your research carefully before buying one.
Some DAWs are perfect for specific music genres. However, in general, the most popular DAWs are incredibly versatile and can easily satisfy the needs of musicians regardless of the music genre they’re exploring.
Let’s take a look at the most popular DAWs and draw some comparisons.
Used by almost 25% of the music makers worldwide, Ableton is one of the first options you should consider when choosing your first DAW. With an intuitive workflow, a plethora of sounds and effects as well as unique MIDI capabilities, Ableton Live is a fantastic choice for DJs and electronic producers.
However, for artists recording acoustic guitars and other acoustic instruments often, there may be better options than this popular DAW.
For live performance, Ableton is probably the best choice for you. It’s intuitive, stable, and combined with a MIDI controller; it can become your go-to recording tool and the perfect companion for your live performances.
Logic is another DAW loved by many music producers worldwide. It’s versatile, easy-to-learn software that can perfectly handle writing, recording, and mixing. Many recording studios use Logic Pro because it can be used for any genre, from songwriting to EDM, and its plug-in and sample libraries are probably the best in the world right now.
Logic Pro is Mac only, so you need to look elsewhere if you’re a Windows user. It also doesn’t support VST plug-ins but only the Apple-specific AU plug-ins.
If there’s an industry-standard DAW, then it’s definitely Pro Tools. With a fantastic workflow and streamlined editing process, Pro Tools can handle complex editing tasks in seconds, which makes it the perfect tool for recording and mixing professionals alike.
The downside of this DAW is that it’s not beginner-friendly. The interface seems a bit outdated compared to its competitors. If you’re an absolute beginner, I’d suggest you look elsewhere. If you’re already familiar with other DAWs, Pro Tools may be able to unlock your creative potential and take your music to the next level.
FL Studio is a powerful DAW that provides electronic producers with everything they need to create world-class hits. This DAW is pattern-and loop-oriented, making it the ideal workstation for EDM or hip-hop producers but less so for artists who record many acoustic instruments.
FL’s automation and famous piano roll make it a perfect option for beginners but also a valid tool for professional producers.
Even though FL Studio also offers good-quality tools for mixing music, I think other DAWs provide more in terms of post-production, so you should consider it mainly as a tool to write and record new music.
GarageBand is a free DAW for Apple users. It features some of the tools you’ll find in much more sophisticated (and expensive) DAWs and is extremely user-friendly, making it an ideal choice for beginners who want to make music on the go on their smartphones or tablets.
Despite its apparent simplicity, GarageBand can also meet the needs of more professional producers thanks to its streamlined workflow, vast sound library, and effects. This DAW can be a great and inexpensive starting point for young music producers.
You might not need an audio interface if you’re making music exclusively with your DAW and plug-ins. But if you’re recording vocals and real musical instruments for your tracks, then having one in your home studio will dramatically improve the quality of your recordings.
An audio interface is a device that connects your musical instruments to your PC and “translates” the natural sound coming from your instrument into digital data that your computer can process and store. Your PC’s sound card can do that too, but the recording quality will be sub-par.
Interfaces are fantastic as they allow you to improve the quality of your recordings but also to use more studio microphones simultaneously, adjust audio settings on the go, record on top of other tracks seamlessly, offer phantom power, and so on.
Even if you produce your music exclusively with plug-ins and a MIDI keyboard, investing in a good interface will upgrade your recording studio considerably and make it look more professional.
Here are a few things to consider before buying your beginner audio interface.
Check the connectivity of your PC or laptop and make sure the audio interface you chose has the same entry port. The most common connections are USB, FireWire, Thunderbolt, and PCIe. Although selecting a USB audio interface would guarantee you can use it with a variety of PCs, other connections offer better quality (like PCIe) or work with older equipment (like FireWire).
Another important aspect is to define how many input entries you’ll need. Audio interfaces come in all forms, some with a single input entry (only one mic or musical instrument can be connected) and others with multiple input and output channels. Defining what you’re going to record and how you’re going to record it will help clarify which interface will work best for you.
Focusrite is a brand known for providing excellent quality at a great price. The Scarlett 2i2 is an entry-level audio interface for producers who don’t need many inputs but rather a versatile and reliable interface that provides professional-quality recordings.
With recording specifications up to 24-bit, 96kHz, two instrument inputs, and incredibly low latency at under 3ms, the 2i2 can be the perfect choice for music producers, singers, and songwriters looking for a compact interface that they can always carry with them.
Universal Audio entered the entry-level audio interface market with a product that offers incredible features for the price. The preamps of the Volt 476 sound professional and pristine and give a distinctive analog effect to the recordings.
If you’re willing to spend a little more than the standard audio interfaces for beginners and aim for the best possible sound quality right away, you don’t need to look further than the Volt 476.
If you use your voice or real musical instruments to make music, you need a microphone that will ensure everything you do is recorded professionally. There are dozens of plug-ins that will help you improve the quality of your recordings and help minimize your noise level, but nothing compares to raw quality audio that already sounds pristine.
USB microphones are not very expensive these days. Yet choosing one that will do a good job recording both vocals and musical instruments is tough. If you’re a piano composer, you’ll need large-diaphragm condenser microphones, like a pair of Behringer C2. If you’re a singer or songwriter, a fantastic condenser mic is the Neumann TLM 103. Once again, clarifying your requirements before buying a microphone will help you choose one that meets your needs.
Luckily, there are plenty of good-quality microphones that won’t cost a fortune. However, be aware that if you use more than one microphone at a time, you’ll need an audio interface to transfer the recordings to your DAW. The same goes if you use microphones that require XLR cables instead of USB. Either way, I think using a USB microphone without an audio interface to record your music will become limiting in the long run.
When it comes to microphones, you’ll likely need some accessories as well. For vocal recording, you’ll need a pop filter to deal with plosives. Pop filters are generally inexpensive and easy to use.
You will also need a microphone stand for each mic you plan on recording simultaneously. Try to find a mic stand that can work with condenser microphones and dynamic microphones. The more mics you have, the more mic stands you’ll need.
The Blue Yeti has become the standard choice of podcasters and YouTubers because of its stability and incredible audio quality for the price. In addition, this cardioid USB microphone offers four different polar patterns to choose from: cardioid, omnidirectional, bidirectional, and stereo. This particular feature will allow you to explore other recording options and adjust the settings based on the environment you’re recording in.
Overall, the Blue Yeti is a safe bet thanks to its stability and high-fidelity recording.
Audio-Technica is a legendary Japanese brand that’s always delivered fantastic audio devices which don’t break the bank, and the AT2020 is no different. It’s a cardioid condenser microphone that provides natural, authentic recording and is especially recommended for vocals. The sound clarity is excellent, and the frequency response of this $100 microphone is surprisingly flat.
The TLM 103 is the perfect microphone to enter the pro league. This large-diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone offers Neumann’s internationally renowned sound quality that can be used in all situations, from professional use to home studios to live music performances.
With the incredibly minimal self-noise, possible thanks to the circuit typical of high-end Neumann microphones (featuring no transformers), the TLM 103 is worth every penny if you’re serious about making a career in the music industry.
A MIDI keyboard (or MIDI controller) will help you control your DAW while making music with plug-ins and virtual instruments. If you don’t have musical instruments at your disposal, MIDI controllers become an essential piece of equipment you must have in your home studio.
There are all sorts of MIDI controllers on the market, and the price range goes from $30 to over $1000. The price difference is huge, but so is the quality of the product you get. In this case, I will review a couple of products at the opposite ends of the price spectrum and highlight the differences between these two keyboards.
Some of the things to consider when buying a MIDI keyboard are the number of notes and extra sensors it provides. For example, if you produce cinematic or contemporary classical compositions, chances are you’ll need more than a 25-note keyboard, so you should opt for one with 49, 66, or 88 notes. If you’re playing traditional piano, anything below 66 notes will limit your compositional range considerably.
Sensors for pitch bend and modulation are fundamental if you use multi-vector expressive digital acoustic instruments. Rotary encoders can help you during the recording process or even live sets.
The MiniLab MkII is an affordable and reliable MIDI controller that will meet the needs of home producers of all levels as well as musicians who need a versatile keyboard to make music on the go or perform. This 25-note keyboard comes with sixteen fully-customizable rotary encoders and two touch sensors for pitch bend and modulation.
By buying the MiniLab MkII directly from Arturia, you’ll get the lite version of Ableton and Analog Lab 2, plus the Grand Piano Model VST. Enough freebies to get started with your new toy in no time.
Calling the OP-1 a MIDI keyboard is highly reductive. This little beast is an alternative to a DAW: a synthesizer, a drum-machine synthesizer, a sequencer, sampler, arranger, a 4-track recorder, and much more. It also costs $1300, so you’d expect it to be an exceptional piece of music gear.
What makes the OP-1 unique are its inspirational capabilities. You have everything you need in a small, unassuming device. Yet you can make music anytime and anywhere with a production tool that can be used in the recording studio and live performances with professional results.
Studio headphones differ from your everyday headphones as the latter tend to enhance lower frequencies to make the songs more captivating. While a song with magnified lower frequencies is often more enjoyable, while you’re recording, you need to ensure that what you’re listening to is how the song actually sounds like. This is because your audience will listen to your tunes in many different ways and use all sorts of headphones and sound systems. By using studio headphones, all frequencies will remain untouched, and you’ll hear the natural frequencies of your song.
These are studio headphones that have been around since the early 90s and are still used in recording studios and by audio specialists working across all fields. The sound coming out of the MDR7506 is transparent and authentic while also enjoyable, making them ideal for audiophiles looking for untouched sonic reproduction.
Initially designed for DJs, the ATH-M50x are good-quality studio headphones that offer transparency throughout the audio spectrum, with a comfortable and classical design that doesn’t tire the ears. The “x” stands for a detachable cable. You may opt for this model if you run around your home studio and don’t want to get tangled up.
You need studio monitors not just because your ears need a break from constantly listening to music on your headphones; these professional speakers are fundamental when mixing and mastering music but also to hear all the frequencies within your track perfectly.
Read our article to find out – What are the Best Studio Monitors on a Budget.
In contrast with the standard consumer speakers, studio monitors don’t enhance any frequency. They provide a transparent sound that truly represents what your song sounds like.
In addition, studio monitors will make you understand how your song “interacts” with the environment. This helps you ensure that all frequencies are perfectly balanced and reproduced. This is something you can’t possibly do simply using your headphones to evaluate your track.
Choose studio monitors that will fit perfectly within your recording environment. If you’re recording studio is in a big room, you’ll need powerful speakers to compensate for the sound propagation. Study the disposition of your monitors carefully and make sure they fit within your environment.
Before moving to a bigger recording studio, I owned a pair of Eris 3.5 studio monitors. I think they sound fabulous for the price, as long as you’re recording in a room smaller than 80sqm. They’re recommended for music producers but also video creators and game developers looking for pristine audio reproduction.
The sound coming out of these studio monitors is warm, rich, and accurate, thanks to the 3.5 Kevlar Woofer and the one-inch Kevlar tweeter. Both provide incredible transparency and sound clarity for monitors that cost $100 per pair.
Compared to the Eris 3.5, the KH 120 A is an entirely different league in terms of audio quality and price. Neumann has made high-quality audio devices since 1928. With the KH 120 A, the entire audio spectrum is perfectly reproduced in a pleasant, harmonious, and yet transparent soundscape.
This pair of studio monitors excel in audio accuracy even at high volume (they can get to 100 watts as a combo). If you want to invest in studio monitors that will last a lifetime, look no further than the Neumann KH 120 A.
I will use this final chapter to add some personal thoughts based on my experience as a producer and record label owner.
Aphex Twin once said: “Forget all the equipment, forget the music, at the end of the day it’s just literally frequencies and their effects on your brain. That’s what’s everyone’s essentially after.”
I believe music equipment becomes crucial only when you feel the constant need to make music. When music becomes part of your being, something you can’t live without and defines your life, then creating the perfect environment for your creativity to thrive is not only a pleasure but becomes a necessity.
I discussed in length about DAWs and hardware, but the foundation of every recording studio is the need to make music every day. The power of creative habit will help you define your needs and clearly understand the equipment necessary to bring your music to life.
There are plenty of musicians out there who make great music without MIDI keyboards, DAWs, or headphones. Their drive is so strong that it compensates for the lack of music equipment. On the other hand, many creatives get stuck thinking they won’t make music until they can afford to buy the home studio of their dreams.
When looking for the perfect recording equipment and musical instruments becomes an obsession, it also becomes an excuse not to make music at all. So let me get this straight: you can start making music right now, for free, with tools and equipment that are already at your disposal.
The beauty of the era we live in lies in the accessibility of information and software to create stuff. Regardless of their background and age, everyone can create something artistic and valuable for themselves and others.
So, if you’ve been holding back on your creative side because you think you don’t have the time, knowledge, or financial resources necessary to make music, then I can guarantee you it’s the fear of failure that’s stopping you from pursuing your dream. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s something you should look into before you start building your home studio.
After all these years acting as a music producer, adviser, and therapist, I have no doubts that the only “tool” that you need to make music is passion. Forget the talent! There are geniuses, but innate talent won’t take you anywhere without dedication. Dedication without talent, on the other hand, can bring fruitful results and skills that’ll make your life better forever.
I hope this article helped you clarify what you need to kickstart your music career and your home recording studio. Just remember that success is a by-product. The process of making music is an enriching experience in and of itself and one that will accompany you forever.
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