The age of booking time at a local studio is changing more and more. While commercial studios may be around for the foreseeable future, artists are turning to home recording studios. They’re convenient, generally more affordable, and with a smart plan, can be set up in most home environments, big or small!
But before you start investing in all that recording gear on your ‘Wish List’, let’s return to square one. The initial blueprint for setting up a recording studio in your home. How do you do it, and where do you even start? Let’s jump in.
STEP 1 – Define the Purpose of Your Studio
Before setting up anything or even picking up any new gear, you must decide on your home studio’s purpose and function. Will recording be a hobby for you, something that you do a few times a month with some friends? If that’s you, we’ll continue through the blueprint as a “Hobbyist”. Will recording be a small side-gig for some extra cash? If yes, let’s consider you as a “Semi-Pro”. Or is the dream to make this a full-time business and to work from home in this recording studio? If that’s you, we’ll move forward as a “Pro”.
Understanding and setting the goal behind your studio will shape the entire setup process. An important thing to remember, too, is that your studio function may evolve. You may start as a “Hobbyist” and want to transition to a “Pro,” or vice versa. While your studio function may change, it’s important not to “bite off more than you can chew” initially with regards to picking up lots of expensive gear. We want to match our studio setup for our needs right from the start.
STEP 2 – Gear Essentials… What Do You Need?
Hobbyist: We’ll keep things very simple because space and/or budget is usually a concern here! What you need:
- Computer (at least 16 GB ram, with an emphasis on a multiple-core processor to best utilize your DAW)
- DAW or Digital Audio Workplace (your recording software)
- Audio Interface (the bridge between your instruments/mics and your computer)
- Microphone(s) (invest in one quality microphone that best suits your needs and genre, and don’t forget a mic stand)
- Cables (you just need one or two to start, depending on how many inputs in your audio interface and how many instruments you plan on recording at once)
- Headphones (these can be used for both recording and playback)
- Studio desk (depending on your space constraints, a more spacious desk will offer a lot more flexibility as your setup evolves)
- Chair (don’t cut corners here – there is a lot of sitting involved in recording and editing music, and your body deserves a good seat)
- Power bar (because as the gear adds up, so do the power cords)
Semi-Pro: You’ll need all the gear we’ve listed so far, plus the following considerations:
- More Microphones (you’ll want to start acquiring a collection of different types of microphones to cover various instruments or voices)
- Pop Filter (this is a must if you want clean vocal recordings)
- Studio Monitors with stands or acoustic desk pads (these greatly enhance your music’s playback experience and are a necessity if mixing becomes a part of your studio)
- More Cables (more cables for more microphones and two cables to connect your monitors to your audio interface)
- Acoustic Treatment (most rooms in a home studio won’t be designed specifically for recording, so treating the room with things like acoustic panels, wooden diffusors, or bass traps will significantly enhance the sound of your recordings)
Pro: At this stage, customization, upgrades, and gear preference will dictate what you acquire here – more microphones and instruments to meet the needs of a variety of clients, amps/cabinets, and more specialized acoustic treatment are some examples.
STEP 3 – Design Your Room
Now that you’ve got all the gear, it’s time to organize it and set it up in your studio space. Depending on the availability of space at your home, you may be limited to the corner of a bedroom or have a whole designated studio room. Regardless of the size and space, let’s look at some considerations.
- Spacial considerations: How do you fit all that gear into your space? The most important and most used gear needs to take priority, and this gear will be on or around your desk. Keep your computer and audio interface in close and easy access – you’ll be plugging in/out cables of your audio interface fairly frequently!
It’s important to position your desk far enough away from any walls to account for your studio monitor setup (if these are a part of your studio). Giving your desk, and monitors, a distance of 2-3 feet away from a wall will help prevent any major bass buildup from your monitors, ultimately warping the sound you hear. With this distance established, position your monitors facing you and at ear level when you are seated. The goal now is to create an equilateral triangle where the three points are you and your two monitors – positioning your monitors and desk will help create the best listening setup.
Next to your desk, or in relative proximity, you’ll want your microphone/vocal recording setup and your instrument setup. It’s especially helpful to have a keyboard near or on your desk, which is often a primary instrument for production mapping!
- Sonic considerations: Commercial studios have recording rooms that are designed to sound good – generally isolated, large, and irregularly shaped rooms that give nice tonal character to recordings. Unfortunately for home recording studio owners, that “perfect room design” isn’t usually available, which can often make a recording at home a challenge. That’s where acoustic treatment comes in. Simply put, acoustic treatment takes the unpleasant tonal qualities from an average household room out of your recordings, allowing you to record a very “dry” recording sound, which can be enhanced artificially on your computer afterward. They may help with soundproofing, but this is not the primary focus.
A great way to set up acoustic treatment is to invest in acoustic panels (and not the little thin foam or egg carton panels that you may see online – these are not very effective), which can be bought or made yourself from the many online tutorials. These shouldn’t be hung up at random – a smart way to plan where to place these panels is to stand in the middle of your studio space with a mirror and rotate around each wall.
Anywhere you see a sound source, like a monitor or an amp, a panel should be placed to cover that wall section. And yes, that can include the roof! An area rug can be used for your floor. This is a basic but effective way of acoustically treating your studio space – enhanced treatment like large bass traps and sound diffusors can also be used in tandem. You may want some special treatment for your microphone recording space beyond your room treatment – a vocal isolation acoustic shield is a great budget and targeted way to treat your vocal space!
And with that, your home recording studio is in action! Using this blueprint is not only a practical way to set up your recording space, but also to help define the goals of your studio and structure it accordingly.