Updated: Aug 17, 2022
So, you have decided to start making music now what? First of all, I would like to say congratulations! You have taken the first steps towards a highly enjoyable and fulfilling activity. Music is something that you can continue to develop over a lifetime. There are many ways to pursue music. Depending on what you have in mind, there are many ways to achieve the experience you are looking for. For instance, if you are interested in learning banjo, all you need to get started is a banjo, a tuner, an instruction book, or an online course. However, if you want to write and record the latest pop hit, you will need a way to compose the music and record yourself singing your new tune. In this article, I would like to explore the top 5 items I think you would need to set up a basic home recording studio.
1. A computer or iPad with a digital audio workstation (DAW), a hardware multitrack recorder, or a synthesizer workstation. There are many ways to start a home studio, but one thing is certain you will need some way to capture your music performances. A great option would be a DAW for your computer. A DAW is a piece of software specifically designed to record audio and midi on your computer. They allow you to record many different parts on individual tracks and, once recorded, play them back together. In this way, you can build up a complete song one part at a time. Since most of us already have a computer that meets the requirements of most DAWs, it would only require you to decide on the program you would like to use. There are many DAWs available, and many are free of charge. Another great option would be an iPad with Garageband. In fact, for many people, this is the best way to get started in music production because many people already own an iPad and Garageband is a free app that is already installed. Even if you don't already own an iPad, I would suggest that you consider purchasing one for music production because it is truly one of the most versatile devices on the market. An iPad can be used for almost any musical situation that you would like to pursue. Another possibility is a hardware multitrack recorder. There are many models to choose from, and if you choose this route, it will eliminate the need for some of the other items on this list because they are built into the recorder itself. Most multi-track recorders allow you to record your instruments and vocals on different tracks, add effects, such as reverb, chorus, and delay to your parts and then mix them all down to a final audio file that you can share. One other possibility I would like to talk about is a synthesizer workstation. This is either a keyboard or a small desktop device that allows you to program different parts to create an entire electronic song. They usually have many instrument sounds, as well as patterns to build a song with. I have spent many years working with synthesizer workstations, and they are very powerful tools if you are interested in electronic music.
2. Headphones or monitor speakers. No matter what device you choose to capture your musical compositions you will need a way to listen to them. There are basically two ways to do this: headphones or speakers. Of course, there are many, many options available. You will need to get a specific type of headphones or speakers that are made for listening to studio recordings. To help you get the best results from your recordings these types of headphones and speakers have a very flat frequency response, which means that they don't boost any particular area of the sound and therefore give you a better idea if your music is mixed properly. Most headphones and speakers you buy for your home boost certain frequencies to make the music sound better. The problem with using these types of headphones or speakers when recording music is that you end up with recordings that have too much or too little bass or treble. Obviously, if you want to be mobile and not be confined to a desk when you work on music then a good pair of studio headphones is a must.
3. Audio/midi interface. An audio/midi interface is a device that allows you to plug in microphones or instruments and record the audio or midi information to your computer or iPad. Usually, they connect with a USB cable and provide one or more audio inputs and outputs. They also usually have a headphones output, a midi in and out connector, and sometimes an effects loop. Most of the more current ones on the market also include phantom power, which is a low-level electrical charge that is used to power condenser microphones. An audio/midi interface is essential to your studio because it allows you to capture high-quality audio recordings and usually comes with drivers that are required to work properly with your DAW. If you have chosen to go with a hard disk recorder then most likely you will not need one of these, as the recorder will have its own inputs and output built into it.
4. Microphone. If you plan to record your voice or any acoustic instruments, a good microphone is imperative. There are many types of microphones on the market all with a particular purpose in mind. I would suggest that you start with a good quality condenser mic. This type of microphone captures vocals and acoustic instruments best. They provide a rich, warm sound to your recordings. They are phantom-powered so you will need to make sure that your interface or recorder has that option. With one microphone you can record just about anything you need to if you are tracking things one at a time. For instance, you could record your guitar part on one track and then capture your vocal on the next track. In this manner, you can build a complete song by playing or singing each part one at a time until you have all the parts recorded.
5. Instruments and controllers. Finally, if you want to include sounds from instruments that are not available in your DAW, you will need those instruments. Of course, the sky is the limit when it comes to your choice of instruments. I usually think of electric or bass guitar, or acoustic instruments, like piano or drums, but it's any instrument that would not sound authentic if it were played on a keyboard. Furthermore, there are many devices available that fall under the category of “controller”. Mostly these are keyboards that allow you to play the synthesizer sounds that are included in your DAW, but others allow you to trigger loops or DJ song files on your computer. These can come in very handy if you don't have a synthesizer with a keyboard for playing parts into your DAW.
I am excited that you have chosen to start music production! It is a great way to express yourself creatively. Remember, the most important thing is to have fun and not to get too carried away with gear. If you do a quick search on YouTube, you will see that there are endless ways to make great music and it's not all about who has the best gear, but rather, who uses the gear they have the most creatively. It is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a new piece of gear will make your music sound the way you want. Getting a few good-quality entry-level items is all you need.