Musical gear is fun but it isn’t necessary to have a whole ton of it in your soon to be home music studio. So today, we will break down the basic home music studio set up, the handful of elements that should work for most people to be able to create most types of music.
We are going to mention some of the specific equipment that we are using but just remember that there’s lots of options out there and we will also link to a lot of budget-friendly options in this article.
If you know of stuff that isn’t in here, please leave a comment because we will keep updating this article so you could even check back on this in the future and learn more.
So the center of your home music studio setup is gonna be your computer. We are using a MacBook Pro from six years ago that an abundance of nails had just chipped the keys off. This thing is still running just fine. It was maxed out specs in 2013 so it’s probably far from the best you could get today but apparently you don’t really need it.
We are gonna be honest, we’re not a major computer specs guy but we’ll list it down here what the mac pro is running and maybe if you have any recommendations in the comments you can let us know.
- 2.3GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
- 16 GB RAM
- GeForce GT 750M
- 1TB HD
- 2 X Thunderbolt 2
- 2 X USB 3
The Digital Audio Workstation or DAW
On your computer you’re going to be running your digital audio workstation or ‘DAW’. What a DAW does? Basically everything! You will use it to record, arrange, edit, mix… EVERYTHING.
We use Ableton Live 10 but again there’s lots of options out there and there will be links in this article to a bunch including free ones.
Next up is headphones. By the way, we are writing this all in the order that we would recommend you get these things if you’re kind of saving up and doing this one at a time.
We’ve collected a bunch of headphones over the years and controversial opinion, we don’t care about them at all. Just get over ear headphones rather than earbuds so that you can actually get a fuller frequency spectrum.
Some people like really flat response reference headphones and that can be really good of course but we find that when we are mixing, we are gonna check our material on so many different systems and so many different ways of listening to it.
We are gonna ask other people what they think as well. We just haven’t found that we’ve ever needed to swear by one pair of headphones.
The MIDI Keyboard
Next on the list would be a MIDI keyboard. We used the Komplete Kontrol S61 from Native Instruments but there are tons of options for this. There are much smaller ones you can get and there are ones that have drum pads on them.
This is one area where going cheap probably matters the least. These Komplete Kontrol S61 don’t make sounds on their own. They just connect to your computer usually via USB and trigger sounds in the computer.
So if you get the most basic one out there it’s still gonna tell your computer which note you’re pressing and how hard you’re hitting it.
Some feel nicer to play, some have features that make them integrate really well with certain kinds of software but if you’re just starting out it really doesn’t matter which one you get.
Regardless of your experience level with keyboard instruments, Komplete Kontrol S61 is going to help you with your music because it’s so much more intuitive to play notes with it than by trying to click that on your computer.
The Microphone and Audio Interface
Next up a microphone and an audio interface. These kind of go hand-in-hand, you can’t really have one without the other because you need the microphone to be able to pick up sounds and you need the audio interface to be able to send those sounds into your digital audio workstation.
The staples that we regularly work with are the Shure SM7b which is a really versatile microphone and relatively speaking, pretty affordable.
Our audio interface is the Universal Audio Apollo Twin which is a little bit of a higher-end one. Please check out the list at the end of this article to find out other options.
This probably goes without saying but you’ll need the cables to connect all this together. For the microphones, you generally need the XLR cable that’s like the three pin, male to female.
Audio interfaces are commonly use USB or Thunderbolt and some of them will come with the cables, so check for that.
The MIC Stand
We should also talk about microphone accessories, so you probably want a stand to put it on. We are using the Rode PSA1 Boom Arm. This thing attaches really easily to any desk.
The Pop Filter
If you’re recording vocals you’ll also want a pop filter to prevent plosives which are the Phhh and Bhhh sounds that can push a lot of air into a mic and create a sound that’s not really desirable.
The Shure SM7b comes with one on it, but it’s also common to see these kind of circle ones that you can put in front of a microphone and it’s it for those really on a budget.
it’s not quite as good but you can get away with putting a pencil between you and the microphone when you sing, it does break up a lot of the air that would cause those kinds of problems. Try it!
The next item you’d want to get is a pair of studio monitors. We’ve been using Tannoy Reveal 802. A lot of consumer speakers you get will have some built-in hype. They might boost the low end or the high end.
They might try to make the music that comes out of them a little more exciting, or they might just be bad speakers and not be accurately representing everything across the frequency spectrum.
So that’s what you’re looking for in a pair of studio monitors. They’re not gonna bass boost, they’re not gonna emphasize anything to suit a specific and genre they’re just gonna play back whatever you’re feeding them as honestly as possible.
So hopefully what that means is that you won’t be overcompensating for anything as you’re mixing and that will allow what you create to translate better into just about any playback system.
The last thing for your basic setup is your room treatment. We’ve left this for the end because it is the hardest thing to do. You can’t just go out and buy something. You do have to figure out what’s gonna work both for your budget and for your room.
So even though we’ve left this to the end, it does really help if you can do this in tandem with either your microphone or your studio monitor purchases. Sound waves bounce off surfaces, so every room is going to emphasize different frequencies
Of course, that compromises what you’re hearing back when you’re playing stuff through your monitors. Also, it changes what gets picked up in your microphone when you’re recording.
Sometimes you might want the sound of a room if it’s got a really nice reverb to it, but mostly you probably don’t.
We are currently still working out of a home studio, it’s just a spare bedroom so hopefully this can be helpful for you.
We will tell you exactly what we did to dampen everything so that we can record and playback without any echo happening.
So, here’s what we’ve done
We’ve tried to cover a lot of every surface with soft materials. There’s a plain old rug covering most of the floor. Above the desk, the wall has some foam panels – the Sonex Pyramid Acoustic Foam. We’ve also got the same ones on the ceiling and they’re a little more spread out on the ceiling.
On the opposite wall from the desk, we just have two blankets hung up – The Studio Size Producers Choice Acoustic Blanket. These are specifically sound blankets, but we have had plenty of luck before with just normal blankets from around the house.
The other two walls don’t have much there’s two panels on my closet door and then just a thin curtain across the windows. Then the last thing is in the corners of the rooms we’ve got the Alphacorner Foam Bass Traps stacked up. These are just big chunks of foam.
That is how we treated our studio room and all this stuff that we just showed you would be sort of the basic setup that we would say you could work towards.
All other gear is gravy, it’s just more fun to use or a specific flavor you want or maybe better for your workflow, but that’s the basic set up.
Also having just gone through this, I really want to say, work with whatever you have. This is a setup that you would build to overtime if all you can do is play with an app on your phone right now, start there.
Get really good, be the best person using that music app. If you’ve got a ukulele, play that every day while you’re saving up to get your computer.
My first experience with recording was on a boombox, just like a cassette player that my mom had and I just filled up tapes and tapes of stuff starting with just my voice and the piano that we had at home and then eventually the guitar that I got.
I think it’s great to work with your limitations and learn and grow and enjoy the process and eventually get your own dream home music studio.
There would be no sense in dropping a beginner into the middle of a studio. You need to put in the time and go on your own journey.
Lots of helpful links will be in the end of this article, so check that out!
★ GEAR LINKS ★
The DAW I use:
DAWs that are free and/or functional without payment:
Audio interfaces that I can recommend:
Universal Audio Apollo Arrow
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
PreSonus Studio 26
Solid multi-purpose microphones I’ve used:
Audio Technica AT4040
Audio Technica AT2020
Rode PSA1 Boom Arm
Headphones I currently use:
Rose gold, hype
Decent monitors for starting out (good enough for Skrillex):
KRK Rokit 5
MIDI controllers I use:
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S61
Best affordable MIDI controllers:
Komplete Kontrol A-Series
Akai MPK Mini
Korg nanoKEY Studio
Nektar Impact LX25+
Novation Launchkey 25
Akai LPK 25