Thanks to better technology and cheaper manufacturing, every day that passes sees a better opportunity for someone interested in music to start a home recording studio. What you can do for $100 nowadays couldn’t have been done five years ago—and a decade or more? Impossible. But as it is with all new industry platforms, there are pitfalls that can cost someone new to recording or producing a lot of time and money. So, how is this avoided?
The first step is to both research and be skeptical. There are great pieces of gear that are cheap, and there are terrible ones that are expensive—and vice versa. Forums such as Gearslutz.com and Recording.org have a lot of information and reviews, but remember to use as many sources as possible. Sound is relatively intangible, so the real trends tend to only emerge amongst large focus groups. Pay attention to the “Best [Thing] Under $XXX” threads and don’t buy into brand hype.
Once you’ve figured out what you want to try, buy used—whether online or if you have a local music retailer that carries pre-owned stuff. Put it through its paces. Don’t like it? Sell it for what you got it for, or trade it for something else. There’s a lot of stuff out there and sometimes it can take a while to find what works for you—just remember to put it through its paces first. Bond a little.
Now, unless you’re going to be recording full bands, you can go with just a computer, a pair of mixing monitors, studio headphones, a couple of mics, a two-channel recording interface, and accessories such as a mic stand, pop filter, and so on. If you’re a smart shopper, this can all be done for under $1,200 – and you’ve probably already got a computer. An old one is fine as long as you don’t plan on using a million effects (please don’t, for the children); my current recording machine is 10 years old. Your interface will likely come packaged with the software you need, but I highly recommend checking out http://www.cockos.com/reaper/.
As you become accustomed to your workspace and your equipment, you’ll eventually want to expand into sound control, preamplifiers, additional microphones, and other outboard gear. The same rules apply here. Having studied acoustic science , I’d build my own sound baffles, and you can, too—for much cheaper than the professional stuff. As long as you grab some books and learn where to place it, you’ll be a huge leg up on everyone else that ignores sound treatment, which is probably the biggest mistake, ever.
In the end, remember that skill is 90% of everything. Read technique and method until your eyes fall out. A $2,000 mic in the hands of a neophyte is going to lose out to a $20 rusting relic wielded by someone who knows what to do with it.
Learning to accomplish with limitations is a gift you can’t buy yourself.
Words & Photos by Johnny Beaver