Perhaps You'd Better Start From The Beginning

In an earlier post, I wrote about attaining a long-held goal to be able to record and produce my own music. Without any help from other musicians, labels, record studios, or massive funding, I can independently create fully-formed albums of my own. And I said that you can do it too, should you so choose.

...buuuuuut, I didn't ever really say how. Or where to start looking.

If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, here's a few basic necessities you'll need to get started. I'll assume that at least a portion of your music is live, that is, requiring a microphone or other means of sound creation besides 100% in-the-box synthesis. If you just want to make instrumental EDM with no vocals, grab a copy of Ableton or FL Studio, some free 3rd party plugins, and you're done.

Now, for the rest of us:

Home Studio Checklist

1) A computer, obviously. And no, Virginia, it makes no difference if it's a Mac or a PC. Maybe fifteen years ago--not anymore. The industry "standard" is Mac, but that's slowly changing. I've used Windows for all but my first solo EP (where I used the GarageBand that came free on my girlfriend's MacBook), and have yet to encounter any major problems. They're both fine. Use what you've got. Linux users... it's possible, but you're gonna have some issues. Sorry. But you're likely used to making life difficult for yourself, so have at it.

2) A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). That can be Pro Tools, Studio One, Logic, Ableton, Sonar, Reason, Reaper, FL Studio, Garage Band, etc. There's a plethora of DAWs out there, and the majority are great. Do some research, pick one, and go with it.

3) An audio interface. Basically, it's a small box with one or several audio inputs (XLR, TRS, MIDI, etc.) and, preferably, multiple mic preamps. The interface outputs to your computer and lets you record cleanly and at the proper level.

4) A microphone. If you can only pick one, I'd recommend a large diaphragm condenser (like the MXL 990, which I use and love) based on its versatility. If you can have two, grab a dynamic like the Shure SM57 as well.

5) Accurate monitors. Headphones, speakers, or both. Just make sure they have as flat a frequency response as possible. Not your Skullcandy earbuds, your Dre Beatzzz, your Logitech PC speakers. Studio-quality. Find out your budget, read some reviews, and make an educated decision.

That's all you need to get started. Yes, it costs money--but not nearly as much as it would have a decade or two ago. I slowly built up my studio over the years by saving up, and pouring any money I made from music back into it. My first mixing gig paid for my studio monitors. Drum and guitar lessons paid for various cables and accessories. This isn't a project that requires a lot of startup capital, it's an improve-as-you-go kind of thing. 

Plus, if you drop $20k on a brand new studio when you've just started recording/mixing, chances are your final product will still kinda suck. Sorry, but that's part of the learning process. I'm sure as hell not immune to it.


Lastly, I learned almost all this stuff from the Internet. And the VAST majority of my education came from these two:

Graham Cochrane - Recording Revolution
Joe Gilder - Home Studio Corner

They also co-host a monthly podcast, and Joe hosts his own weekly one

I can't stress enough how helpful these guys are. There's plenty more resources online, but nobody has been as down-to-earth, honest, and realistic as these guys. Seriously, most of this article is redundant because of what they've already taught me, but I thought it bore repeating.

So get going and make music!

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