Recording music can seem like a daunting task reserved only for those with years of industry experience. However, great advancements in music technology have opened the door to digitally recording professional-quality music to those with little experience and tight budgets.
There are a few pieces of modern gear that serve as vital building blocks for your Home Recording Studio. These include:
1. A Computer.
Most of those interested in home digital recording will have some form of a computer, whether it be a humble laptop from your college days or a workhorse gaming PC. Most audio recording software is fairly conservative in processing power consumption for basic usage, so any computer purchased in the last couple of years should do the trick. Keep in mind, however, the difference between Mac and a Windows PC — some software is not cross-compatible.
2. A DAW.
A Digital Audio Workstation, or "DAW", is software that digitally emulates portions of a Recording Studio. This means anything from recording, composing, mixing, mastering, and exporting audio can be done within the software. Additional software "plug-ins" can be added for more functionality, digital instruments, effects, and so on. Examples of DAWs include GarageBand, Logic, Reason, Reaper, and Ableton Live. The prices and overall abilities of these DAWs vary greatly, but many of them allow you to download trial versions of the software to evaluate their strengths and functionality.
Budget suggestion: Reaper (Windows - Free Trial/Full Version - $60), GarageBand (Mac OSX - $5)
3. An Audio Interface.
An Audio Interface allows amplified audio input to your computer/DAW using USB or Firewire technology. The benefit of using a USB interface over, say, an 1/8th inch microphone input on your laptop, is the huge leap in sound quality and types of inputs accepted. Many modern audio interfaces allow at least two XLR/Quarter inch audio inputs with phantom power, MIDI In/Out, and have multiple audio outputs for monitors and headphones. This means that you can record multiple audio sources simultaneously, like an interview for a podcast, or a drum set with a few mic points.
Budget suggestion: M-Audio M-Track II or PreSonus AudioBox USB (both $99).
4. A Microphone.
The microphone is a versatile piece of equipment, and a great way to get started on recording. I would recommend getting a cardioid condenser microphone for home recording. This will work well with any audio interface detailed above.
Budget Suggestion: Shure SM57/SM58 ($99) or MXL 770 ($75)
5. Headphones/Studio Monitors.
A good pair of headphones or speakers is crucial to recording music. The most important aspect when buying speakers or headphones for recording is to make sure they are classified as "Studio Monitors". Conventional headphones and speakers are designed to make music sound good, which means that the audio they produce may not actually represent the audio in your DAW. You definitely want honest, flat, audio to come from your speakers or headphones, so that you can better mix your signal.
Budget Suggestion: Sony MDR 7506 ($80), M-Audio AV40 Speakers (Pair, $149)
6. A MIDI Controller.
This is the only truly optional piece of gear in building a Home Studio, though as you explore your DAW, you may find that a controller can give you a tactile advantage and speed up work flow. MIDI controllers range from anything as familiar as a piano-style keyboard to a matrix of colorful buttons, pads, sliders and knobs! It is important to evaluate the goals of your studio, and to purchase a controller accordingly. However, there are a few all-in-one solutions available that pair up nicely with certain DAWs.
Budget Suggestion: Nektar Impact LX25, Akai MPK25 Mk2 (both $99)
Now that you have the gear, there is another hurdle on the horizon — learning to use it all. Never fear, as there are thousands of videos on sites like YouTube and Lynda that can transform any amount of unawareness and self-doubt into knowledge and mastery in just a few hours. I hope this guide helps you build the budget Home Recording Studio of your dreams!