Friday, March 27, 2009

5 Essentials For A Home Studio

Hey there people! Cheebs here again, but you already knew that. Today I am going to make a list of 5 things you HAVE to have if you have or are thinking of making a home or project studio. I know you don't really need all these things to make music in general, but you need these things to create professional sounding music that people will actually take seriously. Here we go!

1 - Reliable and FAST computer

When I started out, I had a shitty old PC that barely would run let alone record. It would take almost 5 minutes to start my computer up let alone all the babysitting and tip toeing I had to do to get the computer to effectively record anything. A good computer should have at least 2 gigs or RAM, a lot of storage (external HD's are great for this) and a fast processor. Now you can go to Dell and buy a computer that has all this and it will only cost you about $600. Computers have come a long way. A little side note, when you get a new computer be sure to get the OS install disk and reinstall Windows as soon as you get the computer to wipe off all the demo programs they load on there, also try not to put it online for downloading anything except updates, there's so many things other than virus' that can cause trouble and suck your processing power. Back up all the time also, you'll be happy you did.

2 - A good microphone

You need a good microphone, no ifs, ands or buts. The better the mic, the less time you will have to spend cleaning your vocals up later or whatever else you happen to record (guitar, piano, drums). Do some research online, read reviews and go to your local music store and ask the guys there to check out the mics they have in stock. They will answer any questions you have and the love talking about music gear (it's their dream job). You will want to get a condenser mic and you might want a good dynamic also. A good dynamic can be used for shows, or to record rough cut tracks to listen to and practice to. I have a Rode NT1a and a Sennheiser E385 dynamic. I like the Sennheiser better than the Shure SM58, it sounds less muddy than the 58 to me.

3 - A good interface for recording

Again, when I first started I used the stock sound card and had to convert the 1/4" down to 1/8" and plug it into the mic input that you would use for a little plastic mic. It will sound cheap and leave you pissed off. The best thing to do is to go buy a M-Audio interface or hop on the bandwagon like I did and buy Pro Tools with the M Box. You need the cleanest interface with the least amount of noise. You can get a good M-Audio USB interface for around $100 bucks or the M Box with Pro Tools for around $500 depending where you go. It's a small price to pay when you consider how much time it will take to clean up anything you record on a cheap sound card. Trust me, once you get something that sounds clean you will never go back to the noisy, hissy sound card again.

4 - Reliable studio monitors

So whats the point of recording something if you can't mix it? Unless you have someone who mixes your tracks for you, you will need some good studio monitors. Don't buy the cheapest ones either, you get what you pay for. I have the Rokit KRK 8's with the 10" sub. All together I spent around $900 for the bundle and I have never regretted it one bit. I used to mix on a Sony 3 CD stereo, then I moved to a home stereo system with 12" subs. They sound OK, but what a lot of people don't know is almost every home stereo system is tuned to sound good with a built in EQ. The whole idea behind studio monitors is to hear PRECISELY what you are mixing, not a EQ'd version of it. If you mix it on your home stereo or your computer speakers, it might sound good at first but then when you go to play it somewhere else it will either sound flat, too much bass or who knows what else. Go get good studio quality monitors, you will love them once you start using them. Plus you can turn them up WAY louder than your home stereo or computer speakers. It's fantastic!

5 - A vocal booth

When you record in a studio, the whole idea is to isolate each vocal and instrument. You want it as dry and "bland" as possible, then you can go and mix it down however you need to later. There's nothing worse than recording a vocal track and then listen to it later when mixing and realize there's some room reverb or someone mowing their lawn in the background. Some of the stuff you wont be able to notice, but others you will. They don't just record in the middle of the control room in a studio, why should you record your vocals in your living room? Making everything as clean as possible (I keep saying that) is one of the biggest differences between recording music and professional sounding music. You don't have to spend a grand on a booth, but it's not a bad idea to drop $100 on some sound proofing foam and sticking it up in the corner of your closet. You will notice the difference after the first session and you will be so happy you went thought the effort to make a booth. When I made my booth, I used carpet pad and old carpet from when my grandpa remodeled his house. It smelled a little funny at first, but I could go in there and clap as loud as I possibly could and there would be NO reverb at all. It's pretty cool, it makes you feel like your going deaf a little bit. If you shop around you can find places online that sell the foam for almost half the price as any music store would sell it for, just shop around.

If you invest a little time and money you will be surprised at how good your home studio will sound. You don't have to go buy it all at once, but listen to your music and think about what you would need first. If you rap and sing, you would want to get a good mic and the vocal booth first maybe. If you just produce and mix, get the monitors. Plan it out, make a list and start saving up, it will be well worth it.


1 comment:

kent said...

RE: the vocal booth

A vocal booth can get you a neutral, dry vocal, which gives you more choices when you're mixing. But I've found that I often end up mixing in some subtle reverb so it doesn't sound unnaturally dry, and digital reverbs are in fact the least successfully done digital effects.

I've gotten results that require less post processing by finding a sweet spot in a room and recording there. That requires the effort of trying scratch vocals with different microphones and mic placement, but it's worth the effort.

And you forgot what is probably the #6 -- a pop guard. Stretching panty hose over coat hangers works but a purpose built pop guard is inexpensive and easier to work with.

The other thing that helps a lot with vocals -- use a large diaphragm condensor with a cardoid pattern, and have your vocalist stand back a couple of feet. This can reduce or eliminate the need for a pop guard, and gives you a bit of room sound.

And never underestimate treating a room by draping blankets over hard surfaces, if you're getting annoying hard reflections.

And in real world recording situations I'm always surprised by how little background noise matters. I've done hip hop vocals where there were people in the room talking quietly off-axis, and you can only hear it if you solo the vocal.

There's one kind of background noise that really does suck, and that's traffic noise, particularly the low frequency drone trucks and buses make when they go by, or passing airplanes. If you have a take spoiled by that kind of sound, it's worth trying to use a high pass EQ to see if you can make it go away.