10 things you need to record at home: the bedroom musicians guide
We know the drill. You want to record at a studio, but it’s too costly or the studio you like is miles away. You want to have a go at recording yourself, you’re never too old to learn, right? We have put together this guide of the must-haves of home recording for the bedroom musician.
Arguably the most important thing you will need, without a computer you have nothing to record into. You don’t need a Mac that has the best specs but you also don’t want your dad's old laptop that has been stored in the attic for years.
The most important thing is that your laptop or computer can handle having software loaded onto it, specifically a digital audio workstation, otherwise known as DAW. A lot of creatives do use Mac as Logic can only be exclusively used through Apple products however, there are other DAW’s you can get using a PC. You don’t need the most expensive laptop around to start with!
As said before a DAW is a digital audio workstation. This is the software that you use to actually record your music. The industry standards are Pro Tools and Logic, for around £169 you can buy Pro Tools or Logic for £199.99. Logic is Mac exclusive but is the go-to for most songwriters, producers and musicians both beginners and professionals. If you have a Mac, Garage Band can be an option for very basic use of audio recording, it is a free software so there are some limits.You’ll soon want to step up to Logic as it has more options and is generally better quality.
There are many DAW’s out there, it’s worth exploring different options and having a test, what works for someone else may not work for you.
An interface is what you use to record the audio from your instrument and is sent directly to your computer. The main difference between interfaces is the amount of input/outputs there are. For a bedroom producer, you probably won’t need more than 2, but if you are planning on recording several instruments at the same time, you may want to invest in a bigger interface. It’s worth investing in a good interface; many DIY musicians use Focusrite’s Scarlett interface. It is a solid piece of equipment that is pretty reliable, it has 2 channels and 2 outputs. It is a handy size meaning that it’s great if you are after a portable interface! You can buy the interface by itself, or you can buy it as part of a bundle with headphones and a condenser mic.
There are many microphones on the market, what you’re looking for is a condenser mic. Your options vary depending on what you are recording whether that is voice, or you are going to mic up a drum kit, or amp. If we’re talking vocal specific, you can get reasonably priced and fairly decent quality microphones for just over £100.
Rode NT1A is a common mic for vocalists to start with. It does need phantom power, so you will need to make sure your interface does allow for this.
In a lot of bigger studios, they will have studio monitors however, it isn’t essential for a beginner set-up. You need headphones to listen to your mixes as well as to record too. Ideally, you want open-back headphones for mixing and closed back for recording.
Good quality closed-back headphones will discourage bleed aka what is being played in your headphone to also be picked up in the mic. Open-back headphones are generally used for mixing as they provide better frequency balancing but have less isolation, so you may get bleed.
Like anything, if you have a bigger budget you can get better quality, but you can get decent headphones for a fairly cheap price. If you spend more on open back headphones, you are likely to get more isolation in them than cheaper ones, meaning you could use them to record to save money on two pairs!
6. Studio Monitors
If you’re looking at getting your studio set-up properly, it would be wise to look at monitors. You can mix your tracks with headphones, however, it is always advised to listen through monitors as it is easier to hear sonic imperfections. You’re looking at a few hundred pounds for budget studio monitors or spend thousands like they do in recording studios.
You pick size dependent on the room size, if you’re mixing in a box room you won’t need a massive set of monitors.
You’re not doing anything without cables. Cables are what you’ll use to connect everything together. Most of your equipment will come with some cables, but double-check before you go to record. Most cables aren’t universal, that’s why we have different types, for example, XLR and Jack cables!
An XLR cable is another must-have, most studio microphones will come with an XLR cable that links your microphone to your interface.
Jack cables are used to record guitar, you’d plug directly from your guitar into your interface. This is a cable you’re not very likely to get in any start-up packs.
It is worth investing in high-quality cables as they’re less likely to break and get interference that could ruin your recording.
You need microphone accessories such as a mic stand, pop shield.
A pop shield is essential to get the best vocal takes. It is a noise protection filter which is used to reduce any noise from sibilance or plosives aka popping sounds normally from words with p’s and b’s in them. It makes for a higher quality vocal take whether that is singing or speaking.
Mic stands are a common sense item when it comes to recording. You need one to hold and position your microphone, without it your microphone will pick up any knocks or vibrations making your recording unusable.
Even if you don’t want to play piano, a MIDI keyboard is super handy for virtual instruments. You can programme in drums, guitar, synth, the list is endless really. They come in various sizes and prices but do your own research. Think about what you’d use a MIDI keyboard for and search accordingly.
Recording isn’t all about the equipment you have, it is how you use it. You can have all the best gear and have no idea what you’re doing, it won’t just instantly make it perfect. A great example of how you use the equipment is Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago. It was recorded with a recording chain consisting of a Mac computer (iMac), Pro Tools and a singly SM57 microphone. All recorded in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, there would have been external changes done before the release, but the origin was complete basics.
10. A song
Have something to record! Have a song or two ready to experiment with. Remember to have fun with recording, you can learn as you go. The more you record and mix, the more that you’ll get to know what works for you and what you like. But the most important thing is to enjoy yourself.
Use this knowledge wisely, and show us what you’re made of!