The first step to the process of setting up a home studio is to look around your house, apartment, or unit and select the best room for the job. Ideally you want a room that is not too small, is a rectangle and doesn’t have too many doors or windows. Obviously the selection of your room may be very limited. It may be so limited that there isn’t a selection at all; it is the bedroom or nothing. Don’t panic, this is all about getting the best out of whatever space you have. You also want it to be in a comfortable area, as you will be spending a lot of time in there. As this is about a Home Studio you will also want a spot to not only do mixing but also recording. What this means will depend on what instruments you will be recording. A lot of people find a little cupboard within the room and set this up as a vocal booth or a place to house your guitar amp cabinet. If you are recording drums then you will need a bigger space and generally you will want the room to be fairly live and not dead sounding to create a nice big drum sound within your recordings. If you prefer to record your instrument through a DI (Direct In) and use virtual instruments, then the room doesn’t matter, as you will be recording at your desk. The same applies to Midi Keyboards. Where the room is in your house may also be a major factor. You don’t want to wake your children by recording loud instruments late at night and you don’t want the sounds of a crying baby going across your recordings. You may have a room that has the cooling and heating components for your house on the outside wall creating a constant hum through your room.
Again don’t panic this is about getting the best room you can within your house. If you only have a selection of one room and it has some or all of the problems I have listed, then you’ll just need to work around these problems. Working around these problems is still better than having no studio at all. I personally built a wall down the middle of my double garage and use the side that is connected to my house as my office, mixing and recording studio. This gives me a fairly long rectangular room with high ceilings. I plastered most of the walls except one, which is double brick to the house. I put carpet on the floors for comfort but for sound I probably would have been better with wood. I installed extra power, data cabling to my home network, a TV antenna and a heating and cooling system. At the time I did it, I was only setting it up as an office and not as a studio, so I didn’t design it for studio purposes. If I were to do it again I would probably stick with the same idea but would plan the layout better and put in some really nice little enhancements.
placement of the desk comes into play more when you are using studio monitors. If you decide to only ever mix using Headphones then the placement of the desk is only dependent on the room and your comfort. Just keep in mind that as you advance and get further into the whole home studio experience, you will more than likely want to move to studio monitors, which may be harder to setup if you have already locked in your room placement. Try to allow for the future as much as you can. Trust me, I know. I have changed my setup and moved equipment and desk placement that many times it is not funny. Once you have your desk in place you will then need to decide the placement of the other items you will be having in your studio. If you have guitars and amps you will want them in a location that is comfortable to play and also to be able to stop and start the recording process on your PC or MAC. Don’t place cupboards and other items next to your desk so that you suddenly break the stereo field by changing the distance of your speakers from the first reflection point. Keep in mind, reflective surfaces are on every extra item you place in your studio and will cause sound to reflect back to your listening position at different times.
Obviously you are going to need a desk and a chair. There are many options for desks. You can get custom built desks specifically designed for studios but these are generally for people that have a lot of external rack gear. You can go with a small computer style desk or go the Ikea option and customise it yourself. Think about what you are going to have on your desk immediately and consider what you may add to it later on. Pick something that obviously fits in your room, looks nice and fits in your budget. You are going to have a lot of cables going to this desk so something fairly open is probably better. If you are going to have Studio Monitors think about whether they will go on your desk at a raised height or if you are going to place them on separate stands next to your desk. Do you want space for a full size Midi Keyboard or just a computer keyboard and mouse? The chair you choose should be comfortable but in an ergonomic way. You are going to be spending a lot of time in this chair and you really don’t want to start getting back problems. A high back chair with a headrest is a good idea, so you can sit back and just enjoy the results of all your hard work on that wonderful mix. As I play guitar I found myself a nice chair that had arm rests that can be moved up out of the way. This allows me to use one chair for both mixing and recording. If you plan on having other artists come into your studio then a nice couch for them to relax on would be a good idea. It will also provide a more comfortable spot for you to sit when doing research or other tasks away from your mixing desk. 6
Think about lighting as well. Some artists really thrive in an environment that sets a mood. You might want to keep the room slightly dark with some mood lighting like lava lamps and Christmas lights. If you are into the heavier sides of music you may want to place some statues of skulls, snakes, dragons etc. Pictures of your favourite guitarists and artists on the walls may be what you need for inspiration and motivation. Bookshelves full of books can be good for dispersing or absorbing sound to prevent reflections. A couch and other soft types of furniture are also good at reducing the liveliness of the room by reducing the reflections and echo sounds.
will most probably not be to your liking. If you plan on recording drums or a band then generally something with around eight inputs at a minimum is recommended. Another thing to keep in mind when selecting an Audio Interface is to think about the recording/mixing software you are going to use. Most of the Audio Interfaces can be purchased in a package that includes the recording/mixing software with it and if it doesn’t then you need to check that the software you are going to purchase supports it. Same as with the PC or MAC decision. Think about whether you need the system to be portable. If you are going to be going to artists locations a lot then you will want an interface that is light, small and durable.
P OPULAR A UDIO I NTERFACE B RANDS 1. Universal Audio 2. Focusrite 3. PreSonus 4. Apogee 5. TC Electronic 6. M-Audio 7. Eleven Rack
ther a dynamic or a condenser depending on your primary instrument. If you can afford to get one condenser and one dynamic then you will be set to record most instruments. If your primary instrument is drums then I would look at getting a specific drum microphone pack. These packs include all the microphones you will need and have the right type of microphone for each drum and location. The best thing you can do is to learn how to use your microphone by placing it on different instruments. Try recording the microphone at lots of different locations around the instrument. Listen to the recordings and try to determine what you like and don’t like about the sound they are producing. Determine the best placement of your microphone on every different instrument you can, including vocals. Then if you are in a situation where you only have one type of microphone and it is not the best for that task, you will still have a good idea of how to get the best out of that microphone.
P OPULAR M ICROPHONE B RANDS 1. Shure 2. AKG 3. Neumann 4. Audio-Technica 5. Rode 6. Telefunken 7. Earthworks
see how many resources and help you can find online for this software. As you will be new to this you will need a lot of help and will be constantly searching for answers online. If you are going to be using this as a stepping stone to possibly working in a recording studio in the future, then find out what most of the studios use and think about getting that software and learning it.
P OPULAR S OFTWARE B RANDS 1. Avid Pro Tools 2. Apple Logic Pro 3. Steinberg Cubase 4. Cakewalk Sonar 5. Propellerhead Reason 6. PreSonus Studio One 7. Ableton Live 8. Image Line FL Studio 9. Apple GarageBand
Headphones are generally not recommended for mixing as your primary listening source. It is preferred that a good set of studio monitors is used. The reason I put headphones in the bare minimum is because you actually can mix on headphones. It may not be ideal but you can do it. Using headphones also removes the need to setup your room properly with acoustic treatment and desk location etc. I would still recommend that you move to studio monitors when suitable and I will talk more about that in the next chapter. When selecting a set of headphones you want to find a set that is designed for studio monitoring. These generally have a flat response. They are probably not the headphones you would select if you were listening to them in the store, because unlike the mainstream popular headphones, they don’t boost the bass and highs. Headphones like ‘Beats’ generally boost the bass and as such you will end up compensating for it in the mixes and then your mix will not be balanced and won’t sound right on other systems. Another set of headphones I have found useful is a set of isolating headphones like the Direct Sound Extreme Isolation EX29s. The reason I found them useful is because I record my guitar in the same room as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It allows me to block out the sound of the amp while listening to the sound the microphones are picking up and recording. It also allows you to play with your microphone placement while in the same room as your amp.
Open back headphones will generally give you a better sound, while closed back headphones are better at keeping the sound in. Closed back headphones are better for recording as they don’t bleed into the microphone as much especially with vocals where the headphones are right near the microphone. For example, when a vocalist is recording they have the music and a click track playing in their headphones. If they where open back headphones, the sound of the music and the click will most probably get picked up by the microphone along with the vocals. In a loud song this may not be a big problem but imagine a quiet section with just the vocals and there is this annoying click, click, click sound on the recording that you can’t get rid of. If you are going to be doing a lot of mixing and recording then I would suggest getting a pair of closed and open back headphones, but only if you can afford it.
P OPULAR S TUDIO H EADPHONE B RANDS 1. AKG 2. Audio-Technica 3. Beyerdynamic 4. Sennheiser
The most critical item you should also have in your home studio is a backup regime. There is nothing worse then spending months and months creating brilliant material to only lose it all because of a Hard Disk Failure. That is the quickest way to make you want to give up and stop recording forever. I currently perform a backup to several locations. I backup to an external USB Hard Drive that I will remove from the house if I am going away for a long trip. I also backup to an online service like Gobbler or Dropbox. Gobbler is specially designed for music creation which not only allows you to backup your projects with version control, but it also allows you to send files and projects to other users for collaboration work. Dropbox is great for sharing finished work with clients or other band members etc. Most services will provide a small amount of backup space for free but if you plan on backing up all your material for now and the future then be prepared to upgrade the service to a paid service. The rates are usually quite reasonable, especially for the piece of mind they provide. This is one of those items you hate paying for when nothing goes wrong, but you will love it the first time you loose all you hard work at home and you can restore it back without any issue. Some popular online backup sites are Gobbler, Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Microsoft Skydrive and Google Drive.
So you reached your limits with the bare minimum home studio setup and it is time to go to the next level. Maybe the next step is to grow your microphone collection. Depending on the microphone you selected as your first microphone, you could look at adding some of the other types of microphones previously mentioned. If you selected a dynamic microphone you may find a need to purchase a condenser microphone to enhance your acoustic guitar recording or to record some vocals etc. You may decide that adding a ribbon microphone along side your dynamic microphone on your guitar cabinet would give you a better sound. You may have also gotten yourself in a position that you want to provide recording services to clients and as such, you are in need of purchasing microphones to record drums. The main thing to keep in mind is to purchase microphones that are going to give you choices, don’t look to replace the current microphone with a more expensive one of the same type unless it is faulty or you really hate the microphone you purchased. You will get more use from a selection of different types of microphones than a selection of different brands. Make sure you learn to use the microphone you have. Don’t go and buy a new microphone because your recordings sound terrible, unless you have a really bad microphone. The chances are that it won’t solve the problem, as the real problem may be your skill level. I have heard recordings done by artists on an iPhone which, have sounded better than some recordings done with a Neumann microphone.
generally lower priced. The amplifiers included in the active monitors are designed to suit that particular speaker and cabinet. Passive monitors will require you to find and purchase a matched amplifier system for use with the monitors you choose. You will also require extra space in a rack or on your desk for the amplifier unit for the Passive monitor system.
are happy. I generally test my mixes on my main monitors, a set of cheap small monitors, headphones, iMac speakers, Apple ear buds and in my car.
Ask anybody that has gotten into mixing and they all love buy-
ing new plugins. I also love buying plugins, even to the point of buying too many and hardly using most of them. I got to the point where I realised this and decided to consolidate my plugins to a handful that I really use and to try not to be tempted by the pretty graphics and statements of wonderful sounds. Depending on the recording software you have selected will have some bearing on what plugins you can purchase. There are different types for each system. I would recommend that you get to know the plugins that came with the recording software first and only purchase new plugins after that. Look for plugins that you have a specific need for. As you work on mixing projects, create a list of functions that you would have liked to use but didn’t have in you current system. For example if you need a de-esser on some vocals but your system didn’t include it, then put it on the list. Purchasing these plugins on your list will help you more than buying five styles of EQs and five styles of Compressors. Every plugin will claim to make your mixes sound better but unless you know how to use them and what you want to get from them, they won’t. Make sure you have the plugins to cover the basics first. Here is a list of plugin types that you should have before you purchase other varieties of the same type.
• Limiter After you have these then you could look at some other more specific plugins like stereo wideners, tape emulators, console emulators, noise removing tools, pitch correction, guitar effects like flangers, chorus and re-amping tools. There are lots of manufacturers of plugins and they are all very good. They all offer similar plugins just in a slightly different format. Again the main thing is to decide which plugin you want and to learn every aspect and subtlety of it.
If you’ve set your studio up nicely and you have moved to using studio monitors as opposed to headphones, then the next step that is critical is to treat your room. Unless you designed and built a purpose built studio within your house, then I am assuming you have reclaimed an existing room. This room was not designed to be a studio and as such it most likely won’t handle sound very well. The purpose of treating your room is to provide you some control of the sound waves and frequencies travelling around your room. It reduces the reflection of sounds coming back to ears from near by walls and creates an environment that represents the actual music coming out of the studio monitors. Without treatment, you will find that your mixes will sound vastly different from your studio, to your car or headphones and various other places. Audio treatment can be a very expensive exercise and to do it accurately can be very difficult. As this is a home studio, I am not suggesting you hire a professional to analyse your room and provide thousands of dollars of treatment, but there is some simple things you can do to provide some control back to your room. Just keep in mind that your room will never be perfect, but you can improve it. The first and cheapest item to get is some isolation between your studio monitors and your desk or speaker stands. These are a specially designed foam block that sits under your speakers and reduces the amount of sound and vibration transfer-
ring from your speakers and through your desk. They are not very expensive and easy to install. The next item I would suggest is some wall panels mounted in certain locations to reduce the early reflections. These are placed on the side, front and rear walls of your listening position. It is also recommended that you place some on the ceiling as a cloud (hanging from the ceiling) as well, but unless you are doing the entire setup in one go, I would leave this until further in the treatment. The next item would be to get some bass traps to control the low-end frequencies. This is the most expensive part of the treatment. Bass traps are very expensive and get more expensive the lower you go frequency wise. This can be done in stages and you can add panels and traps as you go. Bass traps are normally placed in the corners running vertically up the walls and horizontally where the walls join the ceiling. I would tackle the vertical corners first. There is lots of tools online to calculate the frequencies you are going to have problems with based on your room dimensions. Also take into account the frequency response of your studio monitors. If your room is going to have problems at 45Hz but your monitors only work from 50Hz, then there is no point trying to treat frequencies that low. Bass Traps that cover down to 75Hz are the most cost effective, but they will do little to frequencies below that, which is where most rooms will have problems. Look for Bass Traps that will cover the problems you are expecting to have and
that your monitors can produce. Don’t feel like you need to buy the really expensive bass traps because the room analyses results. If you cannot afford it, then treat the room the best you can and just be aware of the potential problems you may have with your mixes. If you keep in mind that you will have a drop in the 60Hz range in your room then you can adjust your mixing to suit. You may find that your mixes are overly boomy because you are pushing to try and get that 60Hz up in your room, but if you keep it in mind then you can compensate for it and reduce the 60Hz level. Checking you mixes in other locations like headphones, car, family Hi-Fi etc. will give you clues to this as well. Anther way to help with your room is to listen to professional mixes on your studio monitors. This will provide you with a reference to compare your mixes to and will teach you how your room reacts and how your mixes should sound in your room. If you would like to do some live testing of your room you can get software like FuzzMeasure, Room EQ Wizard and a special flat analysing microphone (Behringer ECM8000). These tests will show the frequency response of your room as well as highlighting any reflection problems. This takes a fair bit of research and learning to do this properly and can cause you to worry about every small issue, which can then result in you spending too much money and never being happy with your room. The main thing is to get mixing and don’t get into a mindset that the room needs to be perfect before you mix or record anything.
If you are a handy type person you may also decide to build your own acoustic treatment. You will find many online guides and suggestions to building you own treatment. Generally, it will consist of roof and wall insulation like fibreglass, or rock wall that you cover in material. I saw a design for placing this inside a Ikea bookshelf which looked very nice.
P OPULAR S UPPLIERS 1. Auralex 2. Primacoustic
It is also a good idea to cover any windows with thick curtains that can absorb most of the sound waves. Other furniture items within the room need to be considered as well. For example if you place your desk in the centre of a wall but you then place a nice big cupboard/wardrobe next to your desk you have suddenly placed your desk off centre. The reason is that the sound waves from your monitors will reflect off the wall on one side and the cupboard on the other side, which are different distances from your ears. Bookshelves are good for absorbing and scattering sound waves if they are filled with lots of varying paperback books. Large couches or beds are good at acting as bass traps. Don’t go over the top and cover every inch of wall and roof space, as this will create a very dead room that will be uncomfortable to listen in. You need a room with a little bit of life especially if you are recording in that room as well.
in your computer only. It will generally have faders and knobs that are linked to the appropriate parameter in the software. These settings are then retained in the software because that is what you are modifying. The down side is that there really isn’t many devices that I would say are great and if they are great, they also cost a lot of money.
Some other room treatment techniques can be quite useful and handy to have in your room, especially if you are recording in that room. For vocals and acoustic guitars, it is a good idea to have some form of treatment placed directly behind the microphone. This will prevent reflections coming back to the microphone from walls and other hard surfaces sitting behind the microphone. For vocals some form of windscreen is essential to go in front of the microphone. Without this you will get a lot of pops and plosives from singing P’s etc. Another item that can be useful in a recording environment is what some refer to as Gobos. These are treatment panels that are placed in a frame on wheels that you can move around your recording environment to control the reflections. You can place them around a drum kit, guitar amps, vocalist etc.
updating this list overtime without purchasing them. If you are looking at plugins then trial them, see what they actually do and learn how you would use them. This will allow you to narrow down the list to the products you really need and the brands that you really like. It also prepares you, so that if the product goes on a massive sale at some time, you are confident in your purchase and can get it at a great price. Also put them in an order of need as well. If you don’t have a delay plugin or you don’t have a specific microphone that you have found you could have used on a project then put that on the top of the list. Place the luxury vintage sounding EQ or compressor plugin down the bottom, because you already have an EQ and compressor plugin. Once you have selected the one you want, don’t be tempted to buy the alternative because it suddenly goes on sale, as you will end up being disappointed. For example, if you trial Melodyne and Autotune for pitch correction and you determined that you preferred the performance and feel of Melodyne, then don’t go and buy Autotune because they have it for half price. In regards to hardware another thing to keep in mind is that you want to spend your money on items that are going to move you forward in your development and your creativity. If you are a musician and you are recording and mixing your own music, you are probably better off buying a new/different guitar than you are spending money on a Vintage Console emulation plugin. A plugin that gives you a vintage sound is
not going to inspire you as much as adding a Les Paul to your collection of Strats and Teles. Another thing to decide on is, ‘are you a collector of items or are you truly upgrading?’ What I mean by this, is a lot of people will buy a new piece of hardware or a plugin that does a similar thing to something you already have but they keep both. The old hardware then ends up in the cupboard for the rest of its life. If the previous item is most likely not going to be used again then sell it on EBay and get back some of the money you just spent. You not only keep you house/studio clean of unused equipment, but you will also save some money. This goes for plugins as well. There are a lot of plugins that you can sell the license on EBay and have it transferred to the new owner. Just make sure you check before you sell, that the license can be transferred because some venders do not let you do this. There has been several occasions where I have sold items I no longer use for more than I spent to buy the replacement item. Sometimes having too much hardware and too many plugins can be detrimental to you. If you have ten guitars or ten different flavours of EQ plugins, then every time you start recording or mixing you first need to decide which one you want to use, and unless you know everyone backwards and know exactly why you would use it, most of the time you will be selecting one for no reason then you haven’t used it for a while. After doing this for 12 months, you will probably find that you keep coming back to two or three of them and the rest hardly get used.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this guide and hopefully it has helped you to get started with setting up your very own home studio. If you need further assistance or have any specific questions, then feel free to contact me using the contact form on our website www.kd-music.com.au