Home Recording is the best way to work on your music and nail down demos - or even recording a whole album! Here's our guide to everything you need to know to get started.
Today, there are many ways you can make good-quality recordings by yourself but, by far, the most popular and convenient way is to use your home PC computer / laptop / iPad as your main "studio". Here's our guide to some of the best gear you can find!
Just as you'll never see two guitarists with the absolutely same set up, you are unlikely to ever find two home studios which are the same. There's simply so many options available, so many combinations of gear, that each person will find what suits them better in terms of space, budget and needs. This guide aims purely to point you in the right direction of some of the best studio / recording gear available right now.
WHY SET UP YOUR OWN HOME RECORDING STUDIO?
Having your own recording studio is still the best way to make demos, hone your craft, and learn a bit more about studio techniques. Nothing beats recording on a proper, professional studio, but if you don't have any previous experience with recording, it may prove frustrating for you and for your sound engineer/ producer! Also, if you're just a beginner with little chance (or no interest) in getting signed, why spend lots of money on a professional recording, when you can get excellent results at home, and much cheaper?
But even professional musicians love having their own recording facilities. When you record at home, you can have more peace of mind, because you don't need to worry about studio rates, so you can take your time when recording parts, overdubbing etc., and you can also pretty much record whenever you feel like! From The Beatles to the Arctic Monkeys, most popular musicians have recorded at home, where they developed ideas before recording them on a proper studio. On his auto-biography, Pete Townshend (pictured) mentions how many classic The Who albums such as Tommy and Quadrophenia started as home demos!
In a nutshell, there are three basic products you must own in order to record at home, on your computer: a microphone, an audio interface and a suitable music software. But before we dwell further, let the PMT boyz take you trough the basics of home recording gear, in this quick video:
1) Chose a good recording microphone
There are different kinds of microphones, which may be suitable for different things (vocals, guitar, drums etc) and even two mics of the same kind may sound very different between each other - good quality mics often have "characters" all of their own - one may sound brighter, darker, warmer, and so on. That's why professional studios always have a large assortment of different microphones, and many record producers have their own particular preferences, their own favourite mics. Having a few different mics to choose from is essential for any project or professional studio.
1.2) Condenser Mics: A Studio Essential?
If you're only getting one microphone, your best option is to choose a condenser microphone. This is the most common type in recording studios, the most versatile and useful, and able to provide you with a richer sound.
Condenser mics are more sensitive, warm and great for capturing the ambiance - and because of this, they're versatile: for instance, you can record your vocals & guitar at the same time (see Elvis pic) or vocal harmonies with other singers, like in The Beatles used to do:
The SE Electronics Magneto Studio Condenser Microphone (available in two different finishes) is a great-value condenser mic at just £49! And the SE Electronics SE2000 Condenser Microphone is another excellent choice, for professional results at modest price.
You won't find many good-quality condensers for under £100, but there are some other good choices around this price range: Samson MTR101A with Accessories, Samson MTR201A with Accessories , SE Electronics X1 microphones & packs, and the Rode NT1-A Condenser Microphone Package:
Microphone packages are great for beginners because they come with accessories you'll need if you use a condenser microphone: especially a pop filter which is essential, because condensers are so sensitive that your "P" and "SH" sounds, when you sing, may cause slight distortion! A Reflexion Filter is also a very useful accessory, and you may need a mic boom stand, too.
1.3) Ribbon Mics vs. Condenser Mics: Which one is better?
A good alternative to condenser mics is to get a Ribbon Microphone. These mics look a bit like condensers, but are actually dynamic, but with a ribbon element instead of a moving coil. Watch this demo of the SE Electronic Voodoo VR1 Ribbon mic:
Ribbon mics can be described as dark and smooth and are great when using to record bright, harsh sounds, or to simply get a more warm and "vintage" quality to your sounds, whether recording vocals or, specially, placing it in front of an electric guitar amp cabinet. Maybe you don't "need" one... but if you do get one, it could easily become your favourite type of mic! Worth checking out, for sure...
1.4) Dynamic Mics
The other popular type of mics are the dynamic microphones. They are very rugged, and the type commonly used on live venues. They're not as sensitive as condensers, so they only pick up the sounds right in front of them, and are great when recording loud guitars and drums. They are the cheapest kind of mics, and there are some good ones for £50 or under.
Dynamic microphones are commonly used for live vocals, such as the classic Shure SM58 (found on 99% of venues around the world - or so it seems!) but not used as often when recording vocals. However, it doesn't mean they can't be used this way: Brian Wilson, one of the greatest songwriters and music producers ever, famously used a Shure Unidyne III 545 (the older version of the popular Shure SM57 mic) to record his vocals on the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds.
If you plan to record drums, there are also several microphones designed specifically for drums.
2) Choosing your Audio Interface for Recording
A good Audio Interface is essential if you're using a home computer, tablet or mobile device. The interface will convert the analogue signal from your microphone into digital data, transmitted in most cases via USB, on to your computer.
There are many good audio interfaces under £200, including: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Yamaha Audiogram 6, Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, Line 6 POD Studio UX2, Roland UA-55 Quad Capture, Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 Firewire Audio Interface and the Focusrite Scarlett 6i6.
If you own an Apple iPad, then the Focusrite iTrack Dock is a pretty good choice:
For over £200, things get better and more professional: Focusrite Scarlett 18i8, and the Focusrite Saffire Pro Firewire Audio Interfaces are all great. The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 USB Audio Interface and Universal Audio Apollo Twin Solo Thunderbolt are some of the most high-spec.
The Focusrite iTrack products are perfect interfaces if you're using an iPad rather than PC.
Choosing your interface just depends on things such as how many inputs you need, whether you will record vocals or not, whether you prefer FireWire or USB, and whether you prefer to record on an iPad.
3) Get a good recording Software (DAW)
Finally, you'll need a great music software to make sure your efforts are not in vain! Professional recording studios have a whole range of gear designed for maximum sound quality: reverbs, EQs, compressors, vintage gear, multitrack recorders... most of us can't afford that stuff, or even fit them in our houses! The best music software give you everything you need and then some, from unlimited tracks to a wide array of sound samples!
Best Recording Software for Pros: Native Instruments Komplete 11
Most audio interfaces already come bundled with some software, that should be good enough to get you started, but if you buy something separately you'll get more, and better features. The new Native Instruments Komplete 11 is very popular at the moment, giving you LOADS of great samples, in 39 bundled products. It's the industry standard.
Best Recording Software for Beginners / Budget: Reason 9 Essentials
Another great buy is the Reason 9 Essentials, the software studio that has been one of the most intuitive, forward-thinking music production DAWs for the past decade. This version costs under £49 and it's actually a very powerful and versatile recording tool, providing everything you need to get started on music production.
With everything you'll need contained within one piece of software, you can record, write and sequence music from scratch with a host of top quality samplers, synthesizers and drum machines.
Reason 9 Essentials includes, for instance, Softube, which enables you to get exceptional results when recording guitar or bass, with amp and cab simulations, effects and more!
But Komplete 11 and Reason 9 are but two of the excellent recording software packages available today, so make sure to view what else we have on offer, for even more choices:
4) Recording Packages: Should you get one?
There are a few great Home Studio recording packages, which include all the main things you need: a microphone, an audio interface and software, plus accessories: the Focusrite Scarlett Solo Studio Pack, Focusrite Scarlett Studio Package , Focusrite iTrack Studio Audio Interface & Microphone Package, Focusrite iTrack Dock Studio Pack and M-Audio Vocal Studio Pro are all great value, at under £200.
If you can spend more, the Apogee Duet IOS Packages are a great choice, for pro-quality audio. Choosing a recording package is an easy way to get all you need in one go, without troubling yourself trying to choose all the different things you need.
5) Multi-Track Recorders: A Traditional Alternative
Even though most people today make music on their DAWs, there are those who still prefer the more old-school multi-track recorder alternative. These are good if you don't want to stare at a computer screen, or if you don't own a particularly good computer.
But gone are the cassette tapes of the past - and, for the most part, the CDs and Hard-Drive recording of a more recent past, too! The best of the most recent digital multi-track models, such as the Zoom range, are smaller and lighter units that record straight to a standard SD memory card.
This is a great improvement, because hardly anyone uses tapes now, of course, and having a built-in CD burner is not an advantage these days anymore, when most music is listened to online. And removing the HD recording means that today's modern multitracks work quieter and are less bulky.
The reason some people prefer digital multitrack recording is because they don't require a computer nor audio interfaces, and are therefore more straightforward to operate - just like in the "old days": You plug a mic or instrument to the unit, and you record and mix a song, without a computer screen.
However, some people actually prefer the flexibility to record either way, and that's the beauty of the Zoom range: they also work as audio interfaces / MIDI controllers!
6) Essential Recording Accessories
Apart from what we've already mentioned, it'd be a good idea to get yourself a good pair of studio headphones at the very least, and, hopefully, also a pair of studio monitors - which are not absolutely essential for beginners just getting a basic recording setup at home, but which will benefit you greatly when mixing and listening back to your recordings with the best possible sound fidelity. The KRK monitors are a great choice, used by pros worldwide but also available at some affordable prices.
For a more sophisticated setup, some Outboard & Effects rack units are also recommended, and most professional studios will have a few.
7) Find More Help... In-Store
And don't forget: you can visit your local PMT Store to check all the latest studio gear in stock, and to chat to our product experts, who can help you to find the best gear for your needs! Visit us in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge, Cardiff, East London, Northampton, Norwich, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Oxford or Southend.