10 Things You Need For A Kickass Home Studio (Cont)

  • Microphones
  • MIDI Controllers
  • Headphones
  • Acoustic Treatment
  • Studio Mixer
  • Your Music & Business Skills

This is a continued post. If you missed out the last post, click here: 10 Things You need For A Kickass Home Studio Pt.1

Lets’ continue to build your awesome home recording studio shall we?

5. Microphones

A recording studio that doesn’t have microphones? Even if you’re only interested in producing electronic music, you’ll have to invest a few microphones some time later. People are more likely to work with you when you are able to complete the full production in your studio.

When I first started out, I only focused on music arranging. But it wasn’t long before I realized I was losing customers due to not being able to record from my studio.

Besides recording vocals and instruments, producers sometimes get creative and record different types of sounds. This sounds can be anything from a vacuum machine to a baby wailing. The sounds that were recorded are then usually tweaked and twisted to sound something completely new.

Bottom line is, microphones is a must.

What Type Of Microphones Do You Invest In First?

You might have read that many people usually recommend going with the Shure SM57 dynamic microphone. The Shure SM57 is a microphone that you’ll find in majority of studios around the world without fail. The reason for that is because of the versatility of the microphone. You can use the SM57 with almost anything, vocals, guitars, drums and more

However, with my experience, I found that you’re able to do more when investing in a large diaphragm condenser microphone like the Rode NT1-A, especially if you’re a budding producer.

With a condenser microphone, you’re able to record full bodied sounding recordings. I was able to take up voice over & film projects, recording narrations and rich sounding ‘trailer-like’ voice overs. You can’t achieve that type of recording with a dynamic microphone, no.


You definitely need a condenser microphone to achieve this type of recordings. 

Condenser microphones are more sensitive though. It’ll pick up most sounds in your studio. It’ll pick up the sound of your A/C, computer hard drive spinning, mouse clicks and everything with the slightest sound.

What Else Do You Need With A Microphone?

As mentioned in the last post, to record into your computer you’ll need an audio interface. Together with that, here are some accessories and additions you’ll need with a microphone:

1. Audio Interface – You’ll need them to record into your computer.

2. Microphone Stand – Please get sturdy stands for this. Don’t risk having the stand fall down and end up killing your microphone or a musician! Gator stands are great.

3. Pop Filter – A simple pop filter like the DragonPad would suffice for your recordings. You could also put a thin sock on your microphone to act as a pop filter. Works very well when touring. Genius.

4. The Reflexion Shield – This are shields designed to isolate your room sound from your vocal recordings. They work alright and is a nice have if you record and mix in one room.

The reflexion shield work by isolating & absorbing room noise giving you a dry microphone recording

The reflexion shield work by isolating & absorbing room noise giving you a dry microphone recording

6. MIDI Controllers

With the number of VSTs and software sampler instruments you could get your hands on today, it doesn’t make sense not to own at lease a type of MIDI controller.

The most common form of MIDI controllers are in a keyboard form, where you have the options of getting really portable MIDI controllers with only 25-keys to larger MIDI controller keyboards with 88-keys. MIDI controller keyboards also give you the best type of versatility when it comes to making music. You can almost play every type of instrument on a MIDI controller keyboard. You could play pianos, basses and even drums on a MIDI keyboard.

Some more rhythmically inclined producers would invest in pad MIDI controllers that comes built with drum pads as their secondary MIDI controller.

What Makes A Good Or Bad MIDI Controller?

 

I hope you're not trying to make Hollywood music on this MIDI controller

I hope you’re not trying to make Hollywood music on this MIDI controller

The ability to make music.

I shrug every time I see mini sized MIDI controller. The keys are smaller, there’s no sustain pedal and you’re really limited to playing simple melody lines and chords. Other than being really portable, I fail to see why a music producer should buy a mini sized MIDI controller like the CME Xkey for his/her studio. Okay, maybe if its your secondary MIDI controller you take along when you go touring.

See which MIDI controllers you should get: Top 10 MIDI Controllers Worth Buying

Buy MIDI controllers that gives you the best key touch or good responsive drum pads. Sometimes you might see bang for the buck MIDI controllers keyboards that comes with on-board drum pads. Though they might look attractive, sometimes the responsiveness and touch of those additional drum pads are useless.

Take for example, I have a Samson Graphite 49 in the studio. While it comes jam packed with loads of features, I find myself hardly using the onboard drum pads if even at all. The drum pads were stiff and I simply prefer using the keys to record my drum patches.

See my review on the Graphite: Samson Graphite 49 Review 

 

7. Studio Headphones

There are two main reasons you should have headphones in your home recording studio.

First, when you’re recording on your microphone, you’ll need headphones to monitor. Your speakers won’t do as your microphone would pick up sounds from your speakers and worse, cause feedback loops. Secondly, studio headphones can be very useful when checking your mixes. When mixing and mastering, I normally check my mix on headphones and smaller speakers to make sure they sound good across playback devices.

Know The Two Types Of Studio Headphones Before Buying Anything

Don’t spend your hard-earned money on a new set of studio headphones yet, before you read this. I’d explain the three types of studio headphones you can find in the market and tell you which one you should get.

1. Closed Back Headphones

The Fostex Closed Back Headphones

The Fostex Closed Back Headphones

Majority of headphons are closed-back. That means the outer cups of the headphones are padded and have a solid enclosure. They are designed to keep the music you hear to yourself.

Closed back headphones are ideal for recording as less sound is leaked from the headphones into your microphone as you record. So if you’re looking for headphones to do recording, closed-back headphones would be the ones you should get.

When we listen to everyday sounds and music, the room we listen in actually adds up to the experience. With closed back headphone, your mix can sound more ‘closed’, sort of the in-your-head sound.

Generally, I’d use closed-back headphones for recording. Here are three recommended closed back headphones you should take a look at:

  1. Audio Technica ATH M30 – Bang for the buck. Great for new studio owners who need a closed back headphone without spending too much.
  2. Sony MDR7506 – Sometimes known as the standard of closed-back headphones. I’d definitely give the Sony cans a go!
  3. Extreme Isolation EX29 – This is normally used by recording drummers. The EX29 is designed to be so isolated, so you could still monitor while playing the drums really loudly.

2. Open Back Headphones

Open back headphones are not made for sound isolation. In fact, they’re the opposite of a closed back headphone. Everyone can hear what you’re listening to when you’re on a open back headphones.

Why even consider an open back headphone? Well, because of its open back, sound you’re listening to gets mixed with the natural ambient outside the cans as well. You’ll get a more natural and bigger sound with open back headphones as compared to closed back headphones.

It’ll sound less close sounding but more open sounding, if you know what I mean. An open back headphones gives you a more realistic sound. Generally I’d use open back headphones when I’m mixing. Here are some interesting open back headphones you should consider:

  1. Shure SRH1840 – Ouch! But it’s sure getting some good reviews. I’ve not tried it before to be honest but it’s worth a mention.
  2. AKG K240 Semi Open – This one is more affordable and you could consider this if you’re planning to mix with headphones.
  3. Sennheiser HD 600 – One of the best open back headphones I’ve listened on. This one is amazing.

However personally, I prefer sticking with close backed headphones for recording and I’ll use my studio monitor speakers for mixing. I’d use that extra cash to buy more instrument VSTs and such. Anyway, that’s just my personal preference!

 

8. Acoustic Treatment

Acoustic foam DOES NOT make your room sound proof. It absorbs sound bouncing in your room. Many people think that sticking acoustic foam in their room makes their room a bullet proof sound proof solid studio.

Read: Don’t get fooled by ‘soundproof’ foam!

Sound bounce in a room. Read more detail at Bob Golds dot Com

Sound bounce in a room. Read more detail at Bob Golds dot Com

Anyhow you’ll need acoustic foam in your mixing and live room to dampen the sound waves bouncing all over your room. With sound bouncing in your room, you’ll get what most of us refer to as ‘echo’. The more parallel surfaces you have in your room, the more sound will bounce. Also the more solid surfaces you have, like glass, the more sound bounces you’ll have as well.

I don’t want to get too technical but if you like to do more reading on this, here’s a good read on sound reverberation by Bob Golds.

Needless to say with sound bouncing all over your room, you won’t be able to mix accurately. Worse yet, you won’t be able to record dry sounding vocals or instruments. That is why it is so expensive to set up a properly treated recording studio.

However that doesn’t mean you can’t make music from your home recording studio. To help tame the sound bounces in your room, you can use acoustic treatment foams and bass traps. Putting more furniture in your room also helps.

If you notice, many studios are built to not have parallel walls. The ceilings of professionals studios are normally non parallel to the floor. Acoustic foam or structures are normally stuck on the ceiling to ensure non-parallel ceilings and walls.

Here’s what to get:

Acoustic Foam

Acoustic foam panels

Acoustic foam panels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stick this babies on your home studio walls on your ear level. They work well to absorb mid and high frequency sound but not so much for basses.

Bass Traps

Bass Traps

Bass Traps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bass traps are basically thicker acoustic foam meant to absorb lower frequencies and also to kill standing waves. Play a bassy music and go to a corner of your room. If you notice the bass becomes louder at that corner, you have a standing wave problem. Place a bass trap there.

9. Studio Mixer

studio-mixer-audio-mentor

You don’t actually really need a mixer if you’re mainly relying on your audio interface, unless you want your studio to look cooler with the presence of a studio mixer. In fact, you can even go mixer-less!

Most modern home recording studios today mix in the box (with DAW softwares) and only use mixers to plug in more inputs into their speaker system. We don’t normally mix on mixers anymore and you wouldn’t want to do that on a small or medium sized mixer as well. The trend have shifted from recording with mixers to recording on audio interfaces, as it’s much easier and convenient to record directly on audio interfaces. The purpose of a mixer is to simply route audio to your speakers and in some setups, route audio into your audio interface.

 

There are two types of mixers to consider for your home studio

Analog Mixer

You want to check for two things before buying an analog mixer. If you’re planning to run your studio on an analog mixer, you’ll need to take account on the number of busses the analog mixer has.

If you’re planning to record 8 tracks at one go, you need a mixer board that has at least 8 busses returns. You can do the math from here on. If you need to record more tracks, you need to get a bigger mixer with more busses. That is why the analog mixers in professional recording studios are so big that they are called control panels.

An example of an 8-bus analog mixer is like the Allen Heath AH-GL2800-848 48 Channel Mixer.

I’d recommend you to get a smaller 2-bus analog mixer simply to route your audio signals and for recording, you use a dedicated audio interface.

A nice 2-bus analog mixer is like the Mackie 1402 Compact Mixer, which is really good enough to route audio.

Digital Mixer

Digital mixers are expensive but sometime useful for the studio. The advantage a digital mixer has over the analog mixer is that you can save and load settings on the mixer, do automation, mix on the mixer and route countless of different routing settings.

Most digital mixers have audio interfaces built into them. So you simply connect the digital mixer via a USB or Firewire cable to your computer.

Look at some nice digital mixers like the ones made by Presonus. Again digital mixers do not come cheap but it’s best advantage is that you can keep everything in digital to work together with your DAW.

Going Mixer-less

Most of today’s studios use their DAW as their heart of the studio. As mentioned, you don’t actually need a mixer then. All you need is an audio interface to record inputs and connect your outputs to your speakers.

You can then use a control surface like the Mackie Control or Steinberg CC121 that controls your software, to have the simulation of a physical mixer and analog dials when mixing. You simply have to invest in good sounding pre-amps for your microphone inputs to be used together with your audio interface to get world class sounding recording.

This is often the cheapest and easiest solution as well. I prefer going this solution.

10. Your Music & Business Skills

Last but not least, your skills will make your home recording studio a kick ass one. I’ve met many studio owners who have the best gear and softwares in their studio, but they never really seem to create good music. That’s what the industry calls the GAS syndrome a.k.a Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Remember, clients choose your recording studio because of YOU and not because of your gear. You make your studio.

I don’t care how much gear you have, if you do not have the skills to make great music, you won’t be a good producer. My advice is to work with what you have currently and invest in yourself before investing in physical music gears and equipment.

Besides having great musical and producing skills, it’s also very important to have great business skills. Why is this important? Well no matter how good you are, without proper marketing, nobody would know you’re good. It’s your job to get your name out there in the very hectic music marketplace.

And once you have got your name out there, the second set of business skills come into play. You need to know how to CLOSE sales. You could market yourself to be the best producer in your country but if you’re not getting enough paid work, you’ll be out of the home recording business sooner than you imagine.

Invest in your music skills but don’t forget to invest in business skills as well to build a profitable and successful home studio as a music producer.

Conclusion

I hope this post have helped you to decide what to invest in for a kickass home recording studio. I might have missed out some things that you may deem important, so if I did, it’ll be really nice to have you to comment below.

Let me know what you think. Good luck in building your home or project studio.

And as always, keep making music!

Reuben Chng

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Comments

  • Brian Reid

    Best damn helpful article if I make it I’ll be sure to remember. Email me at brianrreid@hotmail.com if you’d like so I could ask you questions when possible. Thanks again.