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Home Studio Basics: What Every Musician Needs

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Let’s face it. With accessibility of home studio gear only getting better and cheaper, more and more musicians are opting for the do-it-yourself approach to recording.

Don’t get me wrong. Going to a professional studio has its advantages for sure. Especially if you can work with a producer or engineer who knows their stuff. But the reality is that it can be expensive and well… we’re musicians – we’re broke.

In fact personally, I have no problem recording all the tracks in my basement because I know I can get very usable sounds. But I will hire a pro when it comes to mixing and mastering a final product.

Spencer McLeod's home studio

The Advantages of a Home Studio

The single biggest advantage for me that having a home studio has, is it is fundamental to my writing process. I rarely start trying to come up with riffs or songs without being plugged into my DAW.

If I play something I like, I want it recorded so I won’t forget it. Then I want to try layering things to see how it sounds and come up with other parts that might fit over it. I also might start cutting and pasting sections to start building out a sequence and structure.

So in my opinion, a home studio is a song writer’s best friend.

focusrite clarett 2pre audio interface

What Do I Need?

On the most basic level, every home studio must have:

  • a computer & software
  • an audio interface (many come with the software)
  • monitors and/or headphones

That’s it. Really. You can now record, playback, edit, and process audio.

What you need on top of that depends on what you are using it for and what your goals are. I strongly suggest keeping it simple if you are new to recording, but don’t cheap out either.

If you are recording electronic instruments like keyboards for example, then you should be good to go. Just get a couple of 1/4″ cables.

If you are recording any kind of acoustic instrument, now you need to start thinking about microphones.

What Else Do I Need?

What you need in your home studio on top of the basics is dependent on your instrument(s) and what you want to achieve.

I’ll break this down based on a few popular types of musicians.

Close up of microphone with music stand and drums in the background at spencer's home studio

For Singers

If you are a vocalist then you will absolutely need the following things:

  • Microphone stand
  • Pop screen
  • Microphone & Cable

For the vocalist, you will probably want a large diaphragm condenser microphone of some kind. There are very reasonably priced large diaphragm condensers on the market, so you shouldn’t have to break the bank.

If you are also capturing an acoustic guitar or piano for example, then you might want to consider a stereo pair of condenser microphones. Use the stereo pair on the instrument, and use one of them when recording vocals.

Again, you can find very reasonably priced stereo pairs of condenser microphones so you shouldn’t have to blow your life savings on a pair of Neumann’s.

black and white photo of a guitarist in a home studio

For Guitarists

For acoustic guitars, one condenser mic can work fine, but you may consider a stereo pair of condensers. This will allow you to capture a stereo sound for your acoustic guitar, and then use one of the two mics for vocals later if you sing.

Acoustic guitars will need:

  • at least one microphone (usually condenser mics are good here)
  • one mic stand (maybe two if using stereo pair)
  • one cable (two for stereo)

For electric guitarists, you have a couple of different options.

First and foremost, you can play through your amp… or use the DI (Direct Input) on your audio interface and then use an amp sim if you have one.

Electric guitars will need:

  • one microphone if playing through an amp (probably a dynamic mic like an SM57)
  • one mic cable
  • on mic stand

If using DI:

  • DI box if your audio interface does not have a DI input
  • One extra patch cable for the DI box
bass guitar and amplifier

For Bass Players

Honestly, this is virtually the same as guitar players. The only major difference being that since bass is a less ‘directional’ sound, you probably don’t need to worry about a stereo pair of mics for an acoustic bass.

For an electric bass you pretty well have the same options as the electric guitar: mic it up, or go DI.

You might opt for a different mic choice than something like an SM57 – perhaps an AKG D112, but this is really up to you. Both will work fine in most cases.

drum set mic'd up in a recording studio

For Drummers

Drummers probably have it the hardest when it comes to recording and even doing shows. You have more sound sources than virtually anyone else, so you need to carry more gear around, have more inputs, mics, stands, etc.

Plus if you’re a drummer you can probably only count to four anyways…. so how the hell is this supposed to work if you need more than four of anything?

Recording drums in and of itself can be a monster and an entire blog post on its own. But that’s not the point of this article. It’s about what you need just to be able to record drums in your home studio.

If you happen to be using an electric drum kit, you have it easy. Just take the stereo outputs from your kit to your interface and go.

So you just need two quarter inch patch cables. Done.

Acoustic drums on the other hand….

Here’s what is typically considered the bare minimum to record acoustic drums:

  • Two overhead mics (probably condenser)
  • Two additional mics for kick and snare drums (probably dynamic)
  • four mic stands
  • four XLR cables

… and your audio interface needs to have at least four mic preamps.

Lots of drum recordings have been made with only four mics and you can get some really great sounding drums with only four.

However if you want to mic up your toms, you will need an additional mic, mic stand (if not using clip-on mics), and an XLR cable for each…. not to mention an additional available mic preamp on your audio interface.

Chances are you will probably want to mic up your drums individually so, get an audio interface with at least 8 inputs and then check out some drum mic packages that fit your budget. Or pick your mics individually like I did.

vocal microphone in a home studio

Conclusion: What Everyone Needs For Their Home Studio

In most cases, musicians looking to write and record their music will need at least the following:

  • Computer & software
  • Audio interface with at least 2 mic preamps
  • Monitors & headphones
  • Stereo pair of microphones
  • Two mic stands and two cables

Drummers on the other hand will need all the same items however, you will need more mic preamps and microphones. At a bare minimum drummers will need four preamps and mics. I personally recommend going for eight.

If you are looking to record more instruments or sounds sources in general simultaneously, then you will need more mics and more preamps on your interface.

You should also plan for future expansion so if you are in the market for an audio interface, make sure you get one with ADAT connectivity. ADAT is the easiest way to expand the number of simultaneous inputs for your DAW.

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