Updated: May 17, 2020
Recording music from home is ever-popular these days, and it is surprisingly easier than ever to get professional sounding audio from home. The digital audio revolution has simplified the recording process, and has introduced a whole new way to make music.
But how do you know what to get, and where do you start when it comes to navigating the world of audio equipment and home recording? If you are just getting into recording, it can be incredibly difficult figuring out what you need to get the ball rolling.
"If only..." When I first was getting into home recording, I sunk more than $15,000 in audio equipment based on the false belief that more is better, and that the solution to poor-sounding recordings is buying new equipment. At one point, I seriously considered replacing all of my studio microphones with top-end microphones. Somewhere in the back of my mind was this idea that my recordings would sound clearer, cleaner and better "if only" I had better equipment.
"If only" I had that high-end outboard preamp my tracks would sound the way I envisioned. Fast forward 5 years, ended up selling more than half of what I'd accumulated. All of these "tools" I swore I'd need to improve my sound ended up collecting dust. It took me several years, but I realised that better sound does not necessarily come from "better" equipment.
This is not to say that you can buy garbage equipment and expect professional results.
But there's a lot to be said about a decent (and affordable) setup
of mid-range equipment.
You don't need to break the bank to get a great sound. It's more important to focus on better mic technique and developing a working knowledge of the recording software and how to use the included plugins before dishing out thousands.
Think about it this way:
99.9% of all people listening to your recordings will have no clue what microphone, preamp or piece of gear you recorded your tracks with, and as long as it sounds good, they won't care.
Yes, there are specific sound characteristics of certain microphones and preamps, but by and large, you can likely replicate these sounds and characteristics quite accurately with software alone.
I'm not saying high-end equipment doesn't have a place. Any major recording studio will likely use top of the line gear. Neumann mics, UA preamps: the really expensive stuff. But if you're just getting started and building a home studio, it's important to remember that more times than not, less is more.
Do you need a Ferrari?
Last year, I was back in the market for a new car as I migrated from Canada to Australia to be closer to my family down under. I spent quite a bit of time deciding on the features I needed in a car: one that would fit all of my music and paragliding equipment comfortably, that had enough space for a few passengers, and wasn't too hungry for petrol. Not that it was practical for my needs, the thought of a sports car did cross my mind. After spending months on end as a performer across the globe, and having been away for months on end, a part of me wanted to take the plunge. I tossed up my options for a few weeks, but ended up making the right decision. I decided on the more practical option with a mid-sized hatchback, which turned out to be perfect for my needs, and I didn't have to spend a fortune to get a decent and reliable vehicle.
Audio equipment is much the same. Sure, there are performance improvements that come with a $10,000 microphone, but a the end of the day, you'll be able to arrive at the same destination with quality mid-range gear. As with many things in life, spending more money doesn't necessarily guarantee better results.
Start with the basics.
Invest first and foremost in a decent Software system such as Pro Tools or Logic Pro (Mac OS). While you may not understand how to use all of the features you're presented with, you will have the opportunity to learn and develop your skills as you progress.
Secondly, your recording interface is another key element of your studio, converting your audio signals into digital tracks. 6-8 channels is usually enough for a basic home studio setup, and will provide you the flexibility to record several microphones/inputs simultaneously. Recording an acoustic drum kit, for example, will demand a minimum of 4-6 channels to record each drum independently. Take a look into the Tascam US-16x08 or the Zoom Tac-8, both of which are excellent quality recording interfaces that will get you started. If buying new is a bit expensive for you, have a look into a used interface which will often save you a bit of money. Also take a look at the Yamaha UR44C, which is a phenomenal 6-channel interface that comes in under $500.
At the heart of professional-sounding audio is a quality interface and recording software, and investing in these areas first will give you the best start when it comes to recording from home.