What to buy if you want to produce music at home

What to buy if you want to produce music at home

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These days you don’t need to go to a huge studio with overpriced, pro-grade equipment to record a Grammy-winning record. You can actually do it right from the comfort of your own bedroom, using tools priced for even the most casual of hobbies. It’s no news that more people than ever have access to the tools to create or the means to distribute art. But the cultural institutions that have long dominated popular music cannot ignore the bedroom producer or the new Soundcloud star.

Maybe you’ve been inspired to build your own home recording studio. And maybe, you are not quite sure where to start. Well, an audio interface, a good mic and a good set of headphones will go a long way. But the first thing you’ll probably need is something staring you right in the face: a computer.

Computer and DAW

Ableton live 10

Justin Moill, Director of Product and Category Marketing at Reverb, drives home how important the computer is: “You can take everything else away and as long as you have a computer you can still create music,” said he with me He advises you to “spend the money on a good computer and get other equipment – such as audio interfaces, mics, headphones, etc. – used or at a reasonable price.”

But, really, you can do a lot with whatever computer you have. Joe Pecora, the engineer and producer at Red Room Studio, says your setup could be “as simple as an iPhone/iPad band with Garage.” (I know someone who recorded an entire album this way.) While he agrees that your computer is the most important part, he insists that it doesn’t have to be super powerful. It doesn’t even have to be a desktop. JDilla created many of his beats on a Roland SP303, and you can basically recreate that experience with an iPad and the $4 Koala Sampler for iOS. And don’t forget Gorillaz recorded an entire album on an iPad.

The next thing you’ll need is a DAW, or digital audio workstation. If you’re a Mac user, you’re lucky to have access to Garage Band, a free and incredibly capable alternative. And upgrading to Logic Pro X is only a $200 investment. If you’re on Windows (or don’t like Logic), I often recommend Ableton Live (starting at $99). But honestly there are a lot of great options out there, like FL Studio, BitWig and Cubase and they all start at $99. And often, cut-down versions come free as part of a software bundle when you buy music-making hardware such as MIDI controllers and audio interfaces.

Assuming you already have a computer and just need the accessories to get recording, you can pick up everything you need for under $500 new. But, if you’re patient, you could build a well-furnished one-bedroom studio with used appliances for as little as $250.

Driver MIDI controller

Speaking of which, a MIDI controller should be one of the first things added to your studio. Moill says this is a piece of equipment that beginners often overlook. “It doesn’t just play keyboard sounds,” he explained, “it can be used to write drums and percussion, control mixes and more. It’s the creative interface of music production, and you don’t have to for you to play the piano in order to take advantage of its power.”

We’ve covered many affordable and portable options before. But if you don’t plan on making music on the go, I can’t recommend the Arturia MiniLab 3 enough. It punches well above its weight, and even the pros love this thing. And if you have the space, it’s not much more than upgrading to something like the Keylab Essential 49 ($269) or Novation Launchkey 49 ($229), which will give you a lot more controls to play with. with him.


Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic


Unfortunately, there’s no gear that will magically make you a breathing pop goddess, but a good mic and audio interface can help you do your best. Now, you could get a USB microphone, like Blue Microphones’ $130 Yeti, and it will definitely do the job. Heck, that album I mentioned earlier was recorded using the wired headset that came with the iPhone.

But, honestly, your best bet is to get a regular XLR mic and audio interface. Pecora specifically warns against splurging too much here. “People will look at their favorite artist and see that they use a certain mic or preamp or plug-in and want to use the same thing thinking it will get them the same sound.” On early performances such as “Ocean Eyes” Billie Eilish used an Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser mic, costing just $100. And I stuck almost exclusively with cheap Shure SM58s and 57s ($100 new, $50-$75 used) whether I was recording demos with my band in college or doing vocals for review videos at Engadget.

If you want future pop music and want to make sure your voice is the star of the show, you might consider spending a significant chunk of your budget on something like the Rode NT1-A ($229) or Shure SM7B ( $390). You’ll get better results with more flexibility for post-production, but you’ll obviously get better results with more affordable options.

Audio interface

Focusrite Scarlett Single

As for the interface, there are a lot of great options. Companies like Focusrite, Arturia and Tascam make excellent ones. But your favorites in the budget interface space are Universal Audio’s Volt series. If your budget allows it we strongly recommend the $299 Volt 276. While the $189 Volt 2 is also excellent, it doesn’t stand out from the crowd either.

If you’re looking to save a few bucks, it’s hard to beat the Scarlett series from Focusrite (but be sure to get the second or third gen models). You can get the latest Scarlett 2i2 for around $130 used, but it’s only $180 new (and that includes a huge suite of very useful software).

The reason for choosing an audio interface over a simple USB mic is that it gives you much more flexibility and room to grow. For one, it offloads much of the audio processing from the CPU. Secondly, it will allow you to connect not only students (and exchange them with different ones for different purposes), but also instruments, turntables or anything with an audio jack out. An audio interface is also essential if you plan to connect a pair of studio monitors.

Studio monitors and headphones

2019 holiday gift guide

This is an area where caution is advised with Delay. While a good set of studio monitors will obviously sound better than the speakers on your laptop and result in a better mix, it’s all too easy to get caught up in what he calls monitor envy. “The reality is that monitors at the $300 price point will work fine in most spaces,” he says. Plus, your bedroom probably doesn’t have the space to make the most of large, powerful monitors. So save your money.

And if you’re just starting out, you’re probably better off getting a good set of headphones. There are a lot of great and affordable high-quality headphones out there for under $200, like the $179 Beyerdynamic DT990PRO (down to $179 on Amazon right now). But an old workhorse from Sony, the MDR-7506 is one of our favourites. They are well under $100 and have been used by pros for years to mix music.

Delay offers one tip for newcomers: Double-check your mixes in real life. Headphones can overemphasize bass, while smaller studio monitors can struggle to deliver accurate bass response. So make sure to listen to your track on laptop or car speakers to get a sense of how it will sound in the wild.

And that’s really the key – have the patience to develop your skills and get the most out of the gear you have. It’s really easy to get a bad case of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) when you’re first starting out – trust me, I know. But there’s no need to shell out thousands of dollars for high-end equipment to start making music. You don’t even need to buy new gear. Pecora recommends that the only thing you should buy is new headphones. And, probably, that’s just because you don’t want to be wearing someone else’s sweat on your ears for years.

Images: Getty Creative (home studio); Ableton (Ableton Live running on a laptop); Focusrite (Scarlett Solo); Will Lipman / Engadget (Arturia KeyStep, Sony MDR-7506)

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