Home Studio Gear Options & Solutions

  I  
Image

The Apogee Symphony I/O Mk II (clockwise from top left), Carlos Henriquez with the MXL Revelation II and Avid Pro Tools recording platform

(Photo: Courtesy Photos)

Now is an ideal time for musicians to get on board with home recording. With gigs few and far between due to the pandemic, musicians who haven’t yet taken the plunge would be well advised to start getting a handle on how to produce and document your own music, on your own terms. It’s a great use of what otherwise would be downtime, and it will help you take charge of your career during this challenging new era. If a collaborator asks you to overdub some solos or background parts on their recording project via remote recording, you’ll be better prepared to answer the call and give it your all. Or if you decide you want to teach students online or take an online lesson yourself, you’ll already be set up for success.

Of course, there is some basic gear you’ll need to get your home studio up and running. Fortunately, there are many available options that are affordable and easy to use, even for the technology-challenged. Here are some of the bare essentials that we recommend to make recordings from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Digital Audio Workstations

Let’s assume that the core of your home studio will be a digital audio workstation that runs on your computer. DAWs are powerful, versatile platforms that give you the ability to create basic, high-quality recordings and edit them to your heart’s content. Commonly used DAWs include Apple’s Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase and GarageBand. But the most ubiquitous of all is Avid’s Pro Tools, considered by many to be the music industry’s most open and efficient recording platform.

Companies that offer DAW programs tend to make them available in multiple versions, from more affordable introductory versions to super-powerful professional versions. If you’re new to home recording, you’ll probably do best by starting with a beginner-type DAW and working your way up to more sophisticated versions as you gain more experience. Companies frequently update their DAW programs to improve workflow and add powerful features, and they make it easy and affordable for users to upgrade whenever a new version is released.

Interfaces

In order to connect your instrument with your DAW, you’ll need an audio interface. These are pieces of hardware that convert the signal from a microphone, an electric instrument such as keyboard or guitar, or an outside audio source into digital information that your computer can understand. They serve as an essential link in the recording chain that makes it possible to record and manipulate the sound of virtually any instrument or voice.

Some audio interfaces currently found in musicians’ home studios include Universal Audio’s Arrow and Apollo Twin, the Apogee Symphony I/O Mk II and the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8. Make sure you go with an interface that has the proper connections (e.g., USB, Thunderbolt) to be compatible with your computer’s input ports.

It’s also an excellent idea to purchase some fresh computer cables, XLR mic cables and quarter-inch instrument cables and designate them exclusively for use in your home studio; the last thing you’d want is to have an old cable fail right in the middle of a productive recording session.

Microphones

A good microphone is key to making great-sounding recordings, and these days, musicians have their pick of mics suited for recording vocals, horns, drums, guitar amps and the like. More and more companies are marketing highly affordable microphones with built-in USB connectivity, which makes it especially easy to record voice and acoustic instruments with a computer.

Some of the more versatile mics used by today’s home recording enthusiasts include the Yeti from Blue Microphones, the WA-251 from Warm Audio, Austrian Audio’s OC818 and MXL’s Revelation series. There are dozens of other microphones on the market today that are suitable for home studio use, so it’s worth taking the time to research some of the different models out there—you’ll likely be thrilled with the results you can get from even the most inexpensive models. And, once you hear how nice your horn or your voice sounds through your mic of choice, you’ll be inspired to dig deeper into the world of home recording and explore all the creative possibilities it presents.

Standard recording mics like the Neumann U47 and Shure SM57 and SM58 work nicely in a home studio context as well, provided you’re using an interface that accommodates a regular XLR mic cable.

Monitors

If you’re relatively new to home recording, consider monitoring your projects via headphones. Any decent pair of stereo headphones will do; avoid using earbuds, which can get uncomfortable quickly and often have insufficient dynamic range for proper monitoring. Headphones bring the sound of your recordings into focus while blocking out outside noise, and they offer the added benefit of allowing for “silent” mixing sessions that won’t disturb your spouse, roommate or neighbors. There are numerous headphone brands out there, and I recommend checking out models made by Bose, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic and M-Audio as a starting point. As you become more accustomed to home recording, eventually you’ll want to invest in a pair of studio monitor speakers, which will provide you with a better overall “reference” of your recorded work.

The more time you spend working with DAWs, digital audio interfaces, microphones and monitors, the more second-nature it will all become. As you get more acquainted with basic home recording gear, you’ll gain practical knowledge that will ultimately help advance your career as a musician.

Ask your peers about their home studio setups, and seek gear recommendations from musicians you trust. And, most important of all, don’t let yourself get discouraged during the learning process—once everything starts to click, you’ll find new creative inspiration in a simple home studio setup. DB

This story will be published in the November 2020 issue of DownBeat. Subscribe here.



  • NorahJones.jpg

    Norah Jones is out with a new live album, ’Til We Meet Again.

  • ChickCorea_KATZ_6259_12.jpg

    Chick Corea, the lost Blindfold Test

  • chick-corea.jpg

    Triology 2 received the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

  • JohnPatitucci-12_credit_Peter_Freed.jpg

    John Patitucci has embraced composition, leader projects and large-scale collaborations since his former boss, saxophonist-composer Wayne Shorter, retired from touring.

  • DB21_04_27Jazz_Day_Mosaic.jpg

    A cavalcade of stars will be performing on Friday, April 30.


On Sale Now
June 2021
Vijay Iyer
Look Inside
Subscribe
Print | Digital | iPad