Setting up a recording studio has gotten a lot cheaper over the years.
Today, you can get up and running with little more than a good quality microphone, a mic cable, an input/output device, a laptop, and a free or inexpensive Digital Audio Workstation program.
This means that, if you're on a budget, you can either get set up in your own home, or look for someone in your locality that has a reasonably good setup of their own.
Which direction should you go in? That depends on your budget, what gear you already have, and your overall technical savvy and experience level. If you don't know how to record, edit and mix audio, then you may want to rely on the expertise of a local engineer. If you feel pretty comfortable with recording gear and computers, then you might choose the DIY route.
Let's take a look at both options. To start things off, here are some thoughts on recording on your own.
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How To Get Set Up & Record On Your Own
We've covered the topic of recording your first song from home on the cheap already. You can refer to that guide to get an idea of what you need to get started.
I'll take a moment to review the information covered there, and offer some additional insights into getting set up and recording on your own.
Here's what you need:
- A computer. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if it's a desktop or a laptop computer. You should get a machine that runs fast and has plenty of storage. CPU, Ram and hard drive space are your main considerations. Fortunately, you should be able to upgrade your current machine or buy a new one without breaking the bank. If you already have a great computer, there's no need to upgrade.
- A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). If you're using a Mac, then GarageBand is not a bad option. If you're using a PC, then you can get Audacity for free. You can also get Audacity for Mac, but GarageBand tends to be easier to use. Another great low-cost cross-platform option is Tracktion; this is what I use myself. I've also been hearing great things about REAPER, though I've never used it myself. The cost is about the same as Tracktion for a “discounted license” (about $60).
- A microphone. In an ideal world, you would have both a good quality dynamic mic and condenser mic. That's really just a starting point, but it's better than having only one option. The Shure SM57 is a good all-purpose dynamic mic; practically every studio has one. For vocals, the Shure SM58 or the Sennheiser E835 are not bad. As for condenser mics, the Audio-Technica AT2020 (for vocals) and M-Audio Nova are both quite good for the money. If you know you're going to be recording acoustic guitar, it can't hurt to spring for a pair of Samson C02's either (unless it hurts your budget, of course).
- A microphone or XLR cable. Fairly self-explanatory. Make sure to get one that measures 15 to 25 feet or longer if necessary.
- An audio interface. Look for units like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Mackie Onyx Blackjack, Steinberg UR22 or equivalent. Most interfaces should be plug-and-play, but if you have any issues, it's always best to deal with a local instrument dealer for returns and exchanges.
Just a quick note about sound. Good quality microphones – especially condensers – tend to pick up a lot of background noise. If your mixes are pretty sparse (i.e. your songs don't contain more than three or four tracks), it's best to record in quiet rooms; treated or otherwise.
Now, if you don't want to set up your own recording area, another option is to find someone to record with locally. Here's how.
How To Find Someone To Record With Locally
Maybe you don't feel confident in your own ability to get a basic project studio up and running. It's nothing to be ashamed of; not everyone is tech savvy.
Or, maybe you'll be able to save some money recording with another engineer. You might even be able to get better results with someone that has a little bit of experience behind them.
Here are several ways you can find someone to record with locally:
- Do a Google search. Search for “recording studio” + [your locality]. Naturally, you can expect the first page of results to be expensive, professional grade studios. You'll want to dig through several pages worth of results to find alternatives. You could also try “home studio” or “project studio” + [your locality]. There are bound to be some independent studio owners among the bigger ones (I know because I used to be one a few years ago). Just keep searching.
- Search Facebook. Same idea as above. By default, Facebook should show you localized results, so you may not need to enter your city or town name. Again, you'll probably have to dig a little deeper for home, project or independent studios, but you might be able to find some results you can't with Google.
- Reach out to university students. Look for people in new media courses, digital audio certifications, or specialized recording schools. Students will likely be willing to record you for free, for experience, or will charge you a nominal fee for their time.
- Word of mouth. Ask other artists you know who they've recorded with. You might be surprised to find how many of them already have a home setup of sorts. Or, they might be able to refer you to someone they know who can record you inexpensively.
In the long run, setting up your own home studio can prove cheaper than recording with others. It mostly depends on how many projects you intend to record from home. If you know that you're going to be doing several albums worth, then investing in your own gear is a good way to go.
Of course, many bands are ready to up their game by their second or third project. This would suggest that you would either have to go to a better studio, or upgrade your own rooms and gear to get a better sound. Either way, you're spending more money.
However, it's good to be aware of your options and to build your career around what makes the most sense for you.