What do You Need?
If you’re putting together a home studio you can begin with just a few items. Here’s my list of the essentials – everything you need to start making music. I’m also going to reveal the one piece of music gear that has made the biggest impact in my studio setup.
First you’ll need a computer. I use a 2018 MacBook Pro. It’s got a 2.7 gigahertz i7 processor, 16 gigabytes of memory and 2 terabytes solid-state drive. But you really don’t need the latest and greatest. If you get a computer with an i5 processor and 8 gigabytes of memory you’re off to a really great start. If you spend more money on upgrading the specs I suggest adding more RAM.
Next is a digital audio workstation or DAW like Ableton or Logic. A DAW lets you record multiple tracks, instruments, and then mix and arrange them into a song. It’s going to be the center of your music workstation. I use Logic sometimes but mostly Ableton. They basically do the same thing but there are lots of inexpensive options out there like Reaper if you’re using Windows and some free ones for Mac like GarageBand. Most DAWs come with a bunch of different sounds built-in so you can get started making music right away.
Everyone wants to spend their next pile of cash on speakers also called studio monitors, but honestly you can wait. A good set of headphones goes a long way I use the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones.
More importantly whatever headphones you get once you learn how to adjust your mix with them you can get pretty good results even without expensive speakers. Whatever you get it’s always good to check your song on different speakers, headphones, earbuds, and even computer speakers. Whatever you have laying around.
I start creating a lot of songs on the train during my commute and actually begin a lot of them by using the computer keyboard like a piano. You can do this in most DAWs. But a MIDI keyboard is going to make things easier and more expressive. Now I get this question a lot so let me clarify. Most MIDI keyboards are controllers only, meaning they don’t make any sounds on their own. You connect them by USB to your computer and they send signals to your software which then generates the sounds which you hear through your speakers. This is actually a good thing because you’ll be able to add more sounds through software instruments later. And there are some amazing software instruments out there. There are so many options for MIDI keyboards but if you’re looking for something small to get started with.
If you are a vocalist or guitarist or you just need to get some external sound into your computer, you’re going to need an audio interface. I use the Focusrite 2i4. It lets me connect a microphone, electric guitar, or hardware synthesizer and works with my DAW to get those sounds into my computer. The way you do this is by connecting your audio interface to your computer. Next, in your DAW, select the audio interface as the input and output device. To connect a microphone, plug it into the audio interface. Once you’ve done that, you can start recording directly into your DAW. Now if you want to go higher end, I like the UAD Apollo interfaces.
Now I use the Shure SM7B mic with my audio interface. Audio Technica makes some great affordable condenser microphones as well. There are a few USB microphones out there which allow you to record sounds without an audio interface.
Once you’ve got your audio interface, you’re really going to want speakers. Let’s talk about studio monitors. I’m using the Presonus Eris, which are small monitors for a really great price. If you’re on a budget I highly recommend this setup. I paired them with the Presonus subwoofer. The Temblor T8. Studio monitors let you hear your sound with as little coloration as possible. This means you’re getting a more neutral sound that will sound pretty good on different speakers. That’s really the purpose of studio monitors. Now there’s always more gear you could add depending on your needs.
Software plugins which add more instrument sounds or effects to your arsenal or drum pads like the Maschine Mikro MK3, if you like finger drumming. And even external synths for hands-on control. So what have you added to your studio that’s made all the difference?
So which of these pieces of gear has made the biggest impact in my studio? If you’d recommended this to me a few years ago I probably wouldn’t have put my money into it. I probably would have spent it on plugins or something else. But this has improved my sound immensely! It’s my Beyerdynamic headphones. Now Beyerdynamic is not paying me to say this. I bought these myself and I would buy them again. An excellent set of studio headphones lets you hear your mix differently. There’s so much I don’t hear from my studio monitors. Little imperfections in the sound, the tone of the bassline, and the stereo width of individual sounds. They sound different on headphones and I’m able to tweak my mix a lot faster when I’m using headphones in addition to the monitors. Not to mention that I’m also improving the sound for people who are listening with their headphones.
Whatever your studio setup is, remember to make the music that you love and share it. That’s the best way to keep improving your craft.