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How to Start a Home Studio Under $400

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Making music at home

If you love making music like I do then you know that sometimes budget is a big problem when you are trying to assemble a home recording studio. The budget is the reason why many upcoming artists are choosing to build their own home studio and record their demos or their albums. The path of becoming a music star starts with the home studio, where you will spend a lot of time harvesting ideas, recording vocals, mixing songs.These days, every major artist has a home studio, where they scratch ideas and produce the songs in raw forms. Don't be fooled by the name, you can and you will make great music in your home studio. Take your time, get inspired, record!

Putting together a home recording studio is not that hard when you know your budget and your minimum requirements. This hub will teach you what to buy if your budget is around $300. This budget is enough only if you already own a PC or a Mac. That's the core of your recording studio, where every digital signal is processed.


The location

A home recording studio can be built in your own bedroom, in a garage or any other place available. Any space is suited as long as you can close the door and stop outside interferences. In this regard, you need to apply some acoustic foam on the walls in the recording room that will soundproof the room. A cheap acoustic insulation can be created at home from common egg crates, but you should opt for this option only if you have no budget for insulation.

The recording setup

The microphone is pretty important in your home studio, because it is the first piece in the recording chain. If you scout the market, you will find out that Audio Technica AT2020 or M-Audio Novaare priced under $100 and, being a wise choice for a studio on a tight budget. Remember that a vocal microphone requires a Popshield, Shockmount, Mic Stand and XLR Cable.

The next thing to buy for your recording chain is the preamp/soundcard/audio interface. Because your condenser mic requires a phantom power source, you can buy a preamp or an Audio Interface. Considering mobility and everything else, I recommend buying an audio interface that already features preamps and phantom power. M-Audio or Focusrite Interfaces are great, but soundcards like Audio Kontrol 1 from Native Instruments could also be taken into consideration.

If you followed all the steps, you should have your recording equipment set by now. All you have to do now is to start recording your songs. The best free recording software is Audacity , but I do recommend a professional software like Cubase. In these apps, you can record vocals on separate tracks, you can add voice effects on separate vocals and you can mix, master and export songs in different formats.

You can also read about what free recording software to use in your home studio on Home Studio Equipment. Remember, mixing is really important. Read tutorials on how to mix your voice with the instrumental.

The Best Mics for a Home Studio Project

As you can see, there are many really impressive mics you can get in your home studio, but the ones in this video are the best. I've already recommended AT 2020. M-Audio Nova is also under $100 and it's 4.5/5 stars on Amazon. The pack includes a solid state microphone and a hard mount and soft case. If you are looking for better mics, you should also consider Rode NT1-A.

Korg microStation 61-Key Micro Synthesizer with Sequencer

Korg microStation 61-Key Micro Synthesizer with Sequencer

The music production setup

The audio market is packed with cool audio interfaces like M-Audio and Focusrite, but buying an audio interface for creating instrumentals is a whole new quest for you. I own the Audio Kontrol 1 interface, and all I can tell you is that it is great piece of equipment suited for producing songs/mixing and recording your vocals. The preamps are just great, providing amazing quality.

It has all the features you need: 24/192, AD / DA-103 dB high end Cirrus Logic, vol headset with adjustable output, a small channel (and phantom power), 1 guitar channel, 3 MIDI preset can be programmed to control functions of Cubase (host software) or other various software, VST, etc.

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In the same chapter, you will also need to buy a MIDI controller that allows you to produce your own music. If you plan to go cheap, you can opt for Akai Pro MPK Mini, but if you want to buy the best product you should probably look into products like Korg microStation 61-Key Micro Synthesizer with Sequencer.

The studio monitors are another important part of your recording studio, because they will translate the digital music stored into the computer/laptop for your years. You need to hear your instrumentals and your recordings at the best quality possible, in order to mix everything into a crystal clear mix. The overall performance of a recording studio can be dragged down by a poor choice of studio monitors. Look into M-Audio monitors, they are priced around $100.

Producing, mixing and mastering music - quick tips

Producing instrumentals

Making an instrumental could become difficult at times, especially if you have no idea where to start. I recommend to test the waters with programs like Reason or FL Studio. They feature loop packages that will get you started. Don't be afraid to experiment, as friends for their honest opinion. Usually, an instrumental has the following components: drums, bass, main line, second line, hook line. When creating an instrumental, some people start with the hook, others with the main line, others with drums. Don't apply master effects to the instrumental alone.

Mixing vocals

If you've created your instrumental and you've laid down the vocals then it's time to mix everything together. The mixing process is difficult, because it affects the whole song. Try to use the proper effects, don't use to much compression, keep the reverb in a safe area, cut down the bass frequency on vocals. Depending on the music genre, you can use fewer or multiple vocals. Usually, the hook requires doubling the voice on additional tracks. A simple setup for a vocal track has the following effects: eq (with no bass), compression, de-esser, reverb. If you're using a free software like Audacity, you can still apply those effects to single audio files, but not as VST.

Mastering a song

By mastering a song, you will add audio tweaks to the mixed song, trying to get the best sound out of it. In other words, you are applying "fine tuning", making it sound wider, louder, clearer.

How to become a music star from scratch

  1. Define your music skills, set your budget limitation, find a place to record.
  2. Buy the recording studio equipment, create the setup, treat the recording room with acoustic foam.
  3. Create a song "on paper". Nothing beats the a good and original idea. Depending on the music genre, some people like to create the instrumental before the song concept, others start with the hook, others with the verses. Find whatever works for you.
  4. Lay down your vocals. This part is tricky, because you need to find the best settings for your audio interface, for the preamp, the best distance between the mouth and the mic. Try to record the best possible vocals. If you can hear the mistake, others will. Make it perfect!
  5. Mix and master your song. This part is important, and if you can't do it by yourself, ask someone else to help you. The mix and master will clear the vocals and will get the best possible sound on the final song.
  6. Post it on Youtube. These days, every major artist is using Youtube as the main channel of promoting songs. It's a free market, and you can enter it with a single "click".
  7. Promote it! Spread your link whenever and wherever you can. Make CD's and give them for free. If your music is good enough, it will spread by itself.

Home studio setups around $300

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 John


Nhung Nguyen from Vietnam on July 15, 2015:

Very nice post !

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