Building your first studio is an exciting thing, though it's often thought that it's going to break your bank at the same time. Well, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to, and with a budget of just £400 you can build a fully functioning home studio, ready to record all the music you can dream up!
A studio is generally made up of several components:
We do also have software to think about, however we'll get on to that later!
A sound card is a piece of hardware that allows both input and output of audio signals... basically you can plug your microphone or guitar into it and get a signal back out from your computer to your monitors. Many sound cards work by USB, and are generally inexpensive. For several years I used a Focusrite Scarlet Solo which has XLR and Jack inputs. It's a pretty solid Sound Card and certainly something I would recommend.
Nope, I don't mean computer screens (though there's nothing wrong with having 4 screens at all!), I'm talking sound monitors. There is a difference between monitors and speakers. Speakers are designed to sound great across the board, they will have heavier bass and high end outputs and vary quite a lot depending on the brand you buy. Monitors are designed to have a flat response. The idea is to give you more of a flat response across the board to help you get a more accurate representation of your mix.
A good set of studio monitors are key to a great sound from your studio. Not only will everything you pump our of your studio sound really cool, but you'll get an idea of what your music REALLY sounds like under scrutiny.
Don't be fooled though, just because something sounds good in your studio, it doesn't mean that it will sound good everywhere. Listening to your music through iPod earphones, car speakers and laptop speakers can give you a whole new perspective on your mix.
Because studio monitors are so integral to the sound of your music, we're actually going to take up quite a bit of our budget with them. When studying at University, the studio I worked in the most had a set of KRK Rokit 5's. I absolutely loved the sound they pumped out, and when the time came, they were the monitors I got.
For the portable mix engineers, a good set of headphones will be absolutely integral to ensuring you get a well balanced mix. Headphones are also great in your studio as a second reference from your monitors, however not 100% necessary of course. With that said, I've done plenty of mixed with headphones as my only reference, so if you're on a REALLY tight budget, then a great set of cans make a perfect substitute for monitors.
To this day, I still use my trusty Sennheiser HD280 Pro headphones. The quality is incredible and they have great noise cancellation. The price is also great when you consider the incredible quality of the product.
Despite popular belief, you can get incredible mixed only using headphones. With that said, it's important to have a good set of headphones to do the job, it's not an area to cost-cut. You don't have to go crazy in price, but sticking to some of the bigger brands would be a wise decision.
To make music, whilst you could get by drawing MIDI data, to truly get creative you will want a MIDI Keyboard. Many MIDI keyboards just plug right into your computer via USB and just work with whatever software you decide to load up.
The biggest bang for your buck today has got to be the M-Audio Keystation 49. M-Audio are well known for their great interfaces, and this is no exception to that reputation. It has 49 keys with velocity sensitivity and a pitch/mod wheel section too (those that work with orchestral composition will certainly appreciate the importance of the mod wheel!).
I had the pleasure of using this keyboard in the studio of a close friend, I was impressed by the quality and even more impressed by the price of it. As technology gets better, the cost of that technology comes down. This keyboard is the perfect addition to any studio.
You can't record vocals without a mic, right? But what mic should you buy? You could buy an AKG C414 if you really wanted, or we could be reasonable and get something that won't require you to sell your right foot to get hold of.
My first microphone was an SE X1a Condenser Mic. I was really impressed with this microphone, not just by how inexpensive it is, but by the incredibly build and sound quality it provided. I still use this microphone today for recording videos and to use as an overkill Skype audio source.
OK, so that brings our grand total to £636... or £398 if you decided to skip the monitors and go with just the headphones!
I'm glad you mentioned that, I didn't forget... it's just that we have a whole array of free software available!
There's an incredible DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) called Reaper. Reaper is just a fully featured as some of the top, paid retail software with one huge exception... it's completely free of charge!
There are also plenty of freely available plugins. One of my favourite places for plugins, both free and paid, is Plugin Boutique. Plugin Boutique has loads of free software available, and also has a bunch of premium software at a great price too (if you have the extra cash to spend!)