Home Recording Basics

Photo by Duncan Kidd on Unsplash

As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers more and more musicians are interested in getting into the home-recording game, and for good reason. But many have little to no idea on how to do it, what gear is needed, what software is needed, how simple or complicated is it? Most musicians are not recording engineers or music editors or computer techs and suddenly they need to become a little bit of all of the above and it can seem very overwhelming.

There are lost of articles about setting up a home studio. Most target composers and producers rather than musicians and singers who just need to record themselves from home. In this blog I’ll attempt to answer some of the key questions, cover some basic concepts to help get you started and make the leap easier and less daunting.

It’s a little longer than I planned because I tried to dive deep enough to help you make the best decisions, but not so deep that it’s overwhelming. I also provide lots of links to articles and resources that can help you dig deeper than what I cover here, along with specific gear recommendations. If you’re looking to get started with home recording, I hope this is helpful. Feel free to reach out with any questions.

What Gear Do You Need?

It really doesn’t take that much to get started. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. A computer (maybe).
  2. A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), which is just tech speak for software that allows you to record and create music on your computer (or iOS or Android device).
  3. A Microphone.
  4. An audio interface, which is how you connect you connect your microphone to your computer.
  5. A Microphone Stand.
  6. A pair of headphones or earbuds (the ones that came with your phone will do).
  7. Some cables.

Something I hear a lot is – “Really? That’s it? Don’t I need a dedicated sound treated room, isn’t there more to it?” Yes, really. That’s it! To get started, that’s really all you need. Is there more to it? Sure, there is other gear you can get to enhance your setup, and I’ll discuss that later. But to get up and running this really is all you need. Anything else is extra and can raise your recording game, but isn’t necessary to be able to get decent or better recordings at home.

What Computer Do I need?

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Like so many things covered in this blog, it depends and what you’re trying to achieve. You don’t necessarily need the fastest, newest most expensive computer on the market. Often an entry level PC or Mac is more than powerful enough for your needs. You most likely already own a computer, I suspect for 99% of those of you who are reading this, your current computer is sufficient. The real question is what are you trying to achieve.

If you’re simply going to record one track at a time and only do a handful for of tracks at most per session, with some basic editorial clean-up work, you really don’t need much. An entry level MacBook Pro or iMac, or PC with 16GB of RAM will be more than enough. I was recording at home 15 years ago using an old MacBook with a much slower and less powerful CPU than current systems and with just 4GB of RAM. I’m sure if I still had it, I could plug it in and use it today and it would be just fine.

If you’re planning to record multiple tracks simultaneously (you’re thinking ahead to the days when the quarantine is lifted and your friends can come over and record with you in person), or you’re interested in more advanced editing, composing, running sample libraries, etc., then you may want a more powerful computer with lots of core, lots of speed and lots of memory. But for the vast majority of musicians who simply need to be able to record their instrument so they can continue to work from home, this isn’t necessary.

That said, there are apps that will work on your iPhone, iPad or Android devices. I just received some fantastic tracks that a musician recorded using LogicX on her iPhone. So if you already own an iPad or tablet or other similar device and you’re really trying to keep the budget down, that could well be good enough. I highly recommend a computer, I think it will make your life easier and give you more flexibility, but my point is that it can be done even without one.