Determining Your Home Studio Needs - dummies

By Jeff Strong

Whatever your budget, your first step before purchasing a home recording system is to determine your recording goals. Use the following questions to help you uncover what you truly need (and want) in your home studio. As you answer these questions, remember that most recording studios aren’t built all at once — pieces of equipment are added slowly over time (a mic here, a preamp there).

For most home recordists, the weakest link in their recording system is their engineering know-how. A $4,000 mic is useless until you gain an understanding of the subtleties of mic placement, for instance. You should wait to buy that next piece of gear until you completely outgrow your present piece of equipment.

To get an understanding of what kind of home studio is best for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money can I spend on equipment? For most people, money is the ultimate determining factor in choosing their studio components. Set a budget and try to stay within it. The sky’s the limit on what you can spend on recording equipment for your home studio, but you don’t need to spend a ton of money

    If you know your goals and do your research, you can create top-quality recordings without having the best of everything.

  • Is this studio just for me, or do I intend to hire it out to record others? Your answer to this question may help you decide how elaborate a system you need. For example, if you eventually want to hire yourself and your studio out to record other people, you need to think about the compatibility of your system with other commercial studios.

    If this studio is just for your use, you can focus on getting the best bang for the buck on gear without worrying about compatibility or marketability issues.

  • Will I be recording everything directly into the mixing board, or will I be miking most of the instruments? Your answer to this question is going to dictate your choice in how much of your budget goes toward equipment and acoustical treatments for your room.

    If you intend to plug your instruments directly into the mixer and you only need a microphone for the occasional vocal, you have more money to spend on synthesizers or plug-ins for your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) — or you just won’t have to spend as much.

    Conversely, if you plan to record a band live, you must allocate enough money for those pieces of gear to allow you to do that effectively, such as having enough mics and inputs, sound isolation, and available tracks of simultaneous recording.

  • How many tracks do I need? The answer to this question is important if you’re considering a system that has limited tracks, such as stand-alone recorder or studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems that come with 4, 8, 16, 24 (and sometimes more) available tracks.

  • Will I be sequencing the parts or playing the instruments live? If you plan on sequencing all your music (that is, programming your part into a computer or sequencer and having it play your part for you), make sure that you get a good MIDI controller.

    You can also consider having less capability for audio tracks. But if you plan to play and record all the instruments live, make sure that your recorder has enough tracks for you to put each instrument on its own track.