Even if you only intend to record for yourself, it’s important to understand the sorts of equipment you need at home to a achieve a sonic result you can be proud of and that represents you.
This means you can’t get away with just a laptop and a pair of earbuds. But it doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive. This sort of studio is something you could set up on your bedside table or writing desk.
You need a computer to run music production tools, called a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Mac vs PC is really your preference, as there are plenty of software options available for both (although Logic & Garageband remain Mac-only).
Whichever you choose, just remember the more processing power you can get the better. Recording takes up a lot of processing power. Going with a 3 GHz quad core processor at minimum will allow you to work more fluidly. Other specifications to look for include at least 16GB of RAM, 500GB+ hard drive, and a 15”+ screen.
While it may not be necessary to have the following specifications right away, better to invest in something you can grow with, like one of the best computers for music production on the market:
Recording Platform, also known as a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation: $0-600
These include programs like Garageband, which comes free with all Macs, and Audacity, which you can download for free. But if you’re looking to expand beyond the basic home studio for yourself, opting for an industry standard like Pro Tools is a must.
Ableton Live is another great option if you work in genres with fewer live elements, and more samples (like hip hop or electronic). If you’re looking for an analog experience in a digital world, complete with samples for more electronic composition, Reason is a great option as well.
Audio Interface: $100-200
While you could get away with earbuds if you really needed to, it’s better to have over-the-ear headphones. There are two notable types: closed-back for recording, and open-back which are better for mixing. A quick Amazon search for studio headphones will turn up plenty of great, affordable options, especially from Audio-Technica (ex/ ATH-M30x) and AKG (ex/ M220). It’s best to spend around $60-80 if you want a good pair that will last.
Studio Monitors: $100-150
This is really just a fancy way of saying speakers, except these have a flat signal response that allow you to better hear which frequencies you need to bump up or down while you’re mixing. These can get expensive, but it’s easy enough to track down a pair of M-Audio Studiophiles or Pre-Sonus Erises for a bargain.
This is where it starts to get more complicated. While most mics fall into two categories (dynamic or condenser), these can be broken down further by frequency response, diaphragm size, and of course, their price tag.
But since you’re just getting started, one for vocals and one for instruments will do. It’s easy enough to opt for a Blue Snowball or Yeti. But while they make a decent mic for podcasting, their frequency response for recording music leaves something to be desired.
Much better to start with an industry standard like Shure, whose SM58 and SM57 are regarded for their indestructibility. Both of these mics are of the dynamic variety, meaning they don’t require phantom power, making them versatile for live performance as well.
Mics don’t do much without being plugged in. You’ll need an XLR cable for each, with an extra in case of breakage. Ten foot cables are fine for a condensed setup. But if you’re planning on spreading out or live performance, best to opt for 20 ft. The same goes for your quarter-inch instrument cables. A more durable cable will run you about $35, but you can pick them up for as little as $6 or $7.
To finish off your studio, pick up a few microphone stands and a pop filter (to catch the burst of air from pronouncing hard consonants like p, b, & t). These run $10-25.