You’ve established yourself as a reliable freelance engineer. Perhaps you’ve even started selling recording time in your home studio. But you want to attract bigger clients. So how do you take that final step and open a full-fledged, professional studio?
Here are some of the tools you need to record multiple musicians efficiently and professionally. After all, if you intend to charge by the hour, you should be able to work in a timely manner.
In most cases, a home studio doesn’t offer the isolation required to record multiple musicians at the same time. Particularly if one of those musicians is a drummer. Unless you want to risk bleed between your mixing channels, you’ll need a way to separate players from each other. Doing so requires more space. More space requires funds - a lot of them.
If you’re lucky enough to already have a space (whether a basement level or other property) you won’t have to worry about the cost of purchasing or renting. But that doesn’t allow you to avoid a remodel. And when soundproofing and acoustics come into play, things get expensive.
The first step in any remodel is submitting designs for an architect to review and getting an estimate from a builder. It’s always best to research these contractors to ensure you hire those with experience in soundproofing and acoustics. As you’re considering your new studio set-up, here are a few elements to keep in mind:
Control Room with talkback mic: It’s no longer acceptable to have your mixing board in the same room as the live sound. Nobody wants to hear the engineer on a finished record. But musicians do want to see them during the recording process, and hear them in their headphones. That’s where the control room comes in. It’s a simple enough concept - a separate, sound-proofed room with a window that houses all your gear, and a talkback mic to communicate with musicians in their headphone mix. Make sure there’s adequate soundproofing between your control room and live room to avoid bleed.
Isolation Booth(s): Sure, you could spend the time recording every instrument separately. But when the band plays together it lends the recording a more authentic feel. Not to mention the time savings. But since you’ll need to mix these tracks down, you’ll want to avoid any bleed - making for cleaner, easier mixing. An isolation booth, or room, allows you to record these tracks simultaneously, without the potential bleed.
Acoustics: In any studio, acoustics are paramount. We already talked about paneling in the previous installment of this series. But acoustics are equally important in the design of your studio. This is where an architect experienced in sound design comes in. As you plan out your space, everything from the materials to the angles can affect the sound of the space. While paneling & diffusers are still necessary, they can’t fix a design flaw.
Direct Boxes ($50-100): With a larger studio (and longer cables), you run the risk of additional noise. A DI box helps combat this by converting an unbalanced instrument-level signal to a balanced mic-level signal. They also allow you to set up instrument jacks in multiple locations in your studio.
Control Surface ($50-250): While mixing can be done with your computer and mouse, it slows you down and makes more advanced mixing difficult. While a mixing console would be optimal, it’s not inexpensive. A control surface provides a happy medium, made to mimic the console, but smaller, and in a digital (MIDI) space. A few options to get you started:
Mackie Control Universal Pro ($1100)
Studio Rack Mount: If you want to record larger bands, you’ll need more channels. To get more channels, you’ll need more gear. A rack mount allows you to access all this gear in the same place. And you can mix & match your equipment to your desired signal flow and routing. It’s easy enough to get started with a few of your favorite multi-channel pre-amps (~$400), headphone amps ($16-100), and a mount ($100-250). Once you’ve made those selections, it’s worth adding the following...
Power Conditioner ($150-500): A whole lot of gear also means a whole lot of power cables. Adding this to your rack lets you consolidate these cables so you only have to plug in & turn on once. It also comes with the benefit of surge protection, voltage regulation, & noise filtration, extending the life of your gear.
Monitor Management (~$80): Headphone amps allow you to connect multiple pairs of (you guessed it) headphones. Monitor management does the same, but for your speakers. This enables you to easily listen back on multiple speakers throughout your studio.
MIDI controller ($60-150): It’s all fine and good to input each note individually, but it takes a lot of time. With a MIDI controller (often a keyboard configuration) you can simply play along and assign samples later. If you don’t want to spend the $75-200 right now, you can always make do with an electronic keyboard, many of which have MIDI connectivity. However, a controller like the Alesis Q has the advantage of fitting in a backpack.
Bells & Whistles
Analog Hardware ($$$+): Tape machines, reverb plates, compressors, oh my. Though not necessary in today’s digital world, having old tech (and knowing how to use it) can help your studio appeal to a wider market. And, when potential clients visit for a studio tour, the presence of a console can make or break their decision to record with you. Even if you can achieve the same results without it.
While most DAWs now come with a selection of fairly decent free plugins, there’s a definite difference when you upgrade to premium. But don’t be fooled into thinking they’ll fix your problems if your skills aren’t up to snuff.
Protect Your Data ($150-300)
Uninterruptible Power Supply ($75-150): Heaven forbid you’re in the middle of a recording or mixing session and the power goes out. All of your work is lost. But it doesn’t have to be. With a UPS, such a tragedy needn’t worry you. This tool offers a battery backup, so you have a few minutes to shut down properly, and save your data.
Tertiary Hard Drives ($60-200): What happens if your computer crashes? Hopefully nothing, assuming you have all of your work backed up elsewhere. External hard drives are less expensive than ever, so there’s no reason to skip them, especially with clients on the line. The size of your business will determine the size of your external drives. However, your bare minimum should be 2TB given the size of recording files.