How to build a music studio

What you will find in this article

Did you know I started my business recording my own music and my friends’ in my bedroom? Then, as my business grew, I rented a my first studio for 5 years. I was so annoyed by my noisy neighbours, the unreliable Wi-Fi and the cost of the rent that I finally decided to get my own place with a basement to build my new recording studio.

Come visit my recording studio page to get some inspiration!

Based on all my experience, you will find here a step-by-step guide to help you build your home recording studio and determine the budget you will need.

Home music studio

Photo by Luis Gherasim on Unsplash


Content


Step-by-step guide to build your home recording studio

Building a home recording studio can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it has also been an exciting and rewarding experience for me. Here are some steps to consider as you start building a studio.

1. Find the appropriate recording space

Of course, the first thing to consider is being in a place with enough space where power and Internet are available. Even if it’s not mandatory, finding a quiet space can help the quality of the recordings you are going to produce. Your microphone has a certain sensibility and it could capture the surrounding noises. For instance, outside noise from the street, noisy neighbours, or a loud fan can be recorded along with your voice or instruments and you might have to capture it again. On the other hand, if you like playing music loud with no headset in your studio, you want to make sure that you won’t annoy anyone like your partner, parents or neighbours.

Studio engineers are always thinking about acoustic treatment for their professional studios, with acoustic panels and acoustic foam in the walls. But is acoustic treatment really needed for a home studio? The sound is a wave and it tends to bounce on the walls, ceiling and floor. So you need to avoid empty rooms with no furniture. Some materials are helping in sound absorption, especially curtains, cushions or rugs for example. So if you don’t want to invest in acoustic treatment, make sure you fill your DIY recording studio with soft materials and make tests! Another option is to build the acoustic panels yourself. It can easily be done with some fabric, some pieces of wood and some acoustic insulation that you can easily find at the home renovation store close to your house.

Finally, if you plan on spending hours recording and editing your music, you need to have your material on a comfortable desk and have a nice chair to sit on. Most people already have this equipment at home. So it shouldn’t represent any investment. If you want to record your friends, also think about where they will be sitting while you edit their recordings. The configuration of your space needs a bit of reflection. For instance, some people don’t like when the person is sitting next to them while they are doing their magic with the recordings.

Home recording studio with mic stand

Photo by Luis Gherasim on Unsplash

2. Buy the proper recording equipment

To build a basic music studio, you will need the following equipment:

  • A computer: this will be the central hub of your studio and will be used to run music software, record and edit audio, and store your audio files.
  • A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW): this is the software you will use to create, record, and edit music. 
  • An audio interface: this is a device that connects to your computer and allows you to record audio from external sources such as microphones and musical instruments.
  • A microphone: You will need at least one microphone to record vocals or instruments.
  • Monitors or headphones: You will need a way to listen to your music while you are working on it. Monitors are speakers specifically designed for music production, while headphones can also be used.
  • A musical instrument: Depending on the type of music you want to create, you may need a musical instrument such as a keyboard, guitar, or drum set.
  • Cables and stands: You will need cables to connect your equipment and stands to hold your microphones and monitors.

This is the basic equipment you will need to get started with a home recording studio. As you become more experienced and want to expand your studio, you may want to consider adding additional microphones, instruments, and other equipment to your setup. Let’s deep dive into it.

Computer

Most people already have a personal computer or a laptop. But you need to check that the one you have is powerful enough to be able to handle the recording, editing and storage of your music tracks. If your computer lacks computing or memory, it could make the music software lag or it could take forever to export the music files you are going to create. To check this, you can simply try your music software on your computer to make sure it works properly. If it lags, you can either work on your patience or invest in a new computer or laptop. For sure, this could represent the biggest budget to build your home studio. Also, audio files take up a lot of space, so you need to have a big enough disk to be able to store them. You can easily check how much space you have left in the disk of your computer and do a clean-up if necessary. You can also think about external ways to store your files, such as an external disk or one of the cloud storage solutions on the market. Those solutions can also be a bit expensive, depending on the volume of data you want to store. They are also good ways to have a backup of your files because you don’t want to lose all your hard work in case your computer dies.

Concerning the screen, the one you have could be sufficient. But I would recommend having two screens to be more efficient by being able to have several windows open at the same time.

Even if the mouse pad of your laptop is an option, it’s not the most precise tool to edit sound. So the best is to have a mouse that you can get for only a few dollars.

Setup home recording studio with pro tools

Photo by Wells Chan on Unsplash

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

There are tons of DAWs that you can use for music production, audio editing, and recording, including free options. So I would recommend comparing them based on the budget you have and the features that you need for your sound. Here are a few examples:

  • Audacity: this is a cross-platform, open-source DAW that is popular among beginners and professionals alike. It offers a wide range of features including recording, editing, mixing, and exporting audio, as well as support for VST plugins.
  • LMMS: this is another open-source DAW that is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It includes a range of features such as a synthesizer, drum machine, and a sample editor, as well as support for VST plugins.
  • Caustic 3: this is a mobile DAW that is available for Android and iOS devices. It includes a range of synthesizers, drum machines, and effects, and allows you to create and edit your own tracks on the go.
  • SunVox: this is a portable DAW that is available for a wide range of platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. It includes a range of synthesizers, drum machines, and effects, and allows you to create and edit tracks using a modular interface.
DAW free version or pro tools in personal studio for multiple musicians for live performances

Photo by Ilya Mirnyy on Unsplash

Ultimately, the best DAW for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences. It may be helpful to try out a few different options to see which one you find the most user-friendly and feature-rich

Audio interface

An audio interface is a device that connects to your computer via USB or FireWire and allows you to connect a microphone or other audio sources to your computer. The audio interface typically has inputs for the microphone and outputs for speakers or headphones, and it allows you to record and play back audio on your computer. There are many different types of audio interfaces available, ranging from simple, inexpensive models to more advanced, professional-grade interfaces. The type of audio interface you will need will depend on your specific needs and budget. You can typically find a basic audio interface for under $100. These types of interfaces will have a limited number of inputs and outputs and may not offer as high of a quality as more expensive options, but they can be a good choice for those on a budget or those just starting with home recording.

Home recording audio interface with mic cables in home studio

Photo by Luis Gherasim on Unsplash

Microphones and accessories

The microphone is the main equipment of your home studio. This is where I would advise you to invest a bit of money. It will improve the quality of your recordings and also save you time by not having to edit each note of your recording. You can generally find a good-quality microphone for recording studio use for around $100 to $200. Some examples of studio microphones in this price range include the Audio-Technica AT2020 and the Shure SM57. These microphones are widely used in recording studios and are suitable for a variety of applications, including recording vocals, instruments, and podcasts. Keep in mind that while you can find microphones at lower price points, they may not offer the same level of performance or durability as those in the $100 to $200 range. Some recording studios are recording several instruments at the same time. If this is something that you would want to do, you will need several microphones. However, this is not what I would recommend because recording several instruments simultaneously can be challenging.

Some accessories are also highly recommended to improve your recording experience. A pop filter is a must-have and you can find some for a few dollars. Pop filters reduce or remove popping sounds caused by the impact of air on the microphone while recording. You will also need a microphone stand to hold your microphone while recording vocals, you don’t want to hold it directly in your hand. Depending on your home studio setup, some microphones can be put or attached to a desk. But most people prefer singing while they are standing, so you can also find a tripod mic stand that you put directly on the floor. If you need your music sheet while singing/playing, a music sheet holder could be a nice and cheap accessory to buy, even if it’s not required.

Dynamic microphones with pop filters and microphone stands in home recording studio

Photo by Leo Wieling on Unsplash

Monitors or headphones

Depending on the space you are in and your personal preferences, you might opt for studio headphones or studio monitors. As a professional sound engineer, I always recommend using monitors because it gives you a more accurate perception of the sound in the space. However, I understand that it might not be an option for you if you want to keep it discreet. 

If you decide to go for studio headphones, I would recommend buying one which is covering your ears for better sound quality. You also have the option between wired and wireless headphones. Since wired headphones receive the audio signal directly from the device through the cable, there is less chance of data loss or signal interference. Wireless headphones are for sure more convenient and let you move freely. But they use a process to encode the audio signal and then transmit it wirelessly. This can result in a loss of sound quality and higher latency depending on the quality of the headphones. No matter what kind you decide to buy, you can find decent headphones for as low as $30, but if you want a pair with more advanced features or from a well-known brand, you may need to spend at least $100 or more.

Studio Monitors in home studio as part of the proper recording equipment

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash

If you choose studio monitors, there are a few criteria to consider when choosing them: the size of the room, the type of music you will be recording, and your personal preferences in terms of sound quality. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, there are several good quality speakers available for under $500. These speakers may not have all of the features and performance capabilities of more expensive models, but they can still provide excellent sound quality and be suitable for many recording and mixing applications.

The position of your monitor speakers in your home recording studio is really important. You will probably need stands to hold your monitors in the right position. Here are general guidelines that I personally always follow:

  • The studio monitors have to be placed at an equal distance from the listener. This helps to create a balanced stereo image and ensures that the sound is evenly distributed across the room.
  • Angle the studio monitors inward towards the listener at a roughly 30-degree angle. This helps to create a more focused soundstage and can help to reduce reflections from the walls.
  • Keeping the studio monitors at ear level helps to create a more immersive listening experience and ensures that the sound waves are reaching the listener directly.
  • Avoid placing the studio monitors near reflective surfaces such as windows or large glass surfaces. This can cause the sound waves to reflect off the surface and create a distorted sound.
  • Experiment with the placement. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the placement of your studio monitors to find the best sound for your studio. You may need to move the speakers around and try different positions to find the ideal setup for your space.

Cables

For every piece of equipment that you’re going to connect to your computer or audio interface, you will need to have the proper cable. Most equipment is coming with at least one cable. But you need to check if your computer or your recording interface supports it and that there is enough room for them. If it’s not the case, you can buy adaptors or another cable that matches your setup. Cables are usually pretty cheap (less than $50 each) and adaptors are generally even cheaper if you are on a tight budget. I would always recommend going for cables instead of adding adaptors if it’s possible for you, to avoid losing the good quality of the signal.

3. Define how to produce the beat

There are a lot of options to produce the beat of your music, depending on your goals and the resources you have available. You can even mix those options to create the final sound of your dreams.

If your passion is singing and you don’t want to do it, you can buy prebuilt beats online or even find some free ones. You can also ask a beat producer to create the beat for you based on your requirements.

If you want to be creative, you can produce the beat yourself with your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). In this case, I would suggest that you get a MIDI keyboard. A MIDI keyboard looks like a piano keyboard. It is used to send MIDI data to trigger sounds from an external source like your DAW. It’s very convenient to create music quicker and in a more intuitive way. 

The price of a MIDI keyboard can depend on a variety of factors, such as:

  • the number of keys,
  • the type of keys (e.g. synth-action, weighted, etc.),
  • the number of knobs, sliders, and buttons,
  • the type and number of connections (e.g. USB, MIDI, etc.),
  • and any additional features (e.g. built-in sounds, a display screen, etc.).

That being said, it is possible to find MIDI keyboards for as low as around $50 or $60, although these may not have as many features or as high of build quality as more expensive models. In this price range, they may also have a smaller number of keys (e.g. 25 or 32) and may not have weighted keys.

If you are looking for more features and higher build quality, you can expect to pay more. For 49 or 61 keys, the price may start at around $100 or more, and for 88 keys it may start at around $200 or more.

Ultimately, the minimum price for a good MIDI keyboard will depend on your personal needs and budget. It may be worth considering investing in one with more features and higher build quality if you are looking for a long-term investment and plan to use it frequently, as these keyboards may offer a better overall value in the long run.

The last option is making music with your instrument(s) or collaborating with a friend who already plays guitar or piano, for instance. This is the most expensive option since you will have to get your instruments. But you can find instruments at any price. You can also think about getting a second-hand instrument for a cheaper option. 

To be able to record the music from your electric instrument, you will need to plug your instrument into your audio interface which will convert the signal into a digital signal to send via USB to your DAW. 

For acoustic instruments like an acoustic guitar, you need to check if it has an inbuilt pickup so you can plug a cable into it. If it’s the case, you will be able to connect your instrument to the audio interface as for an electric instrument. If not, you will need to use a microphone to get your audio signal into your computer.

4. Calibrate and test your studio

Now that you have your space and all your equipment, the last set is to set it up. After everything is in place, testing is really important to make sure it’s working properly. You might need to organize it a bit differently than you imagined to make sure you have the best quality and it’s easy to use. This may include adjusting the acoustics of the space, setting up reference levels, and fine-tuning your equipment to work together seamlessly.

Music recording studio

Photo by Tanner Boriack on Unsplash

Conclusion and budget

Voilà! You finally have a precise idea of what you need to be able to start recording in your own recording studio!! 

To summarize, the essential gear to build your own studio includes: 

  • Time;
  • An appropriate space with soft materials – included in your current rent, you might need to get a few pillows, carpets and curtains to help your sound;
  • A computer – you probably already have one; 
  • A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) – the free options should be more than enough to start;
  • An audio interface – for less than $100;
  • A microphone with a pop filter and a stand – for a total budget between $150 and $250;
  • Monitors or headphones – cheap headphones start at $30 but I would recommend investing in monitors for less than $500;
  • Cables to connect – your equipment should include them already.

So, for less than $850, you can already have a solid recording studio of your own, And you can always continue investing a bit more as your studio grows!

Enjoy!