Once upon a time, high-quality audio was all about spending a fortune on renting a professional studio and recording equipment.
Therefore, it was limited to people with money and resources. This made things difficult for new and independent artists in India.
Fortunately, things have changed for the better. With the emergence of social media, the necessity of intervention of big music companies and record labels have reduced significantly.
It is easier than ever to reach out to a larger audience from the comfort of our homes with a simple affordable Home Recording Studio.
You don’t need to burn a hole in your pocket to produce professional-quality audio any more as recording gear, like microphone, sound cards, etc. have become relatively inexpensive.
Why would you need a Home Studio?
Produce professional quality audio at home
The quality of audio that we are accustomed to nowadays is very high compared to what it was a couple of decades back.
So, while releasing music, it is very important to maintain a high standard in terms of audio quality in order to engage more listeners.
There are two ways in which this can be achieved: by renting a recording studio or building your own.
Due to advancements in audio recording technology and the increasing processing power of computers, the difference in the quality of audio rendered by a professional studio and that by a home studio has become insignificant.
It is inexpensive in the long run
Renting a professional studio can be very expensive – even the cheapest studios charge a lot of money.
There are additional time constraints while hiring a professional studio as they usually charge per hour or per session. This can be detrimental to the creative process – as there is a constant pressure of getting things done as quickly as possible.
Building a home studio can eliminate this constraint altogether and prove to be much easier on the pockets in the long run.
Be prepared during your moment
Last, but not least, a home studio is always at your disposal. You don’t have to book it or rent it when you want to transform your ideas into music. This acts as a catalyst for your creativity as moments of inspiration come suddenly and in short bursts.
How much would it cost to build a Home Studio?
The good news is that you do not need to spend a lot to money for a decent home studio.
Today, high-quality audio recording equipment, like USB audio interfaces, microphones, etc., are available at surprisingly affordable prices.
However, it is important to know what you wish to achieve before deciding on a budget.
Typically, a singer-songwriter, with a piano or acoustic guitar as accompaniment, can get away with a good
- Two-channel audio interface (USB sound card),
- A microphone,
- And a decent pair of studio monitor headphones.
Such a setup, considering the additional cost of a few accessories like cables and mic stand, will be somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 INR.
If you wish to build a studio that is capable of recording an entire band then the cost would definitely go up due to the requirement of additional recording channels and microphones.
Things you would need for a Basic Home Studio
There is no end to what equipment you can buy for a recording studio.
However, from the perspective of a budget-friendly home studio, we will only discuss the minimum amount of gear to kick-start your music production.
A Decent PC/Mac
Needless to say, this is the most important piece of equipment that you must possess for recording music.
Although there are interfaces that allow you to record or produce music on a smartphone, it is still not capable of replacing the sheer processing power of a desktop or laptop.
Any good audio recording software or DAW would need a fair amount of processing power which cannot be handled by low-end computers.
In order to have a working environment where things don’t crash and overload frequently, your computer should have a configuration that is able to handle all the software and plug-ins that you intend on using.
Most popular DAWs can run fairly smoothly on i5 or equivalent processors having a RAM of 4GB or more.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A very important part of your home studio setup is the software where you will record, layer, edit, mix, and produce your audio files. Any such application refers to as DAW or Digital Audio Workstation.
An ideal DAW should have a simple and easy-to-understand user interface.
It should have a smooth performance and the audio should not break or jitter during both recording and playback. At the same time, it should be optimised enough so that it does not hoard your computer’s resources (mainly RAM).
A vital criterion while selecting the DAW should be its compatibility with plug-ins. No matter how good, feature-king, or fast the software is, unless it has compatibility with other software and tools, it won’t make your life any easier.
Many of the popular DAWs like AbletonLive, Pro Tools, Garage Band etc. are compatible with most of the widely used plug-ins in the music industry.
DAWs, especially the good ones, do not always come free. Therefore, you should consider the price and include it in the budget. It is best to run a trial version for a limited period before you decide on which one to buy.
Also, many good DAWs come free of cost with the purchase of a USB interface.
USB Audio Interface
This is an area that requires the most extensive research when building a recording studio for your home. This is because the quality of recorded audio is directly dependent on the capabilities of the audio interface.
You might be wondering, what an Audio Interface actually is?
In short, the interface converts the analog voltage signal from your microphone or instrument into a digital signal that is understandable by your computer.
It is very similar to your computer’s sound card. However, it is much more convenient for audio-recording as it is primarily for studio use. It also has inputs for microphones, instruments, and outputs to directly connect your studio monitors and headphones.
Obviously, a USB Audio interface can be conveniently connected to your computer via a USB port. Think of it as an external plug-and-play sound card for your computer.
Most audio interfaces also contain a pre-amp circuit. The preamp circuit can boost the signal coming from an input channel, thus increasing its gain.
This is especially useful in case of passive inputs that are not powered by an external source; for instance, an electric guitar or a dynamic microphone.
The pre-amp circuit can be switched off for inputs that are already at line- level. Some audio interfaces, except for the really inexpensive ones, provide the option of “Phantom Power (48V)” needed for powering condenser mics.
Audio interfaces should not only be judged on the basis of the audio quality, but also on its audio latency. Audio latency is the time interval between the moment the input signal is provided to the interface from when it is heard back through the monitors.
If the latency is anything above 20 milli-seconds, it can be perceived by the human ear. Too much latency makes it impossible to work.
It is important to remember that latency also depends upon the processing power of your computer.
This is why many interfaces provide the option of direct monitoring in which the audio is routed to the monitors directly through the interface.
Any post-processing, effects, or plug-ins used in the DAW will not be heard using direct monitoring.
Monitors are not your regular speakers or headphones.
While mixing and producing audio, it is very important that the speakers or headphones, through which the mix is heard, have a balanced frequency response.
This means that no particular frequency range should be highlighted more than others.
In other words, the frequency response should be as flat as possible. The usual speakers or headphones that we use for listening to music will work not well in this regard.
For a long period of time, it was believed that a professional mix is not possible solely on monitor headphones.
However, a lot of hit music in today’s time have been produced using them. Still, there are some advantages to having studio speakers as monitors.
The primary advantage of speakers is that they are much louder than headphones. Also, the constant usage of headphones at high volumes is not good for your ears.
Headphones, however, are absolutely necessary when recording using condenser mics as the latter captures the sound from the speakers leading to a nasty feedback situation.
A microphone is a vital equipment for any studio. It captures the sound of human vocals and acoustic instruments like the acoustic guitar, drums etc. Some also prefer to mic guitar amplifiers.
It is, however, noteworthy that the same microphone cannot serve every purpose. Hence, it is crucial to know which type of microphone is suitable for your needs.
There are mainly two kinds of microphones – Dynamic and Condenser.
Dynamic microphones are passive. They do not require any external power source. They are powered by the very signal they are trying to capture. Hence, dynamic mics have a low output signal. They are also less sensitive and do not work unless the source is louder than a particular threshold.
Dynamic mics do not work well if the source is placed far away from it or even behind it. Thus, dynamic mics are generally used for recording vocals, drums, and amplifiers. They are also much more robust in terms of build and relatively cheaper than condenser mics.
Condenser microphones require 48V phantom power to operate. Due to the presence of an external power source, these mics have a higher output signal.
Condensers are much more sensitive and ideal for capturing sound in detail.
There are two kinds of condensers – large and small diaphragm.
- Large-diaphragm microphones are better for recording vocals as they have lower self-noise and lush low-frequency response.
- Small diaphragm mics are more responsive and hence used for recording instruments like acoustic guitar, where the initial attack is relatively higher.
Microphones require some additional accessories in order to get the most out of them. The first important accessory is the microphone stand. You can either go for a full-length stand or a desk-stand (attach to a table or desk).
For recording vocals, especially through condensers mics, we recommend that you use a pop-filter to filter out popping sounds of syllables like “pha”, “sha”, “bha” etc.
How to Soundproof your Home Studio?
Whether it is your neighbour’s kid yelling or a car honking under your building, unwanted noise can disrupt your work.
The reflections from the walls of your home studio can also affect the quality of the recording. Therefore, it is important to make sure that your room has some sort of acoustic treatment.
If you are on a budget, you can make use of some household items to achieve similar results. Start by soundproofing doors and windows.
Indian houses are usually not well insulated as we don’t have cold weather in most places. You can spot a lot of gaps in window seals and door panels.
Thick blankets can be a good bet to cover the windows. For doors, you can insert thick foam into the gaps. Use thick rugs on the floor.
You can use soft materials to cover the walls that absorb vibrations.
A few words of advice…
No matter how expensive your equipment or how good the acoustics of your home studio, it ultimately boils down to your skills as a music producer.
Skill and knowledge can minimize the gap between a budget home studio and a professional recording studio.
So, it is very important to master the basics of music production and develop the ear and taste for what is good.