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Basic Recording Studio Set-up (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)

This post loosely accompanies Gab & Jam, episode 246. Basic Recording Studio Set-up (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)

*This is a non-sponsored post.

We’ve owned our own recording studio since 1986, which means that we have consistently asked ourselves these 5 general questions upon each re-thinking–and re-iteration and add-on–to our studio.

We think it’s useful for any creator to have a place to experiment with ideas and to, potentially, publish their own work. Whether you write EDM, are a band, or are a solo singer/songwriter artist, it is in your favor to have a space and a system for being able to record your songwriting ideas. We hear questions about this all the time from new songwriters/beatmakers, so here are the 6 basic suggestions to consider when putting together a basic recording studio setup for yourself.


Here are 6 general guidelines:

1. Consider your budget first

If you are not sure how much you can spend toward your studio set-up, use what you have—perhaps, including your iPhone—so that you can assess if it is an option for you. To that end, there are some free software that might help you achieve your goals. Two digital audio workstations (D.A.W.) that come to mind are GarageBand, which comes on the iPhone free and the equivalent software, BandLab, that you can get for your Android phone. And THAT might be just what you need. However, if you want to bring an audio into your phone—like a guitar or singing or a bass track—that’s when you can either use the microphone that is built into the phone or you might have to add additional equipment—an external microphone, for instance—in order to capture that audio.

Should you EVER play for free?

2. Think about the style of music next

There are likely to be varying needs based on the genre you’re planning to record most often.

Depending on the music you record, you will need very different equipment (if rapping, use an iPhone), but if you are creating rock, country, etc., you might want to look into more substantial equipment.

3. What kind of instruments and vocals are you planning?

If you are planning to use virtual instruments, you might want to record a standalone keyboard; if you’re recording drums, you will need individual mic feeds and a place to isolate drums; if you’re a piano player, you MIGHT want to use weighted keys and a full-size keyboard, but organ-like music, needs a synth non-weighted keyboard. So, as you can see, there are MANY factors that play a part in your decision. There are so many companies, including Korg and Tascam—among others—that have hardware that provide a good baseline use, but that can essentially “grow” with you, as your needs expand. There are some that allow you to record tracks from outside sources, but also include a drum machine and can act as an audio interface to connect to a computer; all for under $500.

4. Are you recording live?

If you plan to record your shows, your choice of gear might be different than if you are simply recording track at a time in the studio. Also, you MAY like to go full-on Beatles and record your studio band in a live, all-at-the-same-time, straight to D.A.W. situation. For instance, if you’re recording drums, you will need individual mic feeds and a dedicated room to isolate a drum set. However, you may also decide to group like instruments together—also like The Beatles—who recorded the entire band live on 4 tracks. This means that some instruments were grouped together or that may be EQed together, so that you strategically place your microphones, like drums and bass. If The Beatles could do it all those years ago and we are still able to enjoy listening to their songs, then, we can use some of those very same techniques to record, fellow D.I.Y. Rock Star! Use them as your inspiration to get in there and produce some meaningful music. But these are the types of decisions that you are going to be faced with as you put together your studio.

5. Do research for YOUR specific needs?

No matter WHAT other folks recommend, be sure to think about what WORKS for you, specifically. For instance, if you can’t see your phone screen, you MIGHT need to have at least a laptop as the basis of your recording studio. And don’t forget that if you plan to bring in external sounds—a MIDI instrument, a vocal, a guitar, a standalone keyboard—you will need an input for these. Computers don’t typically come equipped with MIDI inputs, so you need to factor that need—and cost—in as well. Another option that would accommodate ALL those needs is an all-in-one workstation, like the AKAI MPC. It gives you 8 tracks of audio, options for MIDI, has a drum machine, allows you to bring audio in (like guitars and vocals, for instance), has sounds already in the device, comes with WIFI (which means you can upload to the internet right there), and, if you’d like, it can connect to an external computer—but you DON’T need an external computer to create a complete song. (Here’s our unboxing and slight review: ) It is a complete studio all-in-one.

Here’s our unboxing and slight review:

6. Start with what’s free or already provided first

Before you go out and spend a bunch of money, you might to decide if what you ALREADY own is enough to get you started. Try out the software already provided on your device or try free apps. After testing out some of the features and seeing what works and what doesn’t, then go do research to see what you might be willing to invest in for the features that you need.

If you KNOW you DON'T want to have limitations, then bumping up from GarageBand to Logic might be better. However, I KNEW that I wasn’t interested in learning all the sophisticated tools, so I use GarageBand more often.

Just keep in mind, that it’s NOT about the type of gear you have; it’s more about what you can create with it! (Here’s why it’s NOT the gear that matters as much: ) If you’re anything like us, your goal is to find the gear that lets you express what is in your soul and not to collect the “coolest” gear.

Don’t let your upgrade be a downgrade:

Did you know that along with putting together our next album, we are working on our first book? Here’s the link, if you want to pre-order:

What do YOU think?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Talk to us in the comments below.


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