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How much would it cost to start a home recording studio?
How much would it cost to start a home recording studio?
I'm really interested in starting up a home recording studio, can anyone give me an estimate? Just an overview, a guess, of the price to put together a simple home studio? I'm definitely plan on getting a MacBook pro, that'll be the computer I'm using, but not at all sure of what else I'd need, any pointers?
It really comes down to what you plan on recording. If its only yourself to start, then its much cheaper.
The first thing I suggest you do is educate yourself to what's involved. This way, you're the guy in the drivers seat deciding on what's needed and how you spend your money, and not others. Then when you get to the point where you have a few options to choose from, you can read all the good and bad reviews on the gear and get opinions here. Opinions are cheap, gear isn't.
After that, you have to make some decisions on which route you want to take.
There are several different types of interfaces now. All will produce studio quality, and all have different price ranges. The most relevant devices are PCI, Firewire, USB, Thunderbolt, Stand alone units and digital mixers with computer connectivity
Price is usually based around the number of channels/preamps/converters the interface has. Many into solo recording begin with a simple two channel interface and multitrack as many tracks they need to build a musical arrangement. 4 channels is better if you plan on using additional hardware based gear like drum machines and stereo keyboards. You can record 4 channels at a time and all go to separate tracks for mixing. You can also leave the gear plugged in and not be constantly swapping cords which gets old fast.
If you plan on recording a band, 8 channels is usually a minimum. 16 is better, especially if there's a large drum set and you want allot of mics to isolate the drums.
Beyond that, the more channels, the more mics and cables you need. I have a 24 channel studio I've built up over the years. I wouldn't doubt that I've spent a couple of grand over the years for cabling alone.
Next would be your choice of computers. Building up a professional Mac studio is going to come at a premium cost if you want to stick with that club. Everything from plugins to hardware will cost you more. PC's are definitely the cheapest and offer the widest range of software and hardware. In the end, the differences in audio quality as a final result is zero because once the audio is converted to digital its only ones and zeros you're manipulating. Not sound.
The quality of the interface that preamplifies and does the analog/digital conversions is the biggest factor followed by things like the Choice of DAW programs and the quality of their associated plugins is the other. Everything else is the front end and experience tracking with good mics, good room, good sound source and good musical performers. Good gear means nothing without exceptional musicians making good sounds.
Laptops are OK for some personal or remote recording because they are portable. Other than that they are a poor choice for a DAW in many ways. If you put a laptop next to a desktop with the same specs, the desktop will nearly always run faster. Laptops are all about battery consumption and their hardware, software and data storage are optimized to save power which comes at a price.
The good thing about desktops is they allow several internal drives to be installed. You have multiple hard drive heads working independently and you can write audio data directly to a second drive and not to your main drive which has your operating system (OS) which will bog your system down. A Laptop for for personal recording requires an external drive and you spend allot of time backing up your projects, moving them from the main drive to the backup to save space.
If your record at the highest sample rates for the best quality sound, a multitrack file can be huge. An 8 track 5 minute recording at say 24/96 can be a couple of gigs in size. Moving them back and forth from the backup to the main drive is time consuming. Some are able to run the projects directly from the backup drive but there will be latency and interruptions of data flow, especially with a USB drive which is a master slave port the CPU can interrupt when its resources get low. Firewire uses peer to peer communication and will at least have consistent data flow to work with.
Main thing is on a laptop is you want the project on your main drive when you're working with it (not a partition) for maximum resources and speed. Since the OS has data that's constantly changing, the project becomes defragmented quickly which can make for inconsistent OS speed and productivity. If the wave files are written directly to an second internal drive, the project doesn't get fragmented easily and will run with the maximum number of effects plugins within the daw before you reach your resource limits.
Lastly I'll mention the DAW programs. A DAW program is virtually transparent to the tracking of audio data. One DAW program will not sound better than another when it comes to tracking. That's because all that's going on is the data that's already been converted by the interfaces is being routed and written to the hard drive. The DAW program does not alter that data in any way so there is no difference in sound quality between any of them.
The differences between DAW programs comes into play reading the data from the hard drive and manipulating it. The big differences in cost between DAW programs are the plugin package you purchase with them. The base programs consisting of a virtual mixing console, editing program, wave file profiler/editor, etc is very similar between them all. They all have their own unique bells and whistles, but all have the basic tools to mix and master a project. You can even download some free DAW programs and buy your own specific plugins to build up your own unique DAW program.
If you're going Mac, there's many DAW program that will run on both Mac and windows. If you're running 64 bit the options are less if you want to run in 64 bit compatibility mode. DAW programs like Pro tools used to be Mac only but have since made windows versions. Logic I believe is still Mac only. They used to have a windows version I used when I first started recording digital that was about as illogical as you can get. The others like Cubase and Reaper have both. Reaper is free to try and cheap to buy so it would be my first suggestion. Its light on resources too which would be good for your laptop. Once you learn the ins and outs you can decide later if you want to shell out for a high end program.
In the beginning you wont know nor need to use all the options those programs contain. Even if they were fully connected to a pro studio environment it will take up to 5 years on your own to learn how to use all the options they contain and even then, if you don't use those options on a daily basis, you wont use them artistically. I been recording for a good 45 years and with Sonar I may only use 20% of all the options it contains and I consider myself to be pretty experienced. Its not that I don't know how to use them, Its just there is no need. It may be I use simpler methods, or the material I mix doesn't require it, but It's likely I'll never need much more than I already have.
Those are some of the basics. Chances are starting out, you can find an interface/Daw package bundle to start out with. There are several good choices but I don't run Macs for recording so my advice is a bit more limited. For solo stiff, the Apogee one or two may be a great option. They are expensive thoughts.
Oh yea, mark mentioned monitors and headphones. Choice in monitors is probably the most important item. It doesn't matter how good the track quality is if you can't hear it correctly. Bad monitors = handicapped ability to hear the mix accurately which ultimately leads to a bad mix. Headphones are only used for tracking but some accuracy is so you can dial up good recording tone is needed. Good headphone begin at $100 and up. Anything below that price is all consumer crap not worth wasting your money on.
EXCELLENT POST! And a great link....to Tweakheadz. I have just gotten back into playing after a 15 yearlayoff and my Trusty Tascam 4 track is locked up. The link to Tweakheadz looks like a treasure trove of research for me to guide me into the whole digital recording thing! Thanks!
Music Is All wrote: I'm really interested in starting up a home recording studio, can anyone give me an estimate? Just an overview, a guess, of the price to put together a simple home studio? I'm definitely plan on getting a MacBook pro, that'll be the computer I'm using, but not at all sure of what else I'd need, any pointers?
If you're not too picky, I can get you in the door for only $400
I'll be recording songs that I've written, and will write in the future, and I'll use it to edit them, the set-up will need the capability to record, and edit several tracks though. My goal is to be a successful musician, and this is a step in that direction.
For writing and recording solo stuff you can begin on a shoestring budget. You get yourself one of those two channel USB interfaces that come with a free daw package to get you going. I've seen them as low as $50 for a Lexicon that comes with Cubase LE and others that come with Studio One.
Your biggest challenge is going to be "all" about educating yourself on how to record well. Nearly all interfaces are capable of recording studio quality just like your high end gear does. You quickly find out, Gear Quality does not directly equate to a good finished product. Have you ever gone out an seen a guitarist that has great gear and can't play for crap? Then gone out an seen a guy with a cheap beat up piece of crap amp and guitar and he fans the thing like a pro? Its because he has the experience, up there get when the ears and can make the best of what he has to work with.
A small recording rig will force you to focus on the things that really count which is playing well, tracking well, then mixing well. Those three items can take a lifetime to learn and there's no guarantee you'll ever get close to the pros even if you have the best gear made. Having limited gear options teaches you to be creative with the basics. Without those basics you'll never get to what pros produce. Then as you run out of options you can add to your setup as challenges and finance present themselves. In the mean time you'll be learning.
In my case, I got into recording early. I had some decent reel to reels, and once I got married and had kids, I pretty much had to give up the idea of a studio due to my responsibilities. I eventually got back to it starting with cheap used stereo decks, recording to one, then playing it back through a mixer and adding additional parts to a second deck. That's all that was needed for simple stuff writing music and I actually did some fine work during those years. Then as my kids got older and I was doing better at work, I was able to buy one of those those 8 track cassette recorders.
I used that thing for at least 5 years recording my band. I was then able to able to pick up a good used 8 track reel to reel and used it, (when I could afford to buy tape) Good thing I'm an electronic tech who used to repair that gear for a living because decks require regular maintenance and I actually had to make some of my own parts from scratch to keep the thing limping along. Then in the 90's as computer drives started getting bigger and CD burners became cheaper, I started changing over to digital. I'd record my analog recordings to the computer and master them to burn to a CD. I was running windows 3.1 and only had two 1 gig drives. I could get maybe get one CD full of songs on there to burn and had to delete them before doing another Burn.
Then I eventually bought an 8 channel PCI card when win 95 came out and started recording directly to the computer. I still have all the decks and mixers I used to use but they are mainly collecting dust at this point. I've upgraded my DAWs at least 6 times since then. I get some spare cash and reinvest it into gear. In the beginning, I bought allot of EBay stuff used. Once I had the essentials for recording a full band, I upgraded the things that weren't so hot. Cables alone can cost you a bundle. Its one of those things you short change out of necessity. I made my own cable for years (when you could build them cheaper than buying) And filled in with budget stuff as needed. Later I bought quality stuff and retired the cheap stuff as I could afford it. In the mean time I was functional. I had to work harder to get good sound mixing with heaper mics, but that knowledge you gain can't be bought and it can't be passed on. Its just as much a talent as playing an instrument or writing a song.
Lastly you may find a small setup is all you really need. Believe me, recording and mixing a big production isn't easy. Its a huge chore that detracts from the time you spend playing your instrument. You get really good at doing takes over and over to build a good recording but what it takes to get a competitive recording of even demo quality is a huge effort. You may want to do what others do and work up to the point where you have good listenable recordings that can be shared with band mates to learn the music, then just go to a studio to record a polished album. Its very difficult to record and perform as a musician especially if the other band members are not as technically savvy as you are.
There are many paths here as you will learn. Main thing is if you enjoy it and you have the time to spend learning, go for it. I still enjoy the satisfaction of producing a good recording even after doing it for 45 years.
Music Is All wrote: I'll be recording songs that I've written, and will write in the future, and I'll use it to edit them, the set-up will need the capability to record, and edit several tracks though. My goal is to be a successful musician, and this is a step in that direction.
That's I really good point I guess I can start off on a really small budget like that, and just like you said I can slowly improve, and work my way up as my budget increases. Definitely appreciate the words of wisdom WRGKMC.
No problem. For solo and writing, you don't need more than a two or 4 channel interface. I say 4 channel, because some, like myself like to track to an electric drum set when they play and sing. Some of the cheaper Yamaha and casio keyboards have stereo outputs that can be picked up cheap. You can set up the chord patterns, drums and bass off it and play along to them when you record. Of course you can do the midi thing too with a midi keyboard. Better option if you have a stereo interface.
If you crap a guitar preamp/effects unit, most have stereo outputs for recording. You'd need 2 interface inputs for it, and is you want to sing at the same time, you're short one input for that. I do most of my solo recording/writing using 4 inputs. I run an electric drum machine that has stereo drums and run the guitar preamps that take a mono signal and add stereo chorus, reverbs, echoes etc. It makes for a much bigger guitar sound over a mono track. I go back and add vocals, leads, bass multitracking. Of course you can do allot of that mixing as well by using plug ins. It just sounds better to me when I can use analog overdrive recording instead of trying to get my sound through amp emulator plugins.
Here's a few examples that I did using 4 channels and multitracking using rack preamp/effects units for recording guitar direct. Ones an original tune my buddy uses on his radio program for bumper music. The others are just stuff I threw together writing as I played. not much sense writing stuff down when its easier and faster to just record it.
This one isn't an original, but In this case, I tapped the drums out individually on a keyboard multitracking instead of just using a sequence. I tapped the snare, Kick, cymbals, etc individually, then mixed them into a drum set. I could have programmed the drum unit for this but, I find that stuff so boring. I usually work with a real drummer for stuff that needs breaks, intros etc. For writing I usually only need a steady beat.
Lastly, you may want to look at the Focusrite stuff for an interface. I think they have a low cost 4 channel interface and even their stereo version has excelent preamp quality. Then you can spend what you have left on Mics and monitors. You want at least one good vocal mic and something to record you amp. You can pick up something like an MXL condenser for vocals and maybe an SM57 or even a PG57 which is an excellent budget version for recording the amp. Just be sure the interface has Phantom power so you can run Condenser mics.
Music Is All wrote: Drums, guitar, my voice, bass and keyboards, also digital sounds, but I'll add them in later, but this is eventually, right now, when I'm getting started just my voice, and my guitar.
my take is this
there's really no formula for what you need in your studio... it ALL depends on what you're trying to do... someone that uses all software synths will have very different needs to someone who is mic'ing guitar amps etc
the two main points imo are
1. work out exactly what you want to do... this will save you a lot of money in the long term... just because someone says a certain piece of gear is awesome for home studios doesn't mean it's going to suit your needs
2. try to buy gear that you can still use even if you add more stuff later on... ie. stuff that has enough quality (i don't mean expensive,) that if you take your studio to the next level, doesnt become redundant
you need a soundcard (audio interface) obviously
if you're not going to spend money on room treatment i'd suggest using a dynamic mic for vocals.. something like a shure sm7b... i'd also get 1 preamp ... i'd look at the golden age pre73... it has a range of tones and enough gain for the sm7b
you haven't said what type of guitar you have.. if you have an acoustic that you'll be mic'ing i'd look at a small diaphram condenser.. it will allow less of the room sound that a large diaphram condenser... i use a mojave ma100... i'm not sure what they go for used, but it might well be outside your budget... there's cheaper alternatives out there
if you do want to treat you room here's a great vid to show you how to build your own bass traps
have you mentioned your budget?
when you say you want to record bass, drums, keys etc, do you have those instruments already?... if not what instruments do you have at your disposal?
will you be using pc or mac?
the more specific you are, the more people will be able to give you advice that can be of use to you
i use an older macbook pro... dual core, 4 gig of ram... i use the internal drive and have had no problems whatsoever... i run an external usb drive for my bfd drum samples
all i did was change the internal drive from 5400 to a 7200
originally i was using it as a mobile setup, but it now sits in my studio at home and gets used every day... it's never skipped a beat... i run it with a firewire mixer... previously used a motu firewire interface
i may upgrade to a tower (thinking used mac pro) at some stage but i really see no need when what i have is doing the job perfectly
the tool you need depends on what you're doing with it... and there's a lot of information on paper that people talk about, but it's how it pans out in a practical environment that matters
$4,000 give or take and not including power amp, speakers, MIDI controller and furniture to put it on.
Here's my take: I had an older studio with many keyboards and outboard gear, pre DAW. I lost it all in a fire. Then I moved and re-focused on my real job, software development.
Fast forward to now. I went online and asked what virtual instruments I could get for $5,000, which I would get from selling my piano. I got many useful suggestions and took my time so that I didn't waste any money. The piano sold for $4,000 and with that I bought this:
Mac pro 8-core, 8gb ram, 1.5Tb storage, used
MOTU audio express - 96kHz-24bit with MIDI interface
Eastwest Composer's bundle which includes orch. choir, pianos, Goliath (check it out at soundsonline.com) 1Tb samples
Digital Performer, upgrade price
MOTU machfive universal sampler (it does everything!), 45Gb samples, upgrade price, (because of Goliath)
Sibelius notation software, upgrade price
This is a composer's setup and works fine for one person. What once took up an entire room is now on a MAC. I am assuming you will use virtual instruments too. If you shop around and take advantage of bundles, you can get your libraries cheaper, and obviously if you can get upgrades, things will be cheaper. You can blow all your money on sample libraries alone! I went the route of getting as many diverse instruments as possible as opposed to getting the absolute best. $1,000+ for just striings was too rich for my budget. Having said that, the Eastwest composer's bundle sounds great and is totally adequate.
The Mac handled, so far, 25 audio tracks at 96-24 with no problem. The macbook pro should do just fine, but all your samples will be on one disk only, which is a limitation.
Mac Pro 2008 - OS 10.6.8MOTU Digital Performer 8.1, Machfive 3, Sibelius 7, Eastwest QLOrch