More and more people are setting up studio in their bedrooms at home these days. There is so much excellent affordable equipment available that allows you to do this and come up with amazing results. Heres a list and description of the set up of my home studio, hopefully it will be of help or just of interest.
The heart of any home studio has to be a computer and I would suggest this computer is a Mac and the software running on it is Logic. I have been using Macs to make music and pretty much everything else I do for 20 years this year. I bought my first Mac Plus in Toronto in 1987 and ran Motu’s Performer software. I stopped using Performer a couple of years ago when I was introduced to Logic at Apples headquarters in Cupertino. I now can’t imagine how I ever worked without it. If you are just getting started Garage Band, also by Apple is a good starting point but you will soon want to upgrade to Logic Express or Pro. The bigger and faster the Mac you can afford the better and with as much ram as you can put in it. I am using a G5 dual 1.8 Mac at the moment but will soon upgrade to a quad Intel Mac Pro. As you start to add effects and virtual instruments you will really feel the need for more power. It’s like anything though, you make do with what you have. I forgot to mention displays, I have been using one 20″ display for the last few years but recently hooked up another and it does make a huge difference. You can have your arrange window on one screen and everything else in the other, pure luxury!
Next up in the chain is an audio interface, you have to have some way of getting audio into and out of your computer. Now remember that everything I say now is based on having a Mac set up. I have a pair of MOTU 828mk2s. I have used MOTU hardware for a long time and have never had a problem with it and it sounds great and is affordable. It is also Core Audio so you have no issues using Logic as you do when you use Pro Tools hardware. For live I use a MOTU UltraLite which is a tiny firewire powered version of an 828.
The next basic is a pair of monitors and you might say the most important basic there is. Obviously the better the monitors the better your music sounds and its a feedback thing, if it sounds good you are more inspired and more creative. I have two pairs, Mackie 824 powered monitors and a pair of Yamaha NS10s. I rarely use the Yamahas now, they used ot be all I had and they are in every studio in the world but they dont really give you much back. The Mackies are big and rich and make what you do sound good without adding to it, they are also self powered so you dont have the problems of additional amps.
With those three elements, computer/softwar, audio interface and monitors you literally have everything you need. Anything else you can add makes life easier and more productive. So I will list what I use in the order of importance to me…
If you dont want to be using your mouse continually to control everything you do some kind of transport control is useful and if you use automation a bank of flying faders is great. I have Mackie Universal Control which combines these two elements. It has 9 motorised faders and associated buttons and an entire transport and software control section. I find it really difficult to work with Logic without it now as I am so used to it. If you are looking for something a little cheaper Alessis just brought out a combination of both these elements and an audio interface which looks really good.
I recently decided to get rid of my mixing desk, as I now do all my mixing within Logic it really wasnt necessary and just took up a lot of space. The only problem with getting rid of the mixing side of it was that I then had no way to control the audio once it was out of the computer. So I got a thing called a Big Knob from Mackie. You may be noticing a theme here and no I don’t have a deal with Mackie. I really like their products, I like their sense of humour as a company and it all works and sounds great. So the Big Knob is primarily that a very big volume knob but it also allows you to route to different monitors, have different sources and generally control the input and output of your audio.
Microphones and pre amps are a bit of a dark art to me and something that you dont seem to get much of for your money. If I am going to spend a lot of money on gear I want it to have lots of flashing lights and do really spectacular stuff. Mics dont and they cost a fortune, pre amps dont seem to do much either but engineers always bang on about them! When I was finishing my record and Erin was about to sing the songs for real I thought it was time I invested in some good mics and pre amps. Luckily for me a really nice guy from Focusrite came down to my studio and demoed me some gear. I ended up with a pair of Blue Bluebird mics and some Focusrite pre amps, the Vocal Master and the Twin Trak. Im not sure what any of it does but it sounds good and the mics are great.
Now we are getting into the luxury things and things you don’t need but are cool to have lying around. I saw this thing at the NAMM show in LA last year its a wireless remote. If some of your instruments are out of reach of your desk or you want to get away from your desk to listen to the mix across the room this thing allows to you to control the transport and adjust levels from a distance. Its called a Tranzport.
Headphones – if you are working at home in your bedroom or even in an apartment sometimes you have to do all your recording using headphones. I wrote an entire set of demos once using only headphones. Also when you are recording vocals they become very important so maybe they should be higher up the list? I have two pairs of beyer dt100s and a pair of total isolation headphones for vocalists with quite voices like Erin. They are like having a vice on your head but they dont allow any spill onto the mic.
If you have a lot of keyboards in your studio or modules then you need a midi interface. I have been using MOTU MTP avs for as long as I can remember and they work great in the studio and on stage. I have two as I have so many keyboards and modules around.
Once you have all the hardware you need you can then start adding software to your computer like effects units and virtual instruments. Last year I bought a drum kit because I wanted to have some real drums to put on things, that was before I heard BFD drums by Fxpansion. They have a collection of sampled drum kits and percussion that is literally unbelievable. The first time I heard it in Marios studio in Germany making Erins record I couldnt believe they werent real drums. I have a great relationship with the company now and they have very kindly given me some of their latest packages. You have to hear these drums they are incredible.
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This is a clip from a song I wrote for a side project of mine. I’m using BFD drums and the Ivory piano sample. If you want to hear more you can here
Towards the end of making Erins record we decided to put real piano on some tracks. Mario wanted to rent in a piano but as I was paying I thought we should try some cheaper alternatives haha so I bought Ivory by Synthogy and have been using it ever since it has a collection of sampled pianos to such a degree of accuracy its uncanny. Mario still made me rent a piano but he is very old school! Well to be honest it may sound as good but its about the way you approach an instrument. When you sit down at a grand piano you have a certain respect for the instrument and play it differently…
Cables! another thing that none of us want to spend money on hahha but supposedly they make a huge difference. I have a mixture of cables in my studio but the best ones are Monster. They are huge and gold plated and all that good stuff, wether they make a difference ? Im sure I cant tell but they look good. Obviously good speaker cables make a difference but again its about what you can afford.
If you get into having a lot of virtual instruments and effects you might want to get a small desktop sized controller keyboard. I just got an M-Audio Oxygen but Novation probably make the best which is called SL.
If you would like to see a full list of my studio equipment and instruments you see it here