Building a home recording studio for music production on a budget isn’t as hard as you might imagine. In fact, you can accomplish it pretty simply for well under $500. This is possible through the amazing advancements in recording technology seen over the past several years coupled with better computer hardware.
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The results of these advancements allow individuals to make quality music at home using just a computer and a few other important recording accessories. So, whether you’re a songwriter, podcaster, or just like making your own music as a hobby, then this article is definitely here to help.
What Kind of Computer Do I Need?
The most important part of building a cheap home recording studio is finding the right computer for your recording needs. According to Greg Savage of DIY Biz Music, “You don’t need the latest and greatest technology…” in regards to computers to build a quality recording studio at home. He goes on to explain how he has used a rather mundane 800 MHz computer in his recording studios–so it can be done rather cheaply.
Since most people already have a computer and standard monitors in their homes, I’m not going to include these things in the overall price of the home recording studio. Odds are the computer you currently own will be fit to record without issue. A good set of headphones can stand in for studio monitors.
For those wondering if their computer will be able to record quality music, all you really need is one or two gigs of RAM and a hard drive with plenty of space on it.
What Recording Software Do I Need?
What makes building a home recording studio possible for under $500 is the fact that you no longer need mixing or recording equipment, as this has been mostly replaced by Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software.
Simply put, this software will give you everything you need to record at home from your computer. This software is usually compatible with Mac and PC computers, but it’s best to do a bit a research in order to make sure you’re getting the right software for your particular computer’s operating system.
You could consider the gold standard, Avid Pro Tools for those looking to spend a little more money, but if you’re looking for a free or no-cost option, consider Audacity. Both of these programs will get the job done, and if you really want to save money, this same article provides two free software programs called Ujam and Audiotool that you can choose to use as well.
For the record, I do not have personal experience with Ujam or Audiotool, but I have used Pro Tools and Audacity a fair amount.
It’s important to note that each of these Digital Audio Workstations software programs has their own learning curves, and it will take some time to learn their intricacies if not already familiar with recording software. Just hang in there and try not to pull all of your hair out.
How do I Get the Music from the Instrument to the Computer?
It’s likely the majority of the money you’ll spend on your home recording studio will be on the piece of equipment necessary to get your music and vocals onto your computer. These devices are called audio interfaces, and you can usually find one for in the $100 price range or less.
I personally think that the least expensive option that has the greatest quality is the Scarlett Focusrite Solo. It’s been around for a few years now and has proven that it’s a super capable device. In fact, it’s the one I use here in my home studio most often as it’s really compact and is one of those things that just works exactly as it should.
A couple other things about this product are that it features a two-channel interface that allows you to record two channels at the same time. This simply means that if you want to record bass and vocals at the same time you can. It also comes with great Digital Audio Workstation software called Pro Tools, so when you purchase this product you’ll get your audio interface and software together, which will certainly save you money.
What Kind of Microphone Do I Need?
The next thing you’ll need for your home recording studio is a quality microphone. These can be found rather cheap, though it’s easy to spend quite a bit of money on this very crucial part of any home studio. Take my word for it (as someone who’s spent a small fortune on mics) there’s really no need to buy super high-end microphones for your first setup. Remember, we’re trying to keep this whole rig under $500.
I’m sure you can find plenty of folks out there on ye olde interwebs that disagree with me, but you can pick up a nice dynamic microphone or condenser microphone for well under $100 that will deliver the sound you’re looking for. I know, your next question…what’s the difference between a dynamic and a condenser mic? And which one should I get?
Dynamic mics are the microphone you think about when you imagine someone singing on a stage. They are usually more durable and can take a beating, which make them great for live band recordings. Condenser mics need to be handled a little more carefully, but will provide you with a rich, pure sound.
This is where you need to be careful not to purchase an extremely high-quality microphone because it will pick up other noises throughout your house as you’re recording. The more expensive types of microphones are specifically designed to work in professional studios and should not be expected to work well in a home studio.
Thomas Rutherford, a musician writing for Careers In Music suggests that people on a budget use the Shure SM-57 microphone that can be purchased for only $100. This inexpensive microphone is used by professionals all over the world and works great capturing vocals, as well as instruments in any home studio.
What Else Do I Need?
There are a few optional items that you may want to consider when building a home studio. The first of these is a microphone stand. They are necessary for a variety of situations and can really come in handy if you are using a few different microphones to record.
Another item you may want need to consider purchasing is a set of cables needed to connect all of your instruments and devices. This may seem like common sense, but it’s important to know and understand what cables you need and perhaps want backups for.
It may also be in your best interests to purchase quality headphones or speakers in order to listen to what you’re recording. You can simply hook these up to your computer and really get a good idea of how your music sounds.
And last, microphone pop filters will significantly reduce the hard “B” and “P” sounds that you typically hear while singing or rapping.
What is the Estimated Total Cost of All of This?
Now that we’ve narrowed down what you need for your home recording studio, it’s time to determine what all of this will cost you. Keep in mind that this estimate is assuming that you already have a computer.
If you don’t go with the Focusrite Scarlett audio interface that comes with free Pro Tools audio software, then your Digital Audio Workstation software will most likely cost you around $50. The cost of your audio interface will be in the price range of around $80 to $100, and the microphone for another $100 puts the total at around $250.
Most people will also need the cables, headphones/speakers, mics, condenser mics, microphone stands, and various microphone filters as well. The price of these is generally $30 for cables, $40 for headphones/speakers, $30 for a microphone stand, and $30 for microphone pop filters. This brings our total cost to around $400–give or take.
Your Basic List
To simplify, we’ve put together a specific list of items you can use to build your basic home studio inexpensively.
Avid- Pro Tools Digital Audio Workstation (Recording Software):
This software can be purchase on a monthly or yearly basis. If you choose a one-year long subscription, you can save and spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 a month to mix and record sound.
MXL 770 Cardioid Condenser Microphone (Microphone):
We selected this inexpensive model for the microphone because of its ultra reasonable price and versatility. Although you would do well to have more than one microphone, if you are trying to stay on a budget, a condenser microphone is ideal as it can be used to record, not only vocal sounds, but also instruments such as percussion, strings and piano. It also produces clear, high quality sound. Finally, the ease of use simply can’t be beat, and this mic comes in just under $100.
MXL-MICMATE PRO XLR To USB Preamp with gain:
This handy tool converts a regular microphone to a USB mic and is compatible with both Mac & PC to record your music. You can also plug headphones right into the device. This tool also rolls in between $70 and $100 and makes studio quality recording easier than ever.
LyxPro HAS-10 Closed Back Over-Ear Professional Studio Monitor & Mixing Headphones:
LyxPro has made a name for itself in the music community because they produce professional quality headphones at a price the starving artist can afford. This comfortable set will provide high quality sound and comfort at just below $40.
PreSonus Eris E3.5 – 3.5″ Professional Multimedia Reference Monitors with Acoustic Tuning (Pair):
If you want to ensure great sound, a decent pair of speaker, will unfortunately be one of your bigger expenses. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a fantastic pair for a decent price though. This pair will run you a hair under $100 and delivers crystal clear sound, powerful bass and acoustic tuning. They are also attractive and durable.
NEEWER Adjustable Microphone Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Stand:
This Mic stand is Amazon’s best seller in microphone stands and costs less than $15. It is compatible with the MXL 770 and easily clamps onto any table. The stand is sturdy for your safety, and the microphone clip is included with this handy tool. It doesn’t come with a filter, but you may want to pick your own anyways!
YOUSHARES Mic Pop Filter Windscreen:
This inexpensive tool costs just under $10 and can be adjusted to fit almost any microphone stand. It will also add a spectacular amount of quality to your recordings with a double layered filter to remove the off-sounds due to air pressure.
The total cost of this list comes in at just under $400 which leave you $100 to play with if you want to invest in an extra microphone, a more expensive model, or a pricier set of headphones. Of course any of the items on this list are interchangeable but it simply goes to show that you can build a simple, easy-to-use home studio that can be utilized to create hhigh-qualityrecordings on a budget.