Looking to build a home studio but worried about the cost? Here is our guide on how to build a cheap home recording studio under $500.
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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 simple 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.
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 recording 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 of research 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 its 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 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 of 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 makes 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 in 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 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 $150 to $170, and the microphone for another $100 puts the total at around $320.
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 $450–give or take.
Pro Tools is the industry standard as far as recording software goes. However, it is possible to start out with other software if you are on a budget. You can check out our guide on recording software here.
If you choose to go with Pro Tools, it 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.
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 beaten, and this mic comes in just under $100.
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.
If you want to ensure great sound, a decent pair of speakers, 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.
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!
What can I do to my room to improve the sound quality?
There are so many things you can do to the recording studio room in your home to create a higher quality studio sound. Some of these options can get rather expensive and since our budgets are all different, I’m going over a few different options.
The first thing you’ll want to consider is how to make your home studio soundproof. This is going to allow for a higher quality of sound because it means you get to use better equipment. I say this because the better (and more expensive) microphones you may want to use, are simply too good for an unprepared home studio. Most of the time, they’re going to ruin recordings because they’ll pick up sound coming from all over the house. There are other considerations here but in general, this is true, especially if you are looking at super high-end condenser mics.
But don’t worry, you can solve the soundproofing problem inexpensively, by using materials that you can pick up just about anywhere. Things like egg crate foam (commonly used as mattress toppers), curtains that are made of thick material, and area rugs if you some type of hard surface flooring. All of these materials will help to lower the amount of reverb bouncing all over the room as you try to record.
And don’t forget the windows. You will definitely need to put in a little extra work to soundproof any windows that you have in your recording space. You could cover them with bubble wrap or cut out some foam rectangular shapes that just barely hold themselves in place while you are recording but can be removed later. If your house is anything like my house, permanently attaching bubble wrap to a window is definitely a “no-go”. I’ve been happily married for 13 years…I’d like to keep it that way. Honestly, for most situations that I’ve seen, a heavy drape or curtain will do just fine.
Another way to improve the room where your home studio is located. You can put some furniture, bookshelves, and even plants in the room to help absorb some of the sounds. These, along with curtains and rugs, will reduce and even eliminate the number of sound waves bouncing around the room while you’re recording, thus making it sound much better.
Should I invest in a better microphone?
In order to really get the most out of an expensive microphone, as I mentioned above, you have to be sure that your studio is as soundproof as possible. If you’ve accomplished that, then it might be time to invest in a slightly more expensive microphone.
So, is there a sound quality difference between a cheap microphone and an expensive microphone? According to blogs.articulate.com, “…when you compare the acceptable low-quality audio with similar narration recorded with a better microphone, there is a noticeable difference.”
The article goes on to say that it’s best to go with a unidirectional microphone—which records sound from one direction, over an omnidirectional microphone—which records sound from all directions because it will get rid of the ambient noise you may notice while using the latter.
Should I upgrade my audio interface?
The audio interface is what connects your microphones and instruments to your computer. It’s an important piece of equipment, and many people start out their home recording studio by purchasing the cheapest interface they need in order to just get started recording. And that’s fine for starting out, but upgrading the audio interface can make a monumental difference in the sound quality of your recording studio.
Adam Dachis from lifehacker.com says that “A bad interface can hurt your incoming sound, so you don’t want to go with something on the really low end. In fact, you’re better off picking up a nice interface…”
What else can I do?
Something else you can do to get studio-quality sound from your home recording studio is to purchase a preamplifier. According to diymusician.cdbaby.com, “Plugging a guitar or microphone directly into your recording interface can often produce a very transparent sound that lacks the warmth and volume that a great track requires.” In order to solve this issue, they suggest using a preamp.
And on top of that, you can purchase at least one condenser microphone. These microphones are the most commonly used in professional recording studios and according to Joe Shambro from thoughtco.com, they are better than your typical microphone because they offer, “…a much greater frequency response and transient response, which is the ability to reproduce the “speed” of an instrument or voice.”
The total cost of this list comes in at just under $400 which leaves 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 high-quality recordings on a budget.
The cost of producing studio-quality sound certainly isn’t cheap, but that’s not to say it’s impossible to even on a smaller budget. Take some time to research how your studio sounds with its current arrangement and see if there are some no-cost alternatives to getting a better sound.
You may just need to do a better job at soundproofing or simply add some furniture to your recording studio to ensure your room gets that acoustic treatment. A little trial and error will be required but it will definitely be worth the effort.