The last few years have seen a huge decline for the music industry. Much to the chagrin of many big names, such as Metallica and more recently Rihanna, the digitization of music has meant a loss in sales. But it has had another effect; the democratization of music production in the form of reasonably priced home recording studio equipment.
Although the gear isn’t cheap (musical equipment never has been), for a few hundred pounds you can set yourself up for thousands of hours of creative bliss, right in the comfort of your own home. So, what exactly do you need to get started, and what damage is going to do to your bank balance?
You’ll Need a Computer
Let’s start with the biggest cost. Although you’ll probably have one, lower end P.C.s probably lack the processing power required for playing multiple tracks, effects and virtual instruments all at once. It can be done, but it is worth sorting this aspect out before you spend money on anything else. See the DAW section for system requirements and upgrade to a machine that can handle your needs.
This doesn’t have to be too expensive, I picked up a refurbished MacBook for £700 and its been an absolute workhorse.
Audio Interface and Midi controllers
Depending on what you’re planning to do, this bit of kit may not be essential. An interface allows you to plug instruments and mics into your computer with the minimum amount of latency issues. If you want to record live audio files this is a necessity. I picked up the entry level Scarlett 212 for £120.
Midi controllers come in all shapes and sizes and, like interfaces, are often suited to DAWs, so try to match the one for your needs. These aren’t strictly necessary. You can programme midi tracks without them, but it’s a hassle. I picked up an Alesis v49 midi keyboard for £80.
Choose the right DAW for your needs
The market is full of DAWs. They all have their strengths and are often suited to a particular style. For example, although Ableton is excellent software for, say, House music production, it’s not so suited for recording live audio. It does have the capability, but the workflow for live audio is much smoother on applications like Cubase or Logic. It’s worth noting that some Interfaces are designed for specific DAWs. Again, they’re all largely compatible, but it makes things far easier in the long run if the workflow and compatibility is as smooth as possible.
There is free software out there. If you have a Mac you’ll probably have the free Garage Band app. This is such a great tool when you are starting out. Its immediately intuitive, and allows you to learn the basics with the minimum of fuss.
Monitors and Headphones
This is an area you don’t want to skimp on but there are excellent quality products for anyone’s price range so just get the best you can afford to start with.
Personally, for headphones, I’m a dedicated Seinheiser fan. In my experience, they’re by far the best balance between sound and price, and the bass response is excellent.
Monitors come in two options: Active/Powered or Passive. The first two have spate powered amps, the second requires a separate amplifier, which usually results in higher cost. I opted for a set of Mackie CR4 powered studio monitors. A steal at £100, and no need to buy a separate amp.
AS your production skills improve you’ll want to upgrade, but to start with keeping it simple while you learn the ropes will keep you from being overwhelmed by the mountain of choices available.
My setup is by no means professional and did come it at just over £1000. Shop around and it can be done cheaper. But be weary of second hand equipment. Often the hardware requires licenses and you may not get the benefit of the free software bundles that manufacturers can offer.