The rise of social media as a shop window has been a blessing for countless numbers of student performers across the country. Finding a new band member by watching their YouTube videos is much easier than putting flyers out across campus. Building an online audience is great for demonstrating your popularity which will help with getting gigs and who knows, if the right person sees your video, fame and fortune could be waiting for you.
But let’s not get carried away. If you are keen to start recording music rather than just playing a few requests at parties, you are going to need a home studio. It might sound like a challenge to set up a studio in the bedroom of your student house, but don’t let limited space and budget stop you.
While the development of home recording technology has been remarkable, the cost of assembling a professional standard studio can still be prohibitive. Using this simple guide, you can join in with the fun, defy your budget and make a slick, professional sounding track at a fraction of the cost of renting a studio.
Of course, your style of music will have a huge effect on what equipment you will need. Recording a full band as live would demand a plethora of microphones as well as space and sound proofing, meaning it isn’t suited to a budget environment.
However, if your passion is electronic music or you play solo, you will be sure to get a great sound from this type of setup. Likewise, if you are prepared to spend the time, this studio is ideal for multitracking and experimentation.
If there is one area of your home studio that you will need to spend money on, it is the microphones. If you have the best equipment in the world and a cheap microphone, your final mix will only ever be as good as that weakest link. Senior theatre sound technician Robert Hearn explains, “Great results are about investment ultimately. Buy cheap and it won’t last. It is far better to invest at the signal end with a better mic and high-quality cables. Not only will your recordings benefit, but the equipment will last for years to come.”
To find a balance between quality and keeping costs low, a USB microphone is the obvious choice for vocals. Most offer good quality and, as it can connect directly to a computer, it doesn’t require an elaborate audio interface, saving you a huge amount of money.
With the vocals dealt with, a simple USB interface will allow you to record your guitar or piano with ease. A basic device can connect a guitar and a microphone to your laptop, cost less than £100 and still offer incredible results.
Electric instruments can be plugged in directly and you might think it is as simple as that, but when you listen back to your blistering solo, it might sound rather flat. Adding a microphone to capture the sound in the room will restore the vibrancy and character that you heard while you were playing.
You could pay thousands for an elaborate room microphone, but as home recording grows in popularity, there are now plenty of high-quality microphones that are designed for smaller budgets. They might still be expensive, but as long as you do your research, you should be able to get something perfect for your setup.
Let’s be honest, without a dedicated studio to record in, most of your time will be spent in a part of the house that is probably not designed for creating musical masterpieces.
It might seem like an elaborate step, but soundproofing can be as simple of fitting foam panels to the walls, or having them stand free. They can make a huge difference as Duncan Geddes, Joint Managing Director of Technical Foam Services, explains, “By using a range of high performance polyurethane foam and melamine foam tiles, sound waves are absorbed, reducing reverberations and echo on recordings, making a real difference to the quality of the sounds you can achieve from a home studio setup. The tiles can be cut to a variety of surface profiles, such as pyramid, egg-box etc., which further improves the absorbance of the sound and also makes the acoustic tiles more aesthetically pleasing.”
I know I said that you wouldn’t be able to record drums but that doesn’t mean they can’t be on your track. Toontrack’s EZ drummer series offers hundreds of virtual kits that you can edit on your laptop. All of the individual drum hits have been professionally recorded so, while the drummer might be virtual, the sounds are all real.
Putting together a drum track can be a laborious task, but with a little determination, the result will be as good as having someone playing in the room, with the added bonus of not having to spend time with a drummer or annoy your house mates or neighbours!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a secret lurking behind slick productions people have made in their rooms: a lot of the instruments aren’t real. MIDI instruments are entirely software and offer everyone the chance to add sweeping strings, mournful horns, or even choirs to their acoustic guitar strumming. Like the drums, this can be mapped onscreen but if you control it with a simple MIDI keyboard, you can “play” the strings with a few basic chords.
Using a computer to record, mix and produce requires some serious software. The range of digital audio workstations (DAW) available is vast and, frankly confusing with lots of technical terms that can baffle anyone. Depending on how much budget is left, there are really two options.
Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard for recording and editing. It is an intimidating piece of software and requires a fairly powerful computer setup, but if you aren’t intimidated it can do almost anything you will need – if you are prepared to put the time in to learn. While the basic package is expensive, there are often student discounts or monthly plans available, making top end software much more attainable than it might have seemed at first.
By this point you might be running low on budget. A more stripped back option for digital editing is Audacity, a free alternative which has most of the key features you might need including multitrack recording. It’s not as flashy but, it makes it easier to get your home studio up and running. After all, you can always upgrade later.
So, that’s the recording done. You’ve got all of your track in the DAW and it just needs some spit and polish for the final mix. This can be done in Pro Tools, but for a more economical alternative Goldwave is an outstanding piece of software. From clearing hiss and pops, to adding noise gates and effects, you can make sure that your final track is gleaming.
Blood, sweat and sound
Congratulations, you’ve done it! Hours of sweating about that slightly off-beat cymbal and countless takes to fix that duff note nobody else will ever notice, you’ve got your studio up and running and you’ve made your first track. Now go forth and conquer YouTube with your own brand of techno-funk, orchestral metal or Ed Sheeran covers.