Assessing Your Needs
You've scoured the Internet. You get every music gear catalog known to mankind. You've been to the local music store countless times. You know it's time to start doing some home recording, but the myriad choices and lack of concrete how-to instructions is getting to you. Have no fear! You're in the right place now.
“Home recording” is a broad term—musicians have different needs and ideas about what the studio is going to provide. For some, home recording is a sketchpad for small ideas that might be taken to a professional studio later. For others, their home studios are used to flesh out ideas so they can present them to members of their bands. Still others use home recording as a way to save money. Because professional recording studios can be very costly, they invest in a home studio and can make demo recordings as frequently as they want. And finally, some musicians use their home studio as a creative tool to write, produce, and ultimately sell their own music. Some home studio owners enjoy the process so much that they eventually upgrade their equipment and open their studios to the public. What you do with your studio is as personal as the music you create. The sky is the limit and, with modern technology at your side, you will be armed with all the tools to make recordings that sound great.
It's very easy to go overboard in this field. There is plenty of equipment out there, and you could spend lots of money on it. Everyone fantasizes about the professional studio with a 10-foot-wide mixing board and floor-to-ceiling rack equipment. Some musicians do need all that stuff, but what do you need? The first step is assessing your needs. Ask yourself these questions before you start buying gear:
How many instruments do I need to record at the same time?
Are the instruments electric or acoustic?
Will I use MIDI or sequenced instruments?
Do I need portability?
Do I plan to distribute or sell the music recordings I make?
Keep the answers to these questions in the back of your mind as you read this book. The theme you'll see repeated throughout is: Make the most of what you have. Expensive gear won't necessarily make anything better. What really matters is what you do with what you have. Too many studio owners get caught in the trap of having the nicest toys without understanding or utilizing their gear to the fullest. Imagine Grandma driving a Ferrari to church once a week. Bit of a waste, eh?
Have a Goal
Having a goal seems like a simple idea. However, many people jump on the home studio bandwagon without even considering a goal. Ask yourself, “What do I want to do with a home studio?” The result you're looking for—be it demo tapes to send to local clubs, or recordings to sell after a show—will help you determine what you need in a home studio. More often than not, at first you'll want to start small. You can always upgrade as you become more skilled at the process. Remember, home recording is a skill like any other, and it takes a while to get really good at it.
Seek Advice from Others
More than likely, you know other musicians. It's safe to assume that a percentage of them will also own home studios, in one form or another. Spend some time talking with them and, if possible, get hands-on demonstrations of the equipment they use. Find out how they use it and listen to how their final product sounds.
The recordings of the 1950s and 1960s were recorded with equipment that would be considered limiting nowadays. You'd be amazed at how many major recordings that you know and love were done by a highly skilled recording engineer on very basic equipment. Rudy Van Gelder's 1950s and 1960s Blue Note jazz sessions come to mind, as do George Martin and the Beatles.
Another invaluable resource is your local music store. Many of these stores are staffed with very talented musicians. Many of them, in addition to knowing a great deal about the equipment they sell, have home studios of their own. Ask them what they use, and what they use it for. They might even let you listen to a CD of their work. There are also many magazines and online sources devoted to recording. Popular recording and technology publications include:
In the online world, you'll find many resources and bulletin boards where you can exchange ideas with other home studio owners. Many professional engineers frequent these sites and you can learn a lot by listening, reading, and posting. For general recording tips, check these websites and forums: