Creating a Budget
Here comes everyone's least favorite subject…spending money. You work hard for it, and the last thing you want to do is squander it on equipment that isn't suitable for you, or doesn't get the job done. The good news is that there is a studio to be had at almost every price level, and you can get started with a basic studio for around $250, maybe even less, depending on your configuration and what you might already own. The bad news is that there's a lot more gear available, and you can easily get carried away and spend many thousands of dollars on all the various gear out there. Figure out exactly what you can spend at first.
Your budget should take into consideration the following points:
What is the maximum you can spend?
Do you want the ability to record more than one track at a time?
How many microphones do you need?
How many interconnecting cables does your setup require?
Do you need computer recording software?
Do you need a computer recording interface?
Does your computer need to be upgraded to handle the demands of working with large music files?
What signal effects do you need?
Do you need a separate mixer? (This is becoming less necessary these days.)
How do you plan on listening to your work (headphones or speakers)?
As you can see, this is an important list. You must take all these points into consideration when planning your budget. Since every studio is different, this book talks about general setups, and you can modify the setup that is closest to your needs.
What You Will Really Spend
You've already learned in Chapter 1 the three elements necessary for recording sound: something to capture the sound, something to store it and play it back, and something to hear it played back. First, you need a sound and a device capable of capturing that sound, usually a microphone. Some instruments interface directly via cables; keyboards and amplifier line-out jacks are examples of direct instruments. Next, you need a recorder capable of recording the sound and playing it back at a later time. Last, you need something to hear the recording with — either speakers or headphones. These elements are commonly found in all studios, regardless of price, quality, or use, hobbyist or professional.
For sound input, the typical equipment is microphones. Microphones range from around $60 for a starter variety, $200 for a good one, and $500 and above for some really top-of-the-line microphones. You can even spend several thousands of dollars. Figure out how many you think you'll need. You can probably get away with one for each instrument and two to four for a drum kit, depending on how you set up the kit. If you are recording one instrument at a time, you can get away with fewer microphones. You might pool the money you save by doing this and buy one or two higher quality microphones. Instruments such as keyboards, drum machines, and guitar effects processors can plug directly into a recording source. Also, many amplifiers feature direct outputs and bypass the need for a microphone; all you need is a cable. Cables are cheap, thank goodness! You might need a direct box to change the impedance of certain instruments to match the input of the recorder. We'll discuss that more in Chapter 11. Direct boxes range from $30 to $100.
For recorders, you can start at the low end and find a cassette tape, 4-track recorder for about $100. The high end of recorders can exceed six figures, but there are many great-sounding devices in the $300 to $1,000 range. To record with a computer, you'll need software that ranges from free to $1,000. You'll also need a computer interface that accepts audio and possibly MIDI if you plan to use that. Depending on how many sources you need to record at once, computer audio interfaces can range from $100 to more than $1,000. MIDI interfaces are less expensive, and you pay more depending on how many MIDI inputs, or separate instruments, you need to use at the same time. Expect to spend between $50 for a simple one-input/one-output MIDI interface and up to $400 for eight MIDI devices.
The spectrum of home studios can be broad. How much you need to spend depends on what your goals are. It's probably best to start at the low end and expand as you're learning.
In order to play back the recorded sound, most home studio owners start with a pair of decent headphones. Headphones range from $30 to $200. If you choose to use professional speakers, called “monitor speakers,” you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $800 or more for a set. Some monitors are self-powered and don't require additional amplifiers to run; others need an amplifier, which will cost you money as well! Your best bet is to go for self-powered monitors. There are some great ones for $200 to $300. A low-tech solution is to monitor through your home stereo. It's not the optimal way to go, but it might tide you over until you can afford more.
How Not to Get Carried Away
It's so easy to get carried away in a music store. You go in for one thing, walk out with five things you didn't need. This is known as G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome). This ailment affects many musicians who fall victim to the grandeur of a music store that has “everything.” Out of the three elements of your studio, it's important to balance the quality of each part. The result is only as good as all the equipment you use. Add one weak link and the chain will break. For example, if you blow all your cash on a state-of-the-art digital recorder, and you plug a cheap, noisy microphone into it, the digital recorder will play back a noisy signal, in perfect digital quality. See the problem? We address the issue of G.I.G.O. (garbage in, garbage out) later in this book. Go into this process knowing what you need to accomplish and what means you have to accomplish it with. Try your best to be even and fair with the quality of the components you choose.