DIY Recording Studio: Everything You Need to Know
Creating your own DIY recording studio from scratch sounds daunting. But the truth is, it’s never been easier.
With the right equipment, a solid studio set-up, and a little bit of know-how, you can build your very own recording studio at home for a fraction of the cost of renting a professional space.
What’s more, having your own home recording studio means you have the space, privacy, and time to make music on your terms.
In this post, you’ll find everything you need to know to set up your very own studio, from getting the right gear to soundproofing your space.
Get the right equipment for your home studio
Instruments aren’t the only things you’ll need for your studio. You’ll also need the right hardware and software to create high-quality music in the comfort of your very own home.
While you may have some of these on hand already, it’s worth reviewing your current recording studio equipment to see what items you need to invest in, and check if any are due for an upgrade.
A laptop/desktop for recording music
Chances are, you already have a computer for daily use.
However, the best computer for watching Netflix and the best computer for recording music are two very different things. You’ll be recording all your tracks on this computer, so you need one that handles your music production software with ease.
However, computers are a massive investment, and probably the most expensive piece of equipment on this list. If your current computer has solid processing power and RAM and plenty of storage, keep using it for now. Ideally, you should have an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, at least 4GB RAM and 500GB storage.
If your laptop or desktop struggles to run basic tasks or freezes regularly, it may be time to upgrade. Here’s a list of the best computers for recording music in case you need to find something new.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software
Once you have a computer to record your tracks, you’ll need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). This is the software you use to record, edit and produce music.
DAWs come with a lot of features, but here are the essential things to look for:
- OS compatibility. Check whether your DAW and computer will play nicely together. Many DAWs work with both Mac and PC; however, some, like Logic Pro X, only work on Mac, while Sonar Cakewalk only works on PC.
- Minimum spec requirements. DAWs require a lot of processing power, so make sure to do your research on minimum requirements before committing to a purchase.
- Audio plugin support. There are three types of plugins on the market: audio units (native to Mac OS X), VSTs and real-time audio suite (RTAS). Look at the plugins your DAW uses, as different formats might be incompatible.
The most popular DAWs out there now are Ableton, Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Studio One and FL Studio. However, there are plenty of free and paid options available—we’ll be putting out a comprehensive guide to music recording software in the near future, so stay tuned.
Also check out: best mobile apps to create your music.
When you’re recording music at home, you need a way to turn the acoustic sounds from your instruments into a digital signal for your DAW to process.
Essentially, the audio interface is the hardware you need to connect your computer up to your guitar, mic or keyboard. They typically look something like this:
Audio interfaces and DAW software are available separately or as a home recording studio package. When you’re just getting started, it’s better to invest in the combo from a brand like Avid or PreSonus. This way you’re guaranteed compatibility, and it’s easier to resolve any tech problems.
Most audio interfaces work with any DAW so if you prefer to buy them separately, here are some of the best in the market today:
A quality microphone
Having a quality mic is essential for that all-important sound quality. But, any musician who has a box full of headphones tucked away knows it’s easy to get carried away and blow half your studio budget on mics alone.
When you’re just starting out, you only need one or two mics, especially if you’re mainly going to be working by yourself in your home music studio. There are plenty of affordable quality mics out there for around $100 USD. Unless you need a specific mic for a specific reason, go for one of these. You can always upgrade it down the line.
Going off the earlier point on headphones, you probably have more headphones than you know what to do with. While it’s tempting to just use what you already have, there’s a difference between studio headphones and regular headphones.
If you can afford it, invest in a pair of comfortable, high-quality studio headphones for your home studio. You’ll be using these to monitor your takes, and you want something that offers maximum sound isolation without sound bleeding out into your mic.
There are two types of studio headphones: closed back and open back headphones. Closed back are best for tracking, while open back is better for mixing—but if you have to choose, closed back are generally the way to go.
MIDI keyboard controller
While they’re not a must-have for your home studio setup, a MIDI keyboard controller offers a cleaner approach to the recording process. Regular computer keyboards aren’t geared for musicians, and having a MIDI controller makes it easier to edit, isolate, and correct different sounds in your tracks.
Depending on your needs and the amount of studio space you have, you can invest in a compact, 25-key, 49-key or 88-key controller. Here are some of the most popular MIDI controllers in each category:
- Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII
- Alesis Q25 (also available with 49 and 88 keys)
- M-Audio Oxygen 25 MK IV (also available with 49 and 88 keys)
- Novation Launchkey
Setting up your space
Once you have the right equipment, you need to set up your recording space. As tempting as it is to just use any room in your home, there are a lot of factors that can affect your sound quality, not to mention your comfort while recording and editing.
This is where the ‘DIY’ component of your recording studio comes in. No room is going to meet 100% of your needs from the start, so you’ll need to do a little bit of work to set up the perfect space for your home studio.
Pick your location wisely
It may seem obvious, but the location you choose will be the biggest decision you make in setting up your space. Don’t just pick the first spare room in the house — take a look around and see which room is most suitable for your music production needs. Remember, you can always move furniture to different rooms if necessary.
You should have a room with enough space to accommodate your equipment and instruments, and any band mates who will join you for recording sessions. If in doubt, allow for more room than you actually need—this way, it’s easy to make space for new equipment or instruments down the line.
Ideally, your studio set-up should be in the quietest room in your house or apartment, such as your basement. Opt for a room that faces into your yard or other homes, rather than the street, to minimize noise pollution from buses or foot traffic.
Creating quality acoustics
While music editing software is incredibly powerful, it can’t cover up bad acoustics.
Residential homes and apartments often have small rooms with low ceilings and symmetrical walls, which is the complete opposite of what you want for a studio. The ideal setup for optimal sound quality is a room with high ceilings, asymmetrical walls, and irregular surfaces.
However, unless the former owner was a musician, you’ll have to work with what you’ve got. Luckily, there are some simple home studio ideas to help you create great acoustics without renovating your entire room.
The easiest and quickest way to avoid the “echo chamber” effect is to use objects to diffuse the sound. Add a sofa and pillows to the room to soften the sound quality, or bring in some extra furniture like a folding screen or bookshelf. Finding the right balance requires a bit of trial and error, so don’t be afraid to experiment to find acoustics you’re happy with.
Acoustic treatment is another simple yet affordable solution. If you’ve set foot in a professional recording studio, you’ll notice they have acoustic panels on the walls to improve acoustic quality and soundproof the room. There are plenty of foam panels available on Amazon, such as ProFoam, or you can DIY and cover your walls with mineral wool insulation or a similar material.
Seal the cracks
Like water, sound has a habit of leaking out of the room. This can be disturbing for your neighbors, family or housemates, but it also impacts the overall quality of your music.
Most doors and windows have gaps for sound to leak out, so try to seal any cracks before you start recording. Purchase some cheap vinyl or rubber sealing strips from your local hardware store, and plug up any gaps around the room.
Consider the ventilation
The ideal recording studio is soundproof, but this also means it’s airproof. Considering you’ll be spending hours in this room working on music production, it’s important to make sure there’s enough oxygen to breathe at all times.
Mics easily pick up on sounds from fans and air conditioning systems, so unfortunately you’ll have to steer clear of these. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to build what’s called an acoustic box for (relatively) soundproof ventilation.
All you need to build an acoustic box is some medium-density fiberboard, an S-shaped duct and some acoustic foam. Create a box from the fiberboard, insert the duct to allow air flow, and pad the rest of the box with some foam.
Generally speaking, hardwood floors are the best type of flooring to have for a home studio setup. They’re commonly used in DIY and pro studios because they sound natural and produce a comfortable reflection effect. However, tile and laminate flooring are also suitable alternatives to achieve the right ambience for recording music.
While carpet serves as a good sound diffuser, it doesn’t absorb low-frequency sounds and leads to a dull and boomy studio room. It’s also much harder to move stuff around on carpet, such as amps or larger instruments.
If you’re serious about getting the best sound quality out of your room, strip the floors and use area rugs for sound diffusion instead.
Other quick tips for setting up your home studio
Record at 24-bit depth to get the best audio quality and a greater dynamic range. While most people will be listening at less than 24-bit, recording at the highest level ensures you have a standard quality output regardless of where your listeners play the track.
Use pop filters. These prevent the impact of hard consonants, such as P’s, T’s and B’s. They’re cheap and easy to find, and it saves you from having to edit these sounds out after the fact.
Soundproof your computer, as well as your room. Mics are incredibly sensitive and will pick up on even the slightest noise, such as the whirs of your computer. To get the highest recording quality possible, create as much distance as possible between your computer and your mic. Popular methods include putting the computer in a closet, keeping it in a separate room entirely, or investing in a soundproof isobox for your computer.
Use a multi-level desk. One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when creating your home studio is space. It’s not always possible to make the room bigger—but what you can do is make effective use of the space you have. Multi-level desks allow you to store multiple pieces of equipment, such as your monitors and audio interfaces, without taking up too much valuable space.
Building your own home studio is certainly a labor of love. It takes hard work, commitment, and a solid investment of time and money.
While it won’t always be easy, it certainly is worth it if you plan on recording a lot of tracks. In the end, you’ll have your very own recording studio that’s open 24/7, and your investment will pay for itself in time.
Above all else, remember to enjoy the process and have fun with it. Paint the walls, display images of artists that inspire you, and decorate it in a way that gets the creative juices flowing—after all, this is your space.