Starting a home studio can be daunting, there are so many different things to budget for. I wrote this article for other upcoming producers to help figure out what to prioritize upgrades, or budget as you start growing your studio. I’ll leave out computer for this article and make its own article because there are so many specs to go over for computers. For this article I’ll assume you already have a Mac or PC.
When starting to upgrade you studio, the heart of the home studio is the DAW. This is probably the single most important purchase. There is not 1 single solution for this, and sometimes could take multiple DAW’s. The best method is to try the free trials of a few different ones and see which workflow best fits your needs.
You need to be sure you can get all of your core editing done efficiently in your DAW. If you record vocals or other live instruments you may also need to get pitch and time alignment plugins. This is one of the most important parts of production, you need to be able to get all of your edits done super clean. If you have a track with bad editing, no amount of mixing or mastering can make it sound better. Additionally, bad editing will be more jarring than bad mix.
The most important thing to look for in a DAW is workflow. This will depend heavily on the type of music you make, and how you write it. If you record a lot of vocals, it might make sense to go with something like Cubase which has built in pitch correction. If you want to perform live too, you might consider Ableton.
A commonly overlooked area for beginners and intermediate producers. Monitoring is SUPER important. Depending on your situation this could be better headphones, better monitors, or room treatment. Do not start buying 3rd party plugins until your monitoring situation is good. Most of the time stock plugins will get the job done. The thing is, you can’t eq what you can’t hear. You can have the best eq in the world, but if you can’t hear a frequency that needs to be cut, it won’t do you any good.
An interface may have a few different features, and it might make sense to compare features and see how the price gets divided. Interfaces typically have D/A A/D conversion, preamps, and headphone amp. They may have more converters than preamps, and may be expandable for more ins. The D/A converter is important for monitoring, you want accurate conversion for monitoring. The A/D converters will affect analog signals you record. If you don’t record analog audio, you may not need to prioritize this. Maybe you only need 2 inputs, one for vocals, and maybe one for guitar or some other instrument. If this is the case, you probably don’t need an 8 channel interface.
Let’s say are 2 interfaces, both worth $400, and 1 has 2 channels, and the other has 4 channels. Rough estimate, the 2 channel one will be $200/channel and the 4 channel one will need to cut costs so $100 per channel. If you don’t need 4 channels at the same time, the 2 channel one will likely have higher quality per channel because each individual channel will likely have higher end parts.
Another thing to consider is the headphone amp, lower quality interfaces may not have good headphone amps. This can be important if you are mixing on headphones, or monitor a lot with headphones.
Expandability is also another consideration. Interfaces may have 8 converters, but only 4 preamps. That means you would need to separately buy 4 more preamps to use all 8 inputs at once. If you want more, you need to make sure it supports extra digital inputs.
Instruments and VSTs
Instrument VST’s can be daunting because there are so many. They kind of fall into 2 categories, and some synths can do both. There are synthesizers, which create their own sound, and sample players, which play pre-recorded samples of another instrument. I’ll make a separate post to go over the different synth types. The thing to keep in mind here, is that you really don’t need as many as you think you need. A few good synths will go a long way.