This is a bit of a long one, but there should be some very helpful info here if you are just getting started….
In my last blog, I listed all of the basic gear, which you will need to get started as a professional songwriter. This week, I am going to make it even easier for you by giving you the exact specifications to build an affordable home studio for your songwriting.
I know this part of it can be scary if you are new to it, but I’ve tried to make it as simple as possible for you.
This particular studio set-up is aimed at beginners who want to get started fast and affordably, not high-level professionals who know their way round a professional studio (we’ll get to you later!).
This is all the gear you will need to get started, apart from a decent computer.
1. A DAW (or digital audio workstation)
2. A Microphone
3. An Audio Interface
4. A preamp
5. A Midi Controller (keyboard)
Let’s break it down.
1. DAW (or Digital Work Station)
A Digital Work Station is a complicated title for any piece of software that you can use to record and edit your music. You may have heard of Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase or Ableton – all of these are examples of DAW’s. Some of these programs are compatible with both PC and MAC while some are only compatible with one or the other, so you need to do your homework before you buy one.
- Pro Tools is one of the more high-end DAW’s and is therefore more expensive.
- Logic is a mid-level affordable DAW.
- If you are new to recording and don’t have much money to spend, Reaper (www.reaper.fm) is very affordable – around $60 – and works on most computers and has a 30 day free trial.
- If you have a Mac, Garageband is FREE. Don’t listen to what anyone says about not taking Garageband seriously for recording – it obviously has its limitations but is a very powerful tool if you spend some time figuring it all out. You can get a lot done on Garageband and is a perfectly acceptable DAW to get you going or until you can afford something a bit more powerful.
2. A Microphone
There are two main types of microphones : condenser and dynamic. Each translates audio signals in different ways.
In addition to the type, each make and model of microphone has it’s own sound and personality. However, as this blog is about getting you up and started with as little fuss as possible,here are two tried and tested microphones that you can buy today and can start using immediately.
- Condenser : The Rode NT-1 is a reliable and popular entry level microphone that is used in home studios all over the world. It is a great quality professional microphone and extremely affordable for a condenser mic. Zzounds.com does pretty good deals on mics so check out the mic here :
- Dynamic : The most popular microphone in the world is probably the Shure SM57. It can record practically any instrument well. It’s quite a bit cheaper but although it can get the job done,it is not ideal for vocal recording. Check out the SM 57 here …
- You will also need a microphone stand.
If you are in SA, I’d strongly recommend buying all your musical gear at Music Connection (www.musicconnection.co.za) as it is hands down the best musical instrument shop in the country and the staff are extremely helpful and can answer all your questions.
3. An Audio Interface.
An audio interface is a device that is used to translate all your audio signals from your microphone (or your midi signal from your keyboard) into a digital signal that your computer can read. Basically, the audio interface is what gets your voice into your DAW.
Usually your microphone and Midi keyboard plug into the Audio Interface, and the Audio Interface plugs into your computer via a USB. You don’t really need to know much more than this, but you do need one of these.
One of my favourite affordable Audio Interfaces is the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 and I recommend this if you are getting started. It’s beautiful to look at it, is very reliable, has inputs for both microphones, guitars and Midi. In addition, it has two built in Focusrite preamps (which I’ll explain in the next point), which makes it extremely good value for money. (Do NOT buy the cheaper Scarlet 2i2 as it has no Midi inputs).
- For more information on this Audio interface, go to
Ah, the world of preamps! This is a piece of gear that can make or break any studio, over which studio engineers love to fight about which is the best. The price of a good preamp can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands.
A microphones natural level is very soft, too soft to be able to work with in your DAW. So it needs a preamp to boost the signal to a decent usable level in your recordings. Every preamp has a different personality and a different way of boosting the signal and that influences how your microphone is recorded and therefore how it sounds.
There are millions of preamps to choose from and here, I recommend that you REALLY go out and do your homework and buy a good quality preamp when you can afford to. Good makes of preamp include Neve, Universal Audio and Focusrite.
- If you are willing to spend to some money here, I use the Focusrite ISA One Analogue Mic Preamp. It is unfortunately not cheap, but is great value for money for the quality of the preamp and how flexible it is. This is a preference more than anything else as there are a LOT of great preamps out there. You can find the Focusrite here :
- If you really don’t want to spend the extra money yet, I recommended the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 Audio Interface (under the Audio Interface heading above) because it includes a fairly decent built-in Focusrite preamp so you won’t have to worry about buying a standalone preamp until you are ready to spend.
5. Midi Keyboard.
This is the final piece of the puzzle to making good money through songwriting. And it is also one of the most important. A midi keyboard is a keyboard (electronic piano) that actually doesn’t need any built-in sounds. When it is not plugged into anything, a midi keyboard usually can’t make a sound at all.
But, when plugged into your DAW via your Audio Interface, you can select any preset sound that your computer can access. There are also millions of plugins you can buy that will greatly enhance this Midi library, but with most DAW’s you will get a substantial free library. So all the sounds that your keyboard makes are on your computer, not on your keyboard.
In other words, you can turn the “Midi” signal that is created from pressing the keys on the keyboard, to any sound imaginable! Need a symphonic orchestra? A Yamaha grand piano? Or how about a Steinway? A drumkit? A Chinese Er-Hu? There is no limit to the types and the quality of sounds that you can create.
We will talk more about these plugins later, but for now, you need a reliable and affordable Midi keyboard to turn your studio into a powerhouse for songwriting in any genres, and making money from your craft.
Some people prefer smaller ones so that they can be more portable and write music while they are on the plane or from anywhere else. I prefer larger ones myself so that I can play bigger piano chords on them if I need to. It is just personal preference.
- If you are getting started, I recommend the the light-weight and affordable M-Audio 49 key midi keyboard that I’ve put a link to below.
So there you have it. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of arguments from people who love gear about the equipment I have mentioned, but I assure you that with JUST what I’ve listed above, you can get your home studio started and start making money from your songwriting!
Still, I’d love to hear comments/feedback and suggestions! Please leave your comments down below and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for more information about my upcoming podcast series….