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Home Recording Studio: What You Really Need as a Producer

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The dream home recording studio – it’s what every music producer wants.

The rare analog synths. The perfect monitors. All those knobs and buttons to tweak…

But back to reality – most of us don’t have the cash to splash on this kind of setup – at least not yet.

In fact, for most of us, the studio is either in the bedroom or somewhere at home.

That being said, what is actually necessary? What are the non-negotiables?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:

  • The myths about home studio equipment
  • The three things you truly need to make great music
  • Different types of studios and the gear you’ll need for each
  • How to set up your studio as an EDM producer
  • Whether acoustic treatment is actually necessary or not

Let’s take a look.

But first, you probably want to make good electronic music, right?

Yet you’re new. You don’t know how this all works yet. And setting up your studio is only one part of the journey.

That’s why we wrote our guide – How To Make Electronic Music. It’s been read by 11,000+ producers and helped many find their footing in the world of electronic music production.

Grab it for free below:

Download the PDF Guide


The 3 Types of Studios

Before we dive into the list of gear you’ll be buying, I want to introduce you to a concept:

There is no ideal home recording studio – only the studio that suits you.

Everyone has different preferences, environments and needs. So get the equipment that suits you the best.

To help simplify this concept, I’ve broken the studio down into three design archetypes:

  • The Minimum Viable Studio
  • The Average Studio
  • The Veteran Super-studio

You may fit into any of these, or somewhere between.

For example, I’m probably closest to the average studio, but also don’t have all the equipment required for it.

Note: these studio concepts are aimed at electronic music producers, and not traditional engineers or recording artists.

The Minimum Viable Studio

Don’t believe the lies – you actually don’t need much equipment to make music.

Many hits have been created with what we call the ‘minimum viable studio’, and most of the parts you likely already have.

At its core, a minimum viable studio has three essential parts:

  • A computer
  • A DAW (with good samples)
  • Headphones

In this view, anything else superfluous, and possibly distracting.

The endless quest of plugins, synths, and gear can take you away from the goal – making music.

Besides, it’s also a highly-portable studio setup (if you have a laptop) and ideal if you don’t have a room or constant location to work at, or your room is small.

Lastly, it’s great if you’re on a budget and don’t have a lot of wiggle room.

The Average Studio

This studio consists of the ‘standard equipment’ recommended when you search for what you need.

Beyond the requirements of the minimum-viable studio, this includes parts like:

  • Studio monitors
  • An audio interface
  • A MIDI keyboard
  • A microphone
  • Third-party plugins
  • Acoustic treatment

These things are staples in studios for a reason – they help you make great music, and can help avoid a lot of workarounds.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the notion that this type of studio is ‘essential’ for producing music, as many engineers and producers would have you think.

Granted, I have most of the items in this list (besides proper acoustic treatment), but I’ve gone without before and I was fine. The improvements are there but only marginal.

The Veteran Super-studio

These types of studios are the ones that people like to show off when they post ‘In the studio…’ on Instagram.

First and foremost, they’re highly creative spaces with lots of possibility.

Secondly, they look cool.

You’ll find among them:

  • Analog synths and drum machines
  • Modular/Eurorack setups
  • Outboard compressors/EQs/rackmount gear
  • MIDI Controllers
  • Multiple sets of monitors
  • Deliberately-engineered rooms

These studios are great, but are far from necessary. Hence why I’ve called it a ‘veteran’ studio – I think only those with plenty of experience and successful releases will make the most of these spaces.

Now we’ve cleared up these concepts, let’s start with the most essential gear.

Studio Essential #1: A Computer

Required For: All studio types

Average Price: $2000 (if you don’t have one already)

A good computer is the beating heart of the modern DAW.

I’d go as far as to say that if you don’t have a desktop or laptop, you don’t have a studio (if you ignore the DAW-less hipsters who think going without is a superior way of making music, for whatever reason).

All jokes aside, a computer is necessary because 90% of what you’ll be doing as a producer is in software, not hardware.

It’s also essential for the next piece of equipment – a DAW.

Recommended Options

First and foremost – you likely already have a good system to be producing on.

Sure, it’s not the super-computer you’ve always dreamed of, but it’s definitely capable of handling a solid DAW and some plugins.

However, if you’re not in that situation, or you want to upgrade anyway, read on.

First, a disclaimer. I’m not going to join the Mac vs PC debate, because the truth is it doesn’t matter. You can make the same quality of music on either system, regardless of what people might think.

So what’s the main differences?

Macs are quite expensive but come primed to make music (the audio drivers are particularly good), whereas PCs are cheaper and more customizable, yet require more setup to optimize them for audio production.

Personally, I use a Macbook, but have used both and like both systems.

Of course, the more money you spend, the better specs and performance you’ll get. Here are a few options from each camp:

Specs

Despite the system you use, computer specs are really what makes the difference as to what your system is capable of.

I’m going to list the most important parts of the computer in order, so you know what to consider when making a decision.

  • Hard Disk: You might be surprised to find this option first, but a kitchen can’t function without the pantry. Think about it – every sample, piece of software and plugin lives on your hard drive. If it’s slow or too small, you’ll always come up short. Invest in an SSD for your main system at least (you can use a spinning disk drive for long-term storage) and you can thank me later.
  • Processor: Definitely close to or as important as the hard disk. Go for at least a dual-core Intel processor, ideally i5, i7 or i9. Other processors are good, but you may run into compatibility issues as some software doesn’t like non-Intel processors.
  • RAM: RAM is important, especially if you’re running huge multi-sample libraries, but is often over-emphasized. 4-8GB is actually fine for most producers, which most systems come with anyway these days.
  • Display & Graphics: Not a big issue for producers, but it’s nice to have some screen real estate for your DAW and plugins. I’ve made music on massive screens, and small 13″ laptops. See what you’re comfortable with and make the plunge, and make sure you get a graphics card that supports what you need.
  • Peripherals: Some people are fine making music on a trackpad, others may want dedicated keyboards and mice.

Studio Essential #2: A DAW

Required For: All studio types

Average Price: $500

If your computer is the cornerstone of your home recording studios hardware, your DAW is the same for the software – you can’t really make music without it.

It has everything you need to arrange, tweak, and export high-quality music, at such a ridiculously low price (compared to how much it used to cost to buy lots of hardware).

So even though they might sound pricey, they are 110% worth it.

Personally, I use Ableton Live, which is great for electronic music. The workflow is fast, the layout makes sense and it’s a highly creative environment.

A Word on Samples

Many DAWs come with a solid selection of processing tools, like EQ, compression, and distortion. But a majority of them are lacking in a particular department – samples.

Having high-quality samples to use in your DAW is 90% of what makes music good, so make sure to load up your software with a good selection.

A great, affordable place to start is something like Splice Sounds (sponsored), or check out our list of free resources.

Recommended Options

When it comes to DAW’s, it pays to be selective and to take your time. I’d highly recommend download trials for a few, read a guide and see if you like it or not.

Different DAWs have unique workflows, and it’s worth seeing what suits you best. Yes, the most popular may be Ableton Live and FL Studio, but check others out for good measure.

For a detailed comparison, check out our guide on the best DAWs.

Studio Essential #3: Headphones

Required For: All studio types

Average Price: $150

There’s not much point in having a solid computer with a DAW and samples, when you can’t hear any of it.

This is where headphones come in – they are the most affordable and accessible way to hear the entire frequency spectrum.

Sure, they might not have the accuracy delivered by studio monitors in a well-treated room, but they can get pretty close in a far more accessible way.

However, you don’t want to use any old headphones if you can avoid it.

And whatever you use, make sure you back up your mixes with solid reference tracks, so you can test the quality of your work.

Recommended Options

Studio Essential #4: Audio Interface

Required For: The Average Studio, The Veteran Super-studio

Average Price: $200

Audio interfaces are a staple in many studios for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, they typically have greater sound quality than the built-in soundcard on your computer (particularly true of PCs).

Secondly, they allow you to connect studio monitors and headphones to your setup.

Thirdly, they are essential for recording microphones, synths or any sound source outside of your computer.

Recommended Options

We actually have an entire article dedicated to recommended audio interfaces. But if you want a few quick recommendations, here you go:

Studio Essential #5: Studio Monitors

Required For: The Average Studio, The Veteran Super-studio

Average Price: $400

You’ve got headphones, so why do you need studio monitors?

As great as headphones are (and you can use them purely), they don’t always give an accurate stereo image, or an accurate representation of how things sound in a room with speakers.

Studio monitors are the solution to this – they give the most accurate response possible of your music, acting like a microscope for your mix.

They are made ‘flat’, meaning they don’t have the hyped highs or lows of consumer-grade speakers or hi-fi systems.

Most of the options you’ll be wanting for a home studio will be a pair of nearfield active monitors.

Nearfield means that they are designed to be used in a small room, and active means you don’t need to buy a seperate amplifier – it’s all built in.

Some monitors are ‘ported’ – speakers which have a port at the back or front that increases the low end response, designed for those not using a subwoofer.

At the end of the day, as long as you know how your monitors sound then you can work with what you have.

Recommended Options

If you want more options, check out this solid roundup from Dustin at Musician on a Mission.

Studio Essential #6: MIDI Keyboard

Required For: The Average Studio, The Veteran Super-studio

Average Price: $200

While not an entirely essential piece of equipment, it certainly is more expressive than dragging and drawing notes into your computer.

And if you know your way around a piano keyboard – you’ll be miles ahead.

There is plenty of variation among MIDI keyboards, and you can get tiny portable ones, or giant 88-key centerpieces. The choice is up to you, depending on your needs.

Recommended Options

We also have a dedicated roundup of MIDI keyboards, if you want to deep dive into the breadth of options.

Studio Essential #7: A Microphone

Required For: The Average Studio, The Veteran Super-studio

Average Price: $200

If you’re planning on recording vocals or instruments, then you pretty much need a microphone.

Condenser vs Dynamic

One of the long-standing debates is whether you should start with a condenser or dynamic microphone.



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