So, you’re ready to start recording your own music. You’ve got so many song ideas and riffs, and it’s time to set up your home recording studio.
But the problem is there’s so much information out there that it’s overwhelming. You’re also not sure what gear you need and it all seems so expensive.
Fear not! Because this easy-to-follow beginner’s home recording studio guide is going to show you exactly what you need to set up a basic and inexpensive home studio.
We’ll also show you how to set everything up so that you can start recording your song ideas. Eve better, you’ll learn the next steps on how to expand your studio when you’re ready (this will be towards the end after we cover your basics).
Here’s a quick list of the minimal gear needed for a beginner’s home recording studio and what we’re going to cover:
- Computer – it doesn’t have to be top-of-the-line…I’ll explain more below
- Audio interface – we’ll show you how to connect this and explain how it works
- Studio headphones – simple, but there’s some advice you’ll learn below that will save you in the long-run
- Recording software (DAW) – this is where you capture your recording and we’re going to dive deeper into this while keeping it in layman’s terms
- Gear for expanding your studio – we’ll also share the next practical steps to expanding your simple, basic home recording studio when you’re ready
***Below is a short video going over these components. We’ll go into more details in this post, so keep reading!
Best Computer for Basic Home Recording Studio
The first piece of recording gear you’ll need is something that you more than likely have. A computer.
And chances are, the computer you have is probably good enough to run recording software. However, you will need to make sure this is the case by reading the minimal requirements of your recording software, and we’ll get to that later.
A good rule of thumb is to get a computer that has:
- At least 4 GB of RAM
- At least an i5 or comparable processor
If you can afford to go higher, like 8 or even 16 GB of RAM and an i7 (or comparable type) processor that’s only going to make the process smoother. And that will also save you money in the long run as technology progresses.
Again, if your current computer was purchased new within the past few years, you more than likely already have the minimal requirements to run recording software. If it’s something like over a decade old then it may be time to upgrade.
Mac VS PC – Which one is best for home recording studios?
This really comes down to personal preference. The first answer is if you already have a computer that meets your recording software’s requirements, just use that for now.
If you’re in a position where you need to buy a computer, Mac may be a better option as recording software tends to run smoother on a Mac. But if you’re used to a Window machine, that’s a fine option as well.
Best Beginner’s Audio Interface for Recording
The next piece of gear is the device that allows your guitar (or instrument/vocal) signal to feed into your computer. And that’s an audio interface.
The good news is that even the cheapest and most basic audio interfaces will allow you to capture a quality recording. And if you’re just starting out and only recording your guitar, a simple one or two input interface will do the trick.
Here are steps to connecting your audio interface:
Connect the USB cable from your audio interface to your computer.
Plug your instrument cable into the audio interface.
Connect your output source into your audio interface (we’ll talk more about that next)
There are some more steps to start recording your guitar and we’ll get into that when we talk about recording software. But this is the basic setup for your audio interface. It’s simply a conduit to connect your instrument to your computer.
What audio interface does Jason use?
In this post, I’m using the Presonus AudioBox USB interface. I’ve owned this interface for over a decade and still use it from time to time. This is the perfect type of interface for beginners. It’s easy to use and super inexpensive.
Since then, I’ve upgraded to a larger interface with more inputs and slightly better preamps (Presonus Quantum 2). This is something you may want to consider if you decide to take it to the next level such as recording and releasing a song or album.
Output and Monitoring Source for Basic Home Studio
If you were to study most home studios that you see on the internet or in YouTube videos, you’ll notice most of them have speakers to the right and left of the computer (usually on the desk or on separate stands).
Studio monitors are great to have but not necessary when you’re just starting out. A decent pair of studio headphones will suffice for now.
Remember, the goal here is to help you build a simple beginner’s home recording studio so that you can start capturing your riffs and ideas. And we want to keep this simple for you. As we mentioned, we’ll show you ways to expand later in this post.
But before you buy headphones, here are some things to consider:
- Make sure you get studio headphones, not regular headphones for listening to music.
- You don’t have to break the bank, but don’t go super cheap. Anything under $100 is probably not going to give you a desirable sound.
You may now be wondering where to connect your headphones for recording. Audio interfaces typically come with at least two types of output connections. One for headphones and inputs for monitors (usually two input for left/right monitors; we’ll talk more about that later). So you would simply plug your headphones into your interface, which is shown in the prior section on interfaces.
Choosing Your DAW (Recording Software) for a Beginner’s Home Studio
We’ve gone over the hardware for our first home studio and now it’s time to dive into the recording software. This is called your DAW (digital audio workstation).
Let’s recap the signal flow of your hardware to see how this all works:
Guitar/instrumental ➞ audio interface ➞ computer ➞ DAW
The DAW is where your sounds will be recorded and it’s also what will produce the sounds that you’ll hear. Prior to the software versions, we use today, the original digital audio workstations were hardware units, which date back to the late 70s, per the Recording Connection website’s article ‘What Are Digital Audio Workstations?‘
It’s virtually impossible to say what the ‘best DAW for a beginner’ is as that’s extremely subjective. In addition, there is no beginner’s DAW. Any DAW you choose will require some time and dedication for your to learn.
The good news is that the basics functions of most DAWs are relative to one another. And that’s all you need when you’re just starting out.
How expensive is recording software? You can spend several hundreds of dollars or you can go with something like Reaper, which is known to have a free trial version. Or (read the pro tip below)…
Pro Tip: Many audio interfaces will come with recording software that you can use. More than often this will be the ‘lite’ version of that DAW, but that’s good enough to start with.
For example, the PreSonus AudioBox USB interface came with PreSonus Studio Artist (a lite version to Studio One Pro). Here is a list of interface brands with the respective DAWs they come with:
|Presonus||PreSonus Studio One (Artist)|
|Focusrite Scarlett||Avid Pro Tools Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite|
Again, most DAWs have a similar workflow when it comes to the basic functions. So don’t allow yourself to get overwhelmed. Just be prepared to spend a few hours watching videos for the specific DAW you choose. This will save you some frustration, especially if it’s your first time diving into software recording.
One of the coolest things bout any DAW that you choose I that they all come loaded with virtual effects like a compressor, delay, reverb, etc.
These will come in handy for recording your guitar, vocal, or any instrument.
For example, let’s say you mic your guitar amp (running your XLR cable into your audio interface). You could add a compressor and some chorus to that track after you record it.
Or let’s say you want to record a vocal track. You could add a little reverb and delay if you want.
You could even build a virtual effects chain for your bass guitar, such as using a compressor, channel strip, and EQ. The possibilities are endless and they’re literally at your fingertips.
Recording Your Guitar – Tones, Amps, and Effects
As a guitarist, the thing you’ll want to dive into right away is using virtual amp sims. In many cases, this will require you to upgrade your recording software (DAW) unless you go with something like Reaper software.
Amps sims have become a guitar player’s haven for sounds and effects. In fact, many guitarists have given up their real amplifiers for these virtual amps just for sheer convenience. Not to mention, there are several premium amp sims that sound and feel very close to the real thing.
Here are some of the popular amp sims:
Most of these amp sims have a free and/or trial version so that you can try them out before purchasing. And these are only a few of several virtual amps!
Expanding Your Home Recording Studio
Everything we’ve covered up to this point is all you need to get started for your first home recording studio. But it won’t be long before you’ll want to start expanding.
So we’re going to give you the next three natural steps to building onto your hoe studio and making it more professional:
- Pro or full version of your DAW
- Studio monitors
- Room treatment
If you only have the ‘lite’ version of your DAW, the first studio expansion you’ll want to make is upgrading to the pro version. In short, this will allow you to use third-party plugins like amp sims. And although your DAW will come with an array of usable plugins and effects, you may find that there are some third-party effects that may better suit your needs.
Next, you’ll want to invest in some quality studio monitors. Headphones are great for recording your ideas and getting to know how your DAW functions. But once you get into recording multiple tracks and mixing, you can’t beat having a solid par of studio monitors.
Proper room treatment is another upgrade that you’ll want to make at some point. This is going to allow you to nail down better mixes. We have another article that goes into more detail here: Home Studio Acoustics and Room Treatment
We hope this article helps you get started in the world of recording. You’re going to have an awesome time and the best thing is you’ll never miss another riff or song idea. It’s so easy to just pul up your DAW, plug in your guitar, and lay down that track.
Lastly, and to reiterate make sure you spend adequate time learning how to use both the hardware and software. The better you know your gear, the smoother your workflow will be.
Jason Stallworth & Ken Candelas, creators of Metal Mastermind