When I first moved to L.A to produce music I worked at a Guitar Center in the Pro Audio Department. That is where I developed my love for gear and home studio recording. I love me a big studio, but nothing beats working from your home studio at all hours of the night! As you can imagine, while I was working for Guitar Center I was pretty broke, so I built my home studio in stages. I know all about building a home studio on a budget. This post is going to detail what essentials you need for making beats and recording vocals in your home studio recording if your budget is about $1000.
When I refer to the chain, I am talking about chain of gear leading from your voice/instrument to your computer. Here is what you need in your home studio to make it work.
- preamp with phantom power or a seperate phantom power source.
- Analog to Digital Converter
It is possible to combine some of the elements in the chain when you are on a budget. That is one of the first things to do if you only have $1000.
For example… it is very common to use your soundcard as an A to D convertor. It is very common to have a preamp with both phantom power and a built in compressor.
In addition to the “chain” you need a computer (which is not included in this budget), software, MIDI and if possible a keyboard controller. In order to hear all of this you really need a pair of monitors. But, you could start out with headphones if you really had to.
$1000 Studio (give or take)
Vocal Microphone: In a perfect world you would spend $1000 on just your vocal mic… but it is certainly possible to buy a nice mic for much less.
I am alloting $150 to $200 for the Vocal Mic. Here are a few that I like…
- Behringer T-47 Tube Condencer Mic $149
- Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphram Mic $149
- Shure PG27 Condencer Mic $149
- MXL 4000 Multi-Pattern FET Studio Condencer Mic $199
- CAD 179 Condencer Mic $149
If you are using your microphone for rap or spoken word only, you can get by with a dynamic microphone for less money and it will probably sound just as good. Here are a couple of good dynamic microphones…
- SM57 (with a pop filter) $99
This is an instrumental microphone, so you can also use it for guitar, bass, and drums.
- Audix OM2 $99
Preamp/Compressor: I am budgeting up to $350 for this. It is very important.
- Art 215 Mic Pre, Compressor, EQ $199
- Focusrite TrakMaster Pro Channel Strip $339
- PreSonus Studio Channel Tube Channel Strip $299
How to choose your Mic and your Pre… I suggest going to your local music store and Plugging the Mics you are testing into the Mic Pres you are testing. That way you will hear the combination of Mic and Pre. When I was buying my mic pre, I took my vocal mic to Guitar Center and plugged it in to each of the mic pre’s I was considering.
Soundcard with A to D Conversion:
I am a fan of M-Audio when it comes to soundcards, especially on a budget. The amount you spend on your soundcard is partly going to be influenced on how many in’s and out’s you need.
- Delta 1010 LT $199
Great card and easy to use. 10 in’s and outs including SPDIF and MIDI I/O.
- Delta 44 $149
This is a great soundcard if you don’t need Digital I/O. It has a little breakout box so that you won’t get computer noise in your recording. Record 2 stereo or 4 Mono. I have also owned this card and it was easy to use and very decent quality.
Cables: For cables I can only say to buy the best you can afford. I like Monster myself, but I can’t always afford $50 per 10 feet of cable. Just, don’t forget to budget for the cables!
That’s the Chain…. the total is so far somewhere between $500 and $700 without the cables. Now for the software and MIDI.
- Sequel: $49
This is apparently a watered down version of cubase, but it does audio, MIDI and mixing. You could use it to master as well I suppose…
- Fruity Loops $199
Allows audio recording, VST instruments, mixing, looping, MIDI and more. There are a million free tutorials on youtube on how to use it.
- Cubase 5 Essential Recording Software $149
A “lite version” of cubase, but still with alot of the features of cubase. I would go with this over Sequel if you have the money left over in your budget. It gives you more room to grow. Plus, it comes with some great plug-ins including pitch correction.
- Cakewalk Sonar $399
This program is great. I have always really liked using it. It will give you everything you need to record your tracks from MIDI, to looping, to Audio recording. It comes with virtual instruments and plug-ins that are very high quality. I use their pitch correction all the time. This is my first choice of all of the softwares I have just mentioned.
- Propellerhead Record Reason Duo $399
FINALLY! Record within Reason and have it all! Reason is another of my personal favorites. It comes with some great virtual synths and fx. The onboard sampler NN-XT is a great sampler. (All P5audio sample sounds are preformatted for this sampler). I have not used the record option, but if it works as well as reported, I would recommend this software as having it all! Trust me, the virtual synths alone are a treasure in this product. They sound GREAT!
Controller: It is very nice to have a keyboard controller when you record MIDI. If you are a great keyboard player you will need a much bigger controller. If you can get by with just a small keyboard you can save some $$. I am just going to list a couple different options, but keep in mind. The controller you buy does NOT effect your sound at all. It is pure convenience. Go with the size and price that are right for you and you can’t go wrong.
Click here for sweetwater’s buying guide for keyboard controllers.
Mixer: When working in a digital environment, you can get by with a very small mixer. Basically when working in the digital domain your mixer is used for monitering the sound. You will just use it for your headphones or your monitors… Our budget does not allow us much for the mixer, so for mixers on a budget I suggest Behringer.
- Behringer EuroRack UB802 $49
- Behringer EuroRack UB 1202 $79
This mixer gives you more inputs. If you have more than one computer you will need more inputs.
Monitors: We don’t have much money left, and monitors are very important. This is how you hear your finished product. However, my thought is that you can make the music and listen through headphones or lesser monitors if you had to. Then when you can upgrade, you should do so. Here are some budget monitors.
- M-Audio Studiophile AV40 Powered Reference Monitors $149
- Alesis M1 Active 320 Black Studio Monitor Pair $99
- Behringer Truth B1030A Active Monitor Pair $199
When you go to the music store to buy your gear, it is best to buy it all at one time. Speaking from experience, the sales staff at Guitar Center would throw in cables, or reduce the price on certain items when customers came in making a big purchase. Ask for some free cables, or a free pop filter, mic stand etc… Good luck!
Additional Resources: Here are some more articles I found on assembling your studio on a budget.