30 Nov Setting up a Home Studio
Great fun and easier than you think! Not…
If you thinking of setting up a small home studio, either to record audio or for YouTube videos, here are your Ten steps for success.
When we first set our little studio up we all thought that it would be easy; after all, we didn’t need CD quality sound or TV production levels.
So how hard could it be to edit a 3 minute video with a single sound source and a static camera? Quite hard in fact and very time consuming is the answer to that one.
It was not easy to get any good, consistent advice – try searching for ‘setting up a studio’ on Google or YouTube – so we tried the old fashioned route and spoke to a sound technician and a cameraman (or two). Then, by a bit of trial and error and the odd duff purchase we finally got there!
So here are our ten steps to success:
- Find a dedicated room
- Decide on your gear
- Choose your microphone
- Choose an audio interface
- Choose your DAW
- Choose your monitors
- Video set up
- Connect it all up
- Post production
Step One: Find a dedicated room
This should be a quiet space with good sound deadening qualities (carpets are good as they help stop too much reverb) and, if you are videoing, limited natural light as you can’t control natural light. It will also need to be big enough to get your gear in and a place you can get loud!
Step two: Decide on your gear
As well as a laptop/PC you will need:
If you just want to record audio a microphone with stand, an audio interface (to capture the sound) and audio editing software. Headphones and monitors are also good so you can playback your recording and listen to it whilst it is being recorded.
If you want to video some dedicated studio lights, a video camera (your smartphone may be good enough) with tripod and video editing software.
Add in cables, stands, desk, leads, power supplies and accessories.
Step Three: Choose your microphone
You may be able to connect your amp to the audio interface via a DI, but if your amp doesn’t have this you will need a microphone. These come in three types: for amps you need an instrument mic such as the Shure SM57; for voice you need a voice mic such as the Shure SM58 and for an acoustic guitar a dedicated mic such as the AKG Perception 220.
All of these need stands and cables. You can of course use a Zoom type recorder and dispense with the audio interface and computer but where is the fun in that!
Step Four: Choose an audio interface
Easiest way for this is to decide on the number of inputs (which can be ¼” jacks or XLR) you want for guitar and mic ensuring you won’t run out in the future. You can have anything from 2 to 12 or more, but if you are a solo guitar performer you might get away with two – one for the guitar and one for the mic. If you are a band then you will need many more!
Popular interfaces include Tascam, Focusrite, PreSonius, Behringer and Native Instruments.
The interface connects to your computer and feeds into your editing software or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Step Five: Choose your DAW
This sits at the heart of your set-up so it is important you choose the right one for you that let’s you create your music as easily as possible – some of these are devilishly complicated!
Depending on your level of ability in using software programs and understanding of the technical terms it is best to use a simple program to start.
If you are an Apple user try GarageBand, which is said to be easy to use. Otherwise take a look at these: Cuckos Reaper, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, PreSonius Studio One. Most you have to pay for, but you may get one free with the interface that you buy.
Step Six: Choose your monitors
These are essential so you can hear back (or in real-time) what you have recorded. If you have a hi-fi system in the same room you can connect your audio interface to this; if not you will need some monitors.
These are active speakers that have a built-in amplifier. If you have decent speakers connected to your computer these can suffice or you can go the whole hog and buy dedicated monitors.
Step Seven: Video set up
If you are adding video to your studio then you will need a crash course in lighting so you (or your guitarist) don’t look washed out. You also need to get a feel for what to put in the background, how to speak and move and what to play – YouTube don’t like ‘cover songs’ and can block/remove some videos if it infringes copyright.
Do you know how difficult it is to come up with original riffs and chord changes when testing a guitar? You will also need a thick skin for when viewers are rude about your playing!
We used black out curtains behind and two studio lights on tripods to get the right ambience for the video. You will need a tripod for your camera/phone and a means of downloading this to your computer so you can add it to your video editing software – we use Adobe Premier Elements.
Step Eight: Connect it all up!
Find the best mic positions for your amp or acoustic guitar; try your amp straight into the interface via DI if it has one; make sure it all works seamlessly and you are happy with the sound level and quality. If videoing try different lighting set-ups, camera angles and views.
Step Nine: Recording
This is where the monitors come in as you can hear what is being recorded and also playback quickly what you have just recorded. Like using a looper, practice makes perfect and you might have to do several takes before you are happy with the final cut!
After a few sessions you get used to doing the takes and know what will work and what won’t.
Step Ten: Post production
You can now spend hours happily editing the audio and video. Before you edit the video ensure you delete the sound track from the camera and add the sound track from your DAW!
The hardest part? Getting the sound to match exactly the video…
What you need
Some of this kit you may already have or can borrow but you can’t get away without the software and the hours of patience needed to learn how to use it fully.
Theatre/stage curtains – black approx. £60.00
Photo SEL spotlights x 2 £100
Shure SM57 microphone (for the amp) £85
Shure SM58 microphone (for vocals) £95
AKG Perception 220 microphone (for acoustic guitar and vocals) £125
Sony Handycam digital video camera £250
Tascam US-600 audio interface £135
Behringer MS16 active monitors £65
Adobe Premier Elements video editing software £65
Reaper audio software approx. £50
Various cables, leads, stands, stools and attachments
Laptop (needs to be powerful enough to cope with the video software)
You could probably set all this up for less than £500 but don’t skimp on the microphone, audio interface or camera as no matter how you edit, if the input is poor, the output will be also.
You can get free software but as with everything the more you pay the better features you get.
Learning to use the equipment and the software is great fun and very rewarding and each time you do it you’ll get better – our first videos now look very amateur!
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