I like backpacking. It’s relaxing, good exercise and increases your chances of an epic grizzly fight by about 100%. As any experienced backpacker should know (and have memorized) there’s what we call the “10 Essentials”: gear and items you need to necessitate your own survival in case you…well… end up alone in the woods. These are very basic human need things like clean water, food, insulating clothing, some form of fire making apparatus, shelter, etc. These things mean the difference between having a wonderfully pleasant backpacking experience versus being reduced to a panicky lost idiot.
To be fair, some people make a pretty good living doing that.
In a way, backpacking is similar to home recording in that it’s amazing what surprisingly little you need to do it properly. At least, in our experience: sure, there are hyper-minimalist artists who insist all you need is Garageband and a really, really quiet closet for a fantastic audio recording. We at Bigfoot aren’t exactly that stingy when it comes to beginning studio setups. On the other hand, there are those people who start by shelling out hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars on high-end preamps, huge mixing boards, and super expensive software in order to have nothing but the best for their first home recording rig. They’re like the pro audio equivalent of folks who call deluxe propane BBQ grills and above-ground-pools outside their RV “camping”.
No offense, Winnebago people.
Nothing like a huge asphalt slab to get you back to nature!
Anyway, we’re big fans of striking that delicate balance between practical and high-quality at Bigfoot, so for those of you who are looking to create your first ever home recording studio here’s our list of 5 Essentials for Home Recording: this is the gear you need to get going and get going right!
1) You Need a Good Computer
I suppose this first one is common sense, unless you’re a lo-fi indie alternative artist who only records on vintage tape decks and tin cans with string; but for the rest of you not hung up on your own creative pretense, the first thing to get yourself for a home recording studio is a good desktop or laptop computer. Granted, its 2016: it’s likely you have at least one of those already. But if you’ve yet to acquire one for yourself, we recommend getting something with the fastest, smoothest operating speed as possible and more memory the better. Desktops are usually preferable for non-portable setups as they tend to have upgradable RAM and superior processing power (generally), though I’ve found pretty good luck with laptop PC’s (and even iPads!) for on-the-go recording.
These days, you can find what you like pretty easily with a little research, or if you already have a desktop or laptop no older than six years or so, you’re probably fine to start. To be fair, we’re a music shop, not an electronics store; but we’ve had several decades of experience between us with recording setups and software, making our nerdiness a well-rounded nerdiness. If you’d like to pick our brains on our experiences and what we personally like and don’t, come into the shop anytime and hit us up! We’re always available to talk tech!
2) DAW & Interface Software/Hardware Combo
If you’re 100% new to all of this, let me give you a quick run-down on DAWs and interfaces. DAW (or Digital Audio Workstation) is the software that allows you to record, edit, mix, and master your audio tracks for a smooth, professional final product. Audio interfaces are the gadgets that capture and digitize the music you’re making to be used by the software. Big names in the DAW industry like Pro Tools and CuBase have been around a good while and are used heavily in the professional recording industry. However, there are nicer alternatives to these big, bloated software options that we at Bigfoot particularly like for the quality, intuitiveness, friendlier price tags and the convenience of an all-in-one deal.
Earlier this year I wrote up a shameless plug of our shop’s favorite DAW software, Studio One, and Presonus’ truly kickass interfaces which we believe make one of the best combos for beginning to professional recording. Click here for my ringing endorsement of Studio One.
- Tightly Integrated Software/Hardware: getting a DAW/Interface combo from the same manufacturer means smoother, more reliable interfacing and better final products. Presonus does this really well.
- It’s Highly Intuitive: Studio One just as much quality as ProTools or other big-name DAWs and just a many awesome features (including some exclusive stuff that only they provide) but isn’t as bloated or overwhelming. Ideal for beginners and pros alike as it doesn’t get any more complicated than you want it to.
- Affordable & Convenient: Getting the software/hardware combo will save you money and with several different combos to choose from, you can pick the ideal one for you and your setup!
We’ve been using AudioBox and Studio One for several years now and if you stop by the shop, we’re more than happy to show-and-tell our favorite DAW/interface combos for ya.
Now that you have stuff with which to mix, master, and capture your music, it’s time to go where the rubber meets the road…
3) A Versatile, One-and-Done Microphone
Wait, just one??
Though it’s true that as you grow and advance in your recording skills, you will inevitably develop a more sophisticated arsenal of gear along the way. This includes a bunch of different microphones, all with different specializations and advantages. However, for you first-timers (and those who like to save money!), here’s our best piece of advice for you:
Keep it simple!
Believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to engross yourself in the colorful spectrum of all things microphone; but we gotta start somewhere and Bigfoot’s best suggestion for a do-it-all recording mic is none other than the industry-standard Shure SM57. It’s simple, highly versatile, and not too expensive making it ideal for most beginning recording artists. Shure SM57’s are excellent both in and out of the studio, being particularly handy for both instrument and vocal tracks. Shure also builds all their mics very rugged and fool-proof, so you’ll be making a worthy investment in each one you buy.
We also recommend Audix, a world-renowned local microphone manufacturer known for their high-class and affordable studio mics and recording kits. Specifically, we recommend checking out their answer to the Shure SM57 which they call the i5 mic. It’s pretty sweet. Check ‘em out here and my happy little rant about them here. Or, better yet, stop on by the shop and ask us about what microphone(s) would be best for you!
4) Good Studio Monitors
Three words for you: powered, bi-amped, active. Three little magic words that will guide you in your selection of excellent studio monitor speakers. Some of our favorite studio monitors here at the shop are the Presonus Eris series powered speakers. True to form, Presonus continues in their quest to make the best quality stuff affordable with the Eris professional studio monitors as they provide some of the best, most faithful audio you can fit on your desk. Sure, a huge part of being a mix master is the good ear; but a good ear won’t get you very far if you can’t hear everything that you need to. These guys will set you up for success...without murdering your bank account.
5) A Hearty Pair of Headphones
Here’s a fair question: “Why headphones AND studio monitors? Can’t you just use one or the other?” Great question. Short answer: sure, but it’s not ideal if the goal is to get professional quality recordings. Long answers:
1) Think of studio headphones being a tool for the actual recording and capturing step and studio monitors being the tool for mixing and mastering the captured tracks. As anyone who’s used the “Garageband-and-iPhone” approach can tell you, unless you have some way of isolating the playback from each track as you record, you’re liable to deal with nasty feedback issues. It also gets obnoxious recording and layering tracks using only speakers since playback will be bleed into each new track, making it muddy and gross sounding by the time you’ve added more than two layers. Studio headphones allow you to listen to playback as you record without getting it muddled up in the mix later on.
2) Professional grade headphones have excellent low-end response and killer EQ, but remember you’re still dealing with small, limited drivers for each ear. To mix while hearing the fullest dynamic range possible you’re better off doing your editing and mixing with studio monitors. That way you get the fullness and accuracy of your final product as you go with less chance of weird EQ misbalances and clipping.
You need both studio monitor speakers and headphones to get the job done well. At Bigfoot, we’re very big fans of Shure’s Professional Studio Headphones. They’re affordable, rugged and available in good, better, and best models. Also, DO NOT mistake big price tags on headphones for professional quality. Those ridiculous “Beats” by Dre headphones have about five bucks worth of electronics in them and are not EQ’d for proper mixing. Don’t be a slave to dumb fashion and come on into to Bigfoot to check out our sweet selection of top-quality headphones instead!
If they weren't just about fashion statement,
you think he'd be wearing those over his ears.
For more information regarding your first home recording rig, stop on by the shop or contact us via Facebook or email. Also, if you like talkin’ tech and hearing about the latest gear, subscribe to our newsletter and get a sweet deal!
Stay excellent and have a good week!