Do you want to make professional music at home? In this article you learn how to set up a small home studio, even with a low budget. We talk about the computer, DAW software, the audio interface and much more. It certainly does not have to cost you much money. Even with a limited budget, you will soon make quality music at home!
What do you need for a small home studio?
- Desktop computer or laptop
- DAW software (DAW = Digital Audio Workstation)
- Audio interface
- Studio monitors
- MIDI keyboard
- Samples (optional)
- Synthesizer plugins (optional)
- Synthesizer hardware (optional)
- Room treatment (optional)
The first 5 parts are enough to create your first beats and melodies with mouse and keyboard: the computer, DAW software, audio interface, studio monitors and headphones. If you have budget left after that, I would definitely consider a MIDI keyboard and microphone. A MIDI keyboard turns your computer into a classic music workstation. It allows you to play virtual pianos, synthesizers, string orchestras and drums. Are you a singer songwriter? Then a good condenser microphone is highly recommended. This way you can directly record vocals and instruments such as an acoustic guitar.
Later you can expand the home studio with the optional parts (see 8 –11). But first you need to know your DAW software well. Then you know exactly what you have. Later you determine whether and which optional parts you need.
Let’s take a look at the different parts of the home studio. Click on the list above to go directly to the relevant section!
1. Desktop computer or laptop
There is a good chance that you can immediately start making music on your computer at home. Many people swear by macOS, but you can also use Windows 10. It’s just a matter of the operating system you prefer.
What are the minimum system requirements for a home studio computer?
The processor, RAM and amount of storage space are much more important than the operating system. Your computer must at least have a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 15-inch display. Furthermore, a flash drive with 256 GB storage is the minimum for your DAW software, samples and music projects. A flash drive is definitely a must have when making music on your laptop.
In short, the minimum system requirements for a home studio computer are:
- Intel Core i5 processor
- 8 GB RAM memory
- 256GB flash drive
- 15 inch screen
Is your computer powerful enough? Then you can take a look at the DAW software.
How to choose a new computer for my small home studio?
When you’re looking for a new computer, you first have to choose between the desktop or laptop. A desktop is usually much more powerful (and cheaper) than a laptop. So only buy a laptop if you are travelling often.
The screen is important when purchasing a laptop. You need at least a 15 inch screen or even better. You can also connect your laptop to an external screen. In my home studio I have a nice 27-inch screen.
Harder better faster stronger
For all hardware, faster and more is always better. Make sure that your computer does not make too much noise. This way you have as little background noise as possible when recording vocals and acoustic instruments.
2. DAW software
One of the most important decisions you make is the DAW software. It’s the program that transforms your computer into a complete music studio. It will be your companion for hundreds of hours in future, so you should feel good about it. The workflow has to suit you.
The most popular DAW software for EDM producers
If the big boys use it then it must be good, right? Below you will find an overview of the most popular DAW software for electronic musicians.
- Ableton Live
- FL Studio
- Logic Pro (macOS only)
- PreSonus Studio One
- Bitwig Studio
Logic Pro is only available for macOS. The other DAWs are available for Windows too.
What is the best DAW software for my small home studio?
All DAW software mentioned is suitable for music production at home. Be sure to try some demos to find out which program is the best for your needs. I chose Ableton Live because the workflow is clear for me. But for you it can be different of course.
Have you made a choice? Then get to know all the ins and outs of your DAW software. Learn the most important keyboard shortcuts by heart. This way you can quickly turn a musical idea into a song on the computer.
Tip: did you know that DAW software is often included with an audio interface?
3. Audio Interface
The audio interface connects the different parts of the home studio, see the image above. These connections include the computer, studio monitors, headphones, microphone and musical instruments. The audio interface converts analog signals into digital signals and vice versa.
It ensures that your computer can play back music without any latency. That’s why I recommend buying an audio interface right away.
Often the audio interface has also MIDI inputs and outputs for a synthesizer or drum machine. It allows you to control your external instruments via a MIDI track in your DAW software.
Which audio interface do I need?
Before purchasing an audio interface, you should consider how many inputs and outputs you need. The more inputs you need, the more expensive the audio interface.
Most of us have enough with 1 microphone and 1 instrument input. In that case you can already buy an excellent audio interface for 100 to 200 euros, for example the Presonus Studio 24c. Studio One Artist and Ableton Live Lite are included. So you can immediately start recording tracks on your PC or Mac.
When more than 2 inputs?
More than 2 inputs is useful when you have 3 or more musical instruments in your studio. Such as a synthesizer, drum machine or guitar. By connecting them in advance, everything is immediately available for a recording without changing cables.
You also need more inputs when you want to record your band members on several different tracks in a live situation.
48V phantom power for vocal microphone
Studio condenser microphones are great for vocals. They often need a 48V phantom power supply. See the blue button on the above audio interface.
Hi-Z for guitar
You can record electric guitar directly into the computer when you have an audio interface with Hi-Z support. After switching on Hi-Z, the (weak) signal of your electric guitar will be amplified for recording into your DAW.
4. Studio monitor
Dedicated studio monitors play music without “enhancing” the sound. They let you make better decisions while mixing your music. Cheap computer speakers often add more bass and treble for a “better” listening experience.
Go for active monitors
Make sure you choose for a set of active studio monitors with a built-in amplifier. This allows you to connect them directly to your audio interface. You don’t need a separate amplifier.
Studio monitors are available in different shapes and sizes. The size you need depends on the size of the room. In a small room it is better to opt for smaller studio monitors with speakers from 5 to 6 inches. In large rooms you need bigger speakers.
There are excellent studio monitors for every budget. You certainly don’t have to buy the most expensive set. Consider the popular KRK Rokit 5 G4 if you are just starting out with music production. KRK is a renowned brand and has been at the top of the market for years. The Rokit 5 G4 can be precisely adjusted to your small home studio room for the best listening experience.
A good pair of headphones is very useful in addition to studio monitors. If you want to record vocals and acoustic instruments, headphones are even necessary. This way the microphone doesn’t also capture the sounds from the studio monitors while recording your vocals. Your recordings are cleaner and easier to mix with the other tracks of your song.
Which headphones do I need for vocal recordings?
It is best to wear closed headphones when recording vocals and instruments. The ear cups completely close off your ears from the environment and eliminate loud noises while recording near the microphone. The Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro are excellent headphones for this purpose for under 200 euros.
Which headphones should I use for mixing?
Open headphones are recommended if you want to mix music without disturbing other family members. Thanks to the openings on the outside of the earcups, the open headphones are very comfortable. You can make music for hours while wearing them. The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro is highly recommended if you are looking for an open pair of headphones under 200 euros.
These are the 5 most essential parts in your home studio. Now you can create beats and melodies using your mouse and keyboard. Let’s take a look at the MIDI devices and microphones.
6. MIDI keyboard
It is absolutely possible to make music using your mouse and keyboard. But a MIDI keyboard is very nice to have around. Especially if you are a good keyboard player. Most MIDI keyboards are easily connected to the computer via USB. The MIDI keyboard allows you to play virtual instruments and record them in a MIDI track in your DAW software.
Many keyboards are velocity sensitive for dynamic sounding piano parts and drums. The more expensive ones have even aftertouch. With aftertouch you can manipulate controls of a virtual synthesizer by pressing the keys a little harder while playing. For example for a nice filter sweep.
Which MIDI keyboard do I need?
MIDI keyboards are available in different sizes. You have compact keyboards with 25 keys to large ones with 88 keys. Many keyboards also have a set of velocity sensitive drum pads, sliders and knobs. This way you can mix or operate a filter of a synthesizer without a computer mouse.
Personally, I have been working with a Novation keyboard in my home studio for years. Highly recommended is the Novation LaunchKey 49 MK3 with 49 keys, 16 pads, 9 faders and 8 rotary knobs. Ableton Live Lite is included, so it’s all you need to get started to make some music.
Drum pads and controllers
In addition to the MIDI keyboard, there are also controllers available with drum pads and with lots of faders and knobs for mixing.
Ableton Live users can consider the Push controller. This fantastic device is fully integrated with Live. The downside is that Push is quite pricey.
7. Microphone, microphone stand, cables and a pop filter
It’s always great to record unique sounds at home for your songs. Dynamic and condenser microphones both have unique characteristics.
The dynamic microphone is designed for hard-sounding instruments that you want to record up close. For example drums or a guitar amplifier. You don’t need phantom power while using a dynamic microphone.
The Shure SM57 dynamic microphone is highly recommended. This classic model is incredibly robust and will last a lifetime. It is a one-time investment.
The condenser microphone is suitable for vocals and softer sounding instruments such as an acoustic guitar. This microphone has a wide frequency range for detailed recordings. You need to turn on the 48V phantom power on your audio interface or it won’t work.
Shock mount and pop filter
Condenser microphones are very sensitive to vibrations. That’s why you need to install them in a shock mount on a stand. By placing a pop filter in front of the microphone, you prevent popping sounds while singing. The pop filter protects the sensitive diaphragm of the microphone from air movement.
Furthermore, the condenser microphone is quite fragile. So you have to handle it with care. In any case, don’t drop it or it may break. Tip: keep it in the shock mount on the microphone stand. Cover it with a clean plastic bag against dust and moisture while not in use.
The Rode Rode NT1-A is highly recommended thanks to its warm and clear sound and the large dynamic range. It’s delivered with a shock mount, pop filter and microphone cable. So you only need a stand or microphone arm for your studio desk. The Samson C01 is a good budget alternative.
Today’s DAW software often comes with tons of samples. Ableton Live brings even more than 70 GB of samples to the table. But sometimes you just can’t find a sound which brings your track to the next level. Then you can take a look at the offers of third party sample makers like Loopmasters and Prime Loops. They offer complete packages with loops and samples in different genres such as techno, house, R&B, hip-hop and rock. Of course after payment. You also have some smaller companies delivering sample libraries, like our home made Synthetic Drums sample pack.
Subscription Services: Netflix for Electronic Musicians
Monthly subscription services have been on the rise the last few years. These services allow you to download a specific number of samples every month. Splice, Loopcloud and Noizz offer such a subscription service. You can first listen to the individual samples before you decide to add them to your track. It is also possible to choose samples from different sample packages. Once downloaded, you may use the samples forever. Subscriptions charge about the same amount as Netflix.
9. Synthesizer Plugins
In addition to samples, most DAW software comes with drum and synthesizer instruments. You can also use plug-ins from other software manufacturers. Gear addiction warning: it can be a huge distraction from your music production!
Personal favorite synthesizers are U-he Diva and Lennar Digital Sylenth1. Diva emulates the sound of analog synthesizers. Sylenth1 is perfect for creating epic dance music. Diva and Sylenth1 sound great and are relatively easy to program. A crowd favorite is the wavetable synthesizer Xfer Serum.
In addition to synthesizers, there are also plug-ins that use their own unique sample libraries. Popular examples include Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Refx Nexus.
10. Synthesizer hardware
In addition to plug-ins, you can also use hardware synthesizers. The advantage of hardware synths is that they have real knobs and faders. So you can intuitively manipulate sounds while playing.
The disadvantage is that polyphonic models are pricy. And typically you can not save the settings of your synth in your music projects. Often you can store a limited amount of sounds on the hardware itself. Or even not at all. Once you dial in a nice sound on your synthesizer you do want to record it immediately into your DAW.
Recommended: Novation Bass Station II
The Novation Bass Station II synthesizer is recommended for beginners. It has a beautiful analog sound and is relatively easy to operate. You can use for deep bass, pads and percussion sounds. It’s easily connected to the computer via USB. That way you can control it via a MIDI track from within your DAW software. Initially, the Bass Station II was monophonic. But since the update it can also be used in two voices. It’s a perfect synthesizer for the home studio.
Do you have the Bass Station II synthesizer at home? I created a deep house preset pack. It’s available in the shop.
11. Room treatment for better recording and mixing
With all that gear, your recording studio will probably need some room treatment. The bare walls and corners can cause nasty sound reflections. Due to these reflections, it can be difficult to make a good mix using your studio monitors. When recording vocals and instruments, a non-isolated home studio is not ideal too.
Has your home studio not been treated yet? Then you can alternatively use headphones while mixing your tracks.
Reflection filter for vocals
For vocals, you can use a reflection filter to counteract unwanted reverberation. Tip: place the singer in the center of the studio space for the most natural sound.
No, unfortunately egg cartons do not work. In the longer term, you can consider acoustic wall panels, see the image of the singer above. You can order the panels online from web shops or try to make them yourself.