The HQ of any indie musician is is home studio. There are a myriad of options as far as monitors, computers, keyboards, headphones, mics and other equipment that you might need or want. However, most indie musicians have a limited budget for starting off. Today we’ll look at the bare minimum equipment you’d need to start making some quality tunes.
If posisble, it’s best to decide on what digital audio workstation you’ll use before purchasing any of these items since it will influence what kind of computer you need and what kind of software instruments you might want to purchase. Check out our previous article here on that subject.
As always, these are just suggestions based on a few independant musicians, myself and Cutman’s experience and input. There are always other options out there, but we’re focusing on how to get the most for your money.
In this article, we’ll look at some handy suggestions for your computer, MIDI controller, Monitors and Headphones. Are prices are rough estimations of average prices at the time of writing this, so make sure you shop around!
The heart of your your home studio is the computer. I’m not going to go into TONS of detail on this, it could be its own article. We’d recommend you get the most powerful computer you can afford. Few things are as intensive as audio processing on a computer. If you can get a SSD hard drive, this helps immensely in speeding up load times and giving you better latency, but it really isn’t needed to produce music.
Most DAWS systems work with dual monitors and most studio buffs will tell you they can’t live without two big flatscreens. Additionally, you’ll want a computer that has a good cooling system, ample storage space and all the normal things like antivirus protection and surge protectors.
Mac or PC?
The decision to get a Mac or a PC mostly depends on your choice of DAWS since not all are available on the Mac platform. If you do go with Mac, you will be closing the door on a lot of VSTi/VST technology that doesn’t play nice on a Mac. This includes useful chiptune tools like the VOPM vst for doing FM synthesis (Sega Genesis) sounds. I have an old laptop with Cubase on it just for the rare occasion I simply MUST use a VST. The bottom line is you’ll probably get more for your money from PC than with MAC.
A MIDI Controller keyboard is not a necessity but it does make composing super easy and actually give you something tangible to “play” on. You could build everything in a tracker or your DAWS but having a keyboard is great for getting into the live vibe of making music even when sitting at home and composing on a laptop.
Good headphones are perhaps the most essential component of making quality music. You have to be able to hear what’s really going on in your tracks. Richard D. James, who has more rare gear than many other musicians combined, once said in an interview, “All you really need to make electronic music these days is a laptop and a good pair of headphones”. If you can’t afford anything but a computer and headphones, make sure you get one of these great pairs.
Monitors are essential to understanding what your song “really” sounds like. Home sound system speakers, PC speakers, car stereos and headphones all tweak the raw signal with extra bass and sometimes highs. This means that if you mix your songs relying on one of these systems, you may be over- or under-compensating for what the speakers do. Monitors produce unaffected audio that helps you know what your song actually sounds like in its most raw format.
Take the time to read up on positioning monitors correctly and how the room size and wall material effects the sound you hear. At first, you might not notice much difference by these elements, but they will have an impact on your final product.
If you plan to record acoustic instruments or perform live or sing, you’ll need a mic. The SM58 is a standard but decent quality mic for starting out. If you plan on tracking lots of live instruments, you might want to get a digital audio interface as well, but we’ll get into this in a future article too.
Now that you have your home studio built, you need to look at getting the right plugins for creating some awesome tunes, third-party programs for mastering and mixing, and a few other useful bits. We’ll take a look at this next time. As these posts continue, they’ll alternate between talking about the gear and technical topics and talking about the business and lifestyle side of things.