The essentials you’ll need for making good quality recordings at home
For those of you about to start recording at home, you may be thinking that you’re about to enter a world of confusion and complication. In actual fact, with the right equipment at home to do the job, you can make high-quality recordings (and move on from using your iPhone all the time) very easily and at a relatively low cost. Just like your instrument, your recording equipment is an investment that, when looked after, will last for many years and will allow you to create song after song in the comfort of your own home. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of absolute essentials you’ll need to record high-quality demos at home without breaking the bank, so when you ask yourself “how do I record my guitar at home” you’re all set.
An easy to use Audio Interface
First things first, you’re going to need an audio interface to actually record your tracks with, we can argue what actually comes first, the mic or the software, but we’re at a chicken and the egg scenario here, so just go with it. You need an audio interface that will allow for line-level device recording, and recording directly through a guitar lead etc. as well as a microphone input for vocals or guitar amps. That way you have the option to just plug in and throw some ideas down or record when you’ve set up your mic.
A great starting point, and a very easy to use option is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface. It’s compatible with PC and Mac and is very much a plug in and play interface that houses two high-quality, award-winning microphone preamps that really ensure you’re capturing sounds at high quality. It’s great for beginners who want to record, but will also stand up against pro interfaces easily. When you want to jump into the big leagues, the upgrade to the Focusrite Clarett 2 Pre Thunderbolt Audio Interface is there when you get serious.
Next up you’ll need some software, otherwise known as a DAW to track and manipulate your recordings. If you’ve got a mac, you’ll likely have Garageband pre-loaded so it’s a good idea to start messing around with that to get a feel for how to record with a click track, tracking, editing etc. But when you want to get into it seriously, you’ll want to upgrade to a better digital audio workstation for greater control over your sound. The likes of Cubase Elements or Ableton Live are perfect for professional use on stage and in the home studio – plus they’re loaded with great filters, reverb channels EQ capabilities and all sorts of goodies that you’ll need to sculpt your sound.
Good quality microphones
When it comes to microphones you really have to be careful what you go for here as there are a lot of really bad ones out there. Failure to use a decent microphone will result in dodgy sounding demos and make you feel like your recordings really aren’t working. For a little extra you can get a world-class industry standard microphone that lasts forever. So which one do you choose?
For vocals and acoustic guitars, you’ll need a condenser microphone. As far as quality goes, there are loads out there, often as part of a multi-pack with popper stopper and elasticated cradle, but we’d recommend the likes of the Sontronics STC-2 Cardioid condenser, or if you haven’t already got an audio interface, the Focusrite Scarlett Studio Recording Package includes the 2i2 as well as a condenser mic, XLR lead and headphones. For electric guitars and drums we’d recommend the industry standard Shure SM57 Microphone – it just works and is widely regarded as the microphone of choice for some of the world’s top producers, in fact, most of Nirvana’s drum tracks on Nevermind were recorded with this – so you know it’s good. You can actually use the SM-57 for vocals too, so either way, you’ve got yourself a workhorse of a mic with one of them in your rig.
Monitors are another home studio essential, as mixing on headphones doesn’t always give you an accurate representation of the sound of your recording. For example, you may have a set of headphones that sound a little muffled, or a little more bass orientated, which will affect the mix. Investing in a decent pair of studio monitors will up your game and help you to get your studio demos sounding tip-top when it comes to the mixing stage.
The industry standard Yamaha HS7 Active Reference Monitor is a great place to start, or the likes of the KRK Rokit RP5 G3 Monitor Speakers set will definitely get your mixes sounding good.
If you don’t have the time or space to completely soundproof your room (understandable of course), you’ll need the next best thing – a vocal booth. When recording vocals, in an untreated room, you risking all sorts of rubbish making it into the mix, unwanted reverb, bird noises, the humming of the fridge etc. so a vocal booth is a great investment as it helps control what goes into the microphone and makes your vocals sound crisper and clearer. There are a myriad of different options out there but again, you don’t need to spend a fortune to minimise noise. The essentials vocal booth is a great option and attaches to your mic stand easily. Which brings me to my next point…
Microphone stands are another essential item for the home recording enthusiast which are often overlooked. We’ve all been there – precariously balancing our microphones on books, shoes and broomsticks, but there comes a time when mic-ing up our amp, drum kit, or vocals becomes serious business, so you need the kit to go with it. Again, it doesn’t have to be an expensive item, just a reliable one. A boom stand from the essentials range will last a lifetime and can be used at the most awkward angles whether placed in front of an amp, hovering over a kit or stood straight up for vocals. It’s also a good idea to leave the mic stands set up in front of your amp for when inspiration strikes – at any given moment you’re ready to record.
You’re also going to need some XLR cables to hook your mics up to. Again there are many different brands to choose from, but it depends on how much you want to spend. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to effectively record your music, but paying a little extra means you get that little extra quality shining through in your recordings. Stagg make great value for money XLR leads perfect for amateurs to professionals and I would recommend them to anyone starting out, however for a little extra you can get the likes of a Neat Beeline or Planet Waves option which is backed with a lifetime guarantee.
A good set of headphones for recording is a must. You need an accurate representation of what’s being recorded as well as something that will drown out external noises and offer good isolation whilst you play. The best kind of monitor headphones are those that cover the entire ear, as they do exactly what you need them to – isolate you so you can hear the sounds you need. Again the essentials range is a perfect option, especially their aptly titled Studio Monitoring Headphones which are perfect for starting out with until you upgrade. Again, you shouldn’t really mix with headphones on, they should just be used to whilst recording, so you can monitor whats going on. Get your sound without headphones first!
It’s important that they are comfortable too, as there’s a chance you’ll be wearing them for hours on end, so make sure they’re not pressing on your ears and can be adjusted easily – there’s nothing worse than earache when trying to record!
If you’re recording vocals, whether spoken word, voice-overs or audio tracks for your latest demo, you’ll need a popper stopper or pop filter as it’s widely known. When recording without one you might find that your “P’s” & “B’s” sound really poppy and distorted. A pop filter eliminates the low-frequency turbulence that causes these troublesome sounds and adds a smoothness to your recording. The pop filter is a necessity if you want good quality recordings and shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to creating a home studio. When you’re ready to move on from a sock stretched over a coat hanger, the Essentials PF1 pop filter is there to save the day, or go for a bundle Sontronics STC-20 Microphone Pack or Rode NT1-A Complete Vocal Recording Solution and get pretty much everything you need in one go.
Finally, you’re going to need some patience. Recording high-quality demos isn’t something that just comes easy – we can’t all become the next Butch Vig or Rick Rubin overnight! Practice with different mics, amps and set ups to get the right sound that you’ve been looking for. Learn how to use everything you’re doing along the way and don’t get too bogged down in the details of perfect reverb techniques or room acoustic treatment before laying down some tracks and letting inspiration flow. Recording is a learning curve and an enjoyable one at that, so surround yourself with the right gear and get to work!
View the full range of studio equipment at the Dawsons website.
Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.