What recording studio equipment do you need to start recording a song? So many bedroom producers have asked this question, so I thought I’d present a guide on the topic.
You don’t need a professional recording studio. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on new equipment. There are some things you do need to get, but there are plenty of affordable (and free) options.
So here’s what I believe to be the essential recording studio equipment and software you’ll need to produce music at home.
What Equipment And Software Do You Need?
I use the word “need” loosely here. I often point out that an 18-year-old produced one of Kendrick Lamar’s songs completely on an iPhone. So if you have no money, you still have an entire recording setup in your pocket.
But, if you’re thinking about getting a nice little home-studio setup, there are some pieces of equipment and software you should get.
Laptop / Desktop
The first thing you need you probably already have. Whether you have a laptop or a desktop, an HP or an Apple, you’re all set.
If you don’t have one though, you can get a Microsoft-run laptop for about $600. That may sound like a lot of money, and I agree it is. But it’s an investment that will last years (if you take care of it) and it should end up paying for itself.
Apple computers are a bit more expensive (about $1,000), but they do come preloaded with GarageBand, a super awesome free digital audio workstation (DAW).
Speaking of DAWs, that’s the next thing you’ll need.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the piece of software you use to record music. And don’t think you have to spend a whole paycheck on a new one — there are plenty of affordable and free DAWs out there. We wrote a whole blog post on DAWs and how to use them, but we’ll summarize some of it here.
Apple computers come with a DAW called GarageBand built into them. It’s one of the best DAWs for beginners producers. It’s easy to use, it has great-sounding virtual instruments, and it gives you access to a ton of professional-level effects.
There’s also Ableton Live, which is popular with DJs because it’s a DAW that is also built for live performance. It has a playback mode that allows crossfades, warping, and a bunch of other features that DJs love. It comes in three versions: Intro (basic version), Standard (some but not all features), and Suite (full version with everything Ableton Live offers).
FL Studio is another popular DAW, especially with producers who like to make beats. FL actually started as a drum sequencer, slowly growing into a fully-featured piece of recording software. They say its drag-and-drop feature is super easy to use, which is good news if you’re new to DAWs in general. It, too, has three versions with varying degrees of features: Fruity, Producer, and Signature.
If you like GarageBand but want a little more, Logic Pro X is Apple’s answer for you. Because Apple owns and runs it, it’s not available on Windows computers, but it’s still one of the most loved DAWs. Like GarageBand, Logic has a huge library of sounds and loops for you to use, a bunch of plugins, and it also comes with Apple support.
However, if you can’t afford an Apple computer there are plenty of Microsoft-friendly DAWs.
My favorite is Reaper, which can pretty much do everything the expensive DAWs can do but with a simple interface and a much more appealing price tag. You can get the full version for free, but they ask you to buy a license depending on how much money you make from music and how you’ll be using it.
Pro Tools also has a free DAW called Pro Tools First that you should check out. It looks like an especially good option if you plan to upgrade to the full version of Pro Tools at some point.
Microphone (Mic Stand, XLR Cable)
Next, you’ll need a microphone, unless you produce electronic music. But if you’re working with any sort of live instrument, you’ll need a mic, a mic stand, an XLR cable, and a pop filter if you’ll be recording vocals.
Here are the mics I’d suggest checking out:
- The Shure SM58 (the standard for dynamic mics)
- The Audio-Technica AT2035 (I own this one and love it)
- The MXL 990 (it’s got great reviews).
With these mics, you’ll also need an audio interface (more on that below). But if you’d rather not spend the extra money, you can pick up a USB microphone, which (you guessed it) plugs right into your computer’s USB port. For a quality USB mic, I’d recommend looking at the Rode Podcaster.
And you can pick one up for under $200. I use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and recommend it as the perfect choice for home producers. But you can also look at the PreSonus AudioBox or the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
Monitors And Headphones
It’s also very important to get a good pair of headphones and monitors (studio speakers). While we’re all familiar with headphones, there are two specific types of headphones we need to cover: closed-back headphones and open-back headphones.
Closed-back headphones are good for recording because they offer sound isolation. That way, you can use them for live monitoring while you track and the sound from the headphones won’t bleed into your recording. The only thing is that the more isolation you have, the lower the sound quality.
For a nice pair of closed-back headphones, I use and highly recommend the Sennheiser HD280PRO headphones.
And when you’re mixing, you want the best sound quality possible. That’s why you should either use studio monitors or open-back headphones, preferably you’d switch between the two.
Desk And Office Chair
The focal point of your studio is going to be your workstation — your desk and your chair. So it only makes sense that you choose carefully. And you don’t have to spend a ton of money on these. You can find both at your local thrift store if you have to.
Just make sure the desk is sturdy enough to hold all your equipment — it would be preferable to have a high desk that puts the computer at a higher level. If not, you can put your computer on top of something to raise it up, like a wooden crate (what I use).
The chair also needs to be comfy. You’ll hopefully be spending a lot of time in it, so you shouldn’t be thinking about your comfort when you’re in the music-making zone.
Now that you’re ready to get your studio set up and your songs tracked on your new equipment, there’s one last step to consider: mastering.
After recording, editing, and mixing, you’ll want to master your tracks so they meet industry standards. eMastered has developed a surprisingly good automated mastering software. You can get online access to it and master an unlimited number of songs
Final Considerations: Your Listening And Recording Environment
You can have all the nice equipment in the world, but if your recording space has terrible sound, it’s going to be super difficult to create great music. That’s why you definitely want to consider treating your room with things like bass traps, acoustic panels, and diffusers.
In an untreated room, your live instruments won’t sound as good as they could. Plus, the mix you hear coming out of the monitors won’t be accurate and your mix will probably be off.
That’s why we wrote a whole guide on how to treat your room. You can check it out right here.
Caleb J. Murphy
Caleb J. Murphy is a songwriter and producer based in Austin, TX.