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The best gear for home music production
It has never been easier to get into music production. Gone are the days of needing an entire studio to yourself in order to have a chance at recording quality music in a controlled environment. Instead, it is perfectly feasible for a budding producer to have a decent home studio just by making the most of their available PC, and the different parts available that help home music production and recording.
If you are looking to start out your career (or hobby) in producing or recording music on PC, then don’t worry, we can help. Whilst we can’t account for skill, we can account for the different pieces of gear and equipment that are going to help you get the best sound out of your instruments and onto your computer.
Your PC For Home Recording
Ok, let’s get the basics out of the way first and talk about what you are going to need from your PC. So, when it comes to recording music on a computer you are going to need something a little different than you would expect from say, a gaming PC.
That starts with your CPU. Now usually, when it comes to gaming and CPUs we would suggest something that can handle a single application well so that you get that peak performance. However, when it comes to recording music on a PC, you are going to need a CPU that’s capable of running several highly demanding applications at once.
With that in mind, we suggest that if you are looking to buy a new PC (or looking to build your own) then you should look for a multi-threaded AMD CPU. basically, this CPU is going to be more useful when it comes to running a DAW alongside production tools, as multi-threaded means that the CPU can handle more ‘thoughts’ (processes) at any one time. Vital if you want to be using hardware and software at the same time on your PC.
Now, whilst you won’t be too concerned with using the latest, top of the range graphics card, a staple of your music production PC should be a decent amount of RAM and internal memory. RAM is going to make your CPUs job so much easier, and as a result, your programs and recording software’s should run smoother if you use a higher capacity, quality RAM.
Now, the same is true of internal storage. You might be tempted to use a traditional hard drive, but when it comes to using your PC for music production, you are definitely going to want to install an SSD into your PC.
An SSD allows for your computer to function just as it would with a hard drive installed – but a lot quicker. Basically, all of your software will boot and load assets faster than if it was stored on a regular hard drive – useful when it comes to running a DAW that’s reliant on loading in different plugins and saved files.
Now, the two other main components to consider when it comes to your home studio PC are connectivity and cooling. Both of these can be addressed with the correct case and motherboard – basically, you want as much room as possible when it comes to USBs and different access points to your PC.
Then, a case can also help with airflow, keeping your PC quiet as it runs the (sometimes) harder tasks of your DAW or recording software – especially important if you are going to be using a microphone. Look into some more premium cooling solutions to see how to best keep your production PC cool, as it will pay off in the end – especially concerning its longevity and usability.
Once you have the best PC for home recording for you, then its time to look at what additional hardware you are going to need, as there are a few things that are absolutely vital when it comes to home music production, no matter what you want to record.
Also, we wanted to give a quick mention of Apple computers. Different products like the iMac of the Macbook Pro have lots of different readily available software available for home music production, so recording music on a Mac or even producing music on it isn’t too difficult – but there is a lot more flexibility when it comes to using a PC, especially if you are looking to use your PC for more than just production alone.
Essential Hardware For Home Recording
When it comes to recording music at home there are some pieces of hardware that are just essential: full stop. Starting with your PCs monitor, it’s going to be hard to under-emphasize why a great visual display is essential for recording music at home.
For one thing, you are going to need a lot of assets on your screen at any one time. This could mean your DAW alongside control panels for the other bits of hardware you have plugged not your PC, or even zooming in to minute detail on a certain section of a track for precise editing, but the point is you are going to want clarity on what you are doing.
We have run down some of the best monitors on the market today right here, but if you are concerned that you are going to be struggling with multitasking on a single monitor then look into the varied ultrawide screen setups there are out there or check out the possibility of using a dual-monitor setup. Both of these options are great for keeping an eye on multiple things at once, and you will find that a lot of producers use a similar kind of setup when it comes to recording.
Outside of visual monitors, you are going to need a great set of audio monitors on which to listen back to your creations. When it comes to audio monitors, we mean speakers; not headphones! Even though a headset is great for gaming, you should never listen to your audio mixes on them as they don’t always allow for the full dynamic range of sound to be played.
So, be sure to invest in a decent set of speakers for your PC. What you need to understand about audio monitors (as opposed to say, a speaker system) is that an audio monitor setup is designed to play back your tracks as precisely as possible. That means no enhancements, no in built-in bass boost – nothing like that. Just what you have created.
So, don’t be thinking that you can repurpose these monitors for other uses in your home. Set yourself a sensible budget, and understand that you need to find a set of monitors with a wide frequency range, that you can reasonably afford.
Also understand that a lot of professional music engineers take advantage of two sets of monitors, just to get a balanced audio output from their mix and that in order to fully analyze a bass-heavy sound then you may need to invest in a subwoofer for your setup – but you really should examine your budget and level of personal investment before splashing out on these additional features, as they can be costly.
Onto you mouse, and we recommend using a mouse that has a high DPI setting. Why? Well mainly because you are going to want to perform intricate editing on your different tracks, and having a low DPI on your mouse could result in annoying pixel skips as you try and highlight a certain section of the track itself.
Luckily there are plenty of gaming mice on the market that allows for a high DPI, and are pretty affordable to boot. Some even come with adjustable DPI settings built-in, so you can adjust how your mouse performs as you edit, removing the need for time-consuming setup.
Then there is your keyboard. Realistically you want a durable keyboard that will be easy to navigate, because if you are going to be using a DAW that allows macros to be programmed then you are going to want them to be easily accessible. Again, you can look to gaming keyboards for an answer as they are often designed with performance in mind.
But, these are just the bare essentials, now I want to run through some of the additional hardware that you should consider investing in if you are looking to set yourself up a proper home production studio.
Musical Recording Hardware Essentials
I’m going to assume that if you are looking to produce music on your PC, then you are going to be playing some yourself. That means you are going to want to figure out how to get your music from your amp (or however you play it) onto your PC, and that where an audio interface comes in.
There are all kinds of different audio interfaces out there, but the one we would recommend for when you are starting out on your home recording journey is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, a staple of the home recording setup. A great way to record guitar onto your PC, the Focusrite 2i2 is a brilliant bit of home amping equipment that works just as well with a guitar as it does a keyboard or bass guitar, or even a microphone.
Basically, the Focusrite is the best way of getting what you want to be recorded onto your PC and into your DAW. Plus, it comes with a bunch of handy drivers that make it incredibly easy to work within whatever DAW you have chosen to use and even has USB connectivity. A brilliant piece of kit you can’t be without.
When it comes to recording into your audio interface you are going to have a number of options as to how you do it. Lots of instruments and amplifiers allow for a DI, or a direct input – which means that instead of recording through a microphone the audio is sent straight through the cable into your interface. And that’s totally fine unless you plan on recording something that doesn’t allow for a DI. Like an acoustic guitar, a piano or a voice.
That’s where a microphone comes in. Now we are sure there are plenty of different microphone options out there that you could potentially use and multitask with gaming or other multipurpose uses, but for a true all-rounder in the music recording world, we heartily recommend the Shure SM57.
The SM57 is a brilliant all-rounder microphone, one that has seen recognition time and time again for its ability to capture quality audio whether it be from an amplifier, a singer or even just an acoustic instrument. If you are starting out and want to keep things budget-conscious, this a great dynamic mic that can work just as well on a snare drum as it can on a valve amplifier.
Plus, they are so durable. You can find SM57s that have been in use for years in modern studios (and on eBay), so we would recommend trying out an SM57 as your first microphone if you are looking to perform some live recordings.
‘Why do I need a MIDI keyboard’ I hear you ask, as you start to plug in your guitar to the audio interface ‘I’m going to record everything live’. That’s a great attitude to have, but realistically, unless you are capable of recording every part yourself its probably going to be the case that you need to synthesize a few tracks.
Whether that’s a backing drum track, a bass line, or even just additional layers of synth that you think will bring your recording to another level, I guarantee that a MIDI keyboard will work 100 times better than any regular keyboard you are using to type on, or by programming them in with a mouse.
You don’t need to be a piano god to use them, and with some trickery in your DAW you can always manipulate your MIDI inputs to sound masterful – and like any instrument you want them to be. Something like the Novation Launchkey Mini (mark 3), the Akai Professional MPK Mini or the Alesis VI49 would be the perfect midi keyboard for any beginner trying to put together their own perfect home studio – and would feature USB connectivity as well as other unique features that wouldn’t be available on regular keyboards such as touchpads, pitch and modulation wheels and dedicated buttons assigned to your different plugins.
Basically, if you are serious about home recording and composition then you need to make sure you have some form of MIDI keyboard to fill in the gaps that you otherwise might not have access to fill.
Ok, we are cheating a bit here as it might not be totally necessary for you to own a handheld recorder to produce and record music at home, but let me pitch a scenario; You want to record your own, or a friends band, and they are only available to meet at a rehearsal space once a week. The right type of handheld recorder would offer you the opportunity to head along and record their session (albeit in a minimalistic sense), without missing out.
So, what kind of handheld recorder would do the trick? Well, the Zoom HN4 Pro allows for high quality, multi-track recording and even has the capability to work with a DI capable output.
Plus, because this recorder is capable of working with pretty much any microphone and also able to record four tracks simultaneously, you could potentially pull of a pretty great on the fly demo recording with the Zoom HN4 Pro, a seriously versatile piece of kit for some experience recording live.
Your Essential Software For Home Recording
So when it comes to home recording and you have all of your essential hardware picked out and set up, there is going to come the question of ‘what kind of software do I need to record music?’ Well, the answer is yup to you, and it is just as much up to you how intricate and in-depth you go at this stage. We can always start with the bare essentials though
OK, so throughout this article I’ve made references to a DAW, and if you are too polite or shy to ask, then I’m just going to tell you; DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation and is the software you will use to piece together, mix and produce any music or audio that you choose.
If you are a beginner and want to start things off easily then we suggest that you use something like Bitwig, or Reaper. Both of these DAWs are brilliant for a beginner, with an easy to navigate UI and plenty of tutorials online on how to best get started into the world of audio mixing with this software. Plus, they both work really well with a whole host of different drivers and plugins, meaning that they will be easily compatible with any of the hardware listed above.
If you are a little further into the scene and looking for a DAW that’s a little more…DAWnting then you could always look into Ableton, which offers a really incredible host of plugins and support that keeps being updated, and a thriving community surrounding it.
In my opinion, Ableton is the definitive DAW, and offers a lot of versatility for what it is. But, you could always look into programs like Pro Tools, CuBase, Studio One or others, but if you are starting out, I would definitely stick to learning one DAW, the technical features and tricks, and progressing from there.
I talked a lot about plugins as well during this article, and really this refers to the sounds that your DAW is capable of producing. Depending on what you are looking to use with your recordings there are all sorts of different applications you can use to enhance your recording.
Looking to soup up your guitar recordings with an easy to use virtual amplifier? Try AmpliTube. Need to get some realistic drumming into your mix but can’t drum? Check out Superior Drummer.
The list of these different apps is never-ending, and I am sure that if you require a certain sound for your track a little bit of googling will bring you to the right plugin – and with some practice you might even be able to synthesize it for yourself.
And that word is key to all of this: practice. With time you are going to get better at recording your music at home, but hopefully this article goes some way into helping you understand what you will need to kick off your home audio production.
Got any questions about anything that didn’t come up in the article? Don’t worry, just ask in the comments below and we will do our best to help! Don’t forget you can now follow us on Twitter @PCGuidedotcom