Music, Music Production, Sound Effects, Video Production / By Omri Kfi
Have you been thinking about setting up a recording studio at home? Here’s what you need to do
There are many reasons why you may want to set up a recording studio at home. You may be thinking about making your own music, or your own podcast. You may be doing voice acting or voice-over work, or you may even need to make videos with great quality audio for work.
Home studios are more popular than they have ever been.
Whatever your reason for wanting to build a home studio, you will need to think a lot about the project in order to get it right. Building a recording studio involves more than just buying the right equipment. To do the job yourself, you are going to have to teach yourself a few new skills in the process.
However, you don’t need to panic too much, because someone (us!) has put together an ultimate guide to planning and setting up a home studio. It will talk you through everything you need to know – from how to best set up the room, to what equipment to buy. All in beginner friendly language!
Let’s not waste any time, after all, you want to start using your new home recording studio as soon as possible!
Step-by-step to Setting up a Recording Studio
This article will be made up of two sections, a step-by-step guide to building your own studio and a guide to filling that studio with equipment once it is finished.
We are going to begin with how to build a studio. In this section, we will be looking at how to choose the right room, how to soundproof the room, the best way to connect your equipment, and how to set up a productive workstation.
Choose an Appropriate Room
You don’t want to fight against your room when you are making a studio. So, look around your house and make smart choices. Look for rooms with asymmetrical walls, high ceilings, and good quality floors.
Most homes won’t have a room like this, however, an attic or basement room is most likely to fit the bill.
Here are four things to avoid in a recording studio location:
Don’t Choose a Small Space
You will need to fill your recording studio with a fair amount of equipment and you will lose a lot of floor space when you fully soundproof the room. If it is too small before it becomes a studio space, it will not work well after you have set it up.
A noisy room is going to repeatedly spoil your recordings. Soundproofing can be expensive – picking the right room can help cut down on these costs.
You will need the floor of this room to be stable enough to sit pricey equipment on and be strong enough to survive heavy foot traffic.
While soundproofing the room can solve a few problems with a room’s acoustics, it doesn’t work miracles. Try to avoid rooms whose ceilings are too low.
Clear out the room
Once you have chosen the right room, it is time to clear it out.
You should remove all the furniture, even if you are planning to return it to the room later. This will make installing all your soundproofing and equipment much easier.
We would recommend deep cleaning the room after you have finished clearing it. Clean walls will be easier to attach the acoustic foam to. And when you are cleaning the floors you will get a good idea about whether they are level or not.
Add Some Acoustic Treatment
When planning the acoustic treatment for your room, there are two things you need to consider:
- Keeping sound out
- Improving the quality of sound created in the room
Keeping Sound Out
You can make the job of keeping sound out a lot easier by setting up your recording studio in the quietest room of your house. However, if that is not possible for you or every room in your house has a noise problem there are a few things you can do to stop sound from getting in.
You should make sure that the door has a seal around its edges. The same goes for any windows. If the room is not insulated you should consider doing so.
Improving the Quality of Sound in the Room
There are two main things you can do to improve the sound quality of your home recording studio – install foam insulation panels and employ the power of soft furnishings.
Sound waves can be manipulated to create better quality sound. Professional quality recording studios have been using acoustic foam to do this for years. It is now possible to buy these panels to hang on your own walls.
You can also improve the sound quality of a room by adding soft furnishings – hang thick curtains on the walls, install a carpet, lay rugs, and put couches and armchairs in the room.
Don’t be alarmed if setting up all your acoustic treatment means that you lose a good amount of floor space in the room. This will be more than worth it in the long run – sound quality is the most important part of the recording process.
Arrange a Good Workstation
Now that you have the skeleton of your room set up – it’s time to start adding all those vital organs, like a well-functioning workstation. For now, we are only going to look at the desk and desk chair.
While you could use a standard chair that is going spare in your home. We recommend that you invest in a high quality ergonomic chair that isn’t going to give you any health issues. If you have to spend hours in the chair at a time then you want to make sure that you have a good back and arm support.
For a desk, we recommend getting one with multiple levels and as much surface space as possible. You want to be able to have all your equipment in easy reach when you are working. You may also want to consider a standing desk if you have a bad back.
Arrange an Acceptable Recording Station
The likelihood is that your home studio won’t have enough space to have a recording room and a production room like a professional studio. So, it is extra important that you make smart use of your space.
Depending on the type of recording you are doing, you will need to set the room up differently. If you are recording solo then you will need one kind of setup, while you will need a completely different setup if you are recording with others.
You should have your microphone opposite your desk, with your bigger pieces of equipment on either side of you, so you create a tunnel of sound. It needs to be easy for you to move from your desk to the microphone. Too much equipment around you can cause sound to ricochet in odd ways.
You will find it easiest to split your room in two when recording with multiple people. Have one station for you, that is close to your desk so you can produce with ease.
Then put the rest of the group in a second section, facing you, with another set of midi-controls.
Connect the Gear
Once you have mapped out the setup of your room, it is time to set up all the gear and make sure it all connects correctly.
You may have to go through this process a few times until you get it just right. Don’t see this as a waste of time, instead, see it as an investment of time, as all the effort will pay off in the long run.
You will need to make sure that you have enough power outlets in the room. You may want to add extra plugs into the wall – as running everything from extension cords can increase the likelihood of fuse and surge damage.
Before you start, you should take the time to get to understand the system that you are working with. There will be a logical way to put everything together. You should also take the time to familiarize yourself with the concept of Signal Flow.
You may also want to consider investing in a set of cable ties so that you can keep your home recording studio hazard free (and make it less likely for you to trip over and damage something).
Position Studio Monitors
The final step of setting up your home recording studio is to correctly position your studio monitors.
If you have invested in a good pair of speakers then you are going to want to make sure that their setup is optimal so you can get the most out of them.
There are three things you should consider when setting up your studio monitors:
- The way you have set up your acoustic treatment in the room
- Where you are going to sit in the room while recording and producing
- The shape of the room – including the ceiling and the walls
You may find that your best option is to mount the monitors on adjustable stands. The more time you spend in the studio, the more you will learn about getting the best sound out of it and you may decide to move your monitors around in the future. You don’t want to make this too difficult for yourself.
Some studios will best suit wall mounted monitors, while others will be better suited for monitors at ear height. This is something that you should experiment with or consult an expert about if you are struggling.
After your monitors are set up you are ready to start recording.
Equipment you Need to Setting up a Home Recording Studio
You will have noticed that the section above had a step simply titled “connect the gear” and we didn’t go into any detail about said gear in that section. That was intentional because we wanted to dedicate the rest of this article to the gear you will need in your home recording studio.
If you are setting up your home studio on a budget, then you could delay purchasing a new computer until it better suits your budget. However, you will quickly realize how important the right computer is for recording.
What type of computer is best for recording studios is hotly debated. Many people swear by laptops, while others buy desktops. We also don’t want to get involved in the Mac vs PC argument because there are passionate people on both sides.
You want to make sure that you get a machine that is powerful enough to run the software you want to use and get an external hard drive for extra storage.
Digital Audio Workstation
Speaking of software, let’s talk about digital audio workstations.
A DAW is the main type of software that you will use when producing and editing your recordings. The type of project you have in mind will affect the DAW you choose.
If you are going to be recording music, then you should start by looking at Pro Tools. This is the oldest home DAW and is one of the best. However, it is a big investment, so if you are new to recording, then you might want to start off with something cheaper.
Your choice of DAW will inform the type of Audio Interface you will need.
Audio Interfaces have two jobs when connected to your computer:
- Channeling audio into your computer when you are recording
- Channeling audio out of your computer when you are playing back
On top of that, more modern Audio Interfaces are able to do the following tasks:
- headphone amps
- digital conversion
- mic preamps
- DI boxes
- monitor management
One of the best ways to save money in a home studio is to get an Audio Interface that will do all of the above – so that you don’t have to get individual systems to do each job.
If you already own some microphones then we have some good news for you. Not much has changed in the world of recording microphones in the last half a century – items that were top of the range in the 80s still hold up today.
Obviously, microphones are a crucial part of a recording studio, so many people are tempted to splash out on them. However, many of the middle-range microphones are more than good enough for home recording studios. This is worth bearing in mind, as you may have to buy multiple microphones if you are recording with a group.
This is probably the item on this list that you know the most about (apart from office chairs). The likelihood is that if you own a pair of over-ear headphones then you have a set of headphones that are good enough.
If you are looking for a new set of headphones for your studio then you should pick yourself up a pair of over-ear headphones and they should be either open backs or closed backs (Pro Tools has settings for both).
The average person calls studio monitors (or nearside monitors) speakers, and while they are similar to domestic speakers they are a lot more powerful.
The aim of studio monitors is to give off a flat sound that allows the producer or music mixer to hear the audio for what it really is. They need to be able to hear the flat sound so that they can make sure all the layers, tracks, and levels are all mixed correctly.
Professional monitors can be expensive (we’re talking more than $10,000), but there is a great range of well-priced studio monitors out there.
Buying cables is probably the least glamorous part of setting up your home studio. There are thousands of different types of cables and connectors that you could spend the next month researching – or you could follow our advice.
When you are setting up your studio for the first time, you only really need to buy one type of cable – the XLR cable. You will need one of these for every microphone in your studio and two for each Audio Interface in your setup.
As you get to know your equipment more, you might be tempted to expand your cable collection – but for now, you will only need XLR cables.
This is another task that is really not glamorous, but it’s important so it is worth spending the time on.
We would go for a minimalist approach when starting a home studio. We would buy two microphone stands at max. If you get involved in a project that requires more than that, we would recommend renting or borrowing stands over buying more stands than you need on an average day.
Space is precious in a home recording studio and you want to avoid cluttering it with items that won’t improve your sound quality.
This is not an essential item, particularly for a small home studio. However, the media would have us believe that pop filters are essential to getting a good recording from our microphones. If you are looking to save money then you can skip over this item.
What do pop filters actually do? Well, the main thing that they do is filter the harsh noises your mouth makes when saying the letters “p” and “b”. These noises can make a popping noise on a high-quality microphone – hence the need for pop filters to filter out these noises.
We talked briefly about what kinds of desks are best for home recording studios earlier. We mentioned that multi-level desks give you a good amount of surface area to keep all your gear close to hand, while still having enough room to use them all.
If you do not have the budget to buy a new desk, then you should consider DIYing a multi-leveled desk. You can use boxes, books, and laptop stands to give you extra height. We also recommend drilling holes through the top of the desk to give you easy access to the cables running through your equipment.
The chair that you have in your studio should have a high back and offer a good amount of lumbar support. It should have armrests to support your shoulders as well.
You will find that a chair with wheels will be the easiest to move around in your studio.
We dedicated a whole section of our step-by-step guide to the importance of acoustic treatment, even in a home studio. However, you would be surprised how many people don’t think that it’s necessary.
That is why we are going to talk about two types of acoustic treatment in more detail now.
Firstly, we would like to talk about Bass Traps. They are a truly unique type of acoustic foam. Not only do they do a good job at absorbing frequencies across the whole spectrum, but they also offer extra good absorption of low frequencies.
Low frequencies are the troublemakers, even if professional studios.
Secondly, we want to talk about the importance of acoustic panels. These types of acoustic foam panels are not designed to focus on the lowest frequencies, but instead, they have been created to manage the low to mid-level frequencies.
While these types of frequencies don’t normally cause a problem, they can ruin a recording if they start bouncing back and forth between parallel lines.
If you are multitasking the room then they can easily be taken down. These are cheap panels that will make a huge difference to the quality of sound you are producing.
We are not talking about pumping essential oils around your recording studio (we’re pretty sure that would cause havoc inside your studio monitors). When we talk about diffusers, we are talking about the wall-mounted form of acoustic treatment.
You only really need to think about diffusers if you have a really big home recording studio. You may also want to get a small diffuser if you are working in a room with wooden or tiled floors to help dampen any echoes caused by the flooring.
It is possible to get diffusers to cover your whole wall or to get ones you can hang like a medium-sized painting.
If you are on a really small budget (or you have blown your budget on a really good Audio Interface module) then you could temporarily skip the three items above in favor of a Reflection Filter. In an ideal situation, you would have all four.
The job of a reflection filter is to capture sound and help redirect it towards your recording equipment. This is particularly useful if you want to get really clear vocals to play on top of a complicated instrument track.
Monitor Isolation Pads
These are a producer’s best friends. You won’t see them in many professional studios because they are lucky enough to have their production room separate from their recording room and the production room is usually heavily soundproofed.
However, if you are recording, producing, and playing back in the same room then you are going to want to get one Monitor Isolation Pad for each of your studio monitors.
These will prevent your monitors from rattling loud enough to be picked up in the recording. These will save you a lot of time when it comes to making the final mix.
Speaking of studio monitors. You will need something to mount those monitors and monitor isolation pads onto.
We discussed earlier, the importance of finding the right place to keep your monitors in the studio. Having a set of monitor stands that you can use to mount the monitors on the wall or keep them off the ground, will make a huge difference in the setup of your home studio.
You want to make sure that you purchase a set of stands that are easy to install, adjust, and move around. If you’re anything like us, you will find yourself moving your monitors every few months.
Recording Special Effects for Video Creators
You are probably familiar with the concept of visual SFX (special effects), but do you know a lot about audio SFX. Audio SFX was the original form of SFX – the most basic form of it is using coconut shells to create the sound of horses running or how they used envelopes to create the sound of airlock doors in the Star Wars movies.
SFX can be used by music makers and video editors alike. If you are looking to make some extra cash from your recording studio, you should consider creating SFX for video creators.
SFX Add Realism To Videos
Storytelling through video is not just a visual art form. As humans, we don’t trust something if it doesn’t pass the test with all our senses. If something doesn’t sound right, it will distract us and we won’t buy into the story.
This is why filmmakers have been using audio SFX since they stopped making silent movies.
The key to making a video immersive – whether it’s set on the moon, in the future, or in a world full of magic – is to create sounds that are both familiar and make sense.
We already mentioned how the team working on the Star Wars movies used the sound of paper sliding out of envelopes to create the sound of the airlock doors on the Death Star. Adding these sounds afterward can transform a video.
Small details like this can go a long way in capturing the audience’s attention and making them believe in what they are watching.
It Can Often Establish A Sense of Emotion
A perfect example of using sound SFX to create emotion is the incredible highway fight scene in the Matrix 2. While the film itself does not have glowing reviews, the use of audio SFX in its iconic fight scenes will go down in history. It is a perfect example of how to create tension using audio SFX.
The soundscape makes you feel like you are standing in the middle of the fight. With bullets flying past your ears, people leaping over you, and cars crashing into each other behind you.
This use of audio SFX has you on the edge of your seat impatiently waiting to see what happens next.
Another master of SFX is Hans Zimmer, we could use any of his movies for this example, but we particularly recommend Interstellar.
It Can Set The Scene
Nobody wants to sit through exposition at the start of a video or movie. Instead of having a character say that they live in a happy city in France, you can fill the first scene with sounds that the audience will associate with a happy city and the country of France.
We see this technique used by the best filmmakers all the time. In fact, not using this trick can be a sign that a film, TV show, or video is not well made.
When trying to create the right soundscape for a video, it is important that you take the time to think about each individual SFX sound and understand why it has a place in your video. Remember that less is sometimes more.
Having a purpose-built home recording studio gives you the freedom to work on your own projects whenever and however you want.
You won’t have to hire out a studio, work with recording techs who have no interest in helping you, and stick to their strict time limits.
A home studio gives you unparalleled creative freedom and a chance to make some amazing projects from the comfort of your home. Building a recording studio from scratch may seem like a daunting task, but with the article above, you will be able to create a professional quality studio in your home. So, what are you waiting for, it’s time to get building!