In today’s world, most musicians have some sort of recording setup to do their own recordings. If you’re brand new to this and want to get started, I’m going to walk you through on exactly how I got started. I started with hardly any money, but still was able to make decent recordings.
Depending on the scale on what size projects you want to take on, for me I wanted to record full bands, so I needed enough mic inputs to be able to mic up an entire drum set. For you, you may only need enough tracks to record just vocals or an acoustic guitar with vocals. So in this article, we’ll talk about some inexpensive options for both scenarios. Here are some things that you’ll need to get started.
Now, I know that this is basic, but you need to have a computer or laptop that has at least 4GB or ram and have your operating system up to date. I first started by building a computer and bought all the parts from newegg.com and was able to build a great computer that I still use today for less than $500. Thanks to my knowledgeable brother in law, he helped me actually build it. Now, if you already have a computer that works well, you can use that, but I personally wanted to have a computer specifically for recording.
2. Recording Interface
The next thing that I bought was my recording interface. This is the piece of gear that you’ll be hooking up to your computer with USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, etc and this will also be the piece of gear that you’ll be hooking up your mics, guitars, keyboards, monitors, etc. Depending on what you’re doing, you can find an interface for less than $50. If you’re wanting to record full bands, you can usually find a great interface for less than $300. These usually come with software as well. Here are a few ideas on some inexpensive brands to look at.
Tascam was actually the brand I used when I bought my first interface. The specific model that I bought was the Tascam US-1800 and it came with Cubase LE 6. This is a great deal because it comes with the USB cable and recording software to get you started. It sells for around $299. It has enough IN’s and OUT’s to pretty much last you for as long as you’re ready to upgrade to a higher quality one. I used this interface for the first 2 years I had my studio.
NOTE: I had used the Tascam US-1800 when I started, but this product has been discontinued and replaced by the Tascam US-16x08 which runs about the same price.
This brand is known for having very inexpensive, entry level gear. If you’re just looking to record yourself and don’t really need all the ins and outs like the Tascam, this is a great option for you. You can get the Behringer U-Phoria UM2 for around $30 and it comes with Traktion Software. I’ve never used the software because I’ve always used Steinberg’s Cubase, but while I read great reviews on this piece of gear, it’s a great way to get started and start recording your own music.
Once you have your computer, your interface, and your software installed, you need to be able to listen back to what you’ve recorded. You don’t need to have expensive monitors to create a good sounding mix, but I do recommend that you get something that you can set up that is different from computer speakers because of the frequency response. Especially if you’re using a laptop to record. The onboard speakers just doesn’t cut it! Here is what I would recommend:
I first started with a set of M-Audio AV 40 that I purchased for around $200. I really like M-Audio because they are reliable, they sound great, and they are very affordable. In fact, I still use this same pair in my current projects. Again, inexpensive, durable, and they sound great.
Now, again, I don’t typically use Behringer, but they always come out with inexpensive gear to get you started. The Behringer Studio 50USB Monitors are a good start, they even plug in via USB if you prefer that. You can usually get a good sound from these and they will run you about $150 for a pair.
So far, you’ve got your computer, interface, software, and monitors, now it’s time to purchase some cables. Here is a list of some cables that you’ll need to get started. I’m going to use the Tascam US-16x08 as an example of a typical setup. If you want me to walk you through what you’ll need for the Behringer U-Phoria, you can always send me a message.
- Monitor Cables
I typically use short 1/4” cables to connect from my interface to my monitors. Through Sweetwater, you can find 3’ 1/4” cables for around $12 a piece. Get two of those. One for the right side and one for the left. The monitor outputs are going to be located in the back labeled “Output 1 and 2” and connected to your monitors “Inputs L and R”.
- Instrument Cables
Very similar to the monitor cables, they are set up as 1/4” cables, but are made specifically for an instrument. Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Synths, etc. You can find them through any instrument shop locally or online. I like Sweetwater, Guitar Center, and Musicians Friend for online and I use various local shops if I need something right away.
- Microphone Cables
You’re going to want to get enough microphone cables to be able to mic up whatever you’re doing along with having different lengths. You can get a 10’ cable for around $15 through Sweetwater. Look for XLR cables that have both a “Male” and “Female” connection. One goes to your microphone and one goes to your interface. Most cables you can buy have a ground wire connected to the third prong which is what you want especially when you’re running an extra 48v.
I always think it’s helpful to decent pair of headphones, ESPECIALLY when you’re recording. You can set up your software to play you back what you’re recording while you’re doing it. When you’re recording, always have headphones. Plus, having headphones while you record will prevent your tracks from bleeding back into the microphone.
Another benefit to having a good pair of headphones are to have a second point of view when you’re mixing. I like to switch back and forth from the monitors to the headphones.
My first decent pair of headphones were the Sennheiser HD201. I ended buying two pairs of those and to this day, I still use those as my main set of headphones. You can usually get a pair of those for around $30.
An inexpensive pair of headphones you can get are Samson HP10 for around. I’ve owned some of their gear and it’s not the best quality, but it’s a good way to get you started. You can purchase this pair for around $13.
Now, I could spend a TON of time on just talking about microphones, but I’m going to stick 1 inexpensive microphones for a condenser, dynamic, and ribbon mic.
- Shure SM 57
This is the workhorse of any recording studio. It’s very reliable, very durable, good sounding dynamic microphone. I have been to workshops where they literally use this microphone to hammer a nail into a piece of wood, then us it after and it does not effect the sound. Amazing right? They go for around $100.
- Audio Technica AT2020
This is one of the best sound condenser microphones that I own that I bought for around $100. I use this mostly on vocals because of how crystal clear my mix comes out. The only problem that I have is that it picks up TOO much of the high frequencies, so I’m always having to cut around 10kHz and add a de-esser to tame it. Condenser mics require you to add an extra 48v of power, this is called “Phantom Power”. The Tascam has 2 switches on the 16x08 for channels 1-4 and one for 5-8.
- MXL R40
This is a great Ribbon mic that is also inexpensive. Ribbon mics are much more fragile than the other two types, so be very careful when handling it. Even dropping it could ruin the ribbon that’s inside the microphone. Also, if you add an extra 48v, you could ruin it too. They do, however, require extra gain to properly power it.
So, if you’re just getting started, I don’t recommend getting one right away. If you do, this mic sounds great, it produces a nice warm and tame tone and really makes what you’re recording sound natural.
In all, this article covers just the basic gear that you need to get started. It doesn’t have a full list of affordable gear that you can buy, but it’s just a few suggestions from me. If you have questions about gear, how to set it up, or how to use your gear, I encourage you to reach out to me. Hope this article has been helpful to you.