- Unsure of where to start with music production?
- We uncover the 10 most essential components of getting started.
Wondering How To Produce Music? It All Starts In The Studio
There are a lot of moving parts in music production, so knowing the best way to get started can prove difficult and overwhelming.
With thousands of different options when it comes to synths, software, monitors, microphones and gear it is easy to get lost.
Whether you want to produce beats or get into audio engineering, this article will give you a definitive guide on how, as a beginner, you can sink your teeth into production and start building your own home studio without breaking the bank.
Not All Equipment is Made Equal
Over recent years music production has seen a massive shift. Gone are the days where the only option, if you wanted to record, was to go to a professional studio and hire an engineer for the day. Today, music production is much more accessible, hence the rise in home studios.
Production is an expressive art form, and while one piece of software or equipment may be perfect for you, that doesn’t mean that the next producer will enjoy it.
There is no black and white option for a good home studio set up, so try to spend within your means and do your research before parting ways with your cash.
If you’ve no idea where to start, consider reading Producer Hive’s guides below:
- Budget Studio Headphones
- Budget Studio Monitors
- Budget Studio Microphones
- Budget Midi Keyboards
- Budget Audio Interfaces
- Budget Studio Bundles
- Budget Laptops For Music Production
The great thing nowadays is that steep competition has driven prices lower meaning you can get some great gear without spending a fortune.
Now, let’s take you through the 10 core essentials every producer needs to set up their very own home studio.
10 Essentials To Start Producing Music Today
1. Computer or Laptop
The first thing you will need is something to record onto, i.e. a computer or laptop. It’s common to see producers using Apple products but you can use either Mac or PC to run your software. It is worth noting that DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) such as Logic are exclusive to Mac, but we’ll get to that later.
Whatever software you use, it is likely to be quite heavy in terms of CPU so definitely think of this as an investment, particularly if you need to upgrade or purchase a new machine to run your software.
We wrote a comprehensive guide on ideal laptop specs to look for when selecting a music production laptop. It includes everything you need to know before throwing your hard-earned money at a laptop.
A computer will likely be the most expensive purchase when starting out, but don’t worry if a brand-new model is outside of your budget, you can still buy second hand or refurbished models at a reduced price.
You may even find that your current model is enough to run your software, so don’t feel it is necessary in this case to dive in and buy a top end model!
For more intensive programs such as
If you’re stumped on good laptop options, check out the following guides we’ve written (they open in new tabs):
3 Music Production Laptops Under $1000 That Are Insanely Good Value
5 God Tier Laptops For Music Producers In 2019
2. Audio Interface
So you’ve got your computer sorted. You now need a way of getting your recordings onto it.
An audio interface essentially acts as a medium between your computer and instrument or microphone. Plug your lead in and the interface will translate what you play or sing into a digital signal and send it to your software. Your interface will also feed audio to your monitors.
There will be several controls on each such as a gain dial (which controls the level of the signal you are recording), a line/microphone switch (a microphone produces a much weaker signal than a line) and a pad (which reduces your signal by a certain amount of dB if it’s too loud). You should also have a monitor control to increase or reduce your speaker level.
A great tip here is to look for bundles (like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2) – some will include software, plug-ins or a microphone.
Again, don’t worry too much about spending a fortune here but do keep on the lookout for what offers are available and you’ll get much more for your money.Amazon product
An obvious one, but yes you will need a microphone if you intend to capture vocals or record instruments in their natural environments. You can get away with recording instruments directly into your soundcard, though there can be drawbacks to this (being able to capture the sound of air moving out of a speaker sounds a lot more satisfying than just recording direct current — at least in my opinion).
There are two main types of microphones to consider when building your first home studio: condensers and dynamic microphones.
A condenser microphone is a sensitive microphone type that requires a small amount of power in order to work. This would be sourced from your interface and is known as ‘Phantom Power’.
Condenser microphones are typically crisp and suited to vocals and certain instruments. If you want to record your acoustic singer/songwriter demos at home then a condenser is a good choice, you’ll find that the way it reproduces the sound is accurate and clear however bear in mind you will need a pop shield for recording vocals to avoid any nasty unwanted breath sounds and popping noises.
3 affordable but solid condenser microphone options we recommend are:
A dynamic microphone operates in a similar way to a condenser although they do not require phantom power. As a rule, a dynamic mic will be able to handle a much higher SPL (sound pressure level) which makes them more suited to instruments like drums which produce fast and very loud sounds.
You’ll usually find a dynamic microphone can’t replicate the finer intricacies of an instrument in the same way as a condenser but that doesn’t mean that they are inferior in any way. It’s all about context.
A Shure SM57, for example, is a dynamic mic that works great for recording guitars and has been used for years on countless records.
If your budget can stretch, it’s worth investing in both a condenser and a dynamic mic, as they both have their individual uses.
While there are ‘rules’ about what mic should be used for what, it’s all about finding which works for you.
There are producers who would swear by a Shure SM58 (a dynamic mic) for vocals in the studio, and there are producers who would use a condenser for guitar recording. Try experimenting and see what works for you!
3 affordable but solid dynamic microphone options we recommend are:
- Shure SM57 Dynamic Instrument Microphone
- Sennheiser E935 Dynamic Vocal Microphone
- GLS Audio Vocal Microphone ES-58
6. Studio Monitors
Monitors will vary between manufacturers, but they are an essential part of any self-respecting studio.
Studio monitors are designed with producers in mind, and the reason why they are wildly popular in studios is that they offer flatter frequency responses, which give you the most accurate representation of what you are mixing or recording.
Your typical hi-fi speakers, for example, will probably have a boosted low and top end, which might sound great in your living room and for parties, but for mixing purposes, you want to hear your mixdowns as objectively as possible.
Monitors range all the way from the cheap to the ‘I need to re-mortgage my house’ expensive. The good news for beginners is that you don’t have to break the bank to get a decent pair.
Click here for a list of studio monitors under $300 perfect for beginners.
Regarding speaker sizes, for your first home studio, it is perfectly fine to start off with 5″ cones. Sure, you won’t get massive bass/low-end response from them, but learning on smaller monitors can be beneficial for those starting out. There is a saying, that if you can make a mix sound huge on small speakers, it’ll sound even bigger on large speakers…
3 affordable but solid studio monitor sets we recommend are:
- Yamaha HS5 2-Way 70W
- JBL Professional 305P MKII 5″ 2-Way Powered Studio Monitors
- PreSonus Eris E4.5 2-Way Powered Studio Monitors
While it’s best to mix on monitors to get the most accurate representation of the song you’re working on, there are situations where headphones are necessary.
Perhaps you work late and your only chance to produce is late at night, and you prefer not to drive your neighbors insane.
They’re also particularly useful to have as a second ‘reference’ for when checking the balance of your mixdowns.
You can go for either open or closed-back headphones. Click here for a list of headphones under $200 that we recommend.
As a general rule, open-back headphones are more suited to mixing as they let some sound escape, which will sound more natural and clear. Though, if you mix ‘on the go’, i.e. on planes and trains, that bleed will be audible by all the passengers around you, so keep that in mind.
Personal preference and comfort also come into play, so it’s a wise idea to go into a store and test a bunch of pairs out before you commit to buying.
One more thing to take note: lower ‘ohm‘ ratings generally mean you will be able to drive louder volumes out of it (you’ll want lower ohm rating headphones if you are planning to use them via your mobile device).
3 affordable but solid studio headphones we recommend are:
- Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro Closed Back Headphones
- Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones
- Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones
Probably the least exciting aspect of your home studio, however purchasing high-quality cables is essential. You’re going to need an XLR cable for your microphones and a quarter-inch jack cable for any instruments such as guitar or bass.
The cables used for your monitors may vary by type (check the manual for more information on this) however where possible purchasing balanced cables means you are less likely to suffer from any unwanted hum or buzz.
9. Microphone Stand
Another somewhat unexciting purchase, however, it is still important to invest in good and sturdy microphone stands. This will stop your mic falling over mid take but also eliminate any unwanted noises or bumps that may happen from holding the mic. It’s also much easier to mic up an instrument with a stand!
We took on the incredibly exciting (not really) task of demoing 9 popular boom arms — you can check out our findings here. There’s something in here for all price points!
I find that boom mic stands are the most convenient for small home studios with not a lot of space. They usually come in two parts, bending at a hinge in the middle which makes it easier to position next to your singer or instrument. If you’re going to be recording a guitar you can also purchase shorter stands perfect for positioning in front of your amp.
Be forewarned that nothing comes easy. Music production is no exception, and just like any new pursuit, one that might come with its fair share of banging your head against a wall.
But you’ll learn to love the progress. With every track you start, and complete, you’ll feel your skills and confidence grow.
If you want to fast-track your success, you can always look to picking up a music production course. There are plenty of affordable ones online, for all genres. Click here for a list of some of our favorite courses.
Frequently Asked Questions
But What About Soundproofing? Should I Buy Some Foam?
If you’re just starting out then soundproofing or acoustic treatment isn’t essential. After all, it doesn’t stop you physically making music if your studio isn’t acoustically treated!
As you get more into production it’s something you may want to invest in. From a mixing and mastering point of view, a properly treated room will absolutely help but for the purposes of just trying your hand at production, it isn’t a necessity.
Also, bear in mind that good acoustic treatment isn’t cheap and cheap acoustic treatment isn’t good. And no, eggshells will do nothing more than turn your studio into an ugly mess.
If your room’s acoustics are truly dreadful, it may be worth investing money into a good pair of headphones, as opposed to spending thousands on soundproofing to fix a bad room (particularly if you are just starting out).
See how you get on, and if production is something you decide you want to really get involved in then it’s time to think about acoustic treatment.
If you’d like to read more this topic, check out our mini-guide on soundproofing here.
Do I Need To Buy External Plug-Ins?
Short answer: no. Most DAWs will come with a good set of plugins and you’ll often find your interface will as well. Much like G.A.S., buying plug ins can easily become a bottomless pit for your money, so get good at using what you have before purchasing more.
Your basic plug-ins such as EQ, compression, reverb and delay are enough to get started, and chances are your DAW has more than these anyway. Get used to how they work and gain an understanding of why you would use them and where.
Most plug-ins offer a demo version, try downloading a trial before committing as you may find what you have now works just fine.
There are plug ins that can help those with limited space, such as EZDrummer or Superior Drummer which allow you to create realistic drums all within the box.
There are also hundreds of high quality and free plug-ins available online from places such as KVR Audio.
A lot of plug-in retailers such as Plugin Boutique regularly have sales with big discounts on their range.
Keep an eye out and if there is something you really want you may find it discounted soon!
What About Sample Packs?
Much the same as plug-ins, sample packs aren’t a necessity if you are just starting out. No doubt sample packs can help as a starting point for inspiration for a track but don’t get sucked into the marketing hype.
Check out our extensive list of free sample pack companies here. You can thank us later.
Try using freesound.org or the BBC Sound Effects Library first, you’ll be surprised by how many samples there are on these two sites alone to sift through.
If you are feeling like splurging out on some professional packs, Loopmasters are our go-to, and often host great deals and discounts.
There you have it — 10 essential pieces of gear that every home recording studio would need to comfortably make music! The guides below will also help you narrow down your shopping list.