Basements. Bedrooms. Garages. Sheds. All places that musicians use as home recording studios.
And that’s how it should be.
Some experts may tell you to turn your bedroom into a studio by soundproofing the walls, replacing the carpet with hardwood floors, lay some rugs down, and buy super expensive sound treatment things.
Just ignore them. This can be way simpler than that.
It doesn’t matter where your recording space is, you can still record music at home and end up with good results.
And you don’t have to knock down a wall or rip up any carpet. You don’t have to dump buckets of cash into remodeling.
You can just use the space you have.
So here’s how to set up a decent home recording studio for cheap and in a short amount of time.
No time to read the whole article? Use this handy-dandy table of contents:
- The Basic Equipment
- Finding A Recording Space
- Setting Up Your Recording Space
The Basic Equipment
First, you’ll need some basic recording equipment. That is unless you want to record everything on your smartphone.
That’s up to you.
But if you want to go the route of recording with studio gear, here’s the essential home recording equipment you’ll need:
- A computer
- A digital audio workstation (DAW)
- An audio interface (that works with your DAW)
- A microphone, XLR mic cable, mic stand, and a pop filter
- A desk
- A comfortable chair
And that’s it.
Yeah, you can get a bunch of other equipment and software. But if we’re talking just the essentials — this is your list. And you can find this recording equipment at affordable prices.
These are what your recording studio needs.
If you’re just starting out, use the computer you already own until you can save up enough money for a faster computer.
When you’re ready to upgrade, I recommend the Acer Aspire E 15. I’ve recorded tons of music with it, and it’s doing just as well as it did when I first bought it.
And spending $600 on a decent laptop sounded way better than spending over $1,000 on a comparable MacBook.
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
AFTER you choose your computer, find a DAW that you like AND that works with your computer.
MacBooks come preloaded with GarageBand.
There are plenty of very affordable or free DAWs for PCs.
You can even find browser-based DAWs (although they’re not as reliable and require internet connection).
I highly recommend Reaper. It can do what the big guys can do (like ProTools), but it’s free to use.
After a while, they do ask you to pay $60 if:
- You’re using Reaper for personal use, or
- You’re using Reaper commercially but your yearly gross revenue is less than $20,000, or
- You’re using Reaper for educational purposes or with a non-profit organization
In all other cases, they ask you to pay $225 (but even if you don’t, they still allow you to use the full version).
An Audio Interface
Regardless of what you’re recording, you’ll need an audio interface. But the type of interface you get depends on what you’re recording.
I record acoustic guitar and vocals with a mic, so I have the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, an interface with two XLR/quarter-inch inputs. So it’s perfect for me.
Just make sure that before you buy an interface it works with your DAW of choice. Most DAWs work with most interfaces, but just double-check.
You can find a decent interface with a built-in preamp for as cheap as $100-150.
A Microphone / XLR Cable / Mic Stand / Pop Filter
These four things are listed together because, well, you use them together. You’d almost never use one without the others.
If you’re not recording vocals, you may not need a microphone. But most artists I know record vocals, claps, acoustic guitar, or some sort of live percussion.
And you need a mic for that.
And the good news is that you can get a mic for as little as $100. Check out these three mics, two of which are in that $100-150 range.
This is pretty obvious. You need headphones so you can record while hearing the playback. Then of course you’ll need them for editing and mixing.
I use the Sennheiser HD280PRO headphones and they work great.
Please don’t go crazy and drop hundreds of dollars on a new home recording studio desk.
There are much more important things to be buying or saving up for as a musician. You’re setting up a budget music studio after all.
Go to your local thrift store. I can almost guarantee they’ll have a desk that’ll work for you.
Heck, I got mine for free from a friend.
Try to find a desk that has a raised level for your computer to sit on. That way, the screen is at eye height and you won’t find yourself hunched over your laptop.
That’s what a proper home recording studio desk looks like.
To be honest, I just took a small wooden crate, flipped it upside down, put it on my desk, and used that to put my laptop on.
A Comfortable Chair
Again, go cheap on the chair. But make sure it’s comfortable.
After all, you may be sitting in it for hours upon end (or minutes on end, depending on your life situation).
Thrift stores, garage sales, and friends are great places to go for cheap yet comfortable office chairs.
Guitar players: make sure you can record guitar while sitting in the chair. I removed one of the arms of my office chair so I could.
Finding A Recording Space
I recorded each one of my albums/EPs in a different space.
First my parent’s garage. Then a basement. Then my father-in-law’s bedroom studio. Then a friend’s basement. Then my own bedroom studio.
And now my recording space is in a walk-in closet.
My point is that you have options when recording at home.
Use a corner of your living room. Make your studio easy to set up in your bedroom. Park your car in the street or driveway and use your garage as a studio.
But if at all possible, try to avoid these types of rooms (unless you don’t have much choice):
- Small spaces
- Noisy spaces (with birds outside the window, loud traffic outside, or rain hitting the roof)
- Carpeted flooring (carpet usually absorbs higher frequencies and not lower frequencies, which is not good for acoustics)
I use a walk-in closet, so my recording studio has two of these three characteristics. It’s small and carpeted.
But I’m making it work.
Recording Music In Your Living Room
I got an email recently from a musician who records music at home. He said he has to put away his recording equipment after each time he’s done recording. And I know he’s not the only one who does this.
So I thought, “There’s got to be a solution to this!”
And here’s what I came up with. These tips do require a bit of cleanup after recording, but it’s minimal.
So here are some tips for recording music in your living room, especially if you have little kids or a mischievous pet…
To keep your equipment and computer away from little hands or paws, you can get a standing desk, one that sits on top of your current desk.
Or, for a more affordable option, use cardboard boxes or wooden crates. Then put your computer, speakers, and interface on top of the boxes/crates.
To ensure those boxes/crates stay put, you can drill a hole at the bottom of the box/crate and a corresponding hole into the side of the desk. Then use a zip tie(s) to secure them to the desk. You can even zip-tie the boxes/crates to each other for added security.
When you’re done recording, leave all cables and cords plugged in and wrap up any excess cables with velcro straps. Then put them on top of the standing desk/box/crate along with any mics.
Lastly, mount your instruments on the wall to keep them out of the way. For guitarists, you can get a simple guitar hanger at your local music store. Pianists and keyboard players, the music store may or may not have wall mounts for you, but if not you can get some ideas on Pinterest.
These things should keep your equipment and cables safely away from your kids, pets, or clumsy friends, while still keeping the cleanup to a minimum. That’s better than completely packing up your studio after each recording sesh.
I think this will help you stay in the “recording at home” mindset. Because if it’s less work to set up and tear down your studio, you’ll be more likely to record more often.
Setting Up Your Recording Space
Alright, so the first step is to clear out the room or space.
Next, you’ll want to treat the room’s sound. E-Home Recording Studio has a super clear and detailed guide on treating your home studio called “Acoustic Treatment 101.” You should check it out.
I first put up acoustic panels in all the corners of my little studio, then behind each monitor, then on the walls. It helps cut down on the reflected soundwaves.
Then you’ll want to set up your workstation. This would be where the thrifted chair and desk come in.
As you set up the desk and chair, keep in mind where your recording station(s) will be. What will you be recording? How much room will you need?
Here’s a super detailed and high-quality layout of my walk-in-closet recording studio:
This space is about 8’x4′ (or thereabouts). It’s small.
There is a shelf that runs along three of the walls above my head, so I store a lot of stuff up there.
But make no mistake, this is a closet. And yet it’s still a good recording studio for me.
So to start recording music at home, get basic equipment, pick nearly any space in your home, treat it as much as you can, and start making tunes.