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When you want to start recording music at home, it can be frustrating, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
Basic Home Recording Setup
I’ve been lucky enough to get around this problem slowly by adding smaller parts and upgrading equipment as needed (or when I really had some money!).
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But, makes sense, if you don’t have the patience to wait 10 years before recording your music. You’ll want to know what equipment is needed and how much it will cost you to get started.
In this detailed article, I’ll explain what you need to get started recording music at home, how much you should be prepared to spend, and finally some equipment recommendations. It’s basically my own stuff so I can attest to its quality and performance.
I’ll try to provide some sort of reasoning for this article, starting with the most basic. If you just won the lottery or inherited a large sum of money, you’re finally getting into the realm of things to buy.
This first section, I think, will be filled with the items needed to record music at home. These are the things you should be spending money on first (as tempting as the weird analog synthesizer on eBay might sound, it won’t really help you save anything).
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In the modern home studio, there’s no escaping the fact that your most important piece of equipment will be your computer (or laptop). It seems strange these days to even imagine a recording studio without a computer from a few decades ago.
The computer is now at the center of every home studio. This is where your music is put together, stored, and often actually composed.
I wrote an article on what minimum specs you need (here) and argued that I’m now a big fan of using laptops for home recording for a number of reasons.
There was a time when there were not so many affordable laptops that could meet the huge demands placed on them by music production. But now it is not so. I switched from desktop to laptop a few years back and never looked back. For me it’s about portability and space.
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Here’s a quick rundown of the minimum values I recommend for music production, followed by a quick glossary of all the numbers and monotonous words:
Processor – The processor is basically the ‘brain’ of a computer or laptop. It is responsible for running software such as your DAW (more on that briefly below).
Earlier computers had only one core. So it was difficult to do multiple things at once. Now you can get dual or quad core, I recommend at least quad core for sound reproduction.
The number of Ghz before this represents the frequency. Again, here the higher the better, no less than 2.2Ghz.
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The “i” (could be i3, i5, i7) stands for the manufacturer name “Intel” and is the model number. The i7 has the largest “cache” size which means higher performance. So on the processor, the higher the number, the better. But of course this comes at a price, stick to these minimums and you should be fine.
Random Access Memory (RAM) – just like us humans; Computers have long-term and short-term memory. RAM is short-term memory and it is where data can be stored and accessed quickly.
4GB should get you plenty of short-term memory for basic audio production, but I’d go for at least 8GB if you’re on a budget.
Internal Storage – Music production takes up a lot of space and you will need a place to store it all.
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I would really recommend storing the audio files on an external hard drive, but I would still go for at least 256GB of internal memory so your DAW can run smoothly with as many VST plugins as you want .
A hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD) will be fine. The truth is that RAM is more important to keep things running smoothly.
Operating System – You will choose between 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. 64-bit is new and improved, most new computers and laptops will run 64-bit operating systems. For more than 4GB of RAM (highly recommended), you’ll need at least a 64-bit operating system.
Windows or Mac – I’m a little biased on this one because I love Macs and swear by them now. I used to constantly struggle with latency issues on older Windows computers and laptops, and when I switched to apple a few years ago I never had any problems again.
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However, they are more expensive and Windows computers and laptops have come a long way since then. If you stick to the above features, you should be fine.
Screen size – If you are going to buy a laptop, it is definitely not less than 15 inches, but again, the bigger the better. Trying to work with a DAW on a screen less than 15 inches is an absolute nightmare, trust me.
Even 15 inches is borderline and I recommend using an external monitor with this laptop to avoid squinting. In fact, it is really handy to have an external monitor and thus two separate displays working in one DAW.
It is worth trying to keep your laptop for music production only so that there are no lags or conflicts. But to be honest, I also use my MacBook Pro for other things like web surfing and some word processing, so don’t stress too much.
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You’re less likely to run into problems like unsupported software or other problems by at least buying something “new”. However, if you buy a computer or laptop with at least the above specifications, you should have a great machine that will make a great hub for beginners to build their own home music studio.
Since the decision between Mac and Windows operating systems can be influenced by which DAW you choose, it’s probably worth reading the entire article (especially the next section) before making your choice here. Some DAW software, especially Logic, for example only works on Macs.
As I always say, I would only recommend what I have used or at least tried myself. I’m currently using a MacBook Pro from 2015 and it still works great. It is powered by a 2.7GHz quad-core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of internal storage.
You don’t necessarily have to buy a new one. There are a lot of high spec MacBook Pros on eBay that are almost obsolete because someone wants a new model.
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Therefore, a new MacBook may be out of your price range. Don’t rule out buying an Apple before you see it. If you can buy a new one, of course a new one is better and you get the warranty.
The laptop or computer is the heart of the recording studio, for starters it is where you should be spending most of your money. If you decide not to go ahead with all the music production when your first EP is not sold…..then you have a great laptop for gaming or watching YouTube videos of cats.
Talking to friends, apparently the new Asus ViviBook laptops are considered great value for money.
You get an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM (16GB usable), and a beautiful 17-inch display. I’ve seen one in the flesh and they look really cool (if that bothers you), so the sleek look of the MacBook is a run for its money. I’ve had Asus laptops in the past and these are very well built machines.
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A DAW can be a physical piece of hardware. However, for the purposes of this article, when I speak of a DAW, I mean a piece of computer software that you will use to record, edit, produce, and master your audio files.
Even if you have never used a DAW yourself. You’ll probably be familiar with the layout, which is pretty standard on all of them. You can record multiple tracks that come together to make a final composition.
GarageBand comes pre-installed on many Apple products, but only on Macs (Classic!). Whereas Reaper and Dare is open source and works on both Windows and Mac.
These are a great starting point if you’re just starting out or want a way to quickly save up some ideas and layer up a few pieces. Most of the terminology will look like more complex software and you will get used to how things work.
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I started Audacity years ago and it introduced me to DAW layout and
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