As a sound engineer, a beat maker or anything in the audio production field, you might find yourself in a situation where you don’t really know what to buy to upgrade your studio. It is totally normal! Let’s see together what you can do, step by step, to go from a bedroom studio to a professional studio.
First things first: always remember that even the biggest studio owners started from scratch. Nobody started with a big studio, but some of them made it. So why not you ?
Second thing: Don’t underestimate the power of knowledge. Most of the time, it’s better to put some money in knowledge (Mix With The Masters, Nail The Mix, Masterclasses,…) than to spend hundreds of dollars in gear.
Let’s start with the strict minimum…
A. Starting point
You can actually start with a few items at the beginning. In 2021, everything tends to be more affordable in our field. Thirty years ago, it wasn’t the same story…
Let’s list what you need to start something cool:
1. Laptop: To help you choosing the perfect laptop, you can visit this link . Whatever you choose, try to focus on the processor and the RAM memory.
At the 3rd stage of your studio’s journey, you’ll probably need to have more than a laptop to suit the bigger signal flow.
2. DAW: There are a lot of Digital Audio Workstations available on the market in 2021. To find the perfect one for you, the best advice would be to check out tutorials on YouTube and see what are all the advantages and the disadvantages of each DAW.
3. Audio interface: An audio interface has to be a priority as it will be the central piece of the studio. Its job is to connect all the elements of your studio between them, by converting or amplifying the signal if needed. Focusrite is a king with its Scarlett Series.
4. Headphones: Being familiar with a pair of headphone is extremely important to move on correctly. And even if you might own an amazing pair of consumer headphones (let’s say Beats or Bose), you also have to own a pair of studio headphones (the DT-770 for instance) because they sound different and are much more suitable for music production.
Believe it or not, those four pieces of equipment might seem ridiculous, but it’s enough to start making music.
B. The basic home studio
At the first stage, you might feel stuck in your creative process at some point, which is totally normal. Here’s what you need to upgrade this starting point:
1. Studio monitors: As a beginner (or even later) you might think that a HiFi stereo speaker system is enough, but it’s not! A good pair of studio monitors is a priority to upgrade the quality of your music, for the simple reason that those monitors a suitable for music production. The Yamaha HS7 are a great starting point, but there’s a lot of amazing studio monitors!
2. Studio furniture: When you start spending hours and hours making music in your studio, you have to think about comfort. This is why, at a certain point, it is extremely important to think about having a studio chair (back pain is one of your biggest enemies, health first!) and a studio desk.
3. Acoustic treatment: This is the most common mistake as a beginner: spending hundreds of dollars in great gear without thinking about the room you work in.
More than anything, you have to understand that the room represents more than 50% of how your ears perceive the sound coming out of your studio monitors.
Note: Acoustic treatment is NOT about just putting absorbers on the walls and hoping to get an amazing result. You’ll also need to put some diffusor panels to make the acoustic more “alive”. You can learn more about acoustic treatment here.
4. Microphone: Now that you have a good-looking home studio, you might want to record the next big artist of your town. A basic large diaphragm microphone (like the Rode NT1-A) is the perfect starting point to do that well. But you can upgrade it if you’re looking for more quality.
If you want to learn more about recording, you might be interested in reading this article about the best guitar recording techniques or this one to learn how to correctly record in Pro Tools.
5. MIDI controller: Making new melodies with your computer mouse can be… really tiring! This is why a MIDI controller is a good investment when it comes to creating some music.
6. The small important details…: At this stage, you can start thinking about the details, those small things that will allow you to go further and further. It can include…
a. Some new plugins: Soundtoys, FabFilter, Waves, Izotope,… some plugins are a big must!
b. Studio monitors stands
c. Reflection filter: A good reflection filter around your microphone can really upgrade the quality of your recordings
3. The semi-pro studio
You’re on the right way to professionalize yourself in the musical industry! At this stage, it might start to be expensive, so maybe it can be a good solution to buy all what you need in second-hand.
1. Analog gear: It’s a big fact, the analog sound has something that digital sound will never have. But you have to be careful with that, because it can become completely unhealthy to buy some new gear, just to buy some new gear… Before purchasing anything, always think about this question: “Will that new piece of equipment bring me what I need to upgrade the quality of my music ?” If yes, it can include…
a. Microphones preamps: The quality of a preamp cannot be underestimated. A good mic preamp will shape the sound more than you think. Make sure to check out some reviews before purchasing any microphone preamp, because all of them sound differently and have a different “color”.
b. Compressors and EQ’s: This is exactly where the analog world is unbeatable. LA-3A’s, Pultec’s, 1176’s, those pieces of equipments are legendary thanks to their inimitable sound. And, good news, in 2021, amazing compressors and EQ like those ones are available on the market!
c. Effects: Some analog effects can be mind-blowing when it comes to be creative. At this stage, buying one is a really good investment.
2. Headphones amps: If you want to work with multiple musicians, having more outputs is really important. Since your audio interface has (maybe?) only 1 or 2 headphone outputs, you’ll need a headphone amp if you want more.
3. Monitor management: If you want to upgrade to quality of your mixes or your productions, the best thing to have in its studio is having several pair of monitors. The sound will come out differently on each playback device and will help you to identify more easily any sort of problem. A monitor management system is therefore extremely useful to switch between all those different monitors.
4. The professional studio
You actually don’t need a lot of thing to go from a semi-pro studio to a professional studio but… those things cost a lot of money! And, to be honest, you can be really happy if you studio’s journey ends up at the stage 3!
Plus, if you reached the third stage of that semi-pro studio, you probably know what to buy to make yourself and your business happier!
But let’s dive into what you would need to reach that “final step”!
1. Analog mixing console: Is that really useful in 2021 ? Mmh, good question. I’d say no, but is that useful for your business ? Certainly yes, because it gives much more credence to your studio and will probably allow you to get more customers in your studio.
2. Digital converters: In most of our studios, the AD-DA converters are built in our digital interfaces, but to get the “perfect” sound, the biggest studios have their digital converters separately, which costs, again, a lot of money!
3. Some more gear: Whatever the genre, the place, or anything, 99% of our customers have this picture of THE professional studio in mind. And this studio (that you probably have in mind too…) has a lot, a lot, a lot… of gear! So… you know what to do to be the next big studio owner of your town!
The more important thing is to always think about the plus-value of what you invest your money into.
At a certain level, you’ll probably want to buy everything you see on the market and to have the next big studio of your region. But this is not the right way to think. Think “needs” and keep being patient.
Last but not least, don’t forget to always put knowledge first.