Home Studio 101

For the past 4 years, I have been slowwwly, meticulously curating my own home studio. Any well-informed current artist, according to Felix Snow, needs to be able to record him or herself.

Yet how does one go about it? Where do you start? After doing everything the hard way and making countless errors that have wasted time I could have used actually devoted to the music, I would like to break down a few guidelines to hopefully save you some of the same griefs that I was forced to experience.

1. Decide on a DAW.

DAW, or digital audio workstation, is necessary for any studio. At most prominent recording studios in major cities, they’re using Pro Tools. I recommend this if you’re planning on working your way up in the industry, becoming a well-versed engineer, or just want to record your own vocals well.

As valued as Pro Tools is, it can also be expensive. Some artists/engineers who are just starting out prefer a more economical version. Also understand that it is not necessarily the tool you are using as much as the knowledge of the user that defines a good product (e.g. an inexperienced engineer using a $10,000 console is still likely to crank out a whack record).

A couple of other DAWs that are currently popular are Logic Pro X, FL Studio (formerly Fruity Loops), and Ableton. Felix Snow used Ableton when he produced Gold with Kiiara, and Metro Boomin started (and still mostly uses) FL. You will need to consider what type of sound you are going for when choosing one of these secondary DAWs: In my opinion, the stock plug-ins (or sound samples) for Logic Pro lend more to EDM while in FL lend toward trap music.

2. Pick a computer.

Depending on which DAW you have chosen, you may be limited in what type of computer you can go with. For example, if you do decide to start out with Pro Tools, you more than likely with need an Apple computer to handle the software, as Apple products are kind of build for art programs.

Understand that this is an objective claim, considering that I would hardly recommend an Apple product otherwise, but I digress. You will then need to decide whether you need a desktop or laptop for you needs, depending on whether you will be more mobile or if you need more of a stable core for your work space.

I must mention here, as well, that if you are a producer starting out with FL Studio, you will need a PC, which is what the program was made for. It is possible to use a trial third-party platform converter for Apple computers, but I recommend using the software on the system that it originally was intended for. I have found some good articles recommending the best computers for running FL and have included one here:

http://picknotebook.com/blog/best-fl-studio-laptop/

Of course, the whole article doesn’t necessarily have to be studied, but it does include some valuable information, if not other than for the specs. The third brand listed, a Razer, is my personal recommendation, and Metro Boomin’s, for what that is worth. Also, a Fruity license is included with the puchase if you buy one new. Even as I say that, I am currently running Fruity on the El Cheapo Dell Inspiron gaming version, and haven’t had any problems with that either.

3. Select an interface.

Ok, so you have a computer with a good DAW. Now, you need some way to move sound from a microphone or instruments to your DAW. How does this happen? If you’re planning to make beats with a USB controller or just a solitary mic, you may be able to skip this step.

However, for us mere mortals wanting the option of recording 2 keyboards, some girls singing, and maybe your friend’s guitar, you’re going to need something that you can plug that into.

Enter the interface. Depending on which DAW you have chosen, there are interfaces made to work specifically with that DAW. For example, Avid (Pro Tools manufacturer) creates interfaces that come with a Pro Tools license. Depending on your recording needs, they range anywhere from a couple of I/O slots all the way to professional studio gear.

Whichever brand you’re going with, first consider type and number of microphones/instruments you will be recording. This will give you good parameters in your search.

Conclusion

With these first three basic items, you’re ready to add monitors, instruments, and microphones to your studio. But first, make sure that you consider the best DAW for your budget and the best computer for the platform. With an interface to link it all together, you can become a DIY hitmaker.

Beat Making 101

I’ve been making beats for about year and a half, and about 50% of the time people hear about it, the response I get involves questions about how to get started. With current technology, beat making does not require a complicated process, a college degree, or even a huge budget. Your main objective, if you’re serious about the endeavor, is to get started. Like with anything, your most valuable commodity is going to be experience.

My interest spans a few different genres: Mainly hip-hop, but also some pop and acoustic. I have done my best to outline your startup process as follows:

1. Save $$

Like with many goals, money can be the primary deterrent from achieving what you set out to. However, life is too short to let that happen. Must be nice to have unlimited resources, you are thinking. Well, I don’t. As a single female working in hospital registration, I had to scrape for everything that I had. My MIDI keyboard is a fortunate hand-me-down, Logic is from my tax money, and Pro Tools Express and an Mbox took my entire Christmas bonus.

It’s all about prioritizing, when it comes down to it. Ask yourself:

  • What’s really important to me?
  • Where do I see myself in 5 years? 10 years?

If you’re 25 and unhappy, but do not wish to see yourself in the same habits at 35, it’s time to make a change.

Saving is really less about making a lot and more about living within your means. Even if you save $50 a paycheck, at the end of every month, you will have another $100 to spend on gear. Making sacrifices is part of success: If cutting out a few more trips to Starbucks or Wing Stop get you where you want to go, consider it worth it.

2. Pick Your Gear.

I’m not going to lie to you: Audio gear is not cheap. However, that is no excuse not to be great. Metro Boomin was producer of the year, and he started on a $99 piece of software (FL) with a laptop and a keyboard. He still uses these platforms as his base to this day.

Young Metro

Case in point: Pick out one or two essential pieces of gear just to start. You don’t need to be all fancy to make a good beat. In fact, being in front of a gigantic interface with 500 plug-ins would likely overwhelm you to begin with. Now, what you need will slightly vary depending on the type of music you wish to produce, but at the end of the day, your best friends will likely be:

  1. A laptop
  2. Recording software (a.k.a. Digital Audio Workspace or DAW)
  3. A MIDI controller

That’s it. Yep. These three items are a good start for beat making. A laptop, you likely already have. Any type of computer will work, really. You will have to research which DAW will work for your music style. Most prefer Logic Pro X for Mac or FL for PCs. FL is what a lot of hip-hop and trap beat makers use, though it can be tricky using on Mac. Formerly Fruity Loops, they have attempted to make the platform a bit more fancy, with upgrade options for recording vocals, etc. On the other hand, you may prefer Ableton Live, a made-for-home platform promoted by Kiiara’s now trending producer, Felix Snow.

A MIDI controller is any device that can send electrical impulses, read through your DAW as sound. A keyboard can be a MIDI controller, as can a beat pad. The go-to beat pad for hip-hop music is Akai products, beginning with the original Akai MPC from 1988, so classic they put it on T-shirts. If you want to dig one of these babies up, good luck going under $1K. However, Akai has several modern, evolved MIDI controllers, including the MPD218 for $89. If you choose the Ableton software, they manufacture MIDI controllers as well, so that may be an easier option regardless.

3. Start.

Just start. Stop making excuses. Everybody, at first, feels completely lost and clueless. Totally normal. When Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) discovered FL, he locked himself up in his dorm room, skipping classes at NYU for a week to learn and make beats (disclaimer: I am not recommending that you skip college courses to make beats).

Childish-Gambino

There are lots of beginner YouTube tutorials and articles about how to use Logic and FL. With more practice, you will figure things out and develop your own shortcuts and templates.

There you go…you’re welcome. Now you can make your own beats, or sell beats–whatever your end game, you have all the resources. The only thing stopping you is you.

Mary Beth, CHAA; Assistant Audio Engineer, Fresco Recording Services