Just the other week, my friends and I held a livestream concert over YouTube using all of my own equipment. Despite a slightly fuzzy video, our sound was great, and I was happy with our final product. Additionally, I’ve been doing several remote recording projects of vocal jazz arrangements, again, using just what I have with me in my apartment. Developing a home studio is relatively accessible and simple. For those of you who are unsure where to start, I’d like to take a moment to share with you what I’ve been using and a few alternative options that might suit your needs.
- Apple iMac ($1,719)
To start, I am using an iMac with the Sierra operating system that I purchased back in late 2017. Here’s a quick shot of its specs:
My computer, of course, was the biggest investment for me. When my 2011/2012 MacBook Pro kicked the bucket, I chose to go with a Desktop computer in the hopes that I’d have a little more power and longevity. I do miss the portability of my laptop, but the majority of my work is already done at home anyway. Additionally, this desktop computer is thin enough where I can easily pack it up in its original box and travel with it if I really need to take it with me.
- Logic Pro X ($199)
When I needed audio software for one of my other jobs, I chose to purchase Logic Pro X. I was fortunate to get a deal that also included Final Cut Pro video editing software, however, my computer required an update in order to run it (an update that I chose not to perform for fear of ruining compatibility with my notation software. Though, maybe I’m just being paranoid…). I have a few friends that are able to use Logic with relative ease on their MacBook Pro laptops. The software takes a little time to learn, but I was impressed with the amount of tutorials that are available with just a quick search of YouTube. I’m also a part of the “Apple Logic Pro X Tech” group on Facebook, and their members have been beyond helpful with any question I have asked. Many professional audio engineers use Pro Tools for their studios. While it works on both Mac and PC, the cost is quite a bit higher starting around $699. GarageBand is bundled for free on most Apple products, and Audacity works on any platform. Depending on what you’re doing, you might not need anything more complicated than either of those programs.
As both a pianist and a vocalist, the Scarlett 2i2 interface was the perfect option for allowing me to hook up my equipment to my computer via USB. This particular model has two dual inputs that can be used either as XLR (for microphones) or for 1/4” cables (for keyboards/guitars/whatever). Both inputs have their own individual gain control. A separate input is available for headphones. There is also a line out if you want to use monitors. Additionally, a 48v “phantom power” button can be switched on or off if you should choose to use a condenser microphone. A “Solo” model is also available for $109 if you think you’d only need one mic/instrument. Focusrite also offers a bundle that includes a microphone and a pair of headphones for $269. I highly recommend the bundle if you’re starting from scratch.
- Shure SM58 Microphone ($99)
Back when I was performing with my a cappella group, I was able to acquire a couple SM58 microphones. These microphones have been considered, for many years, the “industry standard” for live performance. I’ve had my set of mics for nearly 15 years, and they still work great. Ideally, a dynamic microphone, as it is known, is not optimal for studio work, and I’ve been actively looking for a condenser microphone to replace it. My former professor suggested the WA14 by Warm Audio which is a company that makes replicas of high-end equipment. This mic will easily be my next purchase. For now, the SM58 has worked fine enough, and I’m glad to have them on hand for when I do have a live show. For your purposes, you could find something more affordable like the mic that comes with the Scarlett bundle mentioned above. Additionally, USB microphones don’t require an interface and can range in price from $50-200. I suggest checking out either the Snowball or Yeti from Blue microphones.
Accessories you might need to go along with your microphone could include a pop filter, a microphone stand, a microphone clip, and an XLR cable. These are relatively universal items, so I won’t go into a huge amount of detail in explaining them. Here are some considerations:
- Pop filters have different lengths. Make sure you get one that works with your mic stand and will leave enough space to fit comfortably in front of your microphone.
- I’d recommend a “boom” microphone stand for more adjustability. I own this one: https://on-stage.com/products/view/10700
- Microphone clips, used to hold your microphone, are not usually included with microphone stands and they can come in different sizes. Be sure to find one that holds your specific microphone.
- XLR cables vary by length. If you have a setup where you’re using different types of cables (balanced vs. unbalanced), you might want to invest in a Direct Input (DI) Box to help prevent interference. Here’s a short explanation on cable differences: http://www.aviom.com/blog/balanced-vs-unbalanced/ It’s unlikely that simple home studios would run into any issues, but a DI Box is on my list of things to get someday.
- Behringer Xenyx 1202 FX Mixer ($139)
A mixer is not necessarily needed for a home studio, but I wanted to have one in case I had a gig with multiple performers/equipment. This turned into a blessing-in-disguise for our livestream performance when I learned that I can hook my mixer directly into my interface. Thus, I had individual control over all our instruments and could hear a live mix directly from my headphones. As of right now, I’m unsure how much flexibility I would have when trying to record separate channels in Logic, but from the video I watched, it sounded like I could at least control two channels separately through panning. I hope to experiment with this more in the future. Anyway, I love this mixer. There are 12 channels total. Four of those channels have both XLR or 1/4” inputs, and they have sweepable EQ knobs to control the high, mid, and low frequencies on those channels. For vocals, this type of EQ is essential. Additionally, individual effects (up to 99!) can be set for each channel. Since my amplifier doesn’t have built-in reverb, I wanted a mixer where I could add this element to my performances. Directors who may be hosting livestream/recorded concerts during the school year may want to look into the mixer/interface combo for optimal sound output.
Beyond that, I own a Roland FP7 keyboard and a Roland KC-200 amplifier. I am still looking for a good set of headphones (right now I’m just using my iPhone earbuds!). My amp is mostly good for live performance, but it did serve some functionality as a monitor when we did our livestream concert. I also have an acoustic/electric ukulele from Cordoba. All of this equipment worked well with my studio setup. You, of course, can plug in whatever you want!
What kind of stuff do you have in your own studio? Feel free to comment with suggestions on equipment/software that has worked for you!