Home Studio (1): The Basics

DAW, Interface, Microphones, and Monitors.

Interested in making a home recording studio? Here’s how I got started.

My awesome boyfriend bought all this stuff off Craigslist, and I don’t think he spent more than $200 for everything. I’m not a recording expert. This post is intended for people who know next to nothing about home recording studios, so I will explain in the simplest terms.


1. DAW

I downloaded a “free” software called Reaper. A DAW, or digital audio workstation, is a program you use to create music. Reaper is free for a month and then I think you pay $60 to use it forever. There are other, more powerful programs like Logic Pro (what I currently use), Protools, Ableton, and more, but Reaper makes a great starting point for a beginner… and it’s cheap.
2. Recording Interface

The boyfriend bought an interface (made by Tascam), a device which makes your computer and microphones / instruments talk to each other. You could also buy a mixer with a USB output. The interface provides power to the microphone and it connects to the computer’s USB port so you can record sounds. It also connects to your monitors (speakers) so you can hear playback from your computer. The one Harry bought me was something like this, but there are plenty of cheap (less than $100) options to get started with: https://www.amazon.com/TASCAM-US-16×08-USB-Audio-Interface/dp/B00MIXF200/ref=sr_1_1?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1484943042&sr=1-1&keywords=tascam+interface

3. Microphone

My first condenser microphone was the MXL 990. These particular mics can be found everywhere – in store, Craigslist, and pawn shops – for $50 to $100. Condenser mics typically provide great bang-for-your-buck when it comes to quality home recording, and if you’re just starting out or playing around, MXL 990 is the way to go. Condenser microphones require an XLR cable (it has 3 pins), as well as “phantom power” (48V). Most interfaces have a phantom power button that you have to switch “on” in order to use the mic. Here is a link to the MXL microphone: https://www.amazon.com/MXL-990-991-Recording-Microphone/dp/B0002GJI3C/ref=sr_1_2?s=musical-instruments&ie=UTF8&qid=1484943102&sr=1-2&keywords=mxl+990

4. Studio Monitors

When mixing music, you don’t want to use average earbuds. Get a pair of monitor speakers or headphone monitors. The point is to provide a “clean,” or “unbiased” sound. For example- a regular pair of consumer headphones might have added bass when you listen to them. You don’t want that, or your mix won’t translate well to other headphones or speakers. 

We went to Guitar Center and bought these studio monitors for listening. They’re a really great value: https://www.amazon.com/JBL-LSR305-Studio-Monitor/dp/B00DUKP37C
If you want headphones, these have served me very well: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000AJIF4E/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_J2tuAbJXTAE9K


And that’s basically all you need to get started. At first, all I did was dabble with the stuff in my spare time. I watched some youtube videos on how to use the software. I recorded my voice and my guitar.

The best way to get into a hobby is to have as much fun as possible, so that’s what I did. I covered songs and wrote some of my own. I experimented with mic placements, effects, settings. The recordings were messy. My tempo was sloppy, the vocal quality was hazy, many parts were too loud or too soft. I didn’t know how to fix any problems yet, but everybody starts somewhere, and we are very fortunate to have the internet as a guide.

One more thing – don’t just take my word for it on all this stuff. See what sells the best, what’s available for cheap on Craigslist. Read about what other people like to use. Google or Youtube how to get started, and you’ll be on your way in no time.


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