Home Studio Setup GuideHello, Mike here, and I am a composer.
Just. Like. You. 😃

Do you want to learn how to set up your own home music studio?

I will give you a quick and easy guide, with all the tools and equipment I recommend to compose, record and produce music in your own home studio. Here we go!

Let’s Start with a Summary

Here are the things I recommend to create your home music studio:

  1. The Room for your Home Studio
  2. Acoustic Treatment
  3. Studio Desk
  4. Studio Chair
  5. Studio Computer
  6. Music Production Software (DAW)
  7. Software Instruments & Effects
  8. Audio Interface
  9. MIDI Keyboard
  10. Microphone
  11. Studio Monitors
  12. Studio Headphones
  13. Instruments
  14. DAW Controller

1. The Room for your Home Studio

First you need to decide where to set up your home music studio. Since you want to get a good sound both for recording and for monitoring your music, I recommend that you set up your studio in a dedicated room. Here are some considerations for the room.

  • Size: Larger is better both for acoustics and work space efficiency.
  • Layout: Avoid a square shaped room due to worse acoustics.
  • Walls: You want walls that absorb sound. Avoid hard concrete.

2. Acoustic Treatment

Start by cleaning out the room completely, because the first thing I recommend is to treat the acoustics. Generally this means reducing the echo and reverb in the room so that it sounds more clear and dry. Here are some ways to treat the room acoustics of your studio:

  • Acoustic Panels: For example: absorbers vs diffusers.
  • Bass Traps: To reduce bass build up in the corners.
  • Carpets: Thicker is better, especially soft and fluffy ones.
  • Sound Blankets: Hang these on the walls, or even use blackout curtains.

3. Studio Desk

Next it is time to choose your studio desk, which will be the command central of your studio. You will need room for lots of gear and equipment on your desk. Your computer, screens, studio monitors, a MIDI Keyboard, and other controllers etc.

That’s why I recommend that you get a good sized desk, with room to spare so you can add more equipment later on as you upgrade your studio. Also, even fully equipped you want some free space to rest your arms on, put your coffee mug on, and so on.

You don’t need to go and buy a dedicated studio desk when you start out, because those are expensive. In fact, I have used a sturdy office desk from IKEA many years in my own home studio.

4. Studio Chair

This is something many composers and producers neglect when they start building their home studio. But let’s consider how much time you will spend in that chair. I strongly recommend you to find a really sturdy and comfortable chair that you can adjust in many ways. Here are some considerations:

  • Neck Support: I strongly recommend you to get a chair with neck support so you can lean back and rest completely. Your muscles will thank you.
  • Height & Tilt: You should be able to easily adjust the height of the chair as well as the tilting angle to be able to lean back.
  • Arm Rests: Arm rests are great to reduce the tension in your shoulders. The only downside is that they can be in the way, especially if you want to record guitar.

5. Studio Computer

Why do I call it “studio computer” instead of simply “computer”? Well, because producing music at a professional level will require some special attention on some parts of your computer, compared to let’s say a computer used mainly for gaming or entertainment. Here are the most important aspects:

  • Operating System: MAC with OS X or PC running windows. This will mainly depend on what your personally prefer, and more importantly the software you prefer to use both for music production and other creative work.
  • CPU: Music production requires a lot of CPU power. Which means many cores, and high speeds. The faster the CPU, the less headaches you will get.
  • RAM: You will use lots of sound libraries and sample based software instruments that will use huge amounts of RAM.
  • Drives: You will also need lots of storage capacity on your studio computer. But more importantly, you want high speed drives, because you will load big sample libraries from them. I recommend high speed solid state drives, often called SSDs. I also recommend having more than one drive. For example, having one drive dedicated to your operating system and installed programs only. One drive to store all your sounds and sample libraries on. Another drive for backups, and so on.

6. Music Production Software (DAW)

There are many different DAWs you can choose. A DAW is short for “Digital Audio Workstation”, but I generally simply call it Music Production Software. This is where you will compose, record, produce, mix and finish all your music productions. I would not recommend going with a “light” DAW like Garageband, since you will lack lots of professional features.

Here are some of the most popular professional DAWs:

  • Cubase
  • Logic Pro X
  • Ableton Live
  • Studio One
  • Pro Tools
  • FL Studio
  • Reason
  • Reaper
  • Digital Performer

7. Software Instruments & Effects

You can basically get any instrument and effect in software form today. Either as a sample library in a sample engine like Kontakt by Native Instrument, or as a separate plugin inside your DAW.

Most professional DAWs come with a great bundle of included instruments and effects, which can be enough to start out with. But for serious composers and producers, you will soon want to get third party plugins and instruments. Here are some examples of popular developers of software instruments and effects:

  • Native Instruments: They have a bundle they call “Komplete”, which will give you access to a huge range of instruments and effects. I strongly recommend it as an essential part of your composer and producer toolkit.
  • Spectrasonics: Probably the most used instrument plugins used by professional composers. Especially their flagship instrument Omnisphere.
  • Spitfire Audio: If you want to compose orchestral and cinematic music, they have produced a range of Kontakt-based sample libraries with exceptional quality and depth.

8. Audio Interface

The audio interface is the connection between the real world and the digital world, meaning your computer. Basically the audio interface has: Inputs to connect instruments, microphones, guitars and so on. And outputs to connect to your studio speakers and headphones.

Here are some considerations when choosing your audio interface:

  • Connection: USB or Thunderbolt are the most common. Check to see which connector and version is used, because you want as high speed as you can. For example: USB 3 is of course better than USB 2.
  • Inputs: Unless you record many things at the same time, you don’t really need that many inputs. You really only need one mic input, one guitar input, and one stereo instrument input.
  • Outputs: It can be nice to have multiple outputs. For example: with 2 headphones outputs you can have your producer friend, or vocalist listen independently on a separate pair of headphones.

9. MIDI Keyboard

Next you need something to record your notes with. And while you can of course manually write them in with your computer keyboard and mouse, that is not very efficient. There are many things to consider when buying a MIDI Keyboard:

  • Size: The number of keys, from 25 to full sized 88 keys.
  • Action: From light synth keybed to graded hammer piano feel.
  • Controllers: Sliders, knobs and buttons that you can use for controlling your DAW.
  • Pads: Some MIDI keyboards also have pads for triggering drums, percussion etc.

10. Microphone

Even if you don’t personally record vocals yourself, you can use a microphone in many other ways. Recording sound effects, voice over, humming in ideas and so on. And of course you never know when you will have a good vocalist available to record on your next production. Here are some considerations for microphones:

  • Type: There are 2 main microphones types, condenser and dynamic. In studio recordings a condenser microphone is by far the most common due to better detail in the high end. But dynamic microphones are better for very loud sounds, and also pickup less sound from the background.
  • Connection: Professional microphones have XLR-connection. This is the cable that you connect from your microphone into your audio interface.
  • Mount: Either you can use a common mic stand on the floor, or a flexible arm mount attached to your studio desk. You also need a shock mount for your microphone, which removes the vibrations that otherwise would be picked up by the microphone.
  • Pop Filter: This is a screen that you place right in front of the microphone, to reduce the sudden air flow that comes when you record sounds that include “p” and “b”. Without a pop filter those sounds will distort the audio due to the big burst of air.

11. Studio Monitors

You either need good speakers or high end headphones when you compose and produce music. I personally recommend studio monitors. Studio monitors are basically special speakers that are made for monitoring your music with.

This means that they don’t have any boosted bass or treble to sound better, but rather they should sound as natural as possible. Here are some considerations for studio monitors:

  • Size: Studio monitors often range in between 5 to 8 inch (meaning the size of the speaker cone). Bigger speakers can reproduce lower frequencies better, meaning that it can go down to the deepest bass. If you don’t use an extra sub woofer I would recommend using at least 6,5 inch speakers or bigger.
  • Frequency Response: This curve will show how the complete frequency range is represented on the studio monitors. You want this curve to be as  flat as possible, because that is the very purpose of studio speakers. You will especially see the decline in the lower frequencies in smaller speakers here.
  • Active: Active studio monitors means that they have built in amplification inside the speakers themselves. This means you can connect cables right from your audio interface into the studio monitors, without having an external amplifier in between. I would always recommend using active speakers.
  • Controls: Some studio monitors have on board controls over the sound. The most common is a simple gain knob, but some speakers also allow you to adjust the frequency response, which can be good to calibrate them for your studio room acoustics.

12. Studio Headphones

Again, like studio monitors, studio headphones are made to have a natural frequency response for accurate monitoring of your music when you compose, produce, mix and master your tracks. Here are some considerations for studio headphones:

  • Open vs Closed: For long sessions I recommend open or semi-open headphones. This means that the speaker membrane of the headphones is not complete sealed off on the back (outside) of the headphones.
  • Open headphones are more comfortable for your ears, and can sound more natural and open with very good detail in the high-end. The downside of open headphones are that they leak sound to your surroundings.
  • Closed headphones: The advantage of closed headphones is of course the opposite: that they seal you from the outside world, which means that they work best when recording audio with a microphone. Closed headphones can also produce a lower bass, but this bass is generally not as controlled and natural as open headphones.

13. Instruments

This is not essential for every composer and producer, since you can get basically any instrument in software from sample libraries and plugins in your DAW. However, I strongly recommend having at least some real instruments in your home studio to add that human and natural feel to your music. Here are some examples of instruments you can use:

  • Guitars: Electric or acoustic, the guitar is still one of the most essential instruments, and can be used for almost any genre and style of music. A guitar is very difficult to program to sound expressive, dynamic and natural with software instruments. So if you can play the guitar, I strongly recommend you to have one in your home studio.
  • Hardware Synths: Today you can basically use all software synths if you want to, because the sound quality is top notch, and there are even modulations of famous hardware synths that are barely distinguishable from the hardware version. However, hardware synths still have some great advantages like: hands-on feel with all the knobs and controls, often feel more inspiring to use, does not use your computer’s CPU power.
  • Shakers: There are many types of shakers, and all of them can easily add drive and rhythm to your music in a very natural and organic way. Examples of common shakers are: tambourines and maracas. But you can basically use any object filled with sand or something that moves inside when you shake it rhythmically back and forth.

14. DAW Controller

These are controllers that can help you speed up your workflow when composing, producing and working in your DAW. There are big controllers that can control lots of aspects when you compose and produce music, and there are smaller controllers with more specific tactile control over things like the transport section of your DAW. Meaning: Play, Record, Rewind, Forward etc.

There are even controllers to help you with the performance aspect of your music, such as triggering sounds, chords, editing samples and so on. Here are some popular DAW Controllers:

  • Mackie MCU Pro: It has lots of DAW features, as well as automated faders for mixing.
  • Behringer X-touch: Similar to Mackie MCU Pro, but perhaps not the premium quality.
  • Presonus Faderport: Essentially a miniature DAW Controller for transport control and mixing, with one single fader that switches when you switch track focus in your DAW.

Now Take Action!

Since you have read the complete article, I assume you are very interested in building your own home music studio. Now that you have learned my main recommendations for building your home studio: Make a plan, and follow it through.

You might not have saved up enough money to build your complete studio setup right now. But every journey has a start, and that starting point is now. I wish you good luck building your own home music studio for composing, producing and mixing your music to share with the world. =)