Now that you’ve decided to get into the music business the first thing you’ll need is some great songs. But where will you record them? Setting up a home recording studio sounds like a great idea in the beginning but is it the best choice for you?
Below I’ve listed 5 things to consider when making this decision. For many of you reading this they’re probably not things you’ve thought about before but choosing unwisely can not only end up costing you a lot of money you didn’t need to spend, but you also run the risk of getting into trouble and wasting a TON of time that you could’ve been using to create great songs.
Keep reading and you’ll soon see what I mean…
1. Is This Allowed Where You Live?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about this. With all the great shopping options available ready to sell you a pile of recording equipment the first thing you have to consider before you swipe that credit card is whether or not you’re even allowed to set up a recording facility in your home.
For those of you living in gated communities be sure to check the rules of the home owners association rules to ensure that this wouldn’t violate one or many and get you into a ton of trouble. Some of these rules can be pretty strict and carry severe penalties so don’t play this one by ear.
Apartment buildings are another tricky one. If you’re in an apartment it can be quite challenging to contain the noise. Walls tend to be pretty thin and not as well insulated as you might hope so the sound from a TV can be a problem much less the low rumbling of an 808 drum piercing through professional speakers.
There may be instances were you can insulate the walls in the room where you’ll be setting up your equipment but keep in mind you may have to do the same thing with floors and ceilings. Needless to say this can get very expensive very quickly.
If you plan to have musicians, vocalists or recording execs come by to hear your music you may also need to get zoning permission. If your house suddenly becomes a place of business there may be licensing requirements. You’ll want to check with a lawyer. As an example; where I live I can run a business out of my house as long as I have the right documentation, don’t entertain clients and don’t put up any kind of signage.
If it turns out that you aren’t able to set up a recording studio in your current home all is not lost. There are still a couple of options to consider:
- If you’re in a band, does one of your bandmates have a space you could set up to record in? If so, then maybe you can do your recording there.
- Do you know people in other local bands? Do they record at home? If so, check if they’d let you use their facilities. This arrangement may require you to help with equipment maintenance costs but at least you won’t have to buy everything from scratch. There’s also the added benefit of connecting with other musicians who may be able to help you network
- If there’s a mini-warehouse complex nearby, check if you could rent one of the units to set up your recording studio. This might not be as expensive as you think but just be sure to declare up front what you plan to use it for. Some warehouse complexes won’t allow it.
- Also be sure to check that the unit you rent comes with heating/cooling and access to a bathroom. You’ll be in there for hours at a time so make sure it’s a comfortable place to work.
2. Is This In Your Budget Right Now?
This can be a tricky one depending on your current situation.
If you’ve already been signed to a label and you need to deliver an album then you can either rent studio time or you can set up a recording studio of your own and have more money to spend on music videos, a talented mixing engineer (very important) or other costs that will inevitably come up.
One very important thing to note is that setting up, maintaining, learning and troubleshooting your own equipment can have a steep learning curve. If you’ve never done any type of digital recording or you’re just not very good with computer or tech stuff, you may not want to bog yourself down with the hassle of learning a completely new skill you might not enjoy or worse, be terrible at.
In this case it’s probably better to book some studio time and stick with what you’re already good at.
If, on the other hand, you’re just starting out and not under any pressure to deliver an album by a certain deadline, then being able to record from home may be a good idea if you have the money to invest right now. This is definitely a useful and very valuable skill to have if you have the time to learn it.
Depending on the way you create your music, a professional sounding home recording studio can cost you anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’re not mixing at home (and unless you’re a mixing engineer you probably shouldn’t be) you don’t have to spend anywhere near this amount.
INSIDER TIP: If you only plan to use digital instruments or if you play in a band and everyone already has their own gear (guitars, guitar amps, drum set etc) then I have a way to set up a very capable home recording studio for about $1,000. It’s the same set up I use and you can read all about it here.
The industry standard software applications for digital recording are currently Pro Tools and Logic. These tools both start out fairly inexpensive but as you add functionality the price can climb pretty high pretty fast. If your budget is tiny then there are a few cheaper options but keep in mind when you’re ready to get serious about creating music to industry standards you’ll need to speak the language everyone else is speaking ie. you’ll need to upgrade to Pro Tools or Logic (and maybe even both).
Free Digital Recording Tools
Here are a couple free options to help you learn and get used to the recording process but note these options can be very limited in their capabilities:
- GarageBand – decent free tool that does a great job at preparing you to use Logic – Mac/iOS
- Pro Tools First – yes there is a free version but don’t get too excited because it’s VERY limited – Mac/Windows
- Audacity – decent feature set for the price. Really good for editing podcast audio – Mac/Windows/Linux
- Reaper – Never used this one personally but I know some who does and he loves it. The free license is valid for 60 days so you have plenty of time to evaluate before deciding whether or not to buy – Mac/Windows/Linux
3. Do You Have a Space You Can Use?
If you are able to set everything up where you live be realistic about whether you have the space to do it or not. A spare bedroom is typically all you should need but a basement, attic or garage are also good options if available. Be careful not make everyone else in the house uncomfortable though.
I’ve been to homes that have been converted to rehearsal rooms and recording studios and the other occupants of the house didn’t seem too pleased at all. This can be quite an imposition when there’s no separation between where you work and where you live. And this probably applies to many other home based businesses.
For the recording equipment you don’t need a lot of space. Everything can be set up on a standard office desk pushed up against a wall. If you have the money then by all means spring for a professional producer’s desk. It will have everything where you need it and look really cool just be mindful that it will take up a lot of space.
Most homes have average sized spare bedrooms so if space is a bit tight stick with the regular desk. With a little bit of creativity and some additional items you can actually create a really nice space to record in without bankrupting yourself. That’s what I did and it works just fine. You can see my set up here if you’d like some ideas.
4. Will You Be Recording Vocals or Live Instruments?
This is an important question because it will determine how much space you’ll actually need and how much money you’ll need to spend.
If the Answer is “No”
If you plan to stick with just recording everything with MIDI instruments then you don’t need much space at all. Your instruments will likely either be software in your computer or rack mounted instrument modules. In this case you can literally set everything up in a bedroom and still be able to use that room as a bedroom. The biggest part of your set up will probably be the MIDI controller (keyboard) used to play the sounds.
If the Answer is “Yes”
If you plan to record live vocals you can actually mount an articulated mic stand on your desk so, again, you won’t need much space at all.
If on the other hand you need live instruments like a drum set, guitars and congas you’ll need to take up considerably more space. Against a single wall you can put the desk with the speakers and all of the other recording equipment. With the rest of the room you’ll need to be a little creative and lay out the instruments in a way that you can get to them without tripping, and of course actually play them in the space they’ve been assigned.
5. Is This Something You Actually Need?
A professional quality home recording studio can be both expensive and imposing. If you’re considering setting one up in your home then be sure this is something you’ll actually need before committing to it. It will be a good or bad idea depending on your needs and level of commitment to your new found career. Here is some food for thought to help you decide…
It’s a Good Idea If…
If you’ve decided you want to pursue a full time career in the music business and you understand that you’ll need to start writing and recording a lot of music to get the ball rolling, then you’ll save yourself a lot of money by setting up a room where you can record your masterpieces.
Perhaps the biggest advantage is the fact that you wouldn’t have to watch the clock as you write, jam or record in your own home studio. It’s a completely different scenario when you’re paying for studio time by the hour.
I don’t remember the exact figures but I’ve worked on recording projects that, once completed, management told me that studio time ended up costing somewhere around $200,000. Thankfully this bill was covered by the record company but it’s still a ton of money, especially when you consider a good chunk of it will come back out of your earnings once the songs are released.
It’s a Bad Idea If…
If you just playing around with the idea of making music, or worse – this is just a fun hobby for you, then the expense of setting up a home recording studio might not be worth it.
If you only plan to record every now and then it might be cheaper to just book a few hours of studio time at a commercial recording studio. This is a good idea even if you think you’ll record at home because you’ll learn a ton about the recording process simply by watching the way things are done and, perhaps more importantly, you’ll automatically take your dive into the music industry much more seriously since this is now costing you actual cash.
When you consider the inconvenience of people constantly in your house, neighbours on your case because of all the noise and tons of cars always parked out front, recording from home might not be your best option, or even an option at all.
Hopefully after reading this you now have some tools to help you make an informed decision about whether or not you should put a recording studio in your home. If you only learn one thing from this article I’m hoping it will be that a move like this affects more than just you.
To be fair make sure you discuss it with everyone who might be affected and take their input into account when deciding which way you want to go. At the end of the day it’s way better to have an army of well wishers cheering you on before you start than a mob of angry protestors calling the police on you every other day.
Now over to you. Was this helpful? Did I miss anything you think I should have included? I’d love to hear what you think.