The Ultimate Recording Studio Buying Guide For Producers On A Budget

The big multi-million dollar studios are slowly going the way of the dinosaur. That’s fantastic news for anyone entering music production. We’re now living in an age where minimalists get fat, and gear-heads get slaughtered. So today’s recording studios need to buy efficiently.

I’ve seen a lot of buying guides out there for recording studios, but very few of them cross the T’s and dot the I’s. I know from owning several recording studios, the price of a piece of gear isn’t just the sticker price. If you buy a $99 SM57, you also need a microphone cable, and a microphone stand. Depending on your application, the microphone stand can be a cheap regular model or a more expensive boom stand. So, lets take all the estimation and guess work out of it.

There are two different recording studio applications explained below. One is a recording studio with the capability to record drums. The other is a recording studio without the capability to record drums.

  1. Get Pro Tools. It’s the industry standard. I hardly ever see this advice out there, and I’m not sure why. But, you can get Pro Tools today for $29.99 a month. (If you’re a student its only $9.99 a month!) You’ll need an iLok 2.0 ($49.99) to hold your Pro Tools license and activate the software. This iLok will come in handy when you purchase other software licenses as well.

Total Cost: Student $60

Non-Student $80

  1. Get the right audio interface for you. I suggest going with a company whose business is based around its audio interfaces. There is constant updating being done to your software and your computer operating systems. This sometimes interferes with your audio interfaces ability to integrate with your DAW. (Digital Audio Workstation – In this case, Pro Tools) Here is a list of approved interfaces for Pro Tools 12 http://avid.force.com/pkb/articles/en_US/compatibility/Pro-Tools-HD-12-Approved-Audio-Interfaces-and-Peripherals

Take a look at the non-HD options. If you’d like to expand your search, I also suggest trying out something from the Focusrite Scarlett series. They are not on the officially approved list but audio interfaces and preamps are part of Focusrite’s core business. It’s important to their business that they stay compatible with your DAW. If tracking drums is important you can choose the Scarlett 18i20 ($499). It has 8 preamps built in. If you won’t be tracking drums, I’d suggest an interface with two preamps like the Scarlett 2i2 ($149).

Total Cost: Drums $499

Non-Drums $149

  1. Make your monitoring choice headphones. There is more than one way to monitor your audio. Headphones are a fantastic choice for startup recording studios. It’s likely that you have a high-quality set of headphones already. If you don’t, you can try out headphones at music stores and retailers like Best Buy. Remember, if you choose this option, you need two sets of headphones. One set will be for you, the other set will be for your artist. I would suggest sticking around the $49-$79 range when it comes to headphones. That is when they begin to be studio quality. Check the specs on your interface to make sure it has at least two separate headphone outs or invest in a signal splitter.

Total Cost: Two Pair Monitoring Solution $100

One Pair of Studio Headphones $50

  1. Make your monitoring choice traditional monitors. Starter M-Audio and JBL monitors are priced around $129. If possible, go take a listen to these monitors in a music store before you buy them. Keep in mind that you will still need headphones for tracking. Remember that you will need two speaker cables to hook up your monitors. Some monitors come with cables; otherwise this should run you about $12 each ($24).

Total Cost: Monitors Only $129

With Speaker Cable $153

  1. Re-use your microphones. You’ll be able to track everything except drums with only two microphones. A condenser microphone will give you the sound you’re looking for on your vocal and acoustic instrument recordings. A condenser mic is also great as a drum room mic or a drum overhead microphone. I suggest the Rode NT1-A ($229) as a starter condenser microphone. It usually comes with a pop filter a shock mount and an xlr cable.

Next you’ll need a dynamic microphone. Go with a Shure SM57 ($99). You’ll need an xlr cable to go with this ($16). The sure SM57 is great on guitar cabs and percussive instruments. If you’re doing drums you can use this for Snare or Toms.

Now, if you’d like to mic the whole drum set I would suggest something like this to start out. This is the set-up low budget solution I would use. You have an SM57 already. Use that on the snare. Pick up two more SM57’s for the Rack Tom and the Floor Tom ($198).

Next, I would go with something used for a bass drum microphone. Used microphones give you the option to pick up high-end gear at low prices. The reason I like buying used bass drum microphones is simple. They never get hit by a drum stick and the never fall from very high. Check eBay for an AKG D112 ($120).

Now here comes a strange piece of advice. When you’re starting out, it’s likely that you do not have an acoustically tuned room. So for now, skip the room mic. Take the Rode NT1-A and pair it with another Rode NT1-A ($229). It sounds expensive but it’s a very cheap way to get high quality overheads. Consider your choices, you can either buy two cheap microphones to use as your overheads or you can buy one more high-quality Rode NT1-A microphone to provide you with a better solution for a very similar price.

Every one of these microphones is going to need a microphone stand. OnStage is a cheap reliable provider of mic stands. Boom stands are about $25 each but there are bulk discounts.

If you need enough stands for a whole drum set you can get your first six in a set for ($149). http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MicStdFB6pk

You can get a sturdy kick drum mic stand for (26.95).

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MicStdDeskBm

If you just need two mic stands you can get them as a set for ($44.99).

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MicStdFB2pk

You will need Microphone cables for the two extra SM57s and the D112. Planet Waves classic cables are a great solution at about $16 each. ($48)

http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/PWCMIC25?adpos=1o1&creative=54989267161&device=c&matchtype=&network=g&gclid=CJXAlu-EgcYCFQiOaQodYWkAJQ

Total Cost: Drums $1115

No Drums   $389

We are assuming that you have a desk to put your gear on and your computer has the ability to run Pro Tools. Minimum requirements can be found here:

http://avid.force.com/pkb/articles/en_US/compatibility/Pro-Tools-12-System-Requirements

Lets add up the total cost of starting your recording studio!

Item Student Normal
 

Pro Tools w/ iLok 2

 

$60.00

 

$80.00

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interface No Drums Full Drum Kit
 

$149

 

$499

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headphones All Monitoring Only for artist
 

$100

 

$50

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio Monitors N/A Starter Monitors w/ Cables
 

$0

 

$153

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microphones w/ Stands and Cables No Drums Full Drum Kit
 

$389

 

$1,115

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total Studio Startup Cost

 

$698

 

$1,744

For those of you looking to get professional drum sounds on a tight budget, check out the Drumagog demo. It will trigger sampled drum hits right inside of your DAW! It’s free for 14 days at this link:

http://www.drumagog.com/demo

So this buying guide is not about getting your dream gear. It’s about getting started. Instead of expensive acoustic panels, you can use blankets. Instead of building an echo chamber you can use plugins. If you get yourself set-up this way, you can easily upgrade your equipment when the time’s right.

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