Back in the day, if you wanted to record your music you would need to pay big bucks for a professional recording studio. The equipment was not very user friendly and needed literal engineers to work it, hence the title Audio Engineer. Today, professional studios still have their place as there is a vast array of knowledge to be acquired to get the best recorded sound you can get, to mix the various tracks together, and to have a skilled producer help the artist(s) craft the best version of their music possible, but with today’s digital equipment you can get a long way with your own home studio for a very reasonable investment.

The following diagram shows the typical elements of a recording setup.  The arrows show the “signal flow” or the direction the sound flows (electronically).

Computer (desktop or laptop) – Everything is recorded digitally these days, so you will need a decent desktop or laptop computer the run the audio recording software. You will often see this software referred to as a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) – This is a fancy name for the software that you will use to record, mix, and master your music. There are many options to choose from. Some are free and some cost money. Some run on Windows, some run on Apple, and some run on both.
Audio Interface – A device that connects to your computer and has inputs for mics and instruments.  It also has outputs for headphones and speakers to listen to your recordings.
Microphone – Required to record vocals or acoustic instruments
Headphones – For listening to and mixing your recordings.
Speakers – For listening to and mixing your recordings
Instrument(s) – Whatever instruments you wish to record

How to Choose the Best Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) For You
There is a wide variety of DAWs available for you to choose from. Which one you choose will depend on a few things: your budget, your technical skills, and your needs. There are many DAWs out there, with both free and paid versions available, so shop around and see which one fits your needs the best!

A few examples of free DAWs are Reaper, Audacity, and GarageBand. GarageBand is intuitive and easy to learn, but it is only available to Mac users. Audacity and Reaper are both available across multiple platforms, and are open-source, so although they have a more primitive interface, they offer a lot of potential for customization by each user. In terms of the DAWs used by audio professionals, Avid’s Pro Tools and Apple’s Logic Software dominate the marketplace.

Most DAWs offer free trials, so take advantage of these! Download the demos or trials and try a few out before making a final decision about which one is best for you.

Audio Interface
An audio interface lets you get the audio signal from an instrument or microphone into a your computer for recording and mixing. It will also have outputs for speakers and headphones so you can either listen while you are recording or listen during mixing sessions.  Audio Interfaces range in price from around $100 to several hundred, even thousands, of dollars.  An example of a great first audio interface is something like the Focusrite 2i2 or the Roland Rubix 22 (check out some interface options at Origin Road).

If you are going to be recording vocals or any acoustic instruments (instruments that to not have an electronic output, such as violins, most ukuleles, many acoustic guitars, brass & wind instruments, etc.) then you will need a decent quality microphone.  There are many microphones to choose from but almost any mic from around $80 and up should be perfectly adequate.  A great option would be something like the Audio Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone (check it out at Origin Road).

A good set of headphones will allow you to listen back to your recordings with greater clarity.  An advantage to headphones over speakers is that you eliminate some of the ambient room noise while listening.  Headphones are also needed to record with a mic if you need to listen while recording.  For example, if you recorded a guitar part and then want to hear the recorded guitar while recording vocals as a second track, then you will need headphones so the microphone does not “re-record” the guitar sound coming through speakers.

As good as headphones can be, it is always useful to be able to listen to your recordings with the ambient room noise and reverb created by walls.  You may think a recording sounds good in headphones but then it sounds bad when heard through speakers because the sound reflects off the walls and changes what you hear.  Mixing your music will be a process of finding the best mix of your tracks to satisfy listening in many situations (in a car, through headphones, in a small room, in a big room, etc.).  It is best to have speakers that have a very flat frequency response.  This means that they produce an even volume across all frequencies.  Some speakers are designed to amplify the low frequencies (bass) more than high frequencies.  This can lead to you removing more low frequency audio then you should.  It won’t sound good when you are using speakers that don’t amplify the low end.

Final Thoughts
You could spend thousands of dollars on audio recording equipment and still end up with a bad recording.  If you are just beginning your journey into audio recording, you will get better results if you focus on learning as much as you can about the processes and worry less about the gear.  You will also get much better recordings if you practice your instrument or vocals more.  Great recordings always start with a great performance (whether that is singing, playing an instrument, or writing/programming electronic music).  Most importantly, have fun and experiment!  You never know where you will find the next great sound.  Try singing in a big room to get the room reverb, try singing in a closet with a blanket hanging on the wall.  You’ll start to hear the difference that various techniques result in and you will find what you like.

If you need any of the gear listed above or if you have any questions about how to get set up for home recording, please come in to Origin Road.  Our friendly staff are very knowledgeable in audio recording and happy to help you out.