Introduction to Digital Music Recording: Part 1 – Finding a Space for Your Home Studio

If you’re a musician, at some stage you’ve probably considered the idea of recording yourself, or your band, or the cool duet you do with the cat (she takes the high notes). Digital music recording technology has come a long way in recent years, and the best part is that you no longer need to remortgage your house to be able to build a decent quality home studio set up.

The first step on the home studio path is deciding where you’re going to work. Are you a garage band with access to a real garage, or are you a solo act who neatly folds onto a single chair in your study? Before you think about shelling out for any equipment, you need to sort out where you’re going to be recording music. As the experts say, “location, location, location”. It’s pretty important. Here are the things you should consider.

Peace and quiet

It almost goes without saying that if you live near a railway line or in a flight path you might want to consider recording at a mate’s house instead. Always remember that you’re aiming for minimal background noise, unless of course you’re recording at a live venue in which case ambient chatter and intermittent clanging are part of the experience and therefore the recording. Choosing a time that you have the house to yourself is always an excellent plan. There’s nothing more frustrating than laying down a perfectly executed riff that’s ruined by a door slamming, the dog barking or someone yelling, “Honey, I’m ho-ome!”.

Sized to fit

If you’re solo artist who will only be recording a single instrument at a time, then it shouldn’t be too hard to find a corner that will accommodate you and your stuff. If you’re going to try simultaneously recording all members of a cello octet, you’ll need to think through your space requirements a little more carefully. In some cases it could even be worth booking a local studio or hall, instead of cramming into your spare bedroom. Remember that some musicians don’t like to feel confined when they play (drummers and lead guitarists in particular), so realise that you’ll need a lot more space for simultaneous instrument recording. If space is tight, you should instead consider recording instruments one-by-one.

Acoustically sound

If you’ve ever sung from the choir stalls of a stone cathedral, you’ll notice your voice sound distinctly different from when you sing in your living room. Floor and wall coverings such as carpet, curtains and wallpaper act as dampeners, which stop soundwaves from reverberating and echoing within a space. A bit of an echo can be a good thing, especially when you’re recording vocals or acoustic guitar – both sound fuller and richer, as if the notes have more body. People sing in the shower because it’s where they sound best! I know plenty of musicians who routinely record in their tiled laundry or bathroom for this very reason, so for a crisper, fuller sound try to avoid overly dampened rooms.

Love thy neighbour

A quick note about sound levels – if you’re know you’re Armageddon Loud and that you’re going to be recording regularly, keeping your nearby neighbours happy should be a priority. One person’s music can be another’s noise, and if neighbours suspect you’re breaching acceptable sound levels, a quick phone call to the local council or police can shut down your jam sessions quicker than a grace note. Be considerate about the hours you play, and consider soundproofing if you regularly rock out in close proximity to your neighbours.

Now that you have a better idea of the space in which you’ll be recording, we’ll move on to discussing basic home studio equipment. In Part 2 we’ll cover elements such as computer requirements, microphones and music recording software recommendations.