Buying a Home Recording Setup for Under $300 | The Remote Musician, Part 1 of 5

Updated: Mar 18

Our current situation has many musicians wondering how in the name of Pug we're going to make money if we're not performing or teaching. I want to offer one potential solution that may not pay off immediately, but is a good skill set to be able to call upon when you need it: RECORDING YOURSELF

The goal of these posts is not to teach you how to be a professional audio engineer, it's to give some advice on:

  1. What to buy (especially when you're on a budget)

  2. How to record yourself on your own instrument successfully from your own space

  3. What you need in order to set up a freelancing portfolio

  4. How to deliver usable audio files to other musicians using Reaper

  5. What other applications your skills can be used for



I've recorded for TV (Tim and Eric's Bedtime Stories, Vol. 2), Film (Small Crimes, Netflix Original), and advertisements (LG's "Everyday Spectacular" campaign), all from my basement at this workstation. My room is not great, my set up isn't the best in the world, and I had no clue what I was doing when I started. So hopefully I can clear away some of the barriers to you starting to record yourself. And I hope you find as much joy in doing it as I do!


The Gear List


Here's a list of all of the equipment you'll need to get started. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to assume that you have a laptop or desktop computer already. I understand that isn't everyone's reality, though, and can be a huge barrier to doing this. If anyone has resources for how to get a cheap laptop or desktop, please contact me!


  • XLR Cable

  • 1/4" cable (if you plan on plugging directly in, especially for electric guitar/electric bass)

  • Microphone Boom Stand

  • Condenser Microphone

  • Over-ear Headphones

  • Audio Interface with Phantom Power

  • Digital Audio Workstation (software like Reaper, ProTools, Logic, Garageband, etc.)

  • A laptop or desktop computer that meets the requirements of your DAW of choice (note that the laptop or desktop isn't included in the price

XLR Cables:



For your first setup, it's likely that you won't need a cable that is more that 10 feet long. For more complicated setups, you can expand on that. If you're buying through an established seller, you shouldn't have a problem with buying cheap cables.


Mic Stands:





I have a few of these, they've been through hell and still work. Things are a little looser than when I first got them, but they've lasted for 7 years of bar gigs and home recording. I recommend getting a boom stand instead of a "straight" stand so you can angle the mic however you want.


Microphones:


I love the value you get when using sE microphones, for an entry level mic, this should suit you well and let you access a warm, full sound.



A different style of microphone, but will provide a clear, accurate sound and work well for recording many different sources.




If you've got the money to buy at this level, you'll end up with something that will likely be a little warmer and fuller in tone than the AT2020 (Audio-Technica's base model condenser). This is still an entry-level mic, but it offers pads (for loud instruments like trumpet/tuba) and low cut filters, which can be good when recording voice.


For a more comprehensive understanding of the differences between large-diaphragm and small-diaphragm condensers, I'll let the folks at Neumann do the talking. Ultimately, you can get a great sound using any of these microphones, and it boils down to how you use the mics, which we'll address later.


Headphones:



You'll want headphones that are "closed-back" for recording purposes.


You can spend a lot of money on headphones, but what you need to get started is something that will go over your ears and keep the click track from bleeding into your recording. That's what these are. These were my first headphones, and they work! They're not great but they work.


A step up from the Behringer headphones, should be more comfortable and have better sound isolation - keeping a click track from bleeding into your recording


Interfaces:




Would only allow you to set up one mic or instrument source at a time, but if you're only recording yourself, that's okay!


Great entry-level interface, lets you set up two mics or instrument sources (to record in stereo or to record two instruments at the same time). Durable as hell, I've seen these be used for 7+ years at a time.


It's a risky buy, in my opinion. Similar to the Scarlett Solo in specs, but I have no clue what they sound like or how long they last.


A friend of mine, composer/songwriter/bandleader/collaborator Niko D. Schroeder vouches for Behringer products - he's used a similar model to this and says they're stable and great to use. He's still not sure about the UMC22 listed above, though.


Digital Audio Workstations:




  • Reaper- Free for 60 days, then it's only a $60 one-time fee (currently giving away temporary licenses for free!)

This is the DAW I use, so I'm a little biased, but it is EXCELLENT for the type of work you'll be doing as a session recording musician, and is flexible for if you want to branch out into other things.


Pros: Comes with all the plug-ins you'd need built in. Has a great support community that can pretty much help you with any problem you have. Open source, which is my favorite thing. Works on PC or Mac, and doesn't need an incredibly beefy computer to run.


Cons: Takes awhile to learn if you don't have someone to help you





A popular DAW for first time users, much more user friendly if you want to get recording right away.


Pros: Comes with plug-ins and virtual instruments built in, if you would like to start doing some songwriting. Balances loop-based writing with virtual instrument writing. Has extensive tutorials and support online that will show you how to get started.


Cons: Will only work on Mac :(


Bundles*:



* The mics included are not great, but should be usable to get started. Also note that these bundles don't include everything you need, so refer to the list at the top of this post to see what they're missing

Recommendation


My recommendation for someone starting off who only wants to record their solo instrument:


Pro Co StageMASTER XLR Microphone Cable 10 ft. - $6.95


On-Stage Stands Euro Boom Microphone Stand - $29.95


One (1) of these mics:


  1. For low-pitched instruments like bassoon/tuba/double bass: sE Electronics X1 A Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone - $99.00

  2. For mid-high pitch instruments like oboe, clarinet, flute: sE Electronics sE7 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone - $99.00


Behringer HPS3000 Studio Headphones - $18.99


Scarlett Solo - $109.99


Reaper - currently free during social distancing times with temporary license, $60 if you want to continue using once we're out of quarantine


TOTAL COST - 263.89 before taxes and shipping (Sweetwater does Free Shipping)

My recommendation for someone starting off who wants to use up to two microphones at a time:


Pro Co StageMASTER XLR Microphone Cable 10 ft. - 2 @ $6.95/ea


On-Stage Stands Euro Boom Microphone Stand - 2 @ $29.95/ea


sE Electronics X1 A Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone - $99.00


sE Electronics sE7 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone - $99.00


Behringer HPS3000 Studio Headphones - $18.99


Scarlett 2i2 - $159.99**


Reaper - currently free with temporary license, $60 if you want to continue using once we're out of COVID-19 quarantine


TOTAL COST - 448.99 before taxes and shipping (Sweetwater does free shipping)


**You could swap out with the Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD to keep the total cost under $400

SUMMARY



It's still expensive to buy all the gear to start recording, but it is much cheaper than it's ever been to get started, and a lot of the equipment is very user friendly. If you have questions, or a recommendation on a good entry-level mic or interface that you don't see listed, leave it in the comments or reach out through my contact form!


Continue the journey with Part 2 of The Remote Musician, where we set up your interface, learn to set levels, and discuss mic placement

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