Alright, let’s chat about how to build a home recording studio. Ever wondered which music studio equipment is the best value for money regardless of your budget? In this episode we take a look at three different tiers of budget from $500 to unlimited and suggest the best pieces of music gear that you need for your studio whether you’re a vocalist, producer or engineer.
Host: Lukas Ray (https://www.instagram.com/musicbylukas/)
Host: Noize (https://www.instagram.com/noize_london/)
Filming & Editing: Lauren Z. Ray (https://www.instagram.com/laurenzray/)
Transcript: How to Build a Home Recording Studio – Boomcast Ep. 8
Fabio: DOn’t forget that every month, we are giving away $500 worth of studio equipment, and all you have to do is comment down below with…
Lukas: Yeah, comment below and let us know what you would have in your dream studio where money is no object and everything is unlimited. Like, would you have a studio on a private island? Would it be on a jet? Comment below on what it would be.
Fabio: So let’s reel it back a bit, Lukas, because what we are going to discuss today is building our dream studio, but in three tiers. Right? We got tier one, which is up to $500, tier two, which is up to $3000 – which I actually found to be really tricky, because its a big number but its not quite big enough. And then we’ve got tier three, which is a dream studio scenario.
Lukas: Yeah, which is currently your studio.
Fabio: Yeah, you know what? Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty good. I love my studio. You can’t see much of it in the shot. But I’ve got some bits, for sure. I’ve got some bits.
Lukas: Also, Fabio and I went back and found some pictures of our old studios. We’re gonna be reacting to those today as well. First tier is $500. So all you have is $500. Now Fabio, does that include… does that include $500 on top of a computer? You gotta put that all in there for $500, right?
Fabio: We are assuming that you already have a computer, or a phone. I do think that a laptop or a phone is a pretty staple. I’m not saying that everyone should have one, I understand that we all are in different situations. BUt generally speaking, most people have access to some sort of computer these days. You have to buy the DAW, but I think that’s what so great about 2023, is that you don’t really have to buy anything because there are so many free options.
Fabio: If you have the software, if you have the computer, the software is hypothetically free. We’ve got Ableton Lite, we’ve got Garageband, and now we’re starting to see companies that have DAWs within browsers such as BandLab and Soundtrap by Spotify. So, things that only you and I could have only dreamed of as young, budding producers, right? Back when DAWs were so expensive, they are now pretty much free. If you’re going in and thinking about spending $500 on a studio, we could also assume that you’re a beginner. So you don’t need something with all the bells and whistles.
Lukas: Well, also you’re then saving money by, for example, building your own acoustic panels. Watching some youtube tutorials, downloading some free plugins. Yeah, there are actually ways to find some cool stuff out there now.
Fabio: There are a bunch of amazing, stock, and free plugins that are gonna be more than enough in tools there. If you start spending a bunch of money on instruments, and you barely know how to produce or use a DAW, you’re gonna find yourself feeling very panicked and very overwhelmed when you sit down to make music. You probably won’t end up making anything because of the amount of information that you’re going to have to… the amount of skills that you’re going to have to learn in order to make a song.
So if I only had $500 today, and I wanted to sell almost to the cent, we got the computer, we got the software, so I’m thinking headphones. Forget the speakers, forget the acoustic treatment. Headphones means you’re portable, you can make music anywhere. You’re gonna go for the Audio-technica ATH M40, which are $117. Or you can go for the BeyerDynamics DT990, which are open backs. Just to give people an openback option. More natural sound, a little heavier, a little clunkier and those cost $139. What are you thinking headphone-wise?
Lukas: Headphone-wise, I would do the same thing. Iw ould go for a lower-scale audio technica, maybe a lower scale sennheiser. I actually think, too, that headphones are important, but as long as you have a good pair of monitor headphones, you could get something like Sonarworks to balance your headphones. Like a software you could use. And that could actually take the headphones you have to the next level. Would you do speakers for a $500 studio?
Fabio: No, just headphones, I think. I think monitors come with issues: you need cables, you need stands, acoustic treatments. I would actually try to avoid eating that much into the budget.
Lukas: What about a piano?
Fabio: Hundred percent. Midi keyboard. And I’ve bought two of these because I actually broke one. I don’t even know how I broke it – something silly. An Alesis Q25, which is a 25-key keyboard. Now, I understand if you want something bigger, if you’re a musician, but if you’re a producer who doesn’t know how to play keys, and you want to learn on something that’s got full-size keys and feels good, this is a very cheap option.
Lukas: Nice, and how much is that one?
Fabio: So, you can find them for about $80.
Lukas: Ok, because I’ve had to buy… because we live on the road… I’ve had to buy keyboards on the road sometimes, if we’re on the road for a long time and I gotta finish a track and I need that keyboard feel. What I usually do is get an M-Audio USB keyboard with weighted keys. Honestly you can get a pretty good size keyboard, bigger than a 25-key, for around the same price. So I would also look for something like that
Fabio: You know people often ask me, “Should I go for this brand, or this brand that is the same price?” Honestly, if they are the same price, then they’re probably the same build quality, so don’t stress yourself out about it. Go read reviews.
Lukas: Amazon, honestly.
Fabio: Yeah, if you’re like, should I buy a keyboard that’s $300 vs $30, I think we know which one is gonna be better. I did want to switch out the midi keyboard, to factor in for vocalists. So if you’re not looking for a midi keyboard, maybe you’re thinking about a microphone. Billie Eillesh recorded a lot of her original records on something called an Audio-Technica AT-2020. You can get a bundle of the microphone, with the stand, cables, for about $140. So, a little bit more than the midi keyboard, but you’re getting a lot more equipment for the money.
Lukas: And you can also, too, get a splice membership for $7/month at this tier, and you pretty much have unlimited samples for the most part. I’ve never run out of credits, for example on Splice, and I’ve downloaded a lot. That could be definitely beneficial in comparison to going out and buying outright sample packs that maybe cost $20-50 dollars, or more. Getting into Splice maybe could be better.
Fabio: I was paid by a company to enter a remix competition by Splice. And I don’t know why they paid me to do it, maybe because they knew something I didn’t. I ended up winning the competition, and Splice then gave me a free license to SPlice for one year. Let me tell you that was about 6 years ago, and I still have that free license being perpetually renewed every single year.
Lukas: Splice is going to comment, “Hey we just discontinued your license.”
Fabio: If you do have a microphone, even if you don’t have one, you are going to need an audio interface. You’ve got quite a snazzy audio interface, that you take with you on the road. What is it called?
Lukas: Universal Audio. It’s not the craziest one. It’s their Volt series. It’s actually a really good series interface. It’s kinda like, they have much more expensive ones, but this one was only a couple hundred bucks and it works perfectly. It even has a mic input. Yeah, I think its a good find.
Fabio: An absolute classic is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – which could survive nuclear warfare. It is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of equipment that I saw when I was coming up engineering. I think they’re in the third or fourth generation now. It’s $150, and you can’t go wrong. Twin inputs in, two outputs. Nice solid metal case, so if you are traveling or moving around a bit, you’re not gonna be too worried about bangging it or bumping it. It’s fairly indestructible. It’s like the Shure SM58 of audio interfaces. So we have a little bit of budget left.
Lukas: We have some wiggle room?
Fabio: We have some wiggle room. I figured it out and we have about $70 left, and I think something that we’ve discussed in the past and I know a lot of producers and singers and musicians appreciate is a vibe.
Lukas: I was gonna say, is it a pair of sunglasses? I actually got a pair of sunglasses that have the Fabio from Noize London vibe. They;re a little bit similar. By the way comment below if you noticed my hair changed, and what you think about it
Fabio: I saw a photo of you in these! You look like you’re about to drop the hottest emo trap album of 2023. I actually yesterday bought humidifier that has a glowing light on it, and i found slightly bigger version of it on amazon for this podcast – which I’ll put in the show notes- and I think what’s cool about the humidifier is that it brings the vibes with its lights, but it’s also tapping into the slightly healthy lifestyle. You’re putting a nice scent in your studio, which means it’s gonna smell good, too. It’s gonna help you feel relaxed. And humidifiers are also great if people don’t know – I’m not a scientist, so please do your own research – but humidifiers are also great for if you’re not feeling well. If the room is dry or the electrical equipment is drying up the room. They can actually prevent bacteria from spreading, so it’s a win-win all around.
Lukas: Ok, so let’s go for that $3000 budget. So my question for you Fabio, does that budget still include the computer? Because if it doesn’t, then you’re almost doing the same thing as the previous budget, and then getting a computer with it. What do you think?
Fabio: I mean, are you working on a tape machine? You obviously have a computer. You’ve bought your first $500 studio, you’ve hit your threshold, you’ve gotten a bigger paycheck at work, or are starting to make some money from music, you sold a sound pack – you did something that has allowed you to evolve.
Lukas: That could be another podcast: things to help you get to that point, ways to make money of of music. If you guys want that, make sure to comment below. If I already have a computer, and I have a budget of $300 for my studio, and I have basic stuff already, I think I’m looking at plugins and software. I feel like that can really be a game changer for your music to really help you. There are some certain plugins that I’ve used like Nexus or Serum – that have really helped me to be able to have really cool sounds and expand my music reach.
Fabio: Let’s start with some assumptions. You’ve got the computer, you’ve got the vibes, you’ve probably got some basic equipment. But maybe you haven’t. But you’ve got an extra $3000, good for you. I’m just gonna put this in here, because I didn’t fit into the budget but I do think its something really important is: good chair and good desk.
Lukas: Oh yeah, a good chair and desk are important. That’s true.
Fabio: Don’t undermine a good chair and good desk. If you are sitting there for a long time, and you’re making those investments, overnight, over the weekend, when you can..
Lukas: What if you spent all $3000 on these [sunglasses], though?
Fabio: Then you can’t even see the desk or chair. You can pretend it’s whatever you want
Lukas: No, I agree with you 100% though. Having the desk and chair is really important because you’re gonna be sitting there for a long time.
Fabio: If you need to spend some of your money on your health, then spend the money on your health. If that means using some of your budget for agym membership, groceries or a better chair, don’t mistake that as not being an important part of you sitting down and making music and investing in your creative passion/hobby or profession.
Lukas: What are the external plugins that you would get? That would be within this budget? Because if you have some wiggle room, did you use your budget for just that or did you budget for more gear stuff?
Fabio: No, definitely. I’m quite a software-based producer and engineer so you’re going to get the full software first and foremost. You’re going to get Logic or Ableton. I want everyone to know right now that Logic is $200 and Ableton is $600 full suite. So, people say, “Oh but you have to use Logic on a Mac.” But if you spend $400 more, compared to Ableton, you could actually afford a Mac. I don’t want to assume…
Lukas: Maybe not the Macbook Pro…but yeah, exactly
Fabio: No, maybe not. but the M1 Pro Macbook is pretty good. The base model macbook. Sothink about that.. Get it secondhand. Don’t be scared of getting on jumping on ebay, facebook marketplace, I know in the states you have craigslist. Gumtree. Plugins-wise, lets talk instruments. Lets talk about music creation tools rather than mixing and mastering tools. Go for a suite. Wait for a sale, or if you;re a student of some sort, then use the educational discount. MOst companies have an educational discount. It could be 50%. Arturia Collection is great if you want vintage synths. It also comes with some mixing tools, as well. Some effects, some EQs, analog EQs. Or if you want something that is less synth/drum machine focused, then Native Instruments standard suite comes about $600. And that will give you more than enough to do what you need to do creatively.
Lukas: Yeah, I think it also depends on what kind of your end goal is. If you’re trying to be a mastering engineer, then obviously you’ll want some plugins for that. For example, if you’re not the best at melodies, then maybe you want to look at Captain Chords, or one of those types of plugins that will assist you with melody ideas. And if you for example are looking for sounds that are already processed, and have a lot of effects on them. Nexus is great. It already has reverbs and all that kind of stuff in there, and it’s really detailed. So yeah, it just kind of depends on what your focus is. Now that you have a bit of budget to move around with.
Fabio: Yeah, don’t overshoot, and buy too many things, either. Especially because you just see them on sale. You end up with too many options and that’s going to cripple your creativity. If you are looking to do a little mixing and you want some effects, you want to head into that zone. The Noize London zone. Soundtoys and FabFilter. They are again, Black Friday or educational discounts can get you about 50% off. So I’m going to give you their lowest prices: Soundtoys is about $250, Fabfilter is about $350. Shop around, and then the only thing that I would add there is: Valhalla Vintage Verb for $50. I think it’s one of the best reverbs out there.
Lukas: It’s a classic. There are a couple of new reverb plugins that I’ve really been enjoying lately. Exoverb does spatial reverb within stereo sound, which is really cool if you want to get a spatial vibe. Then the Cashmere reverb is really good for, especially electronic music. The presets are crazy because it’s new. It’s geared automatically towards that kind of stuff. So, there’s some really cool plugins out there right now.
Fabio: If you’re thinking, “Ok, I just bought the Suite. I really wish I had a budget for Serum.” You could always go for Vital, which is basically serum but free. Completely free. And it’s an awesome synth. Do I prefer Serum? Yes, in some ways, but maybe that’s just because I’m more familiar with it. I think there are more videos on Serum because it’s been around for longer, but Vital is an awesome alternative.
Lukas: Alright so we have a little bit more room in the $3000 budget. So what are the last must-haves that we need in there?
Fabio: So, look, I am gonna assume you already have headphones, by this point. So you could upgrade to a better version of Audio-Technicas, if you wanted to. Or I would recommend III TMA Studios. I’m wearing the wireless version right now. Very comfortable.
Lukas: Looking good
Fabio: Thanks, they’re great headphones. Very comfortable and they sound fantastic. And if you want a midi keyboard, the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A49 is a nice upgrade. It’s $220, which is really decent.
If you don’t want a midi keyboard, and you don’t need headphones, maybe you want a better microphone. I’m gonna give you two options here: 1) The microphone that you hear Lukas and I speak on during these podcasts is the Shure SM7B, it’s a good podcasting mic. One of the reasons it is such a good mic is that it’s dynamic, and what that means is that it’s not that sensitive, so that if you do have a lot of reflections in your room, it’s not going to pick up on them that much. Which means that you don’t have to spend money on acoustic treatment if you don’t want to. Alternatively, if you do have a closet, or a dead sounding room – dead-ish sounding treated room in which you could record – i would go for the Aston Spirit, which is a fantastic condenser mic that comes in at about $350.
What I want to be conscious of is including vocalists and producers here that I know some of you are hybrid, and look, if you’re really desperate for a microphone and you don’t have any budget, use your iPhone. The iPhone microphone is awesome. If you’re just doing dance music and taglines, you can get really creative. It’s got a lo-fi hi-fi sound.
Lukas: There’s an app that I use to record the voice stuff for my radio show, and it’s called VoiceRecord on Iphone. And for some reason, I don’t know if it’s the calibration or what, but the audio sounds a lot cleaner than the voice memo app. So it’s called Voice Record – I think it’s a free app – it just has little ads on the bottom or something, but it’s a good one.
Fabio: We’ve just got a couple more items in this tier, so the audio interface is the upgraded version of the one you have, Lukas. So this is the Universal Audio Volt 476P-USBC. We love USBc, it makes life a lot easier for everybody. No dongles necessary. That’s $470, and that still leaves us with $1000. I am $50 over budget here, and Ive got a couple of options. You know, monitors are important at a certain point. You can;t work on headphones forever. It starts to sound the same. It will start to sound stale. If you’re collaborating with other people, singers, they are going to want to hear things through speakers. So, for that reason, they can be really important, and just for having a bit more fun. They’re the same speaker, but one’s bigger and one is smaller. One is a bit bigger but we’re not including acoustic treatment, and one’s smaller and we are.
Lukas: You going Yamaha? Or…where are you going?
Fabio: I’m going to Focal-Alpha. So Focals are great speakers first and foremost. They made this Alpha range, which is just around the $1000 mark. Which is a great price, but they just released new versions of these monitors, so you’ve got the 80, which is an 8-inch driver. Right, if you want to really be able to hear the low-end. And then the 65, which is a 6.5-inch driver which is also great but don’t forget that the better your room sounds, the better the speaker will sound. Not the better the speaker sounds, the better the sound will be.
So, if you feel like ok, I want to go for the smaller ones, but I wanna spend $300 building my panels, on which there are loads of incredible youtube videos, then do that.
Lukas: For sure.
Fabio: And for this week’s out-of-the-box question, we’re going to react and review our old studio pictures. Mine was back all the way, when I was 11, my family had this piano – I didn’t get it, so it wasn’t within my 11-year old budget – but my family had this piano that essentially no one was using, and it had this little sequencer in the middle. You could make different tracks, and you could add sounds and then layer them on top of each other. So it was almost like the computer DAW was inside the keyboard, and I started messing around with this and I took it pretty far. I started making my own beats and showing them to my friends, and even messing around and trying to rap on them and record with a tape recorder. I would just be so proud of this, but I got to a point eventually, when I really wanted to get a DAW. I wanted to get Logic Pro, I wanted a computer, but I didn’t have the money to do that. But there was an Apple store at the mall, in my neighborhood. I would go to the apple store as often as I could, and I would go to the test computers, Launch Logic pro and start learning how to use it. I got really good at it, by doing this. Eventually the manager of the store wanted to kick me out, because I’m using the computer all the time. I negotiated, where if I could teach the employees how to use Logic Pro, he would let me use the test computers. And so, that was my negotiation to be able to make this happen. And then I would bring a little USB stick with me to be able to save my beats every day. Because they reset the computers every day, you know, you can’t save your stuff on there, so I would plug in the USB, load up my project, and then work on it some more. Eventually I saved up enough money to get an old Apple computer on ebay, and yeah, that’s how it started.
Fabio: That’s an incredible story. I love that. I love the hustle. Where can I access this, oh wait I know a place with computers. It’s brilliant. I learned Logic at school, and then when I was 14, I learned on a DAW that came in a box with Frosties, which was called EJ360. I think showing a photo of a box of Frosties would be quite underwhelming, but I do definitely have some photos of an old studio somewhere in my old bedroom, with graffiti on the walls, as you can imagine, and all the things an adolescent would have.
Lukas: We’ll pop those up if Fabio sends.
Fabio: If this video gets one like, I’ll send it to you. No, I guess what was my first, let’s call it commercial studio, that I built, it was still in my apartment, but I was… I speak a lot about the vibe and how studios should feel good, and feel like somewhere you want to work. I always think about it as if you’re walking into a brain, and the whole professional… You can make it feel good, you don’t always need professional equipment, I actually think the longer you want to be there. The brain really loves novelty. And novelty can be a change of location, it can also be a change of environment, a small change of environment. That triggers dopamine, and if you find you’re feeling unproductive in your studio space, try moving things around. Cleaning, moving things around and making it feel like a new space, you’ll feel extra productive and you’ll want to go straight in, and you’ll be excited about being in that room that you spend so much time in. But, here’s a photo of my first commercial studio… I was a big lover of analog gear, you can tell, I got the Moog synthesizer, I got the TRA, the Korg and that was going through two guitar pedals on the left. The panels on the back that you can see were all custom built by myself, and a bunch of friends that I managed to rope in. Because I think, if you say to the boys, “Listen I got a bunch of beers, some power tools and some wood that needs cutting, would you be up for helping me out?” And it was so sweet. All my guy friends got together in my garden and we built all these panels. You can kind of see these LED lights around the back, again to create that vibe. Couple of plants, just why not? Just to stop everything from feeling so synthetic. And my favorite part of this studio is the desk. So I had that desk custom-made and I borrowed some money from a friend, because I couldn’t afford it at the time, and I knew that it would make a huge difference to my workflow and productivity. It did. It was actually the best investment in that photo.
And shoutout to Boombox to making this collaboration between me and Noize London possible. That is what Boombox is all about. It’s about making it easier for you to collab, and to be able to find people to collab with online, and you can again, store, share, and you can get feedback on your music. There’s so much you can do. So if you haven’t signed up for Boombox.io, go check out at boombox.io
Fabio: Ok, Lukas. We’re at God’s Tier. Tier 3, unlimited. It means Amex Triple Platinum, it’s not even in your name, so you can spend as much as you want.
Lukas: So here, I thought about this. I thought about it deeply. I was like, Ok, if the sky’s the limit, what I want to do: the difference between me and other producers, is that I’m on the road full time, so, I kinda gotta travel and bring a lot of stuff with me. It can be difficult to have all this gear with you, and you always wish you had a bigger monitor, bigger speakers, something like that but it’s just too much to bring with me. So, with my unlimited money, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna hire the best minds in the metaverse and I am gonna have them design me the sickest goggles that I can wear, headset, where I can be in the stream studio no matter where I am. I got massive monitors, I can push things all over the place, it has all my plugins and all the stuff to load it in. I have the best headphones that come with it. Maybe this mask has – its a sick idea for a metaverse mask – it has amazing monitor headphones included with a screen, that way no matter where I’m at, I can produce the best music possible. And it would be sick if other people could join me in that metaverse as well. I wanna work with that vocalist, ok I’m bringing them in. This is my extra business idea for Boombox, we need this producing metaverse. Let’s go.
Fabio: Honestly, I don’t think I can top that. I think that’s actually just such a great idea. The fact that you would only need a pair of goggles, like an Occulus rift to view. If they could just make that Occulus Rift HD and then find a way to create some sort of haptic feedback that makes it that little bit more real.
Lukas: You could feel the keys on the keyboard…
Fabio: Yeah, like I went to a zombie VR thing quite recently and you have to wear body armor, but the body armor reacts to the zombies hitting you. So what is that version for music? Where you can feel a little bit more of whats going on. Maybe when you press the chord, the controller has that haptic feedback so you just feel even more immersive than it oculd be
Lukas: You have an emotional vibe, you have connection. I like that.
Fabio: Of course it’s gonna have to come with some god-tier headphones. I haven’t used these but Ive seen them on the market, and I know they’re really expensive. I think, I’m guessing here, they run $2-3000 for these headphones by Audeze. I hear good things. People like them. In the god-tier world, I like to be in the studio, but I also like to travel, and what I’d really like, I’d still love the physical studio. But I’d like a custom built Peli-case, one of those indestructible hard cases that you open, and the studio is just there. I don’t have to unload anything, and then the bottom but comes down, a midi keyboard comes out, and then its all ready to go and the speakers come up.
Lukas: Yeah, because then you could produce, I’m guessing, with an unlimited credit card for the studio, you’d also use it in your life expenses. Maybe you go to that island, and you’re producing right there with the best view. I think views are really important. And thats another one for the metaverse studio, as it doesn’t have to look like a studio, but you could be anywhere. On top of a mountain, anywhere. Those vibes are really important. Imagine you’re trying to produce a sad song and you can’t necessarily get in the mood and you’re like, you push a button and its raining in the studio, there’s some like thunderclouds in the distance and its dimly lit. All those things would be so cool to get into that zone
Fabio: Does it have a temperature change as well? Does it make you hotter?
Lukas: That would be so crazy. It would be so cool because then you could really get in the vibe. Honestly, it would be tough, in real life, when it’s winter and you’re in a location that’s freezing cold and you need to make a banger for the summer. It’s tough to get in that vibe if you can’t feel it. And I think that’s why a lot of artists throughout history have, for example, gone to a specific location and locked themselves in a room for however long to produce an album. That vibe is so important
Fabio: I agree, but that Oculus Rift idea, the metaverse idea is fantastic.
Lukas: Make sure you comment below what you would get in that unlimited studio tier. We’re giving away a $500 gift card and you can be entered to win by leaving a comment. Thank you to Boombox for making this collaboration possible.