SAE’s top tips for setting up a home studio

13 Feb 2020

SAE Institute has incredible studio facilities and equipment that rival the environments of professional recording studios.

We recognise that following the advancement of Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) such as Logic Pro X by Apple, Ableton Live and FL Studios, more artists than ever before are making their own music from the comfort of their home studios. 

We spoke to some of the expert teaching staff at SAE and Dave Rose, the founder of NOIIZ, to find out more about their home studio set-ups and get their views on the best software and hardware to get stuck in and making and editing music at home. 

Whether your interests lie in electronic music production or foley for film or games, check out their tips and tricks for what equipment to get, and what pitfalls to avoid when setting up your own creative space. 

Mike McNeilis - SAE Liverpool

Mike McNeilis uses his home studio for composing, editing, mixing and mastering. Some key brands he has are Avalon, Manley, Empirical Labs and Apogee. He said: “I bought Neve preamps, EQs and compressors as I liked the sound of SAE Liverpool’s Neve console.” 

When it comes to setting up your own home studio, Mike stresses the importance of building up your collection of equipment slowly, ensuring you can afford a quality piece of equipment before expanding to buy other gear. He said: “As an example, I bought a budget microphone and interface when I first started out, and the quality wasn’t great, so I had to sell them and upgrade to higher quality replacements. It’s perhaps essential to get good quality speakers and a flexible interface to help with editing and mixing first, and then start to build up an arsenal of microphones for recording. It’s better to have a smaller collection of good gear rather than lots of cheap equipment.” 

Jamie Stonehouse - SAE London

Jamie Stonehouse’s home studio is used primarily for musical composition and sound design for film and video-games, the majority of this is created 'in the box' and often as a guide track for transferring to a more suitable recording studio which he usually rents if the client and budget requires it.   

Jamie said: “I would say the most important investment in a small professional standard studio would be good critical listening monitors, these will likely last you through your career and are worth saving for, in addition, a reliable well-supported Audio Interface, well supported in regards to updates that support any changes to your operating system (of which there will be many over your career!). As a sound designer, a good portable field recorder is worth its weight in gold, I've done entire productions using only that to record foley and interesting sounds! Finally, I have a plethora of noisy toot! Rubbish that people throw away or sell at car-boot sales or on the likes of gumtree etc, old shoes, noisy toys, clothing, metal materials, door handles, anything that can make a noise can be used for foley and sound design - just have an understanding partner or roommate, as it can get messy!” 

Jamie stresses that if you’re looking to do Foley work then you should get a Field recorder (which comes with attached mics), either the Tascam DR-40 or the Zoom Hn4. He said: “It really is possible to do an entire sound design project with just this! Because the sound design and foley can be messy, loud and potentially damaging to the equipment - I often use fireworks, actual fire, sledgehammers, knives and squishy fruit, not to mention liquids - I use budget mics to capture the sound without fear of accidentally breaking it, or setting it on fire which is a true story. Audio technicians can be very technology-focused, with fascination on the 'best' or 'newest' gear. In my experience, limitations in time and money often bring the best results, and I follow that mantra into my professional work.” 

Jamie's home studio has:

  • SPL Crimson Audio Interface
  • Adam A7x Monitors with Auralex Mopad's
  • 36" LG Display
  • Nektar Impact LX88+ Midi Keyboard
  • Rode NTG4
  • AKG 4d1x2
  • Various SM57's
  • Neumann TLM 103
  • Tascam DR-40

Nick Roan - SAE Glasgow

Nick Roan’s studio is a fairly multi-purpose one which allows him to do mixing, media composition and electronic production. He said: “I use the Axiom Pro as my master keyboard for the most part but will switch over to the Push as a different way to write or perform stuff live. I used to use the Control XL for live stuff, but more recently I’ve been using it to control articulations for more orchestral composition. Although I’m doing more media composition now, the Moog is great for giving massive low end when I need it. I changed the monitoring system quite recently, so I’m still getting used to the Focals. They have really impressed me so far and I’m hearing new things in mixes that I couldn’t before! I’ve been using UAD for a couple of years now, and think the convertor and plug-ins sound immense.”

Nick's home studio spec is as follows:

  • Computer: 15” 2018 MacBook Pro. 2.6Ghz i7, 32GB RAM
  • DAWS: Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic, Wavelab
  • Interfaces: UAD Apollo quad, UAD Arrow
  • Monitoring: Focal Shape 65, Adam Sub8, Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro, Beyerdynamic DT100, Audio-Technica ATH-MX50
  • Controllers/Synths: M-Audio Axiom Pro 61, Ableton Push 2, Novation Control XL, Moog Grandmother
  • Microphones include: Vintage Sennheiser MD-441, Vintage Sennheiser MD-421, SE Electronics Z5600a, Rode NT-2, Sennheiser e-604, AKG D112, Shure SM57, Shure SM58

Orvar Thorvaldsson - SAE Glasgow 

Orvar Thorvaldsson’s home studio is a typical setup in the sense that he doesn't have anything in terms of acoustic treatment. He said: “In a way, I'm lucky to have a decent sounding living room with nice and tight decay and a minimal amount of standing wave issues. However, it would be pretty much unusable for any serious work if it wasn't for the Sonarworks calibration. I tend to do most of my sound design, mixing, and mastering at home using a combination of headphones and monitors. Being able to get good results using headphones is really important, especially when working in a home studio that has not been designed with acoustics in mind and obviously the neighbouring flats. The equipment that sits on my desk tends to vary depending on the project I’m working on due to the limited space. It would be nice to have large enough space to keep all my equipment set up and ready to go whenever inspiration kicks in. Maybe at some point in the future, I will be able to have a bigger home studio.”  

In terms of of starting out, Orvar said: “I think the most important things to invest in first are a good set of headphones and a decent audio interface that can be expanded with external ADAT preamps for future-proofing.” 

   
 

"I THINK THE MOST IMPROTANT THINGS TO INVEST IN FIRST ARE A GOOD SET OF HEADPHONES AND A DECENT AUDIO INTERFACE THAT CAN BE EXPANDED WITH EXTERNAL ADAT PREAMPS FOR FUTURE-PROOFING."

- ORVAR THORVALDSSON, SAE GLASGOW AUDIO PRODUCTION LECTURER

   

 

Orvar’s current setup consists of the following: 

  • A bruised and battered MacBook Pro 2011 (still gets the job done though) 
  • Audient ID14 USB interface
  • Behringer ADA8200 Preamp connected via adat to the Audient interface (sits in a rack under the desk)
  • Roland Jv 880 synth module (sits in a rack under the desk)
  • A bruised and battered Korg microkorg synth, that doubles up as my main midi controller
  • Roland Boutique Tr 09 drum machine
  • Ronald Boutique Jx-03 synth
  • Behringer Neutron semi-modular synth
  • Bastl Instruments Klik (this is used for manipulating clock signals going into the Behringer Neutron)
  • Adam Audio T7V active monitors
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro headphones

Not currently included in the setup due to limited space:

  • Yamaha DX5 Fm synth
  • Mod Duo Digital multi fx unit (this unit is super cool as it allows you to upload custom MAX/MSP patches to it) 
  • Behringer Eurorack mx802a mixer (Orvar only tends to use this for taking aux splits and sending into the Mod Duo fx unit) 

Dani Bonventre - SAE Oxford 

Dani Bonventre is an Audio Production graduate who currently works as a Campus Support Technician at SAE Oxford. Dani said: “I don’t have much of a setup at home - I have a pair of Adam A7X’s, but in an untreated room, they are not useful at all. These connect to my laptop using a Focusrite 2i2, and all of my home recordings - usually demos - are done using either a DI or an SM57. The simplicity helps me focus on getting the musical ideas down, and having a clear idea of the production goals before taking to a studio. For this, I have some other equipment I will take that my home setup can’t accommodate, as it would need more substantial conversion and a larger space. This includes a few instruments and amplifiers as well as some compressors - a Purple Audio MC77, a pair of Kush Audio Tweakers, and an API 2500. 

Dani added: "For mixing and any in the box production though, all that’s really needed in my opinion is a decent pair of headphones - you don’t need to spend a fortune. I use Beyerdynamic DT990 Pros. You can learn how they translate by doing a mix on your laptop, then take it into a studio. Make notes on what could be improved, then rinse and repeat. Since finishing my time as an SAE student, I’ve relied more on working this way and have found that I can achieve most of the sounds I’m looking for, with some help from plugins by Sonnox, Fabfilter, Soundtoys, Native Instruments and Kush Audio.” 

Dave Rose - NOIIZ

Dave Rose is the founder of NOIIZ,  the world’s most powerful connected plugin with unlimited modules, sounds and instruments. SAE students can benefit from an exclusive free trial by signing up to the platform with their SAE Institute email address here.

Dave’s advice to someone who is thinking of taking up music production would be to keep it simple and keep it cheap! It's easy to think that you need a lot to be a music producer but the truth is you can do a huge amount with very little. 

Essential

  • Somewhere to record your music: this could be a free application like Garageband (works on iPhones and Macs) or Bandlab (works in a browser) or it could even be a hardware 4-track recorder.
  • Something to make sound with: most software applications come bundled with instruments that make sounds, or you could use a real life acoustic instrument like a guitar or your voice (but you'll need a microphone and an audio interface to record these). 
  • Something to hear what you are making: your laptop, phone or hardware device might have speakers, but chances are you'll need at least a pair of headphones to hear what's going on properly. 

Nice to have

  • Speakers: you can just use headphones, but speakers can give you a better, more realistic idea of what your track will sound like to other people. Best to get a 'powered' speaker, meaning the amplifier is built in, otherwise you'll need to buy a separate amplifier. 
  • If you buy speakers, you'll also need an audio interface: you can think of this like a big plug that allows you to plug your speakers, microphones and MIDI keyboards/controllers into your computer. 
  • MIDI keyboard or controller: this isn't essential, but if you want to play music software instruments rather than program them, a MIDI keyboard or a MIDI controller is what you need and can make it more fun, too! 

Dave said: “Start with the bare minimum and practice bit by bit until you've mastered the basics. It's easy to think that buying more stuff will make you a better producer, but the truth is you can create hit records on a phone these days, so focus more on developing your skills and less on your equipment. Once you've mastered the basics, you can start to look at the 'nice to haves', but don't buy too much all at once or you'll find it difficult to master what you have. It's also easy to think you have a huge mountain to climb, but the reality is that there is no 'end game' and you are better off focusing on the day to day process of making music and enjoying it, rather than worrying about how good you are. This will have the handy effect of making you progress more quickly!” 

We hope this article has got you excited about the potential you already have for creating music. Take your production skills to the next level by enrolling on an Audio Production course with SAE.

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