Lots of you Current Artisans out there may be musicians yourselves. And while we cover plenty of professional artists who have near-constant access to bona fide recording studios, many of them didn’t start out that way.
The start of any artistic journey is often a quiet one. Often times, the money and resources just aren’t there to get you started, especially when it comes to expensive musical instruments and audio equipment.
But the upside of living in the future is that it’s easier than ever to record home demos of musical ideas or even put together a basic album.
This style has been on the rise for a while now, so much so that it even has a name: Bedroom Pop. Artists like Katie Dey and Ricky Eat Acid have put together multiple albums that were made entirely at home.
Lo-fi phenom Car Seat Headrest even earned his name from recording early vocals in the back seat of a car in a parking lot.
But if you’re wondering what you really need and what you can wait to save up for, we’re here to offer some basic tips to help you finally make the music you want, all with a relatively small buy-in.
You Might Get a Mic
To put it simply, if you’re going to record any vocals at all or record acoustic instruments and/or sounds, we highly recommend buying a microphone.
And it may sound expensive, but you might be surprised to hear that you can get some quality mics for around $100, or even less.
However, these mics also use an XLR output, meaning you’ll need to buy a basic USB audio interface (also around $100) to get them to work with your computer and any audio software you might be using.
To cut down on some of the clutter, we would recommend a USB microphone like the Blue Yeti ($60 used, $110 new), which lets you plug directly into your computer.
The Yeti also offers several different mic alignment settings, letting you record multiple sound sources, or a whole room if you really want.
Controlling Room Noise
No matter how nice a mic you have, capturing high-quality audio hinges almost entirely on the sonic qualities of the space where you record.
Even a $3,000 microphone won’t give you a good sound if you happen to be recording in a warehouse, or more likely a small apartment with drywall on all sides, the end result will sound amateurish at best.
And who knows, maybe you’re into the sound of cheap, accidental reverb. We won’t judge. But chances are you want the listener to hear your voice and your music, not the room you happened to be in at the time.
In other words, the name of the game here is soundproofing. The bigger your space is, the more soundproofing you’ll need to do.
And since we’re aiming for the simplest possible path to good sound here, the next step would be looking around your place right now, for a space that’s small, but not too small that it can’t fit you, a mic, and maybe a guitar.
One of my favorite examples of budget audio recording comes from the creator of the Sleep With Me Podcast, who for years recorded for hours at a time in a closet in his San Francisco apartment.
It checks all the important boxes: small space, full of sound-absorbent material (AKA clothes and stuff), and it’s unlikely to be vulnerable to uncontrollable external noise.
If you don’t have a closet that’s workable in the same way, make a blanket fort. Heavy blankets work best.
Beyond these quick fixes, soundproofing panels (or egg cartons) can be mounted on your walls. The only problem is you might need a lot of them to achieve a studio-equivalent dead sound. And that’s not even accounting for windows.
Maxing Out Freeware
Assuming you won’t be recording directly to a physical format like four-track tape, you’ll most likely be using a computer to put down your savory licks.
Luckily, there are plenty of free software programs that offer surprisingly robust tools and features to help tweak tracks and create new ones.
For recording from a microphone, we recommend Audacity. It’s free to download and use, and it offers basic versions of important editing and effects.
In terms of making use of digital instruments, you’ll probably need some music production software.
For the pros, that means programs like Pro Tools, Fruity Loops, or Ableton. But any one of those could cost you hundreds of dollars, and even then only offers a few free instruments here and there.
It may seem basic at first, but GarageBand is actually one of the best free production programs currently on offer.
It contains a serviceable range of digital synthesizers and models of traditional instruments. On top of that, it has some great effects and an editor that can almost go toe-to-toe with the industry standard programs.
For PC users, LMMS is one of the best GarageBand alternatives. It just doesn’t look quite as nice.
Be a Performance Perfectionist
Lastly, we just want to offer a reminder to hold yourself to the highest standard possible.
Making music is a lot of work, and as you already know, it takes time and effort to even get to a point where you’re ready to record. Putting the above tips to practical use takes even more work.
So when it comes time to finally record yourself, feel free to scrap tracks all the time, or scrap entire projects if they just aren’t getting to the place you want them to be.
Do 20 takes of the same vocal track. The song itself will start to evolve over time, and you’ll have more ideas, maybe even for entirely new songs.
Above everything else, you yourself are the factor you can control the most. Take your time. Recordings, even those that originate at a home studio, last forever. Sound your best, even if just for posterity.