Budget Studio Setup – Part 1

Most of the time, when people start out producing, there is quite a lot of head scratching. Questions are flying around your head, as where to begin your musical quest. The initial process and learning curve is intimidating, things like subtractive synthesis, audio interfaces and compressors seem to pop up regularly. Your head becomes dizzy with these strange star trek like words, terms and technology. You know you want to make music no scratch that, make great music. The copious amounts of hours spent in sweaty clubs, mixing in friend’s bedrooms and general dodgy dancing in muddied tents have more than likely led you to this decision. So as part of this feature I am going to go through various setups, beginning with a estimated £500 budget up to and around £2000. Before I start I would like you to take into account that you already own a relatively modern spec laptop or desktop, unless you plan on going all out hardware. If that is the case, this article is not for you. Also I probably should let you know, it can be a very expensive route to take, but by all means do it, if you think it is for you. At the end of the day, its not what you have, but how you use it. A £2500 Moog voyager will not make you better producer than a say a free online VST, in the same way as, Adidas boots won’t turn you into Lionel Messi. So make sure you understand this first. It will take a lot of time, experimentation and along the way a lot of frustration too. But hang in there. As with anything in life, you get what you put in. So let’s get too it. Sadly not all of us, are lucky enough, to have a spare room in our habitual abode, so you will need to make space in your bedroom to put all your new kit on.  The basic furniture here is a standard desk and comfy chair. Not exactly the glamorous side of things, but this is an obvious requirement and can be solved for the around a combined £100 pounds. In this instance I have chosen Argos as they are nationwide and a fixed price where ever you go. This desk is a perfect choice for your needs as provides enough space and a little extra, should you decide to expand at a later date. To accompany it, is the customary leather chair, which is a must in any studio setup and can be purchased and delivered together with your desk. It should be noted the reason I am mentioned this, is because obvious the cost but also, it is a very time consuming hobby will require you to be comfortable. So again not glamorous but very much are a necessity and cost to be factored in. Here you can see a typical example of budget setup.


Now the boring stuff is out the way let get onto what it is all about. The biggest decision one will have to make early on, is to what DAW (Digital Audio Workstations) you will use. Simply put a DAW is a software application, which allows you, to record and combine both digital and midi audio, on a single software mixing console. Additional editing of the audio is feasible through various methods, like time stretching, effects processing etc. Possibilities really are endless on how you can edit, create and manipulate audio. Most DAWs can now emulate what many professional recording studios have done for the last few decades. This in turn has launched the era of bedroom producers. There is quiet a variety available these days, but should be noted that only Logic is exclusive to Mac operating systems for reason I dont know. Personally I use Ableton. It’s work flow an ease of use, when controlling audio in second to none. The argument of which DAW is best is subjective really. You will have the option for most to download demo versions and to play around with them for a fixed period of time before they expire. For demonstrative purposes, I will use Ableton here. Ableton software comes in three different versions. There is Intro, Standard and Suite. For our original budget of £500, we will utilise the Intro which retails at £89. For our budget we do not have to purchase it, as you will see later. Therefore no cost will be incurred. Below is a picture of Ableton Session view. This is the view where most artist laydown their ideas. It is also the view where live artist perform from when playing out where it be DJing or in a band. ableton-live-launchpad-edition The picture displays the arrangement view. This is where you lay out your track and in general where artist modulate things like the volume and effects. Note the red lines through some of the tracks. This donates modulation and the changing of the overall volume on that element in the track. arrangement_view As mentioned before, when using a DAW, you can record MIDI data. MIDI is a type of communication, that can transport and receive data, through the medium of a controller or even a keyboard if stuck. You can program MIDI notes on your DAW using a mouse, but this can be difficult, when trying to compose melodies or complex patterns. So to achieve this, a MIDI keyboard is required. My choice here is the Novation Lanchkey 25. This is a tidy little USB controller, which provides your essential functionality. Along with the added features of 8 MIDI assignable knobs and 16 pads for drum programming and sequencing. Additionally to the right you have your standard DAW transport controls. Novation have been at the forefront of MIDI technology for a while now. Their products are reliable and will seamlessly integrate into your DAW, helping you concentrate on more important things, like writing music for example. This controller can be purchased for £99 and includes Ableton Live Lite, which has more than sufficient features to get in the right direction. This offer is available too for both PC & Mac owners thus saving us £89. Full spec below: • Fully-integrated instrument controller for Mac, PC & iPad® • InControl technology instantly maps the hardware to all major music software • 16 velocity-sensitive multi-colour launch pads – trigger loops and play drums, also launch clips and scenes in Ableton Live • 3 digit LED display • Synth-styled keyboard with over 34 hardware controls • Novation Launchkey app (for iPad®2 or later) • Novation Launchpad app (for iPad®2 or later) • Ableton Live Lite • Novation V-Station soft-synth • Novation Bass Station soft-synth • Loopmasters sample pack preview Next thing to address is in my opinion the most important and underrated purchase, when setting home studios. Predominantly when budding producers are starting out, it is the toys that take precedence when looking to spend that hard earned cash. Dont make this mistake! Your monitors should take precedence. When purchasing make sure you check and understand if there are active or passive. Active meaning, they have an in built amp within the speaker thus reducing the need to buy one. The competition is very healthy out there, with several brands always developing and improving the series. When I originally set out doing a draft budget for this setup, I came to the conclusion that £150 thereabouts would have to suffice. My choice is the M-Audio BX5, which are active nearfield monitors with a 5inch woofer and combined output of 140Watts. In summary, these speakers will get the job done in a small to medium sized room. For larger rooms, an 8inch cone would probably be needed. When trying to achieve a well balanced mix they deliver a reasonably true representation against their price. Having to struggle with obstacles like this, can be a benefit in the long run, as will force you to work harder to improve your mixes. Full spec below • Frequency response: 53 Hz – 22 kHz • Crossover frequency: 3 kHz • Low-frequency amplifier power: 40 watts • High-frequency amplifier power: 30 watts • Maximum signal-to-noise (dynamic range): > 100 dB (typical a-weighted) Polarity: positive signal at + input produce outward lf cone displacement • Input impedance: 20 k ohms balanced, 10 k ohms unbalanced • Input sensitivity: 85 mv pink noise input produces 90 dBA output SPL at one meter with volume control • Power: factory programmed for either 115v ~50/60 Hz or 230v ~50/60 Hz Protection: RF interference • Cabinet: vinyl-laminated MDF • Size: 7.7” x 7” x 10”; 19.5cm x 17.6cm x 25.2cm • Weight: 11 lbs./unit; 5 kg.


  The last purchase we will need to complete our budget level studio is an audio interface. Simply put, it is a box that plugs into your computer via the USB or Firewire port. Then you can plug microphones, guitars, synths and speakers into.  The interface takes that sound signal and converts it to digital data and sends it through the USB/Firewire port into the computer. So it digitizes sound so that the computer can understand it.My choice here is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Focusrite like Novation have been around for years now, and this 2i2 model is perfect for entry level and retails for £119. Full Spec Below • 2 x high quality award-winning Focusrite mic preamps • Excellent digital performance • Rugged metal unibody case • Very light and compact making it easy to fit in a laptop bag • Included software: Ableton Live Lite 8 & Focusrite Scarlett plug-in suite • Unique LED gain halos • Direct monitor function • Mac OSX Lion ready • Sample Rate (kHz): 96 • Connection: USB 2.0 port • Inputs: 2 line/mic/instrument combination inputs: Neutrik XLR/1/4″ TRS jack combo • Outputs: Headphone output with TRS jack, 2 balanced monitor outputs with TRS Jack • Weight: 580g • Dimensions: 45mm H x 175mm W x 100mm D • System Requirements (PC): Windows 7 (32 & 64bit)/Windows XP SP3 (32bit only), Windows Vista is not officially supported • System Requirements (MAC): Mac OS X 10.6.5 Snow Leopard (32 & 64bit) and above, including OS X 10.7 Lion


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  So there you have it a very simple, stripped back article, which displays, the basic needs, to get your music production career on the road. The total figure comes to £470 so is under £500 requirement as we were originally aiming for. But as mentioned earlier, all the gear and equipment in the world won’t make a difference unless you put in the hours.