Even with an endless slew of now-superstar bedroom producers, a lot of people still believe that to produce a hit, you need a really intricate motherboard of glitzy expensive equipment in a space that’s not your home. These things certainly won’t hurt your cause, but if you think about it, “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics was recorded in some basement studio in England and won a Grammy. So now imagine what you can do in your own place with all the advances in technology that are practically available to everyone online. It’s very possible that the computer you are reading this on has the resources to produce a track of decent quality.
With a little gusto, some dollars here and there, and a bit of resourcefulness, the tips below might just turn you in Villalobos in a bathrobe. Let’s get to it:
1. Basic equipment
Make sure that your basic equipment (Computer, DAW, Monitors, Sound Card, Cables) are in good condition and configured the right way to work in the highest quality and resolution possible. A busted MacBook will not get you very far…
- Computer. Nearly all of the computers on the market these days are capable of working with good quality audio, and thus creating decent tracks (that being said you need a little talent, obviously). Despite this, make sure it’s configured correctly: check how much RAM it has, how many USB ports you are going to need, etc.
- DAW, Ableton Live, Logic Audio and Cubase are the most used software to produce electronic music. There are also competent programs like Fruity Loops or Reason that are really user-friendly. The reality is, there is no one good program—the best one is going to be the one you feel most comfortable with.
- Monitors. It’s really important to have studio monitors (on a flat reference) since stereo or home theater speakers have signature equalization and compression depending on the brand (meaning you can’t adjust them to your liking). Avoid using DJ headphones as well—they’re good for absorbing a lot of sound in the booth, but won’t give you as clear a level of audio as you need to produce.
- Audio Card. Make sure you have an audio card capable of reproducing and recording audio in high resolution. There are multiple options on the market that are super affordable.
- Cables. You might think it isn’t a big deal—but it’s totally worth investing in some balanced cables to get the maximum potential out of the rest of your equipment, and therefore, your productions.
Gabe’s home studio, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Making tracks in your parent’s kitchen is not the best idea, nor is your couch. It’s really important to carefully select where you are going to work in your studio space, as you are going to be spending a lot of time there (probably more than you’d care to imagine!). Pick a place where you feel comfortable working your creativity; somewhere that’s going to be as quiet as possible with the least amount of outside noise. If possible, choose a room that isn’t completely square, since it’s going to complicate the pathway of your acoustics, which we’ll expand on below.
3. Positioning the monitors
The monitors and your head have to be at the same height and form an equilateral triangle, so turn the speakers towards your ears to hear the sound as directly as possible. If you have the space, don’t put the monitors up against the wall. By doing this, you’ll hear only the pure direct sound, not the distortion caused via bounce back from the walls. Another way to avoid bounce back is by putting absorbent material (like foam) between the wall and the speakers. Use something soft that can cover the whole area behind your station. It doesn’t have to be too bulky—an old blanket or comforter should work fine. You can also try adjusting the distances between the two speakers—making the triangle wider or smaller—to find you “sweet spot,” so to speak.
Messing around with the acoustics of your studio can be a pretty complicated subject, and getting the professional treatment is really expensive. Regardless, there are some tricks you can do to start bettering the situation, DIY style:
- That full bookcase, sofa, or bed behind you? Leave it there. Those items will help you trap low frequencies and work as diffusers. There is no precise way to know what specific frequencies they are helping you with, but its way better than a blank wall.
- Use the thickest curtains you can find to line the walls of your studio, and also lay down some rugs. Not only will it up the feng-shui of your room, but surrounding yourself with fabric will help absorb some of the loudness of you work—I.E less pissed off neighbors.
- Avoid producing in a room with sharp corners, since they’ll potentially distort the sound, because every beat that goes towards a corner bounces back with greater intensity. You can “kill” these corners with some cardboard and tape, helping eliminate the 90º angle. Using some soundproof panels can also be helpful. You can learn how to make your own here.
5. Learn to use your equipment
Metrika’s home studio, Mexico City.
Many believe that a studio itself is as much of an instrument as your 808, and hopefully the aforementioned tips will help you get the most out of that. Still, if you don’t know how to use your equipment, you won’t get anywhere in the long run. Read the manuals that come with your gear, head to YouTube for tips from experts on how to program, and practice, practice, practice. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and either is your career as a music maker. Good luck!