Building a recording studio at home can be a really useful thing for a songwriter (or any musician in fact), especially in this pandemic, since we want to minimize personal contacts. But how much does it cost to set up a home recording studio?
There are different kinds of setups for a home studio, and different price levels, so let’s start with the most essentials, and then I will continue with the higher budget setups.
The question is, what do you want to record? Do you only record your vocals? Or do you record an instrument? Is this instrument acoustic or digital? Do you record drums? These situations require totally different setups, therefore totally different price ranges.
The Basic Setup
Music studios use different microphones for different purposes, but you can totally start recording your songs with only ONE good microphone. If I want a decent, “all-purpose” studio microphone in my home studio for the lowest possible price, I would definitely buy the AKG Pro Audio P220 for about $150.
You need an audio interface, which is a tool that connects your microphone OR instrument to your computer. It’s also called a “soundcard”.
For this kind of microphone, you need a soundcard which has built-in phantom power, otherwise, the microphone will not work! (The phantom power will be labeled as “+48V”).
For a beginner home studio, the perfect choice would be the Focusrite Scarlett Solo for $140. I used many other audio interfaces before, but I purchased this one recently, and I’m very happy with it. It connects to the computer via USB cable, so the setup was extremely easy. Many times if you buy a soundcard, you get a DAW like Pro Tools for free, so that’s a plus.
You will need a microphone cable. (It’s important that the cable ends need to be XLR!) You can get a cable for about $8.
You need a microphone stand ($25) because this is not the kind of microphone that you hold in your hand. You can get a mic stand for about $25.
You need a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to record music, but for example, Audacity is a free DAW, and also there is Garageband if you are a Mac user.
You need a good headphone because you only want to play the music in the headphones while you are recording, so you get a clean recording. My absolute favorite is the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($164). I use this headphone for about 10 years now, and I’m completely happy with it. I also bought it this year as a birthday present for my brother-in-law, who is also amazed by the quality of its sound.
But it’s not only sound quality. These headphones are very comfortable to wear even if you are doing very long sessions, and that’s important too.
You can buy studio monitor speakers, but you can totally use a headphone for mixing and mastering your songs, and quality headphones are much cheaper than a pair of decent studio monitor speakers. If you want to buy studio speakers, I highly recommend going to a store for comparing them. You can buy the Audio Technica headphones without trying it (I promise, you won’t regret it!), but buying a monitor speaker is a totally different story, that’s why I don’t recommend anything specific here.
The whole setup:
- microphone: $150
- microphone stand: $25
- headphones: $164
- audio interface: $140
- DAW: $0
Total cost: $479
While the Focusrite Scarlett Solo has a built-in preamp, sometimes it’s not enough. How do you know if it’s not enough? For example, when you record your vocal and you see that the signal is very weak.
What is a preamp or preamplifier?
If you have a weak signal, you can boost the volume of the signal with a preamp. Personally, I don’t use a preamp in my home studio, but that’s because I don’t record a lot of vocals.
The truth is, a microphone preamp is not a necessity in a home studio, but if you want to buy one, I can personally recommend the Focusrite ISA One for $873. I used this preamp many times in music studios, and its quality is amazing.
If you add this preamp to the previous setup, we are at $1352
Recording Drums / Multitrack Recording
With the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, you can only record one instrument, therefore one track at a time. But what if you want to record more than one musician at a time, or for example, a drumset?
You can record a drumset with only one microphone, but in that case, you can’t change the volume of each drum part on the recording (the hi-hat, the snare, the kick drum). If you want to change the volume of the different parts of the drum in the mix, you need to record at least four separate tracks for the drum. And for that, you need more microphones.
I recommend using one microphone for the kick drum: the Shure PGA52-XLR ($120) plus you need this special stand for recording the kick ($23) plus a cable ($8).
For the snare: the Shure PGA56-XLR ($69) and a cable ($8) – (you don’t need a mic stand for this mic!)
And two “overhead” microphones: the Shure PGA81-XLR ($129 x 2 = $258) plus 2 stands ($50) plus two cables ($16)
You also need a different audio interface, which can record 4 tracks at a time. For this, the Focusrite Clarett 4Pre USB is a perfect choice ($660).
Alternatively, you can use a virtual instrument like Addictive Drums (the basic package starts from $200). I use Addictive Drums only for making demo songs, but the quality of the acoustic drums is unbelievable. It really sounds like a real acoustic drummer.
The whole setup:
- vocal microphone: $150
- kick drum microphone: $120
- snare microphone: $69
- 2 overhead microphones: $258
- 3 microphone stands: $73
- 4 microphone cables: $32
- audio interface: $660
- headphones: $164
- preamp: $873
Total cost: $2399
Other Costs to Consider
There are some other costs involved with building a home studio, and many people don’t consider these things.
Upgrading Your Computer
You will record everything on your computer, and you want to have a computer with a flawless performance. Especially during the recording process – you don’t want a stuttering PC while you record your songs! If your computer or laptop is not very up-to-date, you will need to buy a new one.
If you buy a new computer, you should buy one with the fastest CPU and buy as much RAM as you can. I also recommend using an SSD hard drive instead of HDD, because it’s much faster. Though it’s also more expensive, and you will need a LOT of space for the recordings!
It’s also good to calculate how much electricity does a home recording studio cost a month. Since every new equipment you buy for your studio works with electricity (new computer, audio interface, studio speakers, preamp, etc.), you will have a bigger electricity bill. Maybe it’s not the biggest cost, but it still counts as an extra cost.
If you buy a good microphone, you can use it for decades, and the value of the mic will probably go up. The same applies to acoustic instruments.
But everything else in your studio will only lose its value. And they lose value very fast. About three years ago I bought a digital wireless mixer to use at our live performances, one year later another company released a digital mixer which was better and cheaper.
Digital mixers, computers, audio interfaces, digital instruments… they all lose value very fast because digital technology evolves at a rapid pace. So depreciation is also a cost to count with.
You might want to buy insulation to soundproof your home studio. Either because there is a lot of noise coming from the street and you don’t want that noise on your recordings, or because you don’t want to bother your neighbors or your family with the sounds from your home studio.
Depending on the size of your room, soundproofing a room can cost thousands of dollars.
Acoustic treatment is NOT the same as soundproofing! Usually, there is huge confusion around this topic.
Soundproofing is when you want to isolate your studio room, so ideally no sound comes in or out of the room.
On the other hand, acoustic treatment is when you make your room sound better INSIDE. Sometimes rooms resonate bad frequencies which can make your recording sound bad. For acoustic treatment, you can buy acoustic panels and bass traps.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to cover the walls completely with acoustic panels. Remember, this is not soundproofing, but acoustic treatment. You don’t want to kill every resonance in the room, because that would cause the room to sound uncomfortably “dead”.
A bass trap is the most important part of the acoustic treatment, so if you can only afford one thing, you should only buy bass traps.
It’s obviously not a necessity, but many people want to have a cool looking home studio. This can mean more expensive acoustic panels or colored lights. You can upgrade the look of your studio by using a LED strip like this for only $20.
What if you want a separate room for your home studio, so nobody disturbs you during your recording sessions? That’s also an extra cost. Why?
Let’s say you buy a new home, but since you want your own room for the studio, you need to buy a bigger house with one more room. So you might pay an extra $20,000 because of the extra room. (Not to mention, you will pay more interest to the bank because of the bigger loan… unless you buy the house for cash.) And the room can’t be too small because that’s horrible for the acoustics. Usually the bigger the room, the better. Especially if you are recording drums.
You can say that “but we have a room that we never use anyway, so it’s for free” – but you are wrong. You are still losing money on the room, even if you don’t use it. Why? This is where some basic finance knowledge comes in handy.
You are losing money on the extra room (regardless if you use it or not) because of the opportunity cost.
“the opportunity cost is the cost incurred by not enjoying the benefit associated with the best alternative choice” (Wikipedia)
What’s the best alternative choice? In the world of finance, the benchmark is usually the S&P 500 (the stock market).
Let me explain. If you buy a house, which is $20,000 more expensive because of the extra room, then you can’t invest that money, therefore you lose money.
If you invest $20,000 in the stock market (the S&P 500), you can earn an average of 7% every year. (Based on historic data.) That is $1400 a year. So if you put that money into the extra room, you can’t invest it, therefore you lose $1400 a year.
And it’s not just the extra square feet. If you add up everything we talked about here – equipment, electricity, decoration, insulation, depreciation, acoustic treatment, new computer, AND the real estate – your total cost can be $50,000 or more.
If you invest the same money in the stock market, you can get a 7% return every year, and keep the capital. Your return would be $3500 in the first year.
For $3500, you can rent a professional studio, that has much more expensive equipment, and much more experienced sound engineers.
So if your goal is to get the best sound recording for the same amount of money, you would probably be better off investing your money and renting a professional studio. On the other hand, if you don’t care about the alternatives, or you just want a very basic setup for your home studio, you can start to make home recordings for less than $500.
As you can see, a home studio can cost anything between $479 to tens of thousands of dollars. Everything depends on your personal preferences, and on the circumstances.
We can also see that there are better alternatives for the same price. Although this is not important if you don’t care about the cost, and you just want a cozy studio for yourself.
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.