There’s nothing more liberating than, as a young idyllic kid banging on the guitar in your brother’s old bedroom after he went to college, realizing that you pretty much have everything you need at your disposal to make music. Finally, you can get on with recording your own songs and getting on with your dreams of rockstar faux-stardom.
From this feeling sparks a journey to collect as much gear as possible, in my case on the salary of someone who is statistically living underneath the poverty line, a mission that means searching endlessly online to find fleeting deals and bargains with complete strangers.
With this in mind, this guide will outline some necessities and things to look for when compiling your underground dungeon of sonic revelation.
You probably already have a laptop. If you don’t, it’s pretty necessary to the modern recording game. (But feel free to buy that vintage reel-to-reel, it makes nice decoration.) If you want to go the digital route, there are a lot of options.
Macs seem to be preferred by a lot of people in the industry, but if you have a PC you are able to do everything just the same. However, Mac does have some advantages, namely coming with Pro Tools, an industry standard digital audio workstation (DAW), and also the option for a thunderbolt connection (more on that later).
There are a lot of nice DAWs out there. Some are extremely expensive, and others are totally free. The main thing to look for is for a nice workflow that is conducive to your recording style. Some fan favorites are Ableton, Logic and Reason, but these can be a bit on the expensive side. FL Studios is a cheaper option, but lacks some of the features provided in more upscale software suites. Cakewalk is a great DAW that is now completely free.
Unless you plan on primarily using virtual instruments, you’ll need an interface to convert your signal. Think of it as a way to route your guitar to the computer. Again, there are cheap options and expensive alternatives.
Things to consider are preamp quality and the number of inputs/outputs available. Good preamps minimize distortion and produce a clear sound. If you are mainly going to be tracking individuals instruments, and not live bands, you will only need a few preamps or inputs. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a nice option that won’t break the bank. A higher grade interface would be the Apollo Twin or the Apogee Duet, but they’re a bit on the pricey side.
It’s important to make sure that your interface is compatible with your computer. Interfaces are usually USB or Thunderbolt connected, and most PCs only offer USB ports. Thunderbolt connectivity is a bit higher quality than USB, but both do the job.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of mic’d guitar amps. The Shure sm57 is a pretty versatile and popular dynamic mic that can be used on snare drums, vocals, and a lot more. The sm58 is a pretty solid vocal mic, and both are pretty easy to find online for pretty cheap.
It’s helpful to playback from monitors and headphones during the mixing process. Monitors can be a little pricey if you are lacking funds, but headphones are a much cheaper alternative. Also, if you live in an apartment, it prevents the neighbors from calling on you for re-playing your latest track for the twentieth time during mixdown.
Some things that often go overlooked are cables, stands, and general workspace necessities like a desk or chair. So, go stock up on cables and take a trip to Ikea when you’re done.