How Recording Engineers Can Transition to a Home Music Production Setup

By in Music Creation

There’s something to the whole “roll out of bed into your home office” lifestyle, and recording engineers can get in on it. Recording technology has been shifting to meet remote demands, and more people are looking to give up the commute and build out a sustainable recording operation from home.

As a remote recording engineer, your focus may be on tracking clients in your home music production setup, traveling to an artist’s location, collaborating remotely, or all three. You’ll need a flexible studio setup that moves with you, while enabling collaboration between the artists, producers, and mixing and mastering engineers in your production chain.

Ideally, your company may offer some budget for a remote setup, understanding the long-term benefits of having an additional space to book clients. But in reality, some of this may come out of your wallet, so the investments need to count. As the industry trends toward modular, scalable equipment, you can add to your studio one piece at a time as budget and space allows. You may already have some nice gear at home, but now’s the time to consider what will future-proof your setup for years to come.

DAW

Your DAW will have to pick up any slack a remote workflow may introduce, namely around tidy organization and streamlined collaboration. As you’ll likely be working on joint projects remotely, your DAW should offer easy organization and management of tracks, projects, and file exchanges. Online collaboration features can make it a breeze to work with artists and other engineers remotely. You can share your projects in the cloud and invite others to contribute to them from literally anywhere—down the street or across the globe—either adding their own track or simply weighing in with their feedback.

If your current DAW lacks such features, it’s worth talking with your studio owner or production manager about exploring options that can easily coordinate remote sessions. Maybe there’s budget to invest in a second recording program that focuses on remote capabilities. Plenty of engineers use more than one DAW to stay compatible with clients. Plus, with some DAWs working on a subscription basis, you can try some out without having to commit upfront.

Audio Interface

Your audio interface will continue to play a central role as you build out your home music production studio. You’ll need a high-quality, ultra-low latency interface, with plenty of inputs and outputs for recording multiple sources, setting up various monitor routings, and connecting outboard gear. You want an interface with top-notch AD/DA converters so you’re capturing the best quality audio possible, in whatever sample rate is required. This will help you to maintain the same flexibility and recording fidelity you’re used to having at the recording studio.

Some interfaces let you customize I/O options to suit your workflow. Rack mounted units are great for a remote setup as they can easily be transported in a case for mobile recording. Along with your computer, your interface is the most important part of your recording chain, so invest wisely with future needs in mind. It’s better to have too many I/O options than too few.

Session Control

A control surface with faders, pots, and transport controls can speed up your mixing and recording workflow and bring the tactile approach of a studio console to your home studio, but on a much more reasonable budget. Some hardware control units can incorporate a tablet and link multiple units together to scale with your needs (and with your budget), providing hands-on control in small or large configurations. Some DAWs also have apps for wireless mixing control from a tablet or smart phone, which can be great for either on-the-go recording or home music production studio use.

Recording Setup and Workflow

Will you be specializing in tracking guitars, drums, or vocals, or will you be recording whatever comes your way? For drum recordings, for instance, the room is an integral part of the sound, so you’ll need a space with good acoustics. You may need to adapt a room within your existing home, or if that’s not an option, at least have partitions and baffles to help shape the sound. If you have a large recording room, you can experiment with baffle and mic placement and manipulate the tone of recordings once you know how the room interacts with various sound sources.

For guitar or bass recording, you’ll need to think about amps, cabinets, and mic choices. Reamping is an alternative to recording on site and can be offered remotely. Clients can send clean guitar or bass DI recordings for you to reamp through a tube amp, guitar multi-effect processor, or even an amp sim. You can return the printed files to the client, or drop them into an online collaboration session. You could also consider having a drummer or keyboard player perform their parts on MIDI instruments to trigger virtual instruments in your studio, eliminating the need to record in person altogether.

Vocals are a prime candidate for remote recording. Singers can record their own dry parts, then share the tracks with you for further cleanup and manipulation to fit it into the mix.

Your mic choices for vocals or instruments will typically be the same as any studio. But you’ll need to be selective as budget will be a factor, so stick with those that worked well for you in the past. Depending on how many musicians you’re recording, you may need a headphone amp with outputs and closed-back headphones for each musician.

Position your home music production setup in an acoustically treated space, so your monitoring will be accurate. Every room is different, so lean on measurement mics and other calibration software to help you detect frequency issues and treat the room accordingly. When treating a new control room, Sound On Sound suggests taking measurements a few times around the listening position, and ultimately, trusting your ears rather than getting stuck in a vicious recording/measurement cycle.

The Bare Necessities

Whether you’ll be tracking at home or on the road, you’ll need a powerful computer with the capacity to record and store large track counts and record multiple sources simultaneously. Don’t skimp on upgrades. Review your CPU specs and decide whether you need more processing grunt. Memory is another factor; RAM is relatively cheap and easy to upgrade, and 64 GB is recommended. (Virtual instruments in particular will demand a lot of RAM.) Keep your system lean and mean, with only essential audio and communication apps installed to ensure the best performance.

Hybrid hardware/software units with onboard DSP can take some of the processing load off your computer and provide further sound shaping options. This can benefit both you and your clients by increasing the number of tracks you can handle. Plugin emulations of hardware processing units can also add some versatility to your arsenal without breaking the bank. As an added bonus, they can easily be used wherever you need to record.

A reliable, fast internet connection is also a must. You need to receive and transfer digital audio files and projects without delays and communicate via video conferencing if your collaborative partners are scattered across different locations. Go for the highest-speed internet service you can afford if you know you’ll frequently send and receive files, with a high data allowance or unlimited plan.

A power conditioner is also useful for eliminating electrical and noise issues from your home music production studio. Plus, it’ll protect your gear from electrical wiring of unknown quality at other locations. Keep an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) connected to ensure your computer stays powered for a few moments in the event of a power surge or outage.

And don’t overlook basic equipment like an ergonomic chair and desk. An ergonomically designed chair with lower back support and adjustable armrests can keep you in the zone while working. You can also find desks designed specifically for musicians, with built-in rack mounts that keep your interface and hardware rack units in easy reach. Once you have a great home setup, you’ll spend a lot of time there, so make sure it’s comfortable, functional, and has a good vibe.

Building a home music production studio isn’t a one-and-done event, especially with all the modular tools available today. Start by auditing what you already have. Think through the type of work you’ll be doing and who you’ll collaborate with during the production process. With the right prep and equipment, you’ll have a professional and versatile home studio that’s roll-out-of-bed ready.

How would you build your home music studio?

Learn how you can build your own modular, customizable Pro Tools system to produce the same quality music as a high-end facility—no matter where you create it.

A musician and graphic designer, James freelances from his home studio on a range of audio and creative projects.