Building a recording studio without breaking the bank

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.

January 30, 2018

Some of you may remember that in a former life, I launched a podcast with friend and former teammate, Russ Miles. Suffice it to say, that was shelved long ago. However, everything I learned came rushing back when my wife announced last year that she was auditioning with her very own publisher to record the audio version of her novels. Thus launched a new project. Although by the time I got involved in this project, she had already learned a ton of things from the Turntable Guide about all in one record players and turntables. Now that I am a member of this project first thing, we will need for a recording studio.

You’ll need a microphone

The very first thing you’ll need is a microphone. Here is where it really pays off if you’re father-in-law has a degree in Music Ministry and has spent years recording music in his own studio. We asked him for details on a good mic, and he gave us one of his spares. In place of that, I’d suggest going out and doing a little shopping. You can easily spend $10,000 on what’s considered a “studio grade mic”. In this day and age, prices have come down and it’s easier to shop around online. Just don’t assume that something costing $9.99 isn’t going to sound equally cheap.

Cost: $50-$100 will get you something decent

You’ll need a shock mount

Ever watch a radio show streamed as video? You’ll notice that each and every microphone is wrapped in this squirrely contract. Tip: it’s called a “shock mount” and stops vibrations from getting picked up by the microphone.

Cost: $16.99

You’ll need a mic stand/boom

That shock mount needs to be attached to something. You either need to get a mic stand (we have a couple since Sara and I played in a church band for a year) or you’ll need a boom that connects to your desk. Which one you prefer really depends on your configuration. If all you plan on doing is recording books, podcasts, or videos, a boom may work wonders.

Cost: $10-$20

You’ll need a mixer

This is what will power your mic. While you can hook a passive mic (like the one that came with your iPhone) into your laptop, any serious mic needs power and laptops aren’t built for that. Good news–the simplest mixers cost about $40, and if you can splurge up to $100, you can get do all right. However, if you want a mixer to handle lots of inputs and can be controlled from your iPad, then you’ll have to spend closer to $250.

Cost: $40-$100

You’ll need a desk

When it comes time to record, you need somewhere to put your laptop, the mixer, and other things. Root around the house and see if you don’t have a tiny desk that you can repurpose. If not, visit either Ikea, Office Depot, or another similar store. No need for a fancy desk. A small place to put your stuff will do.

Cost: $40 and up

You’ll need Audacity

The software to sink your time (but thankfully, not your money) is Audacity. This open source application lets you edit audio, mix audio, clean things up, just about anything you can imagine. Learning to use it is of extreme value.

I once recorded a podcast episode and moved some questions around due to a logistical boo boo on my end. You can also edit out tiny “pops” and more. Learning to drive this app is a useful skill.

You’ll need a studio

Okay, for those of you that have seen a REAL studio, those places are incredible. They have scientifically developed wedge foam lining the walls. Sophisticated electronics. And they charge anywhere from $100-$100/minute to record material.

Since you’re not doing THAT, here is what you need: a room where there IS NO ECHO.

This may not be as clear as you realize. My wife recorded the opening chapter of her debut novel in her office, with no one else. When I listened to it, it was terrible. Not due to her performance, but the audio was “tinny”. After much scrubbing and filtering, I couldn’t improve it, deducing that the desk/walls/pinball machines/etc. had caused sound to bounce around and degrade the sound.

I took her mic and mixer board to the only room with wall-to-wall sound absorbing material…her closet filled with clothes, and did a test recording. AMAZING. No bouncing sound. No echo. No tinny sound. (The image is NOT Sara’s closet)

So I dug up a tiny desk she never used, found an extension cord, and set up all the things listed above in her closet. Following that, Sara found some opportunities where all the kids were asleep or all at school (no good recording when the 4-year-old is running around upstairs!)

So, assuming you scoop up all these things, the minimum price for all is (drum roll):

Total: $157

And you don’t have to do every step all at once. Ease into it. But know if that you want to record audio, this is the way to go. In this day and age, you really are in power to create content if that is your heart’s desire.

Good luck!


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