Creating A Killer Home Recording Studio – On An Affordable Budget

Throughout my pro songwriting career I have made it my mission to put together a home recording studio that accomplishes 3 things.

 

1. Sonically, it has to be master record quality.

2. Creative workflow that won’t bust my groove!

3. Must be affordable!

 

Co-writing in rooms with so many great producers and track guys has allowed me to try a lot of gear that works in a variety of home and pro situations. I’ve put together my own home recording studio that I’ve used on demos and records; that lives around the threshold where affordability meets performance. 

 

At the center of my home recording studio is an affordable Apple computer. 

 

I still run a 2015 MacBook Pro version because it has more connection ports than todays models. BUT, if I was rushing out to buy a new computer, I’d go with a Mac Mini. I’ve seen major studios track full bands with protools on a Mac Mini. You can still get great with plenty of ram and hard drive space on Mac Mini’s for under $999.

Many of you when less demanding projects could dip down under $750 for a Mini and still have enough horsepower for most home projects. Mac’s also come stock with GarageBand and todays’ version is used on pro demos and records daily. But of course, you can run Logic Pro or Protools if you wanna step up your game and price.

 

Let’s talk about interfaces, baby…

 

After securing a workable computer, the next step is to get your guitar or voice into your computer. For that you will need a digital interface. The one I see most in writing rooms around the world is the UAD Apollo Twin Duo. The Apollo also comes with killer effects plugins which will save you dollars on that end. Even the most discerning ears agree that it’s hard to beat the sonic quality of UAD gear.

 

Testing 1…2…3.. Is this Mic on??

 

When I put together my home recording studio, I put a lot of thought into what microphone would I choose if I could only choose one. I settled on the Shure SM7. At $399 it won’t crank the bank and it sounds way more expensive. It’s been used on pop vocalists like Michael Jackson and country crooners like Luke Bryan. But it is also killer on just about any situation or instrument you throw at it. I paired mine with a simple Cloudlifter CL-1 preamp for a little extra color and gain.

 

Monitor Speakers

 

Monitor speakers are crucial to getting a great mix in your home. You don’t want a speaker that hypes the high end or boost too much low in. You want a pretty even response so that you can get an accurate sonic image. I’ve trusted Yamaha HS5 Powered Speakers for years. they plug right into my Apollo interface and are portable enough to take on the road if i write in a cabin for a week 🙂

 

What about drums and keys my home recording studio, you ask?

 

At the top of this page, I have a short documentary video you can watch as I go through my set-up. You’ll notice for drums I love the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro. The pads feel great and there are loads of drum kits and loops you can get for the Maschine. It also sequences and samples for you nerds! It goes for around $269 on amazon.  They even have an iPhone version that’s been used on hit records.

Right now I’m using an Arturia Keylab 49 keyboard controller. I first used this in Mat Kearney’s studio and was extremely impressed. It also comes with some tasty sounding keyboard samples that you will need for your productions. These are selling around $209 and rival much more expensive controller in function and playability.

 

So that’s my tried and true home studio set-up. I’ve put a PDF list of the gear you can download below. As well as a link to a blog where i talk about how I used this gear on one of my #1 singles for Darius Rucker.

 

Write On!

~Clay

 

Download Clay's Recommended Studio Setup

Blog - Taking a Song From Demo to #1

 

 

clay-mills-songtown-hit_songwriter

Clay Mills is a multi-Grammy nominated, 16-time hit songwriter, and co-founder of SongTown. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, and Reba. 

Clay is also the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

19 thoughts on “Creating A Killer Home Recording Studio – On An Affordable Budget

  1. Clay, thanks for the tour and advice. Will really help! One question; How much RAM is enough? Maxed is usually 16-32GB in a Mac air. Curious to your thoughts there. Thanks again!

  2. Hi! Do you recommend any soundproofing or acoustic treatments such as bass traps? And if so, do you recommend any specific ones? My recordings always tend to sound muffled and I think poor acoustics is the cause.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Ashley,
      I use Roxul Rockboard panels for soundproofing and bass traps. I actually built a vocal booth with them and they work great! I live on a super busy street and it shuts out almost all noise entirely (except for the occasional semi truck). I highly recommend them!

  3. As experienced producer myself it’s also just as and more importantly to learn recording producing, arranging mixing musician skills before you do this or for a good 3- 6 months of a few hours a week to a basic working level. Save yourself a lot of time in the studio. 👍

  4. Hi Clay, your studio is quite a collection of great gear. I was wondering what your preference would be between Logic and ProTools? I see many songwriters using both systems.
    Thanks for all your great advise in advance.

  5. reaper daw ain’t bad ………. just for guitar vocals one take ….. big learning curve on all the rest
    not sure i won’t go there ………. maybe a studio book a couple of hours for songwriter songs

  6. Hey clay mills, wanna give big shout to you and your wonderfull team for the great video blog, for a bigininer like this is very importand, my question is which app did you Download for getting the BEAT on? I cound’nt gat it on my app store, or it may be i didnt hear you clearly , (spell),

    Thanks charles

    1. Charles, on my iPhone I often use iMaschine 2 … the spelling has an “S” in it. They also have a hardware drum pad for use with a computer DAW. The one in the video is Maschine Mikro.

    1. I’m new to music production and songwriting. After spending a few thousand dollars on a new computer and small recording studio, 6 years later I still could not get it to work.

      After I saw this video, I ended up copying what you have here. It was “plug & play”. Finally I am able to start recording my music.

      Clay, thank you so much for your inspired video. It has helped me immensely.

  7. Very nice run through! I’m sure this will help a lot of people. I have taken the economy an mobility to a new level recently. I scored an OpenBox great deal on an iPad Pro 12.9″. It eliminated the need for a pad controller because I can now tap beats right into Garage Band on the iPad. Next, I got a great USB mic that also goes right into Garage Band via USB to Lightning adapter. I can make pretty decent demo’s without even a power outlet now.

    The main goal for me, however was to have just enough stuff to make a decent demo that doesn’t require me to bring an extra bag when I travel (for the day job). So wherever I am, whenever an idea surfaces.. phlegm flam boom bam I can make me a simple track and write to it and then put the vocals in it. Garage Band now has come nifty chording options for the guitars so you just tap the tab to insert chords in the MIDI and also the Bass and Guitar, being on a touch screen now registers the note, slides, velocity and all. I do have a little Jam Stick (Bluetooth) that I bring sometimes.

    It’s probably not quite as professional sounding as the rig you ran through, but once back to my home studio, I can just drag and drop the tracks into another DAW and use all the great Virtual Instruments and plugins there. That is just the mixing part then.

    Just thought I’d share a couple more ideas on this thread.

  8. That was AWESOME! Thanks Clay! I’ve been wanting a new vocal mic…trying to decide between the Slate or the Sure SM7B…glad you like the Sure SM7B. Which do you prefer? Thanks Clay

    1. Both are great options Mike. The Slate system is a higher price tag but gives you more options for different mic emulations. Good luck!

      CM

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