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Seven points: inspiration and gear for a small home studio set-up

In this blog post, we are delving into music production ideas, home studio and things that I’ve been enjoying lately when making music at my small and humble home studio. The information I have gathered here is for inspiration for fellow music technology and production fans. Of course, all the people are interested in this topic. I’m still a beginner in music production, although I have a small amount of experience in a commercial recording studio.

Because music production and songwriting are my hobbies, I have limited time to try different plugins. There are tons of plugins to explore in the world. Youtube and the internet are full of lists to explore various available plugins, which I think is fantastic. You can choose from a lot of variations for varied tastes and needs in music production.

Getting started

The most important is learning the concepts and basics when you’re starting out: learn and try with your DAW’s stock plugins first. The DAW I use is Ableton Live. On Youtube, you can find good tutorials and tips on how to start out: some good advice, in my opinion, “This Is Onesto” ‘s video “Top Plugins For First Year Producers”, so check that out if you are starting out making music. The more you do, the more you know what you will need gear-wise. I bought some plugins when I started that I have used to some extent, but not yet on a large scale. It takes time for all the new information to sink in, and it is essential to try out things. I was really inspired at the start to just try with the DAW’s stock sounds; for example, in Ableton, you can do quite a lot with only these.

Fortunately, there are many reviews, demos, and comparisons on Youtube, so you can consider your purchase beforehand before spending your hard-earned cash. The price range for the things I’ve listed here is about 0-100 dollars, and I encourage you to try demos first to see if you like something and are willing to buy it. Also, there are a lot of free plugins that work well for starting out and beyond.

1 Audio interface in home studio

When I started, I didn’t have an audio interface but decided to get one because I wanted to record vocals and guitar. After comparing different options, I decided to get the Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2. It depends on if you need an audio interface at the start. You need an audio interface to connect your musical instruments and microphones if you’re playing instruments and singing. Consider how many inputs you need. Two inputs were good for me, and one is also suitable for home recordings. I’m happy that the interface is small and sturdy, so you can also take it on a trip if needed. This audio interface has been straightforward to use and has been working great when recording vocals or instruments.

The Scarlett 2i2 audio interface is small and sturdy for home studio and when travelling.

2 Wavetable Synths

Having a wavetable synth plugin is essential, in my opinion in a home studio or any studio, but still, you can do a lot with the DAW’s stock sounds when starting out, at least in Ableton, as before mentioned. Here are some options in the market:

For myself, I chose Serum for sound design. You can create your own sounds and get presets bought/ free to your wavetable synths. I have downloaded the free version of Native Instruments Komplete Start, where I’ve found some good sounds that I like, and I’m still trying this one out. 

It is good to follow song/remix competitions: you can sometimes download some excellent limited edition plugins for free during the competitions. And of course, you can take part in the competition. I also use a lot of loops that I cut and modify, which brings us to…

3 Sampling

I think sampling is my favourite tool for creating great sounds or loops. You pick a one-shot or loop and make different kinds of sounds/loops, modifying them to your own taste and need. For one-shots and loops, I use Splice, a treasure chest for inspiration for me personally. For example, creating a drone sound from a brass instrument loop is easy, and you get a superb sound for your track! You can also use sampling as sliced sounds: cut the loop into smaller bits, try out the keyboard what you come up with, and you end up with something totally different from the original sound clip after working on the loop/ one-shot. This is where you can be really creative, and it’s a lot of fun!

4 What sound are you aiming for?

Do you have an idea what kind of reference song, feeling or sounds you’re looking for in your track? I try to think of songs in what direction I’ll be going with the sound and the feeling. So I gather sounds and loops that represent that feeling that I’m going for. Sometimes, often, I end up with something totally different kind of sound for the song. Because during the workflow, you come up with new exciting ideas and get inspired. You may even start developing your own signature sound for productions of your own: I think that is a goal for me, but not limiting myself to one thing or genre of music. Because then I get bored 😊  

It is good to explore different musical genres and especially in the genre you are making music if you have a specific genre you want to make music in. I wouldn’t limit myself to one musical genre: I think it’s good to widen your musical taste. You can, for example, listen to music around the world, get to know music history etc. 

5 About Effects…

It’s essential to understand the different basic effects and what they do. This takes time, and be patient if you are a total newbie in music production. Listening to tracks, analyzing how they are produced, and thinking about the sound effects used are great for your skills levelling up. Also, think about what effects you like and want to incorporate into your work and style. Maybe you’ll find your signature sound that way too.

For example, you might like songs with an effects process or technique that makes the song interesting. I’ve always been fascinated with sounds and styles, such as Daft Punk’s songs and French house music. I think this video describes in a great way how the signature sound of French house can be achieved: there is used a lot of compression in an example song. Wow, I can only imagine how hard Daft Punk and other dance music pioneers had to work on their sound in the eighties and nineties because all the technology was analogue. Phew! Luckily, we have today’s technology, and music technology has developed a lot in the last fifteen years and we can have a small home studio setup easily done.

Here are my favourite Daft Punk records: “Homework”, “Discovery” and the original “Da Funk” single release.

6 …And some Plugins

Plugins can be very varied: previously mentioned synths and sounds are plugins. There are, for example, effects plugins, VST instruments, mixing and mastering plugins. I recently tried a drum plugin Steven Slate Drums, which I think could be fun and fast for someone making a songwriting project on the DAW: you can quickly and easily get drums for your songs and modify the midi if you wish to do so.

Here is the free version of Steven Slate drums in use in Ableton Live. You can see the midi clips: you can choose and place them how you want to and modify them.

The plugin market is extensive, and I have only tried a fraction of it, and I’ll just mention a few in this blog post. I’ve really liked the Mastering the mix plugins: I have used the Bassroom, Mixroom and Levels a lot. This has helped me as I’ve been mixing with headphones. I’m getting monitors soon, but I’ll be still using these plugins for sure! I would always wait for sales and package deals when buying plugins: I find that there are deals always going on, and I’ll wait for a deal to come when I know what I’m going to get. So, I haven’t accumulated a ton of plugins yet, and I’m trying and testing different stuff, what I prefer, before buying any of it.

7 Thinking out of the box and being creative

The more you learn, the more you “routinize”? Maybe so: I think it’s good to have a good routine in your workflow – what I don’t have yet, I’m still trying to find my way and balance when working on songs timewise and workflow. On the other hand, being too routinized may affect how inspired and fresh ideas you might have. That’s why it’s good to take care of your health, sleep and do other things. Check out my other blog post about how to stay motivated when making music. I think the most important is to try new things and have fun.

It is so rewarding when sometimes you accidentally find a unique cool sound or song idea, and you can be creative. So I think it’s crucial to think out of the box and create the music you love. I also understand that some music genres are more popular and, therefore also, more competitive. Sometimes the restricted possibilities are a strength: you can be more creative when you have a limited choice of plugins and technology. You must manage what you have and make it work for your tracks.

Summing up

This was more of a technical music production blog post for people at the start of their music production journey. And I hope hopefully this was interesting to others too. These are my personal thoughts, things that I’ve been testing and noticed. Check out my May Day beginning song for my workplace’s radio show, “Vappuradio”, which is on the Soundcloud now! I was thrilled to get some really positive feedback for this work from a radio professional and my colleagues. So the hard work pays off slowly but surely! Be motivated in what you do; someone out there loves your work, so keep creating the music you love 😊

April 2022 was packed with many new K-pop songs. The K-pop Highlights post for April is coming soon for this blog, so a lot of exciting stuff has been going on. I’m also making a vlog of the coming K-pop Flex concert, so I hope everything goes well with that and I get some excellent vlog material. 

I hope you are all healthy and safe where ever you are. And I hope you have a great time creating and listening to music!