10 Steps to Setting Up the Perfect Vocal Recording Studio
Hello guys and welcome to my most sacred creative space - my studio! This is the first time I have shown anyone through the place I do my work so I really hope you enjoy this tour. As you know I travel a lot to work in studios in LA, Amsterdam, London and Stockholm; but this space is all mine and it’s here where I live in Sydney Australia.
I have set up everything so it’s especially tailored to my needs as a songwriter and vocalist, and that’s what I am going to share with you today.
1. Build your studio to support your strengths
My first tip is to start small and set up everything to support your strengths. I am a vocalist and songwriter so I don’t need loads of synths and outboard gear. I have a really compact and affordable set up. Although I never compromise on quality! Let’s get cracking so you can do this too.
2. Desk space
I love a big desk with lots of room for writing lyrics, paper and books, laptop, phone, pens etc I like to spread out and take up lots of room and this really helps my creativity flow. My desk is from Ikea (Bekant 160 x 80cm) and is super durable for equipment and doesn’t scratch easily. I chose white because it feels lighter and more uplifting than black. It was also much cheaper than a custom built music production desk! By the way I also love this desk. I sit next to a huge window which I love because I have a really beautiful view of the city, lots of sunshine and fresh air, although sometimes I need to close the blinds for screen visibility and soundproofing (more on this later!).
3. Monitor Shelf
I added a matching white shelf to this desk so I could fit my ICON 49 note mid keyboard under my Dell LED monitor and keep maximum desk space to spread out for writing lyrics.
It might not seem like a chair is that important, but once you start working 12 hour studio days trust me you need a comfy chair. So great for posture and custom adjustable to your height and weight the Herman Miller Embody was a bit of splurge for me but worth every penny. By the way I also love this chair.
5. PC vs MAC
My main desktop is a custom built PC (specs are 16GB RAM, 3.4GHZ Dual Core Intel Core i7, 3TB SSD, 64 bit) but I also work on a MacBook Air (specs are 8GB RAM, 1.7GHZ Dual Core Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD) which is just as fast and super light to carry which is so important for travelling to sessions or touring. I love this MacBook Air. It’s the best laptop I’ve ever owned it hasn’t slowed down or ever crashed.
6. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
I work on Steinberg Cubase (currently version 12 Pro) and have been for over 10 years. I love it because it is the perfect tool for songwriting and recording. In the same project you can record and edit audio, as well as program midi so you can create your whole song in one go. There are quite a few great DAW’s such as Logic, FL Studio, Protools - they all have their pro’s and con’s. If you want to play midi parts via keyboard and use soft synths such as Sylenth, Nexus, Serum etc you need a DAW that enables you to program midi in. If you are recording vocals or guitars you need a DAW that will allow you to record and edit audio. Some of the other amazing features of Cubase that I love are the channel strip, audio comping, VariAudio, channel batch audio export, audio to midi, punch in/out, key editor, chord editor, virtual instruments and it comes with so many amazing effects. I highly recommend Cubase and if you are just starting out there is a great version called Cubase Elements that is very affordable.
7. Audio Interface
Next on the tour is my audio interface! If you want to record audio (such as vocals or guitar through a microphone) you need to channel that audio into the computer via the audio interface. It will encode your analog signal into a digital signal in your DAW and then you can edit it. I love the Focusrite Clarrett+ 2Pre USB - it is light and compact but sturdy with easy to use inputs and dials. It also has ultra high quality 192kHz / 24 bit digital conversion (this quality is super important); 10-in / 4-out; headphone jack with separate monitoring, 2 line/instrument/mic preamps and ultra-low latency (an all important fave). It also is much more affordable than competing interfaces such as the RME BabyFace and the UA Apollo - I have tried both of them and while so many producers I know love them, neither of them were right for me. I like to be able to see what I am getting, what cable goes where and be able to easily adjust the levels. I plug my mic cable straight into the front, headphones into the front, a midi cable from my keyboard into the back, and my studio monitor speakers into the back, while the whole unit plugs straight into my PC or MAC by USB cable.
I bang on about my headphones all the time because I love them so much. My fave recording and mixing headphones are the Sony MDR7506. They are comfortable so wearing for hours and are closed back so they have such an even balance which is important for accuracy. I have tried and tested some Sennheisers and Beyer Dynamic headphones too, but ended up ditching them both for my Sonys. Another pair I love are the Audio Technica M50xDS which I take on the road. They are more durable than the Sony’s and so much safer for travelling, and also have an amazing sound.
I have been using the Studio Projects C1 large diaphragm, fixed-cardioid condenser microphone for over 10 years and I really love it. It’s not very common around the many studios I have visited but it has a great presence for female vocals which obviously works brilliantly for me. Other mics I love are the Neuman TLM 103 Large Diaphragm Condenser Mic and the all-time epic Sony C800g, because they have so much presence and pick up every nuance of the vocal. A great beginner vocal mic for studio is the Rode NT1 it has an amazing sound, is sturdy and brilliantly made, and is super affordable. You will also need a studio mic stand and a pop shield as seen here in my photo, to take breath and plosive (popping) sounds out of recordings by redirecting the jets of air that certain sounds create when sung or spoken. I love this new Aurelex MudGuard v2 iso-shield because it creates a perfectly neutral dead space so that the mic only picks up your voice and no echoes or reverb from the surfaces around you in the room (like big glass windows that I mentioned above!). I also love the Aurelex panels which you can place anywhere around the room to create more flatness in the space.
9. Powered Monitors (ie Speakers)
I mostly mix on headphones because I record and edit at the same time so I don’t use the monitors very often, just at the end when I am 95% finished mainly to see if the vocals are sitting too loud or if something else is popping out a bit weird. I have had these Event powered monitors for ages and they do a great job. They sit on these lovely Aurelex Acoustics Studio Monitor isolation pads which enhance sonic clarity of the studio monitors by eliminating sympathetic resonances within the room. They are very similar to the KRK 5" Classic Studio Monitors which are a super reliable and very popular monitors for a small studio space.
10. Apps / Software
Some of my favourite apps include Dropbox for file sharing, WeTransfer for sending large folders such as project stems for mixing or video files, Evernote for note taking and lyrics (but honestly I mostly use paper for lyrics it’s just so much better), Splice for inspiration audio loops and beats, Dictionary Thesaurus app which is so handy for finding those elusive better words, Voice Memo on iPhone is the perfect on the go tool for recording melodies and ideas, also great for studio sessions.
OK that’s it! That’s the super compact and easy to use set up I use to write and record all my releases, and my 10 steps to setting up the perfect vocal recording studio. I hope you enjoyed this tour and get inspired to set up your own creative space too.
Feel free to share this post and I would love to know if you have any questions or comments about your favourite studio gear - just let me know below.
Thank you Amba for letting me know how you work in studio. And giving me the opportunity to visit your studio. I greatly appreciate! Keep going like you do, you have my support!
About my headphones i always evolved with the brand AIAIAI TMA-1, TMA-2. (A headphone developped by DJs such Boys Noize). Firstly i used a TMA-1 beatport edition for 7 years. Currently i work with a TMA-2 DJ preset i bought on aiaiai.audio official website. Since 2 years. You have the choice for different version as (Studio Wireless+ / Studio (XE) / Move (XE) Wireless). I picked on the website the link: tma-2 “build your own” for a headphone preset. I prefer piece by piece to configure and personalize my own headphone. On this way i have the sound that i wish and the comfort. I really glad of this one!
Nice to meet you, you are very beautiful
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