In recent years, the portability and cost-effectiveness of Desktop Audio Production have allowed musicians to have recording setups at home. However, there are some things you’d want to know before setting up the best home recording studio possible.
A basic setup will consist of; a computer with a software application for recording, an external hard drive, audio interface, keyboard controller, speakers (or headphones), and at least one microphone.
Before we talk about the equipment, let’s start by reviewing the common types of audio and computer connections that you should be familiar with:
1) 1/4″ TS – used for instruments such as guitar, bass, and keyboards.
2) 1/4″ TRS – used for connecting headphones to your audio interface output for monitoring.
3) RCA – used for consumer audio components such as home stereo systems
4) XLR – used for connecting microphones to your audio interface or mixer.
5) A “Combi” connector can accept either an XLR connector for mics or a 1/4″ connector for line-level instruments such as guitars and keyboards. Commonly used for inputs on smaller audio interfaces.
For more info and pics of the various audio connectors, checkout;
The Ultimate Guide to Audio Connector & Cables
Whether you are using a Mac or a PC, the computer will serve as your recording device and the heart of the entire system. You’ll need to use a software application for recording, editing, and mixing. We refer to this type of application as a Digital Audio Workstation or “DAW” for short.
Audacity is a free application that offers all the features needed to record, edit and mix audio. It also includes signal processors such as EQ, compression, and reverb.
Many other applications offer additional features such as MIDI sequencing that you can use once you’ve gotten familiar with the basic techniques. DAW Software Buying Guide
There are two main things that an audio interface does; 1) Audio Conversion 2) Level Control
An audio interface converts the incoming analog signals from a microphone or line-level instrument to binary code (1’s and 0’s). It sends that information to your computer through a USB cable connected to your computer. When you playback the digital audio, the same process happens in reverse. The computer sends the digital information to the audio interface and converts it back to electrical energy you hear with headphones or through the main outputs sent to powered monitors. Many interfaces have built-in preamps that allow for independent gain control of each channel used for recording. They also have independent control of headphone level, and the output sent to the monitors.
There are multiple reasons why an audio interface is needed;
– The built-in audio input/output of your computer does not adequately handle the levels needed for recording.
– It is not able to record multiple inputs at once.
– The ⅛” jacks are not compatible with standard microphone connections
– And the computer input is not able to supply the 48v phantom power needed for condenser mics.
Before purchasing a device, you will want to check the system requirements listed for the product to make sure it is compatible with your computer. It is essential for older model computers that may not possess the minimal requirements to work properly with the device.
You will want to know the current operating system, processing speed, and amount of RAM of your computer. RAM is the amount of “Active” memory that your computer has available to run the applications used.
You can find this information on a Mac by going to the “Apple Menu” in the top left corner of the screen and selecting “About this Mac.” It will bring up the Overview window, revealing the current OS, processing speed, and available RAM. Clicking on “System Report” will give additional information about the computer in greater detail. (Apple Menu > About > System Report)
You can find the computer info on a PC by clicking the “Windows Start Button” in the bottom left corner and selecting the “Settings” icon. Then select “System,” scroll down the left column to the bottom and click “About.” Here, you will see the current Operating System, Processor speed, and amount of RAM the computer has.
You can connect most current audio interfaces via USB and without an additional power source. You should plug the interface directly into the computer. Plugging the interface into a USB hub attached to the computer can cause issues with supplying the proper power required from the USB bus to the interface. Interfaces that require external power will come with an AC cable.
Microphones and instrument cables plug into the inputs on the front. You can monitor outputs through headphones plugged into the 1/4″ stereo output or separate left and right line outputs that feed a pair of powered monitors.
Some interfaces require a software download to allow for functionality with the computer. Check the user manual or website to see if a download is required. Make sure to restart your computer after any software updates are complete.
If you are programming drums and other MIDI instruments, you will want some kind of keyboard controller to trigger notes using the sounds in the DAW. The controller plugs directly into a USB port on your computer. There are many types of controllers. Here is a list of current top-rated models: 10 Best Midi Keyboard Controllers in 2021
Dynamic mics are frequently used for vocals in a live setting, but the best mics to use in the studio for acoustic instruments are condenser mics. They have better sensitivity but require “phantom power,” a 48v power source supplied through the mic cable by the interface or mixer. There are many affordable mics to choose from, like the Behringer C-1 large-diaphragm condenser mic or a pair of Behringer C-2 Matched pair small diaphragm microphones.
Some microphones have switches that change how the microphone picks up the sound. The Behringer C-3 Dual-diaphragm Condenser Microphone has switches to attenuate the input signal by -10dB, low-cut, and select between three different polar patterns to change the directional sensitivity of the mic. I typically use large-diaphragm mics for vocals and the smaller diaphragm mics for acoustic instruments and as overhead mics on a drum kit.
You’ll also need a few XLR cables to plug the microphones into your audio interface. They come in a variety of sizes depending on your needs. You will also need microphone stands to position the mics around the sound source.
Speakers in studios are referred to as “Monitors” and come in two types – active and passive. Most home stereo systems use passive speakers. In these systems, the amplifier is in the stereo receiver itself, sending the powered signal to a wooden box equipped with speaker drivers to emit the sound.
The best speakers for home studio use are active monitors. These units have the amp system built into the box and are matched for proper output gain and frequency response. “Near-field” monitors are meant to be listened to from about 3 feet away. They are usually compact and are easy to connect – a single active speaker needs only a power cable and an input cable from the mixer or audio interface. They tend to be more precise and accurate as compared to the passive speakers.
There are many options for near-field monitors. Some of the more affordable models to consider are the PreSonus Eris E3.5 and the M-Audio AV32. These models only require AC power to the left monitor, which contains a two-channel power amp. The main outs from the interface are fed to the inputs of the left monitor, which feeds powered signal to the right monitor using traditional speaker wire via the +/- terminal connections.
Although monitors are helpful, they are not always necessary since you have monitoring capabilities from the interface’s headphone jack. Even if you have speakers, you will need to use headphones while recording since you don’t want the microphones picking up the sound coming from the speakers.
There are two different types of headphones that I currently use: the Sennheiser HD280 closed-back headphones are good during recording since they are tight to the ear. They don’t let the sound bleed into the microphones while recording.
When I’m editing and mixing with headphones on the laptop, I prefer the AKG K240 semi-open back headphones. They aren’t as tight to the ears and are more comfortable when worn for long periods.
The hard drive is an essential piece of hardware responsible for storing all the files in your computer and capturing what is recorded in real-time. The internal hard drive in your computer is always busy reading and writing information while it is used.
Although the internal drive can handle basic recording tasks, you should use an external drive to record and store project files. Using an external drive takes some of the burden off your computer with real-time tasks and keeps things working smoothly.
There are two basic uses to consider when purchasing a hard drive; storage backup and active use.
There is a difference between a drive used for backups and one for audio and video projects. The main difference is the speed at which the drive can spin.
For recording, you will want a drive that runs at 7200 rpm or a solid-state drive.
Drives that spin at 5400 rpm or slower are not suitable for audio recording but can be used for backup storage or archiving projects.
Consider this article that profiles some of the best External Hard drives in your search for more storage as well.
Behringer C-1 Large-diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($60)
Behringer C-2 Matched Studio Condenser Microphones ($70/pair)
Behringer C-3 Dual-diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($78)
Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Microphone ($99)
AKG P420 Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone ($149)
Rode M5 Matched Pair Compact Condenser Microphones ($199)
Shure SM81 Small-diaphragm Condenser Microphone
Audio-Technica AT4050 Condenser Microphone ($700)
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro Closed-back Headphones ($100)
AKG K240 Studio Semi-open Pro Studio Headphones ($70)
PreSonus Eris E3.5 3.5″ Powered Studio Monitors ($100/pair)
M-Audio AV32 3″ Powered Studio Monitors ($100/pair)
Yamaha HS5 5″ Powered Studio Monitor ($199 each)
Yamaha HS7 6.5″ Powered Studio Monitor ($320 each)
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface ($160)
PreSonus AudioBox iTwo USB Audio Interface ($160)
Steinberg UR22mkII USB Audio Interface ($165)
Solid State Logic SSL2 USB Audio Interface ($230)
Storage – Backup: Seagate Expansion 2TB USB 3.0 External Hard Drive ($56)
Great for Recording; Glyph Blackbox Plus 1TB Rugged Portable Solid-State Drive ($200)
Great for recording. USB powered (does not required AC power source)
By Steve Lipman
Marshmello. Kygo. The Chainsmokers. Martin Garrix.
By way of the careers of these artists, recorded music at large has made some sometimes strange but also wonderfully creative turns that ultimately changed the way we understand composition, melody, and rhythm.
What these artists all have in common is a successful career creating electronic music that’s made its mark on popular music culture. Because of Kraftwerk’s iconic and epic “Autobahn” and the searing, acrobatic precision of Skrillex’s EDM bass drops, the sounds, hooks, and sensibilities of electronic music are now everywhere. And the new hitmakers – Marshmello, Kygo, and Martin Garrix – have picked up the torch and carried electronic music forward into new frontiers and to the top of the Hot 100 chart.
All one needs to do to see the impact of electronic music pioneers is look at the Hot 100 or the top trending tracks on Spotify: the majority are from a sub-genre of EDM or at least prominently feature electronic elements. Chart-topping pop music today is largely a blend of electronic and acoustic elements. Listen to any Katy Perry hit and you’ll hear sampled beats and synthesized melodies, and we have the above artists and many more to thank for that.
The mixing and mastering of electronic music has forged a new understanding of what music is supposed to sound like, from the texture-rich soundscapes made by heavyweights in the genre like Brian Eno, to the almost glittery and catchy hooks of modern bands like CHVRCHES.
Music schools are taking notice. All around the country, new programs are being tailored not only to emerging electronic music artists, but to artists in general seeking to elevate their sound with electronic elements while not being held down by the possibilities of standard, traditional instruments.
What that means for you is that not all electronic music programs focusing on composition, technical know-how (a near requirement for electronic musicians), and the music business are created equal. As with any popular subject of study, some music production programs do it better than others.
Plus, with the use of laptops and tablets as musical instruments in and of themselves, the power of what’s possible is becoming democratized and more widely available. This means almost anybody with the right tools (i.e., software packages) and training can start making noteworthy electronic music. You may in some ways call it a “music of the people.”
I’ve put together a list of what I believe are the best schools for electronic music production. It’s important to note that these course offerings are not only for the next Skrillex or Kygo – they are becoming a more important part of the arsenal of tools for all artists seeking to build a career in music as we move forward in the 21st century.
The schools included in the list – along with having some academic coursework exploring electronic music in their curriculum – also have incredible music production programs. This allows you to take what you learned in an academic environment and apply it to what is always the second step of creating music after playing it: producing it in a compelling way.
But before we dive into the list, let’s talk some history.
The path of electronic music’s ascendancy runs parallel to the development of computer technology. Starting as early as the late 19th century, Italian composers were beginning to use what might be considered the first synthesizers to create what – at the time – was considered non-musical sounds as they started navigating newly-developed technologies.
You may be shocked to know that one of the earliest instruments to be considered an actual synthesizer was developed in the late 1930’s by Soviet scientist Evgeny Murzin. From there, we were given the Hammond Organ and other mainstays that are still in use today.
By the mid-1950’s, composers and instrumentalists in Europe, the United States, and Japan were creating bonafide music with early synthesizers. This new music embodied the classic concepts of melody, harmony, and rhythm through sounds blended with various frequencies.
Along with all this, new understandings of harmony, melody, and rhythm began to develop. What was impossible just a few decades before was turning into a growing body of knowledge and music for what many considered a “future music.”
Electronic music at-large owes its existence to the synthesizer. As you may know, the word “synthesize” means to bring elements together into a new, unrecognizable whole. Instruments
we call “synthesizers” are those that blend different sound frequencies, creating new sounds with their own individual character.
From the world of tapes and giant, almost room-sized synthesizers, we find ourselves today in a post-electronic world. From the late 1970’s through the 1980’s, electronic music began taking center stage. Popular groups like New Order, the Human League, and more were selling millions of records, most of which were created using synthesizers and other types of electronic instruments.
Additionally, the introduction of the drum machine helped launch grassroots artistic movements such as rap and hip hop in the early 1980’s. These were simple instruments that have made reverberations throughout history – without them, we might not have artists like Jay-Z and Puff Daddy (Or Sean Combs, however you prefer it) who made the genre what it is today.
So, it’s easy to understand how much electronic music has impacted the sounds that we hear today. We almost can’t get away from it, except for the folkiest of acoustic stars taking the stage.
And, when you think that such instruments as the electric guitar, with magnetic pickups, are a direct result of the pursuit for creating electronic music, you can see that it really, truly, is everywhere.
Today, it’s impossible to escape the reach of electronic music in our everyday lives.
If you use keyboards, you’re making sounds that wouldn’t have been possible without the work of electronic music pioneers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Moog Synthesizer, one of the most iconic synthesizers in all of history, creates a range of tones that redefined the possibilities of sound.
The recording industry – and all the tools it uses – were developed in tandem with electronic music. Interfaces like Ableton Live, Logic Pro, and Garageband (all tools that are crucial for the modern electronic musician) owe their existence to the development of music technology.
Music production is largely a technical and electronic process, with computers helping us capture sounds, change them, and assemble them into compositions. Attempting to study this world in college puts you right in line to become the next sonic pioneer in a world that is constantly changing, and constantly bettering itself.
So, now that you know a bit about the history and impact of electronic music and sound design, here are the best places I believe one can study and succeed.
The Thornton School of Music is one of the best in the world, and for good reason. With incredibly deep and insightful courses, along with many opportunities to perform and branch into the world of music in Los Angeles and beyond, many students find success after attending Thornton.
In 2014, a course aptly called “Electronic Dance Music” was introduced into the curriculum. The course explores the history and cultural impacts of electronic dance music, from its earliest beginnings to the multimedia experience we know as EDM concerts today.
Additionally, their Music Technology degree program is highly sought out by anyone who wants to dive into the tech-driven world of electronic music. As a music production school, you’ll be well placed in one of the epicenters of the music world – Los Angeles – to take your first dives into the music industry after you’ve finished your studies.
Studying electronic music at the University of Michigan means being close to Detroit. What that means for you is getting to the center of the electronic music revolution in the United States.
The Detroit techno scene was the epicenter of a burgeoning body of artists that went on to change the world of music with synthesized tones and electronic beats. At the University of Michigan, you are face-to-face with this scene, and any electronic music student studying here should take full advantage of the venues and spaces available to them.
The University of Michigan’s music production and composition programs are some of the best in the country. The Brehm Technology Suite, a multimedia framework of facilities and programs utilizing the most up-to-date technology, allows any musical creative to incorporate the elements of electronic music into their sound in a truly immersive and enriching environment.
You can expect to dive deep into the creative community in and around Detroit and Ann Arbor. The university’s location is one of the best for people exploring electronic music, and armed with the academic prowess of the University of Michigan’s programs you’ll find a fulfilling course load that prepares you well for a career in electronic music.
Ensembles are how serious music students test their skills with faculty and peers. The Frost School has their own electronic music ensemble, which is partly why this school makes it on our list of the best electronic music production schools.
Along with your standard music theory and music performance courses, The Frost School also offers several courses exploring the many facets of electronic music. Digital Editing and Sequencing, History and Analysis of Electronic and Acousmatic Music, and several others all aim to impart to you the skills and context needed to move forward confidently in the world of electronic music.
With a complete music technology degree program, the Steinhardt School of Music explores all the facets of electronic music production and performance with their Bachelor of Music in Music Technology program. I would consider it one of the best schools for electronic music production.
What makes this school stand out is its Masters in Music, which aims to make its students into “tonmeisters,” those veritable geniuses of the technology and processes behind music production. This includes synthesizing sounds, recording, and wielding a complete command of traditional and non-traditional musical rules and practices.
Berklee’s Bachelor of Music in Electronic Production and Design is an incredible program for the person who is both a musician and a technologist.
You not only learn how to use and manipulate the latest – and classic – tools for electronic musicians. Along with a healthy concentration on music composition, there’s a focus on recording electronic music and performing electronic music live that truly sets you up for your next step – a real-world dive into a career in music.
Berklee also offers advanced courses in Ableton Live, a digital audio workstation that in many ways is becoming the gold standard for audio engineers – especially those working in electronic music. You’re also given access to their 27 state of the art recording studios where your new compositions come to life.
This Florida school is a contender on this list for its focus on the application and use of electronic music.
Courses in music for video games, digital audio workstations (DAW’s), and music in media help build fundamentals that any student can use toward building a career in electronic music. For any student that is considering creating music for film or video, Full Sail is a fine option, especially if you don’t necessarily have the instrumental or performance skills required to pass auditions at some of these other schools.
A note about Full Sail University: in my opinion, students who are looking for a truly “collegiate” experience might not appreciate this option. They offer a condensed version of the college experience, without the extra curriculars and group activities you might experience at a typical college or university.
These six schools are – in my opinion – the best places for anybody in high school who is considering studying music later in life.
The list is not put together in any particular order, and that’s because there really isn’t any such thing as a “best” school for anything.
What it comes down to is the individual character of the student who is applying. Perhaps the better question to ask yourself is this:
“What is the best music school for me?”
At Inside Music Schools, I make my over 40 years of experience working in admissions for Berklee – one of the most renowned schools for the study of music – available to you.
That means my job is to help you get accepted not to the “best” school, but the right school for you. It must be a place where someone of your temperament, work ethic, and interests will thrive.
Choosing the right music school for you means looking past what famous alumni are doing, because your path to success will always be different from guys like Skrillex.
by Anthony Schultz
The variety of audio engineering and music production programs have dramatically increased over the past 10 years. That’s because educational institutions around the world have seen the value and demand in these programs, especially as the music industry environment has changed through technology.
In many cases, being a great instrumentalist can only take you so far. Historically, the power has been in the hands of record labels, lawyers, managers, and promoters – these people held tight control over many critical aspects of the careers of the people who created the music.
Once music schools started adding audio recording & music production degrees, it did not take long to realize the added value of adding courses to understand the “music business” itself. Eventually, music business degrees became available focusing on the critical elements that give a career in music more stability.
These programs are shifting more control into the hands of the artists, songwriters, engineers and producers themselves. It has also allowed for creative non-musicians to get involved.
For people considering careers in music outside of the performance world, this article is for you. I’ve put together a short list of schools that offer a variety of degrees in audio recording, music production, and music business. I hope this article gives you a better understanding of the potential options to choose from when considering a 4-year music degree program.
The Music Industry Program at Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers a Bachelor of Science degree with concentrations in Recording Arts and Music Production or Music Business.
According to Toby Seay, Department Head – Arts & Entertainment Enterprise and Associate Professor – Music Industry, this program is intensive but very valuable for those considering non-performance degrees in music.
“There are about 300 students in the program with about 75 applicants accepted per year. Students take a robust 6-month Co-op during the summer after sophomore and junior years. The school has also set up a number of hands-on opportunities.”
The co-op opportunities are for the following companies and entities:
The Department of Recording Industry at Middle Tennessee State University offers a Bachelor of Science degree with majors in Audio Production or Recording Industry, with a concentration in either Commercial Songwriting or Music Business. The Department of Recording Industry also offers a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) in Recording Arts and Technologies.
The University of Massachusetts Lowell offers Bachelor of Music degrees in Music Business, Music Performance, Sound Recording Technology and Music Studies.
The university also offers Master of Music degrees in Sound Recording Technology and Music Education (either Teaching Certification or Thesis/Project or Community Music).
Within the College of Arts & Sciences at Elon University, students can receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Production & Recording Arts.
Fred Johnson, a lecturer of music production and recording arts, says this about the university’s programs:
“The focus is on making 21st century musicians well-rounded. They are required to play an instrument, take private lessons, and play in ensembles. Several levels of music theory are also required – depending on major – as well as a piano proficiency.”
Two internships are required for their four-year degree programs, including options to study abroad and in Los Angeles.
The school offering the biggest variety of majors related to music is Berklee College of Music.
In addition to their Bachelor of Music degree in Music Production & Engineering, Berklee offers these degrees with concentrations in Composition, Contemporary Writing and Production, Electronic Production and Design, Film Scoring, Jazz Composition, Music Business/Management, Music Education, Music Therapy, Performance, Performance Music and Songwriting. Minors in Audio Post-Production, Commercial Record Production and Recording and Production for Musicians are also offered.
Berklee also has a campus location in Valencia, Spain offering a Master of Music degree in Contemporary Performance with a Production Concentration, Global Entertainment and Music Business, Music Production, Technology and Innovation and Scoring for Film, Television and Video Games.
Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU – within the Tisch School of the Arts – is the first and only program of its kind to provide professional business and artistic training towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Recorded Music.
The first year focuses on building the fundamentals for a solid understanding of the connection between academics and professional success. The second year acts as an introduction to the art and business of creating and selling recorded music, while in the third year students dive into the depths of performance, composition, and the music industry. Students’ efforts in the fourth year will culminate in a capstone project that creates the engine for future success through a sort of “attack plan” for entering into the music industry in whichever path they choose.
For a detailed course description, click here.
The Frost School of Music at the University of Miami was the first American university to offer a 4-year degree in Music Engineering. The school offers a Bachelor of Science in Music Engineering Technology.
Students learn about the art and science of recording while pursuing traditional musical studies and receive a minor in electrical or computer engineering. They also offer a 2-year Master of Science degree in Music Engineering Technology.
Special thanks to Toby Seay and Fred Johnson for their time in discussing their programs.