Theres always a laundry list of questions new engineers/producers have when they start to get into the home recording studio business. What do i need to have to get a great sound? is always the first question on that list. In my 10 years of buying equipment and going through trial and error I've found a few things that have become a must for great sound no matter what level your skills are at. So heres a list of things you just shouldn't skimp on to get "That Sound"
This is the most important piece of your studio because if you can't hear accurately you can't make the right decisions for your song. Do not skip this step when putting together your studio. There are countless articles on the internet that describe DIY ways to build quality sound absorbers that can transform the sound of your room for under $300.
If sound didn't vibrate off walls and cause anomalies like room nodes and comb filtering then a nice set of neutral monitors would be number one on my list. There are plenty of decent monitor options under $300 but like in most cases you get what you pay for. When it comes to this purchase be looking to spend somewhere between 1k-4k. Do you have to spend that much ? NO !! Of course not. My Yamaha HS 8s ran me around 600 and they get used on every mix, but when i first heard my Focal solo 6 be's I wondered how i did this for so long without being able to hear the subtle nuances of reverb tails, compression moves, and .5 to 1db fader moves. It took my skills and my sound to the next level when I was able to clearly hear these things. It seems like it doesn't matter and its not that big a deal, but I promise you it is... Not saying its impossible but it's rare to non existent to hear a song on the radio done on a cheap pair of monitors.
If you can't capture a good sound then there isn't much you can do in the mix stage to save it. Luckily there are more options in this category than any other. Your going to want a large diaphragm condenser mic with a cardioid pattern. This is the most commonly used type of mic for vocal recording. If you wanna go strait to the big league be ready to spend anywhere from $1200-3.5k. You can get something for cheaper that sounds good. Blue, Audio Technica, Rode, and Avantone all make good mics in the range of $300-1k. They will get the job done and with proper rec technique can deliver a result that can sound very professional. BUT in my experience using a high quality mic gives you much better results immediately. There is a reason mic like the U87, Manley Ref C, AKG C-12, and Sony C800g are used time and time again on countless hit records. Its hard to make them sound bad. They just sit in the mix with little to no eq. A good mic has no replacement they are a staple to your sound so don't cheat yourself with a cheap chinese capsule inside of a $300 mic and ask why you don't sound upfront and present like Drake. Although there is a lot more to it than a mic, it plays just a big of roll as anything else in the mic chain.
This is what will control the conversion of your analog audio (what you record with your microphone) into your computer, and then your digital signal (the sound leaving your computer) into your monitors. This is something you can find a lot of info on ranging from its 2017 anything is fine; to top notch conversion is the only way to go. I side with top notch or nothing. To my ears and in my opinion the difference between an m box and an apollo is night and day. There are plenty of shootouts you can look up and find what you think is best for you but i would go with an apollo or an apogee interface. You can find both of these companies starter models for under a grand. The benefits far outweigh the price difference compared to a cheaper option. This is a go big or go home scenario so don't cheat yourself buy something nice and thank yourself later.
Get a Mac!!!! This is totally my opinion here but i don't see any other way to go. Make sure it has at least 16gb ram, preferably a SSD, and an i7 processor and your good to go with no worries. You should also be aware of buying a separate hard drive to save your sessions on. This way your computer only has your OS and your Apps on it. Im not 100 on why this is best, (if you really want the technical answer just google it, you'll find it) but it's a must do.
These 5 things are paramount to achieve the sound you are looking for. Im not saying that you won't be able to get a great sounding song with cheap equipment. I can get a great sound with damn near anything, but I've been doing this for ten years. My knowledge in audio is the reason i can achieve a good sonic from lessor gear. That being said I would never choose to use anything less than the best tool for the job. Why make it harder on myself, thats counterproductive. This post isn't meant for those of you with an expert skill set to find useful. This is a post meant for the beginner that is yet to understand the vast complexities of audio engineering. The person that wants to know with no bs whats the best stuff to buy. Of course were talking about almost 20K to get all of this and that might be out of reach as a beginner and thats fine. Buy your equipment piece by piece. Spend time studying the equipment you want and need. Hunt around on eBay for months on end until you find what you really want for what you can actually afford. Go to your local gear shop and test out speakers and microphones, do your due dilagence and you will be fine. My final thought on this topic is be prepared to spend a lot of time and money if you want to be a player in this industry. Pro gear isn't cheap and neither is the price of your time your going to be giving up to get good at recording and mixing music. Those with patience and a strong will are the ones that will make it, those that think they can cut corners and live off the lead vocal pre sets are going to fade out before they ever have a chance to make a dollar off of their music.