Bedroom Producers - How To Make Hit Songs From Home

Bedroom Producers – How To Make Hit Songs From Home

Looking to write, record, produce, and publish your own hit songs from home?

Before recent advancements in technology, this was little more than a pipedream, but it has fast become more feasible thanks to advanced computers, free Digital Audio Workstations and VST plugins, affordable studio equipment, and more.

In this guide, we’ll look at how you can make great music from your bedroom!

What Is A Bedroom Producer?

A bedroom producer generally describes an amateur musician who writes their own music, performs it, and records it entirely from the comfort of their home.

To that end, bedroom producers will often learn the ins and outs of music theory, various musical instruments, studio equipment, working with a DAW, and even editing and mixing (and sometimes mastering). Most if not all of this will come out of their own pocket, of course.

A bedroom producer is usually considered an amateur or hobbyist as they are probably young, live with their parents or roommates, and have limited space available for their studio equipment (usually their bedroom).

That said, the number of musicians and producers who have a home or project studio of some kind easily number in the thousands. Even established pros tend to have them, and some of them have even recorded entire projects from home (including the likes of Van Halen, Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, Radiohead, and others).

The truth is, not all experienced and professional producers and sound engineers work in big budget studios. Many of them work out of their home, in their basement, or even in their garage. So, to an extent, most of us are bedroom producers in some capacity! At the very least, we have some experience with it.

The main downside of bedrooms is that they aren’t acoustically treated like professional studios, so recording your voice and acoustic instruments can be a challenge (extraneous noises tend to bleed into your recording!). Not impossible, especially using today’s gear, just not ideal.

Either way, we all need to start somewhere. And as the former owner of a home studio and rehearsal space, I can say with conviction that it’s better to get started on a shoestring budget and a makeshift workspace today than to put it off for later. You’re going to learn a lot, and the skills you pick up will prove valuable for future projects!

Basic Equipment List For Getting Started

So, what do you need to get started as a bedroom producer?

At first, the process of setting up a bedroom studio might seem overwhelming. The good news is that you don’t need that much to get started. These days, I work on professional quality mixes using a relatively bare minimum setup myself.

Don’t worry about how to record a guitar track or how to sequence a MIDI track just yet. First, get your gear in order.

With that, let’s get into the equipment list.

A Computer

Whether it’s a desktop or laptop computer doesn’t make much of a difference, unless you plan to take your computer with you wherever you go to work on your beats (in that case, you would be better served with a laptop).

Conventional wisdom has it that you should get the fastest computer money can afford. This is not bad advice, but these days most computers, even stock, have quad-core processors and 8GB of RAM, which is quite sufficient.

Again, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a little more. But if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no need to spring for that gaming laptop with the top-of-the-line graphics card (these days, graphics cards are a little overpriced and harder to come by anyway).

You can get a solid ASUS laptop in the $500 to $800 price range (I used to work at a laptop retailer, and ASUS is one of the better brands so far as I’m concerned).

If you’re going to get a desktop computer, then go the custom route. Choose your components with a little help from a qualified tech and put together your ideal machine.

Many experts also recommend getting a dedicated studio machine. Again, if you can afford it, this is not a bad idea. But these days, there are fewer conflicts and glitches with operating systems, DAWs, and plugins, so it’s okay if you need your machine for word processing, email, browsing, YouTube, and so forth.

(If you’re worried, you can set up all your software, and once you’re happy with how things are working, disconnect your machine from the internet permanently so no further updates are automatically downloaded.)

Do invest in more hard drive space if you have the option, but if not, you can always buy backup external hard drives later (a good idea anyway).

You can also take advantage of cloud storage nowadays, but it never hurts to have redundancy in your backups.

Digital Audio Workstation

This is the software to install on your computer for tracking, editing, mixing, and perhaps mastering as well.

We’ve covered plenty of free DAWs in another guide, and they are all quite capable. We like Waveform Free, because it’s a little more beginner friendly than the alternatives, and is still quite versatile, regardless of what style of music you intend to create. You can make beats, compose for films, record podcasts, create singer-songwriter tracks, track bands, or even make EDM.

We’ll talk more about DAWs a little later because learning how to use one will require some sweat equity on your part.

If you want to buy a DAW, they usually cost somewhere between $60 and $1,000 depending on included plugins, samples and loops, features, and more.

If your DAW supports third party plugins, you’ll probably want to load up on a few free VSTs as well.

Audio Interface

An audio interface is also known as a mixer. The most convenient option, obviously, is a plug-and-play hardware device that connects to your computer via USB, like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

What is it for? Well, if you want to record anything via XLR or 1/4” cable (i.e., voice or instrument), you’re going to need a way to share the signal with your computer. Audio interfaces do just that.

Smaller USB audio interfaces are affordable and tend to work quite well. The previously mentioned Scarlett 2i2 is even used by some pros. Their main limitation is the number of inputs available (the 2i2 only has two). But unless you’re recording drums at home and need to record eight to 16 tracks at once (seems unlikely), you shouldn’t need anything more than two inputs.

As well, there are plenty of Focusrite Scarlett alternatives available at various price points. They shouldn’t cost you more than $70 to $200.

Of course, there are more advanced audio interfaces that cost more too.

An audio interface is optional if you intend to do all your recording “inside the box” (i.e., via MIDI sequencing). The same goes for instrument cables, XLR cables, and microphones – if you’re going to be making beats and electronic music exclusively, you don’t necessarily need them.

Instrument Cables

If you’re going to be recording electric guitars, basses, and any other instruments that require you to plug in, you’ll want to pick up a couple of 1/4” instrument cables (standard).

You can get away with one, especially if you’re only going to be recording one instrument as a time. But it really can’t hurt to have a backup.

You can get a solid instrument cable in the $10 to $20 range per cable.

Microphone & XLR Cables

If you want to record your voice and other acoustic instruments (or even your guitar signal coming through an amp), you’ll want to pick up a microphone.

If you’re on a tight budget, we suggest the Audio-Technica AT2020. This is a condenser microphone, meaning it’s a little more sensitive, and it will pick up background noise (if there’s any), but it’s a good, versatile all-arounder.

If you have a little more money, then the RODE NT1-A is worth checking out. It’s basically the same idea as the AT2020, except a considerable upgrade in quality.

You’ll probably be spending somewhere in the $100 to $250 range for an entry-level mic.

Microphones plug in via XLR cables. As with instrument cables, it can’t hurt to keep a backup on hand. You can get a quality XLR cable in the $10 to $25 range per cable.

USB MIDI Controller

A MIDI controller is a great piece of kit to have on hand, especially if you play a bit of piano or keyboard or intend to learn how to play.

MIDI controllers don’t produce any sound on their own, but it’s kind of like having 1,000 instruments in one, because you can control software VST instruments with your MIDI controller.

MIDI sequencing can be done by hand (“drawing it in”), so a MIDI controller is optional. I still like to keep one around myself.

The M-Audio Keystation 49 MK3 is a good place to start, but these days you can even get a Mini MIDI keyboard like the Alesis V-Mini, which is quite a bit cheaper.

Producers just getting started should expect to pay in the $60 to $120 range for their starter kit.

Reference Monitors

As with several items on this list, reference monitors are completely optional. For detailed mixing work, though, not having a quality pair of studio monitors is a mistake. If you can’t afford monitors, or it simply doesn’t make sense for your living space (because of noise), you will want a pair of headphones.

There are plenty of options for entry-level studio monitors. Many bedroom producers have had success with the PreSonus Eris Near Field Studio Monitors or the Mackie CR-X series monitors, and even more swear by the KRK RP5 Rokit 5 pair.

Expect to pay in the $100 to $300 range for beginner studio monitors. Of course, you can spend considerably more for pro grade equipment.

Headphones

Headphones are useful for mixing and tracking voice or instrument tracks.

When you’re mixing, a transparent pair of studio monitors are still the ideal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some mixing on your headphones. If it’s your only option, it’s better to have than not.

For tracking voice or instruments, you want to be able to hear the click track and / or other instruments you’ve recorded (so you can overdub). Unless you want to deal with a lot of bleed, you’ll want to monitor these tracks in your headphones.

I personally have a pair of Status Audio CB-1 closed back studio monitor headphones and like them a lot, especially for the price.

But there are a lot of options in the $50 to $150 range, whether it’s Audio-Technica, Sennheiser, AKG, or otherwise. Better headphones cost more.

How Far Can You Go As A Bedroom Producer? Can You “Make It?”

Make music from home

Even established producers like deadmau5 are quick to point out that there are plenty of “kids” recording and making great music from home.

If you’re making beats, creating electronic music, or even composing film scores from home, technically, you don’t need a fancy setup at all. You just need a reliable laptop, headphones, and maybe a MIDI controller (again, you can still do all your MIDI sequencing without a MIDI controller).

Limitations are generally felt by producers who work on a variety of musical styles and genres, including singer-songwriter and band recordings.

There are several factors at play here:

  • An entry level microphone can sound quite good, but it probably won’t ever measure up to a Neumann.
  • Budget audio interfaces are great, but they’re not going to compare to ones with tube preamps and more inputs (especially if you’re going to be recording drums). The same goes for free or affordable VST plugins versus more expensive VSTs and hardware effects.
  • Then, of course, we need to look at the environment in which you’re recording. A bedroom hasn’t been acoustically treated and will never sound as good as a studio. You can soundproof your room and then add character to your tracks after the fact (with effects like compression), but that can feel a little limiting also.

Even with these factors in mind, you can go quite far as a bedroom producer. You can even become a full-time, professional artist.

A producer doing most of their work “inside the box” doesn’t have many limitations. They can upgrade their VST plugins and DAW as they continue to find success and get more work.

A producer who wants to record voice and instruments will still have the option of gradually upgrading their gear as they’re able, and that can totally scale with them as they move out of their current space into others.

One of the limitations they will probably feel is in working with clients, especially those who want to record drums. There are options in terms of having them record their drums at another studio, collaborating with a drummer who has their own recording equipment, or otherwise.

A beginner audio interface also won’t be able to record that many tracks simultaneously, and recording drums in a bedroom isn’t practical, so this is sure to become a pain point at some point.

So, producers dealing with singer-songwriter or band projects (or even mixed medium projects), will probably want to move to a basement, garage, or find another option for expanding their studio setup to accommodate more expansive projects.

How Do I Use A Digital Audio Workstation?

Once you’ve got your basic studio setup figured out, operating your DAW becomes the crux of the recording process. It’s where you’re going to be doing most of the work – tracking, editing, mixing, and so on (writing and practicing will probably be done separately, but of course you can record sketches, ideas, and demos in your DAW too).

We can’t cover all the ins and outs of using your DAW here. There are just too many DAWs, and each one has a different workflow.

The good news is that you can find video tutorials for most if not all DAWs on YouTube. So, no matter your experience level, there is plenty of support and help available.

For instance, here’s a video tutorial for the previously mentioned Waveform Free:

Bedroom Producers, Final Thoughts

Nowadays, there’s nothing unusual about making music from home. It’s more practical and viable than it’s ever been, thanks to advanced and affordable technology. You can even make beats from a coffeehouse (or virtually anywhere) if you’re so inclined, especially if you’ve got portable gear (laptop and mini-MIDI controller).

A bedroom producer can take their careers as far as they want to go. There aren’t too many upper limits, especially in the beat making, composing, and electronic music realms. Even when it comes to singer-songwriter or band projects, there are ways of making it work.

The key to it all is a willingness to learn (whether it’s music theory, DAW workflow, or production techniques), to experiment, and to become intimately acquainted with your gear and process. You can create masterful recordings from home without all the latest, greatest whiz bang DAWs and gear. It just takes skill and experience.

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