In part one of this series, we discussed what you need to do to level up your room and recording chain. In part two, we'll explore what you need to do to boost the effectiveness of your software-based studio.
Max Out Your Computer's Specs
If your analog front end is the heart of your studio, then your computer is its brain. Therefore, it's important that you keep it running as quickly and smoothly as possible.
At a minimum, you'll want to make sure that your computer's specs adhere to — or better yet exceed — the operating requirements of the software you're installing on it.
Beyond that, you'll want to ensure that your computer's processor is fast enough to meet the burden you're placing upon it. Since the processor is responsible for executing pretty much every function of your computer, we recommend that you get the fastest processor you can get your hands on, with as many cores as possible.
You'll also want to pack your computer with as much RAM as it can hold. Because RAM acts as a go-between between your processor and hard drive, it enables your computer to access information more quickly.
What's more, since many virtual instruments store samples in your system's RAM when you're playing them, producers who employ lots of soft synths will absolutely need to max out their computer's RAM.
Finally, since audio files require a massive amount of storage, you'll want to get your hands on as much hard drive space as possible.
For optimal performance, we recommend solid-state drives. For starters, SSDs are much faster than their mechanical counterparts, and since they don't contain moving parts, they're much better able to withstand the technical demands of media production.
As for the Mac vs. PC debate — it really doesn't matter. Use the computer that best matches your needs, workflow, and software requirements.
Don't Skimp on Your Audio Interface
If your computer is your studio's brain, then your audio interface is its circulatory system — it's the conduit that allows audio into and out of your entire recording rig. Therefore, you'll want to ensure that your interface truly fits your needs.
For starters, you'll want an interface with a channel count that can accommodate the number of individual tracks you'll want to record and play back simultaneously. You'll also need to ensure that it has enough built-in mic preamps for your needs, as well as enough headphone outputs.
You'll also need to make sure that the interface's connection type (i.e., USB 3, Thunderbolt) is compatible with your computer. And, if you're planning to grow your studio over time, be sure that your interface has one or more ADAT ports for expanding its I/O.
Finally, if you're interested in specific features, such as advanced monitoring capabilities, built-in DSP or modeling, or Dolby Atmos compatibility, you'll want to upgrade to an audio interface with those features.
Use the Best DAW for Your Needs
If you're trying to craft professional-level recordings with the feature-limited recording software that came free with your audio interface, you'll eventually hit a brick wall. And, since your DAW is smack-dab at the center of your studio, it's important that you find the one that best fits your goals and workflow.
Avid Pro Tools
If you're searching for a DAW that harkens back to an old-school analog studio, that's Avid Pro Tools in a nutshell. Pro Tools has long dominated high-end professional recording studios, as well as post-production houses, and its decades-long track record speaks for itself.
Pro Tools is available in three subscription-only tiers aimed at recording musicians, project studios, and professional studios, respectively, and it comes with all the features you'd expect in a top-tier DAW. If you record a lot of live audio and/or you need lock-tight compatibility with professional studios, Pro Tools is a great way to go.
Originally released as a MIDI-only sequencer in the late 1980s, Steinberg Cubase is one of the industry's oldest DAWs. Today, Cubase is extremely popular among composers, including the legendary Hans Zimmer, although its advanced tools are a great fit for any genre.
Steinberg Nuendo is similar to Cubase; although, it's optimized for post-production environments. Thus, Nuendo is frequently employed by film mixers and editors, as well as video game sound designers.
Cubase and Nuendo also include built-in Dolby Atmos renderers, making them great all-in-one solutions for working with immersive audio.
Apple Logic Pro
Another longstanding player in the DAW game is Apple Logic Pro. The perfect step up if you've been using GarageBand on your Mac, Logic Pro is arguably the most all-inclusive DAW software available, thanks to its robust collection of included plug-ins, virtual instruments, loops, and samples.
Logic Pro is also, at least at the time of this writing, the only way to mix in Apple's proprietary Spatial Audio format, which is how most everybody with an iPhone, Apple Music, and a set of AirPods is going to hear your music.
MOTU Digital Performer
MOTU Digital Performer is another mature DAW with a rich history. Digital Performer's refined design makes it very stable and CPU efficient, and its built-in instruments, effects, and notation capabilities are truly top notch.
While its audio features are second to none, Digital Performer's MIDI features are what really set it apart — especially if you use MIDI-equipped hardware. If you're a hardware synth geek, Digital Performer is the DAW for you.
PreSonus Studio One
PreSonus Studio One is one of the newer DAWs on the market, but it has quickly become one of the most popular. Studio One is frequently lauded for its streamlined, all-in-one approach to music production, which endeavors to tackle recording, producing, mixing, mastering, and performing with equal aplomb.
Studio One is also praised for its easy-to-use drag-and-drop workflow. Studio One is available in three tiers, including a subscription-based offering, along with a professional version and a lighter version aimed towards home recordists.
If you're searching for a highly customizable DAW with an extremely robust online community, you'll be duly impressed by Cockos REAPER. REAPER boasts an unprecedented level of functionality; thus, it can take a while to wrap your head around it.
That said, its features, audio engine, and all-out performance are top shelf all the way. REAPER is also one of the most cost-effective DAWs out there, with a heavily discounted, yet fully functional, option for home recordists and non-commercial studios.
Image-Line FL Studio
There are many reasons why hip-hop and EDM producers flock to Image-Line FL Studio. For starters, its handling of loops is unmatched, thanks to its ultra-powerful pitch correction and time manipulation.
What's more, its included soft synths, effects, and other audio tools is truly second to none. To top it off, all four tiers of this DAW come with a lifetime license — no subscription, no paid upgrades — your one-time purchase gives you the software and all future upgrades forever!
Musicians who want to use their DAW in a live-performance setting will find everything they're searching for in Ableton Live. Ableton Live is among the fastest, most fluid, most flexible DAWs out there, and it comes with all the effects, instruments, and sounds you could ask for.
You can use Ableton Live as a traditional linear DAW, but its real power is in its ability to function nonlinearly, in real-time. This allows you to move effortlessly between musical elements and play with ideas without stopping — a must have for live performances.
When Your DAW's Stock Plug-ins Aren't Enough
The plug-ins included with every major DAW give you a quality cache of bread-and-butter effects — you can get lots of mileage out of them. In fact, you'll find that most stock plug-in will cover your basic needs quite well.
That said, if you really want to take your productions to the next level, you'll want to get your hands on a good batch of high-quality third-party plug-ins with greater flexibility and advanced features.
EQ is arguably the most important item in a music producer's toolkit; it's what you use to make the disparate elements of your mix fit together cohesively. While your stock plug-ins will easily tackle all your basic tone-shaping needs, EQ is definitely an area that you don't want to skimp on.
For an excellent, go-to workhorse EQ, our MIXROOM plug-in checks all the right boxes. This intelligent processor analyzes your audio and shows you which frequencies to adjust, providing you with a solid starting point for your tracks.
What's more, our BASSROOM plug-in helps you nail your mix's low end by providing you with genre-specific EQ adjustments based on techniques employed by professional engineers.
You'll also find our RESO plug-in to be a bona fide mix saver. This dynamic EQ identifies problematic resonant frequencies and helps you resolve them — automatically — with absolute transparency.
Compressors are oft-used — and absolutely essential — studio tools, second only to EQ in importance. These processors are designed to reign in overly dynamic sources and to add punch and loudness to your tracks.
While your DAW's stock plug-ins will give you transparent dynamics control, to give your mixes a big-studio sound, you'll want to get your hands on analog models of the tried-and-true hardware compressors that pros rely on.
The UREI 1176 is among the most oft-used hardware compressors in professional studios. Technically a FET limiting amplifier, the 1176 offers a lightning-fast attack, unmistakable sonic coloration, and its infamous "all-buttons-in" mode can be heard on drum buses in countless professional mixes.
There are many 1176 plug-ins out there, with offerings from Universal Audio, Waves, IK Multimedia, and Slate Digital being among the most popular. And, for the ultimate in all-buttons-in-mode cacophony, it's hard to top the Pulsar Audio Smasher.
The Teletronix LA-2A is another time-tested studio staple. Described as a leveling amplifier, the LA-2A employs an opto-compressor circuit to deliver gentle dynamics control while adding tube-fueled girth to your tracks.
Technically speaking, a limiter is a compressor with an infinite ratio. These processors are placed at the end of your master bus signal chain to add volume while safeguarding against digital clipping, which is guaranteed to completely destroy your mix.
When you want to pump up your mix, you'll have to look long and hard to surpass our LIMITER plug-in. Not only does it deliver world-class results, but it also actually analyzes your audio and gives you suggestions to make your music sound its best.
Unless you're shooting for a dry-as-toast mix, you're going to want at least one high-quality reverb plug-in. Deploying a top-quality reverb like Valhalla Plate or FabFilter Pro-R is an effective way to add a pro-level sheen to your mixes.
It's also a good idea to keep a convolution reverb on hand, which is designed to replicate real-world spaces with spot-on authenticity. Want to place your drum kit in a virtual re-creation of Galaxy Studios? With a convolution reverb, you can.
Although it's relatively expensive, Audioease Altiverb has been the industry-standard convolution reverb for about two decades.
Don't Forget These Indispensable Utilities
Besides our outstanding effects plug-ins, we've also developed software tools that are guaranteed to become an indispensable part of your creative workflow.
Our REFERENCE plug-in gives you a dead-simple way to compare your mixes with your favorite professional mixes. REFERENCE's robust features will give you powerful insight into your mix, enabling you to get closer to the sound of your favorite music than you ever thought possible.
When you're mixing, effective metering is essential. That's where LEVELS comes in. LEVELS provides you with presets for CD, Club, Streaming, YouTube, and more, ensuring that your music sounds its best no matter where and how your audience hears it.
There's a lot of amateur-sounding music out there. Our EXPOSE 2 application ensures that you won't be part of that crowd. EXPOSE 2 will help you avoid poor EQ balance, true-peak clipping, over-compression, phase issues, and all the other problems that often plague home-studio productions.
Following the suggestions in this post is a guaranteed way to move your humble bedroom studio closer to a professional level. Keep following our blog, and we'll continue to show you new ways to make your musical goals a reality.