Before you can even think about releasing your first quadruple-platinum album, you’ll need some way to record it. For years, big ‘ol tape machines ruled the recording world. I’ve got a buddy who laughs at how much much useless information from “the analog days” is taking up valuable space in his brain – things like like how to align a 2-inch tape machine.
While it used to take up to several hours just to set up the studio for recording (aligning tape machines, zeroing out the console, setting up the patchbay), now I can walk into my studio, flip on a power switch, double click on an icon, and I don’t even have time to make coffee before my studio is ready to start recording the next “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Thank God for computers.
Sure, they bring in an entirely different level of complexity, but they allow the average Joe to spend a few hundred bucks and have (in many ways) the same capabilities as the big analog studios that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. Having a “home recording studio” simply wasn’t feasible for most people twenty years ago. Now I’m amazed at the music we are able to produce from a bedroom in an apartment.
The other side of that coin, however, is that it becomes just as easy for horrible musicians to record themselves. This is a topic of another discussion for another day. I’m operating under the assumption that you are planning to use your home studio to make good music. Make good music.
So what computer should you get? The majority of the time, your home computer will have plenty of power to run most recording programs out there. I’m not going to give an exhaustive list of specs and requirements, because that changes every few months. For the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that you should consult the manufacturers’ websites. They all have a “minimum requirements” page that should be helpful, especially if you’re going to buy a new computer. Please, please, PLEASE do yourself a favor and research software requirements before buying your computer. You’ll be glad you did.
That being said, one HUGE thing you can do to beef up your current (or brand new) computer is add more RAM. RAM is where the magic happens. That’s where all your audio will be processed, so the more the merrier.
Mac or PC?
Ah, the age-old question. All the Mac guys are touting the superiority of their machines. All the PC guys are trying to prove that theirs are just as cool. I’m a Mac guy myself, but I’m not so naive as to think that owning a Mac is the only way you can possibly produce anything creative.
What I will say is this. One reason Apple computers tend to get the reputation of being more “stable” is because they’re all the same.
Think about it, how many stores do you know of that build Apple computers? None. They’re all built by Apple. They all have the same components. PCs, on the other hand, can be built by just about anyone. You could order the same computer (same processor speed, same amount of RAM) from Dell, Gateway, HP, and Walmart, and each one would be completely different from the next, even though they all have similar specs.
Of course, you can also build one yourself. You can order in parts and make this frankenstein beast, all for relatively little money.
If you were to buy all these computers mentioned above and install the same recording program on each, chances are it wouldn’t work on all of them. Heck, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t work well on any of them.
Why? Because recording software is much more demanding than a word processor program. Most PCs are built for office use, running spreadsheets, checking email, NOT streaming tons of audio data back and forth. Also, the computer (normally) needs to communicate with an external device (audio interface), which can prove to be troublesome. (After all, it’s hard to get your computer to see a printer sometimes, what about an audio interface with all sorts of ins and outs on it?)
This is why PCs have gotten a bad rap in the music industry. If I was a software developer, I would love to develop for Mac only. Why? Because I would only need to develop the software to work with a certain processor, motherboard, etc. I wouldn’t have to make various versions for each motherboard out there on newegg.com.
That being said, I wouldn’t completely write off PCs. As I mentioned earlier, chances are (with a little tweaking) you can get your PC to work well for recording. However, be ready to do some fiddling and handholding to get it working.
If you’re looking to buy a PC, then I would seriously suggest looking at one of Sweetwater’s Creation Stations. These are built from the ground up to work with all the major recording platforms out there. They’re a bit more expensive, but they’re made by folks who know music technology, AND they’re super quiet. I’ve heard of many a person building his own recording PC, only to find out that it sounds like a rocket ship taking off. Yep, that’ll pretty much ruin a recording.
So…which is better?
If you put a Mac and a good, comparable PC (like a Sweetwater Creation Station) side by side, you would not see much difference in performance. Those guys over in Silicon Valley have come up with some ridiculously fast processors, so there’s a lot you can do with computers today that you couldn’t even do five years ago, both on a Mac and a PC.
The Deciding Factor
I could build an entire website around the Mac vs PC debate, but I don’t want to. The biggest deciding factor for you is this – What software are you wanting to use?
It does you no good to research Macs when you want to use Sonar recording software (which is PC only). It’s just as bad to research PCs when you have your sites set on Digital Performer (which is Mac only).
I’ll get into the various recording platforms in the next article, so keep in mind that when thinking about a home recording studio, you need to think in terms of a system. Too much focus on one component could lead you down the wrong path if it doesn’t fit in with your vision for the entire system.
Keep that in mind as you read through these articles. My goal is to give you a well-informed spring-board, a good starting point as you develop your home studio.