If you’re like me, your family NEVER knows what to get you for Christmas. You could tell them, “Oh, I’d like a new multi-pattern condenser microphone.” And you’d get a blank stare…

My family has slowly grown frustrated with trying to buy for me, so they mostly just give me cash or a gift card for Christmas.

In the weeks before Christmas, Graham over at the Recording Revolution wrote an article on Holiday Gift Ideas for Under $100. Jon over at Audio Geek Zine wrote Last Minute Gifts for Audio Geeks.

Both are definitely worth a read. Lots of great ideas. I’m gonna repeat one or two of them, but I wanted to give you some ideas for AFTER Christmas…now that you’ve got that wad of Christmas money begging to be spent. 🙂

But first…

Here are a few FREE ways to add to your studio:

TT Dynamic Range Meter

The folks over at PleasurizeMusic.com have a free plug-in that’s a must-have for anybody with a DAW. It’s called the TT Dynamic Range Meter, and it…you guessed it…measures dynamic range.

Why is this important? Read this article by Ian Shepherd to find out: How to Avoid Over-Compressing Your Mix.

[UPDATE: Some folks are saying that this plug-in costs $30. I’m not seeing that anywhere. Go here to download it. You have to give them your email address, but that’s hardly a big deal.]

31 Days to Better Recordings

If you’re new to HSC, or if you were simply ignoring me during the month of October 2010, you need to check out 31 Days to Better Recordings.

It’s a series of 31 articles, each giving you a specific way to improve your recordings. They’re all free, and you can start reading right away by clicking here.

And now for the stuff you can actually BUY:

8 Ways to Spend that Christmas Cash

Note: these are all UNDER $100, so maybe you can even get more than one!

EZDrummer

Most of you know, I’m a big fan of Toontrack’s EZDrummer. It’s simple, and it sounds great, and it’s currently priced at 99 bucks.

Nothing can replace a talented, human drummer playing an amazing drum kit in a great-sounding room. But…sometimes you simply don’t have access to all that awesomeness.

EZDrummer is a fair second choice. If nothing else, it’s nice to be able to pull up a real-sounding drum beat for practicing and songwriting.

AKG D5 Dynamic Mic

In Graham’s article he recommended the Shure SM57. If you need a great all-around dynamic mic for guitar amps (and lots of other things), this is a great option.

However, I’d like to throw the AKG D5 out there. While it’s not the industry standard for guitar amps like the 57, it’s a fantastic dynamic mic. I use it on lead vocals a lot (a surprising amount actually).

Wanna hear it? I actually did a shootout between the D5 and the SM58 (the 57’s brother). Great-sounding mic for $99.

Auralex Mopads

Do you have isolation pads underneath your studio monitors?

If your answer is either “No.” or “What are isolation pads?”, you need to drop what you’re doing and read my review of the Auralex Mopads.

Potentially the best $40 you could spend on your studio.

Auralex DST Panels

Don’t own any acoustic treatment? Hesitant to spend a lot of money? Start small, gets some acoustic foam.

After getting Mopads, my second purchase was a box of Auralex DST foam panels.

Foam panels really only handle the high frequencies in your studio. You’ll need broadband absorbers and bass traps, but why not start small and see if you can hear a difference. I bet you can.

Stereo Mic Bar

Like to record with two microphones? Ever get tired of hassling with two separate mic stands? It gets annoying/awkward, I know.

Try out a stereo mic bar. It lets you mount two microphones to one mic stand. Ah…that’s nice.

Headstock Tuner

One of the worst things in the world? An out-of-tune guitar.

Even if you’re not a guitarist, you’re going to be recording a guitarist at some point, right? Pick up a little headstock tuner (like this one from Planet Waves) and stick it on the guitarist’s headstock.

You can’t trust guitarists to remember their tuner. (I know…I AM one.) Not a bad tool to have in your arsenal.

Zen and the Art of Mixing

If you love to mix (I know I do), then you should check out the latest book from Mixerman, called Zen and the Art of Mixing (affiliate link).

I just bought the Kindle edition (affiliate link) a few days ago. I’ve only read about 10 pages so far, and I’m already inspired and intrigued.

Mixerman isn’t like you and me. He’s mixes day in and day out. He’s a pro…and he’s got some seriously valuable things to say. I look forward to diving in deeper.

HSC Products

And finally (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), if you don’t have any glaring gear needs, might I recommend expanding your recording knowledge?

I’ve got a whole bunch of training products that can help you make better recordings. Go check ’em out. (And if you’re reading this before January 1, 2011, you can cash in on my end-of-the-year special.)

Go forth and make awesome recordings!!

Oh, and if you have any other ideas or comments on the stuff above, leave a comment below!

[Photo by Robert S. Donovan]

  • Al

    Like I said in the comments for “Dealing with Low-Mids and a Muddy Mix
    ” (link : http://www.homestudiocorner.com/2009/07/07/dealing-with-low-mids-and-a-muddy-mix/ )

    Blue Cat’s FreqAnalyst is another cool “free” plugin (Windows & Mac). You might go ahead and give it a try.

    Download link : http://www.bluecataudio.com/Products/Product_FreqAnalyst
    Quick Youtube tutorial : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giTSz7Y0FsI

  • 11thDay

    As stated in the Ian Shepherd article, Brainworx now has the TT Dynamic Range Meter as a free download:

    http://www.brainworx-music.de/en/download

  • Philip

    Go here.
    http://www.brainworx-music.de/en/download
    At the bottom you will find the TT_DRM for MAC or Windoze.
    Free

  • They may not be giving it away for free now. I can’t ever keep up. At one
    point it was free. Either way, still a very cool plug-in. Well worth the
    measly $30.

    • Stephanieloveless

      Hello, and thanks Joe! i certainly don’t mind paying the $30…..downloaded and installed without a problem. i must be the dense one, though — because i don’t have a clue how to find or use it in Cubase! It’s not in there with my other reverb/compression/etc. plug-ins. Thanks, steffie

      • It might be under the manufacturer in the plug-in menu?

      • Al

        @Stephanieloveless:
        If you are using a Windows platform, and your Windows is installed on drive C:, then add this path to your Steinberg’s plugins path (C:Program FilesVSTplugins)
        Then simply close and run the Cubase, so it will re-scan and detect the plugins during splash-screen.

  • I just got some AKG K171 Mk 2’s, they sound really great for the price and they are probably the most comfortable over-ear headphones I have worn.

    A few months ago I got a little LPK 25 keyboard, lush to play with a laptop with logic pro open with my virtual instrument collection… a lot better than a nano key. The company recently come out with a similar product which includes pads and faders as well, don’t know what its called but it may be worth a look.

    A friend of mine who has just started out a home studio got a presonus audiobox usb, bit out of the price range (is there one?) at approximately £120 but he says they are some of the best preamps he has herd in a budget end interface. and on the topic of budget interfaces, although I haven’t used/heard one I have been hearing that the focusrite saffire 6 usb is also an excellent choice. (in fact I think they were both mentioned on the home recording show podcast recently)

    I would also say get an external hard drive if you don’t have one, these sort of things are overlooked at christmas time for audio guys but they come down in price loads in the sales… I’m off to get one today.

    Oh and don’t forget picks, strings, mic stands and leads.

    Personally I’m saving up for a zoom H4n, but that’s for another day…. (sorry got a bit carried away then)

  • The headstock Tuner is a good one, also have a pot of guitar picks – you can’t trust guitarists to bring their own pick!

    Some other good ideas:

    – More cables!
    – Acoustic treatment – DIY materials aren’t too costly, depending on how many you’re making
    – A nice MIDI keyboard (if you use a lot of MIDI) – I miss my semi weighted keys every time I play the faux-piano!
    – New strings for all your guitars! Also lemon oil for the rosewood fretboards, fast fret to keep those new strings in check.
    – Sennheiser HD280, if you don’t already have a pair! (Are they under $99? They’re under £99 so maybe not…)

    But anyway I did a naughty thing and got myself an Allen & Heath Zed R 16 for Christmas! I’ll be eating ramen noodles for months, but this thing is so pretty.