Creating Great Music on a Budget

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Home Recording on a Budget[This article was written by guest contributor Jenny Beswick of]

Affordable home recording and music production

Let’s be honest; most of us dream of being big music stars or rock guitar legends. It’s an awesome career: not only do you get to party exceedingly, you also get to change your passport to read “rock god.”

Sadly, it’s a killer industry to break into. For every talent discovered on YouTube (like Justin Beiber) you have thousands of others trying to just get noticed. For those of you who can’t afford to invest in studio time, here’s a guide to breaking into the industry on a strict budget, including tips on recording professional-sounding music with an affordable home recording setup!

Invest in Software

We’ll level with you: you can record and release music for very little money, but there’s going to be some initial outlay. Unless you’re content to just sing into your computer’s onboard microphone and become the next unintentional viral sensation, you’re going to have to get the equipment.

The good news is it’s cheaper than studio time. Like, a lot cheaper.

Software like ProTools, Cool Edit Pro or Traktor can be downloaded at low-ish cost and make a hell of a difference to your output. But even something as simple as Garageband can be utilised to, if not exactly set the world on fire, at least showcase your potential. If you’re stuck using something lo-fi, play to its strengths: record some pared-down stuff, add as few effects as possible and promote that raw quality as something deliberate. The music world isn’t all autotune and big budgets. Believe it or not, some people love that lo-fi sound.

Make Your Own Recording Studio

Here’s a little story: one of my oldest friends started recording music in a spare room roughly the size of a wardrobe. All told, you could fit maybe three people in there, a desk, a microphone, computer and speakers. After living with that setup for five years, he now composes soundtracks for videogames and routinely works with hundred-piece orchestras to get his sound. So working on the cheap is not impossible, you just have to figure out where you can compromise.

You’ll need at least a decent microphone (seriously, donít skimp on that), pair of speakers, headphones and an audio interface; along with some DIY soundproofing. You can set something like this up for as little as $500 (Pro Tools LE even comes free with some audio interfaces). Start saving now!

Get Online

You live in the internet age; there’s no excuse for not promoting yourself like crazy. Get online, get an official site, twitter and Facebook page; then set about getting as much attention as possible. If your band plays local gigs, hand out flyers directing people to your site. If you haven’t reached that stage yet, do it all online. Sign up to either Soundcloud or Bandcamp (or both) and get people listening. Demonstrate your work on YouTube, iTunes,… anywhere that will take it and make it visible to others.

In addition, you can come up with offers to get people interested. Send out merchandise, for example. Always keep smashing away at it and someone will take notice; even if it only takes you as far as playing at local bars, it’s still a major step up from jamming in your room, wondering why the world won’t take you seriously.

Get a Producer

When you’re ready to make that next step, you’re going to want a producer.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Many producers will take a significantly reduced fee if they think you’ll hit the big time, in return for a later cut in sales. Others are just starting out themselves and are looking for new talent to sign. Either option works: just do your homework. Check the Music Directory, find out who produces the work of bands you admire, and send them demos. Be polite and respectful, but be relentless. Eventually you’ll find someone willing to take a chance. Once you do, you’re well on the way to finally cutting a real album.

For information on turning your home setup into a professional recording studio, check out Disc Maker’s FREE guide:

Home Studio Recording

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  • The word "Producer" varies quite a bit, so I would add to be cautionary in what they offer. Some producers suggest ideas, whether musical ideas, or sound engineering ideas. Some however, do a lot of the word, in which case you will probably be recording in THEIR studio.

    There is also the option of being a producer yourself, but it does take years of experience and research.

    • brianmellblom

      Indeed. I remember the days before the term "producer" had devolved into sometimes referring to someone who doesn't play an instrument or have any training, but can sample other people's material, loop it, and tell someone to rap over it.

      • Rob Broyhill

        HA! So true, so true…

        • T

          Sorry….I'm with Brian – I'm not disrespecting true rap production, but there has been some s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g of the term "music producer" that rivals what Reed Richards can do. Resampling someone else's work is not production it is "remixing" and this can be done at an expert or extremely novice level. I remix and produce original works. All ideas generate from some seed of familiarity, even a from scratch original piece, but man oh man – sometimes I just here a 4bar cut of someone else's beat and 5 repeated words. Anna, Music Production can be done by anyone willing to put in the time and use their brain and two ears to make a sound most would enjoy even if they don't like the style or music genre. This is not the same as calling oneself a producer. Even a skunk, is a producer of something.

      • GNOTE

        and still make better music than you ever would.

    • Jeffrey LeClair

      Very true @Nathan. The term “Producer” is used quite loosely. Anyone and everyone these days is using the label within a few months production. However, It takes an average of about 5-10 years experience to become “world class”.

      Jeffrey LeClair
      Owner/Operator @JL Recording Studios

  • Anna

    One of the problems I face is the cost of mixing and mastering. Sure you can learn this yourself but it will take another few years of practice until you become good (if you have the patience and talent for it). Additionally, it's not even recommended to mix and master your own stuff (because you don't have fresh ears when you listen to the music you composed).

    Also, recording live drums, for example, (or other live instruments) is something you need to learn first (and you need to have good mics and a good room for it!) before it starts sounding good. For electronic and pop music you can do a lot with plugins – but for a good rock or metal album, for example, the athentic sound is very important.

    • Teresa Mertl

      Anna, I believe if you vsit my site you wll fnd your answer on mixing, adding drums, piano, sax and so on check for yourself and let me know what you think by posting a comment on the site thanks

    • Hi,

      I've tried recording, mixing and mastering my own songs in my bedroom on a PC. Took a lot of learning, trial and error. Let me know what you think. Cheers, Munch. ( – try Smile).

    • There is a simple solution to the "fresh ears" problem. After each stage of the recording process; cutting all the tracks, getting the mix, etc., step away for a day or two. listen to other music, quietly. It gives your perspective a chance to reset, and often will lend some inspiration to the final product.

  • QBR

    There are other products out there that help make a "home" recording sound more professional. Drums are difficult to record even when you have the space. There are a lot of drum loops and drum software out there that work great in these programs.

  • Teresa, in attempting to reach your site, I am told "It doesn't exist."

  • Ben Lowe

    While I like the idea of this article, it gives very little tangible direction in how to record cheaply. There are virtually no details on audio interfaces, microphones, or DAW software besides a couple of brief mentions here and there. These 3 items are probably the main things (besides maybe monitoring and sound treatment) that are needed and should be given more time as opposed to some other things mentioned here.

    Getting a producer? Getting online? What does this have to do with great music? Maybe marketing and getting your music out there, but not actually making music on a budget. These things may actually distract you from ever getting your music done. And if you can't spend the time to sit down and write and record music that is "good," none of it will matter anyway.

    If I was to write this article the headlines would be:
    -software (and a breakdown of DAW choices)
    -interfaces (and a breakdown of type and price)
    -microphones (dynamic vs condenser, what to start with, etc)
    -monitoring (monitors, headphones, etc)
    -room treatment (options and importance)

    some other things that may or may not be included:
    -good recording techniques with a microphone (or at least some references about this, tons on the web)
    -mixing techniques (super important)
    -mastering techniques (you pay a lot for this)
    -references for articles about this topic (there are a TON, and much better than this one)

  • “While I like the idea of this article, it gives very little tangible direction in how to record cheaply. There are virtually no details on audio interfaces, microphones, or DAW software besides a couple of brief mentions here and there. These 3 items are probably the main things (besides maybe monitoring and sound treatment) that are needed and should be given more time as opposed to some other things mentioned here.”
    I’ve found a similiar article covering the things you say are missing from this one :
    it says buying a synthesizer but it’s basically saying how a workstation is a waste of money when you can build an entire DAW setup for less money

  • Everything I do is based around DIY and tight budgeting. Good info here. – Home Recording DIY Solutions