In mid-2004 I was coming to the end of my Music Technology course at the BRIT School Of Performing Arts. When I studying at the BRITS I spent most of my time in their recording studio - it was in this space where I got bitten by the Pro Tools Bug, and no, not the bug with the error codes or crashes.
At the time I had a part-time job and a modest student loan on the way for my pending university studies so I started researching and budgeting my first home studio setup as I was soon to have no access to the BRITS recording studio.
In this article, I share the story of my first Pro Tools home recording studio that I had to buy on a budget.
My 2004 Budget And Studio Gear
My budget in 2004 was quite modest at £3,000. A friend who worked in the music industry gave me some very good spending advice:
- Identify the main type of project you will work on in your recording studio - Mixing, Recording, MIDI, Mastering?
- Identify what types of studio gear are important for the types of projects you will do and spend a bit more on that.
- You don't need to buy all the studio gear in one go
Those were some great tips that helped me plan my studio gear purchases. I knew I wanted Pro Tools running on a Mac platform with a Control Surface as this was the combination of studio gear I trained on at The BRIT School. I knew I wanted to record and produce music so a good microphone and set of monitors had to be sourced as well.
I had a choice of a Digi 002 rack interface, Digi 002 Factory control surface (that included audio/MIDI interface) or Command|8 (control surface only). It was an easy choice, I had to have the Digi 002 Factory as it was a good allrounder and appeared to be a baby Control|24 with audio/MIDI I/O. The problem with the Digi 002 Factory was the cost of it new. At the time these units cost between £1,800 - £2,000 and I knew if I purchased this unit brand new I would end up with less money to spend on the computer, microphone and monitors. Luckily, through a lot of shopping around, I found a store that was prepared to sell me their in store demo unit for £1,200. I didn't think twice and purchased it right there and then. The Digi 002 Factory was the first piece of the home studio puzzle, now I needed a Mac.
The Apple Mac G5 Tower had been out for a year or so at this point and were out of my budget. Apple offered students a good price on the eMac all-in-one computer but I didn't like these computers as they had no real guts to them. So the new Apple Mac range was out of the question due to either out of budget or lack of power until my Dad gave me a tip-off about something happening at the Printworks he was working at. My Dad in his line of work had used Macs for decades, and it was my lucky day, as his firm was about to upgrade their Design Suite with new Mac G5 Towers. This meant their current Apple Mac G4 Mirror doors were going. My Dad asked for a mate's rate price and I got one of the top spec G4's for £800 that was only two years old.
Through some research, a lot of phone calls and some luck I had managed to buy the two most expensive elements of my home recording studio with around £1,000 left in my budget to get a good microphone and monitor setup.
I remember it was a real challenge finding the right set of monitors for my home studio. My budget was only £1,000 and I still had to get a microphone as well. I travelled into London and walked around all the Pro Audio stores that used to be in Soho. These places were like Pro Audio palaces, each with walls of monitors that could be easily tested. I remember a salesman trying to upsell me a pair of monitors that were nearly £1,000 but I chose to go with a set of monitors that I had heard in the past and liked. I purchased the Tannoy Reveal Actives as I believed they sounded good for the price. When I was in the store paying for the monitors I worried about the remaining £650 in my budget so I didn't pay the extra £50 delivery cost to get the Tannoys sent to my house, instead, I stupidly carried them through Central London to save the £50 which nearly broke my back.
The BRIT School had several AKG C414 microphones that we used in our studio recordings. I really liked these microphones and didn't think for one minute that I would be able to afford one. However, as I saved money on the ex-demo Digi 002 and on the second-hand Apple Mac along with being sensible with my monitor purchase I was just able to afford a new AKG C414 condenser microphone. At the time I knew the importance of a quality mic for recording. Anyone can have a powerful computer and high-end audio interface but if a rubbish microphone is used then it's game over in my opinion.
Moral Of The Story
If you are currently budgeting for your first home studio setup then take my friend's advice stated at the top of this article. Save money where you can, studio gear doesn't need to be purchased brand new. Phone around Pro Audio dealers and see what they have on offer and find out if any dealers have deals available that are not advertised on their websites. Ask friends and people in your networks to see if anyone has any gear they no longer need. Most importantly, be sensible with spending. Set a budget and protect it at all costs. Be savvy with your spending. You might end up in the same position I found myself in were I had extra cash available to invest in an item of studio gear I thought I'd never be able to afford.