How to Plan A Home Studio Budget

UA universal audio apollo

How to Plan A Home Studio Budget

And Learn The Hierarchy to Your New Purchases

I’ve been involved in the music industry for ten years, and it all started with the dangerous combination of being in an indie band AND going to a recording school at the same time.  I knew just enough to get my band famously terrible independent recordings that eventually led to BETTER recordings that led to INCREDIBLE recordings once we finally got a proper record contract and budget.  I’ve learned a lot along that journey, and producing out of the comfort of a spare bedroom has never been more enjoyable and creative for me.


I’ve recorded so many bits and pieces on-site, while traveling, and winging it.  Half of these sessions make it on the final recording.  With a budget.  Why?  The TAKE beats the SPACE.  The first lesson is that being mobile is more important than that tricked-out Trash Can Mac Tower.  I know multiple Grammy award-winning producers who are tracking in the back of tour busses with killer bands because that’s the availability of the working musician today.  I know multiple guys who have a travel kit that contains an API Lunchbox and a MacBook.  My 3-year-old MacBook has upgraded everything and I am nowhere near running out of DSP.  Being portable creates more possibilities.  And who doesn’t like multiple revenue streams?


Do NOT spend money on looks to make your space better until you have all the gear to sound incredible.  I’ve tracked vocals in functional closets that ended up charting on the radio. It’s NOT about aesthetics; it’s about how good it sounds when you push PLAY.  The chain in that particular closet was a Reflexion filter to kill the closet, a tube condenser, a BAE 1073 clone and UAD plug-ins.  The closet was the least important piece of that chain.  The song was #1, the producer #2, the singer #3, the gear #4, the SPACE dead last.


In terms of inputs.  I don’t know a single producer in Nashville who tracks their drums in-house.  They might track some auxiliary percussion or use a couple extra inputs here and there, but I don’t know anyone who really uses much more than two killer inputs at a time.  Put your money where you track most and focus on one (maybe two, tops) great musical mic chains.  Rent a space for your drums; the reason you can’t get killer drum tones is because you’re competing with studios that have invested $500k+ into their gear and space and work in that environment EVERY DAY tweaking their tones.  Why in the world would you want to try and replicate that?  Rent the space.  And find a killer studio drummer to have on-call if the one in the band sucks.


The best recordings you’re trying to compete with are done by MULTIPLE people who are ALL better than you, so why are you trying to be a Swiss Army Knife?  As a guy that is a natural control freak, I have to limit myself on each project.  If I’m producing, I will NOT mix/master.  If I’m the mix guy, I will NOT do any production work until my mix is money and only if the song REALLY needs it.  I will not be involved in mastering unless I’m getting a two-mix, etc.  If the best guys in the industry won’t touch multiple parts of the process, why do you think you can?  I know it’s all related to budget, but you aren’t getting better gigs because your beauty reel sounds one-dimensional.  Suck it up and make pennies on a few projects to be able to afford proper mix/master.  The quality will start to show up, and the quality of clients will start to show up!  And who here wants a better vocalist to track on their next project??  THIS GUY.


Here’s the order in which I’ve purchased my gear over the years.  It’s not perfect, it certainly had humble beginnings, and please don’t do it all the same way, but it’ll give you an idea of where to start/where the priorities should go.  Keep in mind I had NO money; I was in an indie band!  And I’m a producer so I lean more towards having toys vs. having mics.

PC laptop
Pro Tools LE and Mbox
Focusrite pres! Woo!
Sony-Pro headphones
Cheap condenser mic (mine was an AT4040)
Waves Diamond Bundle
Melodyne – critical for any serious pop production
External hard drive for backup
More cheap mics – small diaphragm condenser, dynamic, FET
Reflexion Filter – my space sucks, this helps.
Waves CLA Vocal Plug-In


UAD Apollo
MacBook Pro
Studio Speakers (Tannoy Reveals)
Latest Pro Tools
Native Instruments (not ultimate!)
3rd party unique instrument packs
Upgrade RAM
Nicer Mics – ribbon, tube condenser vocal mic
Acoustic paneling – bought most of these 3rd party
3rd party plug-ins – UAD plugs (Unison NEVE!), Plugin Alliance, Addictive Drums


Upgrade Native Instruments
Solid state hard drive
More 3rd party plug-ins
Possibly an analog mic pre, but I do love the UAD Unison.  Just want something crazy warm…

There it is.  If I had to do it all over, I’d start with the UAD Apollo, MacBook, and Sony Pros.  Then again, UAD didn’t exist when I started…

Some trial and error here but I’m getting to a good place creatively.  I have a couple great inputs, a bunch of toys and candy that keep me fresh and musical, and definitely last, a fairly dead space that is appealing and inviting to clients.  Happy creating!

Jon Lewis is the lead singer/songwriter for the Minneapolis band Hyland and now produces projects out of his home in Nashville. Follow him on Twitter at @HylandJon.

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1 Comment

  1. what do you think

    December 14, 2015 at 7:26 am

    Don’t cry because it’ over, smile because it happened.

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