The Spike Leo Studio Set up

The Spike Leo Studio Setup

Well well well, the big moment you’ve all been waiting for! To gear, or not to gear? That is the question!

Let me start by saying, yes it’s true, studio gear is not necessary to make great records but damn, once you have it, you’ll find yourself down the rabbit whole of no return. There is just something magical that sparks creativity when you’re able to be hands on with a piece of equipment. Turning knobs and really exploring the instrument will always feel different than using a piece of software.

There are many great VST’s (Virtual Studio Technology) based instruments such as guitars, bass guitars, synths, drums etc which, don’t get me wrong, certainly have their place! However, a virtual guitar will never replace a live guitar, which is how I basically feel when talking about synthesisers and outboard gear.

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When you start saving over many many months and then spend your hard earned cash on a dream piece of gear, you’ll find that you really start to invest a substantial amount of time trying to familiarise yourself with your new instrument or outboard gear. Firstly, this helps you really learn it inside and out. It helps you understand what the different knobs and buttons actually do all while learning the craft of synthesis/compression/EQ’s etc. Understanding, sine waves vs square waves, frequency cuts, modulation will make for a more thorough understanding when playing with software gear. As a beginner, most of these words above didn’t mean anything to me, however when I started to play with the different sections of my Juno-106, it really allowed me to understand what all these words meant, helping me get closer to the sound I wanted and have a better understanding of how to operate other plugins, synths & software.

The greatest thing with buying equipment is that most of the time, it retains its value and my rule of thumb is, if you don’t use it for 6-12 months, get rid of it and buy something that you can really make use of and integrate into your music and workflow! Every piece of equipment in my studio I worked my ass off for and always saved up so I could get the best equipment possible. If you’re going to spend that much money, then why sacrifice quality. Plus anything that I didn’t use was sold and replaced with something that I felt would elevate my music and creativity.

So let’s talk, studio set-up. What are the essentials? What do you need to get yourself started? 

Computers

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Mac or PC? I’ll stop the argument here, who cares? Pick one! They’ll both get the job done. If you’ve never got into music production before, do some research on which DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) you would prefer to play around with. Logic X is Apple and everything else can be on PC. Having said that, even PC has software called, “Hackintosh” which is basically Mac software uploaded to PC.  

I chose Mac, because at the time when I started, I was experimenting mostly on Macbook Pro’s and playing with Logic and Ableton. My current preference is an IMac Pro 2018. My 2012 Macbook Pro died in 2017. Be prepared if you’re a heavy user that the longevity on these guys is about 5 years. Very expensive and updates if loaded regularly will surely stuff up all your plugins and software. I was the victim of this for many years. I’m usually 1 year behind now with software updates or you’ll generally find yourself in a world of pain trying to get everything to work again!  


Speakers or Headphones?

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Once you have your computer, you are halfway there. I would recommend then getting yourself a cheap pair of headphones or speakers. Which ones are better for you? Best to ask yourself this question…Do you have a space where you can turn it up every now and then without mum/dad/neighbours/housemates getting totally pissed off?

If not, the answer is probably headphones for now!

In the beginning when first starting out, you’ll find yourself doing a fair bit of research, what is the best DAW, what are the best headphones/speakers? Let me put your mind at ease. There’s no such thing. Hit records have been made on speakers for a few hundred dollars to speakers that cost tens of thousands! In fact, Noah “40” Shebib would test some of Drakes songs on a hotel alarm clock speaker and his Macbook Pro speakers. His theory was, if it sounds great on terrible speakers, then on big speakers it would sound even better. The song of course, went to number 1 on the charts!

Headphones can be purchased at $50 or at $5000. Expensive doesn’t mean that you’ll make great music and gear addiction is most definitely a thing, trust me, I’ve had it for years and it’s most probably more expensive than a drug addiction. If first starting out, have a budget and just get started, if you don’t like the gear, sell it or swap it for something else. You’ll know sooner or later if it’s a hardcore passion or just a weekend hobby.

 

Where to go?

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Make an effort if you’re from Melbourne to get down to the guys at Manny’s or Store DJ. They’re incredibly knowledgeable, helpful and you can even get the chance to listen and try out speakers/headphones/synths, you name it, before you buy! This is the best way to discover what you like, trust me, I’ve spent 100’s of hours in these two stores over the last 8 years and the helpful information that these guys have provided is priceless. Not to mention that I generally go in with something in mind and walk out with something else that suits me better.  These boys know their gear and most of the time, they take a lot of it home to experiment and get to know the products whilst producing their own music! Hats off to the team at Store DJ & Manny’s.

 

Interface

Another essential to a professional recording studio set-up is an interface. This is where you make the connection between computer and instrument/microphone.

I would say something super simple, there’s lots of small deals on Ebay too and buying new is not essential with any of your equipment.

However, if you’re somewhat like me, you’ll probably want new and that’s fine too.

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The first thing you need to ask is how many instruments at a time will you need to record? Are you recording drums? Or maybe just a guitar and vocalist? Or maybe one at any given time.

If you’re a band you might want to look at something mid range like the Focusrite series. I started out with a Saffire pro 40 as I had a few synths at the time and wanted them all connected to my interface so I could play them all at once without having to disconnect and reconnect them all the time.

If you’re starting out small, just a mic or guitar/keys etc… I would suggest checking out either Scarlett interfaces, M-Audio or Presonus. All great interfaces for what you need to get started. There are even starter packs where you can get a mic and headphones for very affordable pricing, see below.

https://www.mannys.com.au/focusrite-scarlett-2i2-studio-package-w-pro-tools-and-ableton-live-generation-2

If you want to take things up a gear (pun intended), then I would highly suggest UAD Apollo. A class converters (meaning top notch quality), inputs/outputs and some of the best plugins on the market! My heart is and always will be with UAD as I use their interfaces and plugins for the majority of  my production.


Cables

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Lastly, you’re going to need some cables. For instruments you will generally use TRS to TRS which look like this on the right.

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And for your microphone you will generally use XLR to XLR which looks like this on your left. For XLR, you will need female to male and for microphones, the female goes into the male part of the mic because… you know, the birds and the bees… different type of blog.

I would highly recommend buying some mid-range cables. Cheap cables will stop working quicker and may cause noise issues with your audio when recording. I always try to buy mid-high range cables. There’s no point spending so much money on audio equipment and then buying cheap cables which will record terrible signals with your new beautiful equipment!

 

Plugins

Seriously lastly this time…plugins. They’re not really equipment/gear but they’re important because they are emulating hardware gear.

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I would say, with every DAW that you purchase you will have stock plugins and they are perfectly fine to experiment with and start your music production journey. Yes, I could make a record with stock plugins but once you really learn them inside and out, you shall search for plugins that may efficiently do the job of 3 stock plugins. Again, UAD is close to my heart and some of the best plugins I’ve heard that replicate ridiculously expensive and vintage hardware gear!

 

So now, you have a computer, interface, headphones and/or speakers and mic. Anything else on top of that is a treat and that is literally all you need not only to get started and to start making hit records.

Oh, and I forgot to mention…a good 3-10 years of solid work and experimentation but guess what? That’s the easy part!

 Good luck and feel free to always hit me up with any questions or struggles you' may be encountering. Trust me, I’ve been there and still visit quite frequently!

Power to you!

Spike Leo.