A soldering Pencil helps keep the repair man away... from
A lot of you out there probably know then basics of what it takes to create your own home studio setup. You will obviously need some sort of way to record the instruments, a digital audio workstation for mixing and mastering, amps, cables, speakers and all of that other good stuff, but what many don’t realize is that there are plenty of “non-studio” items out there that can make any recording session go that much smoother. No, I’m not talking about a bottle of whiskey for celebrating a job well done (although that’s not a bad suggestion), but rather random everyday (alright, some not so “everyday”) things that many of you probably have lying around the house. Did you know that old quilt lying around the closet can work wonders when used for acoustic treatment? Or how many times has your electric guitar stopped working and you’re not sure if it’s the pickups, cable or the wiring? Anyways, you see where I’m going with this. So, for those of you out there curious on learning about a few items that can become great additions to any one’s home studio setup, read on as we here at PAL give you our top ten “non-studio” studio items, in no specific order, that can help make that next recording session go down that much smoother (much like that whiskey you can enjoy once your finished)!
This one is a bit on the obvious side but I can guarantee you that the majority of newer players probably don’t have one of these ready in their studio. Pickups break sometime and these things happen, but rather than having to go to a repair shop and wait for the repairs to be done – not to mention spending all that extra cash – you can roll up your sleeves a take care of business yourself. While not the easiest thing to do, soldering pickups is an indispensible skill for electric guitarists that want to take complete control of their instrument – inside and out. A good soldering kit should run you about $20 to $30 more or less depending on the brand. It is also a good idea to get a soldering pencil instead of a gun (like the one pictured above) since you will be working with jobs that need a bit more precision than a standard soldering gun can offer, not to mention you can hurt yourself. And don’t forget to make sure it’s at least above 30 watts. Anything less will take a bit too long to melt the solder which can make a tricky job that much harder.
Alright, so for those of you diving into the world of audio engineering, you must be prepared to troubleshoot whatever problems might come your way, and since we are talking about a form of engineering, you will be certainly be working with electricity. It is pretty much inevitable that your electric equipment will one day break down and while this is certainly a pain in the ass, it doesn’t have to be, at least not as much. Having a multi-meter around can help you easily identify dead equipment in no time which becomes especially helpful when trying to find the specific culprit. Did you break a wire inside your guitar? Is that cable still good? Is the phantom power on my interface working? Having a multi-meter around will help with all this and more. Your local hardware store will definitely have these for about $10 or so. Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out, a multi-meter is what electricians use to scope out dead electric sockets or what have you.
USB sticks in the form of a cool shape is always preferred
It has pretty much become the norm for home studios to be built around one’s computer. The rise of digital audio workstation software such as Avid’s Pro Tools has made the art of audio engineering within the reach of most players’ budgets. With that said, you will be working with very large raw audio files that can easily exceed the size of a compact disk so having a spare thumb drive around (I’d suggest something at least 8 gigs, but 16 or more is preferred). This will make transferring audio from a computer to a recorder, or vice versa, that much easier. Who wants to wait for a disk to burn anyway?
While some of you out there are wondering where exactly would a digital camera actually come in handy besides taking pictures of random acts of goofing off or hooliganism, those out there who have had the pleasure in experiencing drum kit recording will know exactly where I’m going with this. If there was one word I would use to describe setting up mics for recording drums, it would most definitely be tedious. There is a lot of precise positioning and fine tuning that goes into performing a proper drum recording and while some of you out there might have the advantage of working out of a space where you can simply leave all of your gear setup for days, others do not, which makes the job of placing all of the mics back in their proper spots that much harder, especially if you are trying to have all of your tracks have a consistent drum mix. Pop out that digital camera and have the pictures remember what most of us probably can’t. Not just for drum mics, but anything that can benefit from having something much clearer than simply a mental picture.
Screw Driver Set
I shouldn’t have to tell anyone that a screwdriver set should be an integral part of anyone’s home, not just their studio setup. Everything from you amps to your guitars to your effects pedals has screws in them. And sometimes, that equipment also breaks or needs new batteries. Also, change your pickups… tighten your strap pegs maybe? Anyways, a screwdriver set; go buy one now if you don’t have one already.
While silly, you'll be surprised at what this might do
Those of you out there who have kids as interested in music as you are have probably have gotten them a toy or two that you may look at and probably think to yourself, “why didn’t they have this around when I was a kid?!” Or maybe that's just me, but anyways, I’m sure most of you have seen them but never honestly thought they would be of any use beyond getting your little monsters to stop bothering you for a minute. Kid toys, specifically kids’ instruments, are not only cheap and readily available, but they sometimes actually work! Sure, there are plenty of useless pieces of junk out there, but there are also plenty of useful toys out there that actually work in a musical sense that can give you some pretty unique sounds. So, the next time you’re browsing around Toys R Us for your kids next birthday present, how about skimming through the kids’ instruments department and maybe pickup something for yourself? At worst, you’re out about $20. At least you’ll have next year’s birthday taken care of.
Random Hand Precussion
This is along the same lines as the one above, simply thinking outside the box in order to make music out of something most people wouldn’t even think twice about. Get creative with this one. Shakers, rain sticks, bells are the obvious but even cans can give you something unique. Don’t be afraid to try new things out and experiment because remember, you never know when one will be exactly what a track needed.
Rope or String
If you’re thinking about doing a full band recording, you will have to record those pesky drums, not to mention the multiple mics needed to record them. But even if you have the mics and the drums, you will need something to hold the mics. A mic stand? Yes, of course, but what if you don’t have enough? Or not the right kind of stand? Not tall enough maybe? Anyways, having rope or string around is a quick and cheap alternative to having to go and buy three extra mic stands that you probably won’t use for anything other than drum recording anyway. You will probably have to nail the string to the ceiling for this to work but it should still run you less than the mic stands.
Spare Batteries/Extension Cords
You most likely already have one of these
While this one is pretty obvious, I’m sure there are plenty out there who have had the bad luck of having one of their pedals or other gadgets die on them and not have spare batteries around. And while you’re out picking up spare batteries, how about an extension cord in case you don’t have enough sockets to go around or you simply need that extra length in order to plug in all of your gear. Inexpensive but indispensible when you need them.
This is probably the most useful of all of the non-studio gear because simply, it can do so much. Need a flashlight in order to hook up cables in a dark spot? How about a quick recorder to jot down some ideas? What about a tuner? Maybe you might just need to look something up on the fly and get back to recording? Yes, the smartphone can practically do it all and since most of us already have them on us at all times, it shouldn’t be a problem having one when we need it.
There you have it, ten everyday and not so everyday items that can really add to anyone’s home recording setup. While some of these suggestions might seem a bit unorthodox (or embarrassing in the case of the kid’s toys), the main lesson here is to think outside the box and keep an open mind. And good luck with that drum recording, you’re probably going to need it. That or some whiskey.