How to Record on a Budget

how to record on a budget

Looking to make your next album but strapped for cash? Learning to record on a budget is something that every DIY musicians needs to do. With a little time and research, it’s not that hard, either. All it takes is a good ear and good musicianship—which you already have!

A lot of people think that if you’re going to record and sell your music, only the best possible equipment will do. You need the best mics, the best amps, the best plugins, all of it. Not only does this place a huge financial burden on musicians, but it’s just not true. For the low-income artist, quality recordings are still totally achievable. Here’s how to record on a budget:

No money? No problem.

Especially if you’re working with a newer, smaller, or DIY recording engineer, you might be able to barter for their time. Maybe they’re also a musician—could you offer to play on their next project, free of charge? Do they have a damaged instrument that you know how to fix? Hell, mow their lawn if you need to. People deserve compensation for their time and effort, but that compensation doesn’t always have to come in the form of a check.

You can barter similarly with players on your track. Often, this kind of exchange and collaboration can lead to your most rewarding professional relationships!

Take that $1000 vocal mic out of your cart

You do not need professional-grade recording equipment. You don’t! I promise. Especially if you’re just starting out, an SM57 and a cheap interface will serve you just fine. As any pro will tell you, great equipment can’t fix poor musicianship. So, if you want high-quality recordings, the first step is to make sure you’ve put the time in on your craft.

Once you’re ready to upgrade, it’s time to prioritize. Just one decent microphone can help cover up lower-quality recordings elsewhere on your track, so pick one of the more important instruments and invest in a better microphone for it. Personally, I find that well-recorded drums and/or voice are what make the biggest difference in my perception of a song. If those two things sound really nice, I’m less likely to notice that everything else on your track was recorded with an iPhone.

Studio time ≠ practice time

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. If you’re recording anything in a studio, make sure you and your players have put the time in to learn the music before you hit record. Studio time is expensive, and you don’t want to waste that time (read: money) practicing chord changes.

Know what you need, and what you don’t

Depending on the genre you’re working in and what you want to do with your song, it might not even need to be mastered. Or, it may require only a little bit of mastering that you could do yourself. Don’t assume that mastering is some essential part of the songwriting process that you have to do. If your song doesn’t need to be mastered, save the money!

Mixing, however, is pretty essential. If you’re on a budget, consider mixing your track yourself. You wrote the music, so you probably know what parts are most important, what needs to be softer where, what melodies can come out, and everything else. Watch a few YouTube videos then jump in! All you need is a good ear—you don’t need to be a professional (expensive) mixer to do your track justice.

Got your own tips on how to record on a budget? We want to hear them! Tweet us your best recording hacks @tonicaudiolabs

By Mike Powers

Mike is a composer, arranger, and artist manager who writes for Tonic Audio.