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Equipment II: Useful

Over the years, I’ve collected many extra tools—both tiny and huge—to help with the recording process. I’ll explain them in this chapter. If you’re not ready to spend any (more) money, or not interested, feel free to skip it entirely.

MIDI Keyboard

Even though my first instrument was the guitar, and it remains my first love, I always tell people to get a keyboard and learn that.

Why? It’s easier and more versatile, especially when recording audio.

A MIDI keyboard can be plugged into your computer or audio interface. You can play it like a regular piano, but set its sound to anything. So you can play strings, violins, a trumpet, dance beats, whatever.

You can get an okay one for 100 euros. Once you have it, you can easily record ideas (or actual final tracks) anytime and anywhere.


This was my use case. I bought a tiny one for 70 euros once. I had a big one—which was passed down to me from my brother—but it was just too impractical. I struggled to find energy for recording because I had to move stuff around and get that huge ass piano on my desk. This is a recurring theme: go for practical and quick in your workflow, above all else.

Instruments like the guitar can not be replaced with a MIDI keyboard. You’ll miss everything that makes the guitar sound: strumming, pick against the strings, sliding (and other guitar-specific techniques).

The same is somewhat true for drums. Yes, you can emulate them by hammering keys on a keyboard. It will most likely feel wrong, if you even manage to keep to a rhythm.

Multiple microphones

For a while, I recorded everything with a single microphone. This was fine. But there are situations where you need 2 (or even more) microphones.


I do a lot of subtle guitar work. As explained before, you can’t just record it twice, because the takes won’t match at all. So I needed two microphones, pointed at the guitar from different locations. Together, they record one performance in stereo.


I realized my vocal performance was bad (and just didn’t feel good) when I didn’t support myself. I was used to playing an instrument and singing over it, not doing these things individually. After months of doubt, I decided to buy a third mic. Two on the guitar, one on my voice. Now I could just give a live performance! But I had enough individual tracks to make it sound good later.

Microphone stands

This is self-explanatory. Some microphones can stand by themselves. Most will require a microphone stand.

Why do I not deem this essential, then? Because you can get away without one. For some time, I had more microphones than stands. (Long story.) I simply placed microphones on boxes or tables, or once even in my lap, and it was fine.

Yes, buy some solid stands, with lots of height and reach. (Extendible arms everywhere!) Don’t go for the cheapest option. It can barely reach anything, the knobs will break, and it’s too lightweight to support a proper microphone. Go for the 40-50 euro options.

It’s very practical and will allow you to place microphones anywhere you want, easily. A solid recommendation. But not “essential” to me.

Some type of controller

My biggest annoyance when recording was my lack of controller. Whenever I wanted to start/stop a take, I had to either reach for my keyboard (far away) or click some tiny button with my mouse.

To make space for my microphones—and prevent any fan noise from my computer—I had to place the laptop far away. But this made it tough to interact with it. My frustration (and back pain) grew with every take.

So I recommend getting yourself some kind of (remote) controller. Just a small device, or some system, that allows you to start/stop/redo takes easily from anywhere.


I ended up using my MIDI keyboard for this. It had some knobs and dials, which I programmed to start/stop. The keyboard doesn’t make any noise and is small. So it just sits next to me while recording.


Last chapter, I mentioned you should focus on preamps when buying an audio interface. Of course, these tools can also be bought separately. They are just a tiny object you can put somewhere in your chain before conversion to digital—usually your microphone or cable.

They allow raising the volume of any recording a lot, without adding any noise.

I bought one, because a microphone of mine had output that was just too low. Was it useful? Yes. You get more clarity and less noise. Was it an essential purchase? Absolutely not. Now I know ways how I could’ve fixed the problem without buying that preamp.


Here’s a fun fact. The sound from my laptop changes considerably when listening from a different angle.

That’s not great when you try to produce music. How can you hear what your recording sounds like? What is the “true” sound? How can you ever know?

For that reason, it helps to buy a good set of speakers. These plug into your audio interface, usually two big outputs at the back. They’ll reproduce the sound as natural and unbiased as possible.

Due to how speakers (and the physics of sound) work,

A bigger speaker will always produce a better sound quality

But again, no need to go overboard. Just a simple set of solid speakers is fine. This helps monitor your recordings afterwards. Without any bias or doubt about what it actually sounds like.


That said, “bad” equipment is still a good test. Because you also want your recordings to sound good on those. Most people don’t have dedicated speakers. They’re listening on their crappy phone.

Advanced acoustic treatment

Better acoustic treatment is always useful.

On a low budget? There are relatively cheap packs to buy. These have foam patterns in different sizes.

But I don’t recommend this. These are fixed and only barely work. I recommend getting a setup you can easily move around with much thicker elements. (You need more and more thickness to stop lower pitched sounds.)

If you go for this, reserve a slightly higher budget.

I’d recommend acoustic panels. These can be carried, moved around, hung on your wall, maybe even put on wheels. They are thick and work, but they’re also often pretty to look at. I’d recommend something like Ekustik

If you have even more budget, I’d recommend just treating an entire room and dedicating it to being “the studio space”. Buy panels, buy rugs, buy bass traps for in the corners, buy wooden diffusers. In fact, if you’re this serious, there’s probably a company you can enlist to do this all for you. They’ll measure the room, find the ideal spots for the ideal treatment, and put everything in service of “killing that nasty reverb”.

Vocal tools

The main one is the pop filter. These usually come by default with a starter microphone. They guard against those “plosives” I mentioned in The Disconnect. I highly recommend using some pop filter when recording vocals.

Why is this not essential then? Because you can find ways around it. You can learn to sing while controlling those plosives. You can point the mic at your mouth from more of an angle. Some people hold a pencil in front of their mouth to “split” the plosives.

There are numerous ways to reduce this issue—if it occurs for you—without buying this equipment.

The same is true for reflection screens. These are usually attached to the microphone stand and wrap around the microphone. These are mostly useless: only their sides, if they wrap around far enough, do some real damage. Next chapter talks about acoustics. It will explain why those screens don’t do much for you. (It’s because they guard the mic from the back, which is the part it doesn’t hear anyway.)

Small tools

These are cheap, but you still have to know they exist (and buy them).

  • Many picks in many different sizes (for guitar) => which one you use actually changes the sound and performance
  • A capo (for guitar) => to easily transpose pieces
  • An actual MIDI cable => you’ll need this to put a MIDI device in an audio interface, as they usually only ship with a USB cable
  • Extension cords for different cables => recording, headphone, USB, any of them (in case you need more room)
  • A tuner => yes, you can use an app on your phone. A dedicated tuner will be more accurate and faster to use. Besides, you don’t want your phone with you when recording, because if there’s something that will distract or make noise …
  • Very useful plugins or VSTs (Virtual Instruments) to use in your software => they’ll come preinstalled, or you can find free ones online.

I’m probably forgetting many tiny details. You’ll pick them up as you get more experience with recording. As you understand more of the practical side and what tiny changes would improve your workflow.

Pfew, now let’s record—oh no, we still have to do more preparation. But it’s all for the best. You don’t want to do like I did: record for weeks, then throw them away once you learn what actual good acoustics are.

Unsurprisingly, next chapter will talk about that.

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