Friday, 6 February 2009


Built 2007 (pictured above)
This would be our 'dream' set up, but unfortunately goes well over our £1,000 limit with a total equipment cost of about £7,000 centred around a 19"rack mounted core duo, ultra quiet PC running Cubase 5, Reason 4, FLStudio and Pro Tools LE. Principle control surface and sound card is the M Audio Project Mix. Keyboard is the Roland Juno-D 61-Note Synthesizer and the microphone a Samson C03 Studio Condenser Microphone through a Behringer tube amp. Set up also includes 19" racked Behringer compresser, EQ and Fostex CDR Recorder. Monitoring is provided by a mighty pair of Fostex PM0.4 Powered Nearfield Monitors and Fostex PM0.5-Sub Mk11 Powered Subwoofer .

Blessed Love Studios have considerable experience in building recording and production studios for youth clubs and schools, and here we provide a guide for young people who want to set up their own hi quality, low cost studio with ease of use in mind. Some of the Youth Studios we have consulted on/constructed are :

Kids Company (Camberwell)
Pupil Parent Partnership (Acton West London)
New Directions Pupil Referral Unit (Islington)
Knights Youth Club (Streatham)
Blessed Love Studios (Camberwell)
Waterfront Community Centre (Ipswich)
Chantry High School (Ipswich)
B.E.L.I.E.V.E Project (Ipswich)
4RCE Training (Ipswich)

The bulk of the studios we have helped build over the past few years have been funded by the Youth Opportunity Fund and Youth Capital Fund. This is money that central government have given to Local Authorities (Councils) to fund young peoples projects that have a community benefit. It is very easy to apply for funding (Just ask a youth worker or connexions advisor about it or contact your council directly) We talking about filling in a two sided form that can result in your project getting over £20,000! To build a studio like the one given here you only need a fraction of this but you will need to budget in the cost of rent of the building you are using, construction (vocal booths & sound proofing) and costs for staffing (You will need to find a friendly Youth Worker or sound engineer to help you run the project, although the project will remain your own)

CASE STUDY 2 (Above) The Chantry High School Studio.
Built in 2009 from a YOF bid. The studio runs Cubase 5 and Reason 4 on a Core Duo system and the M Audio Firewire solo. The studio benefits from a professional constructed and soundproofed control room and booth. Total cost of the equipment and software was slightly over £1000. Construction costs were also over £1000.
DJ KC, youth leader on the B.E.L.I.E.V.E Project takes up the challenge of building a top notch studio for under a £1000 based on his experience of building a studio for his project based at the Triangle Estate in Ipswich via a grant of over £5k from the Suffolk YOF funding. We are assuming that the studio is going to be built for the purpose of making beats/tracks and recording multi track vocals from a rapper/singer. The studio could also be used for recording bands, but this set up we will be recommending is ideally suited to the hip/hop, RnB or grime producer/artist.


The set up below cost £399 from PC World
Intel® Celeron® Dual-Core E1200
(1.60GHz, 800MHz FSB, 512KB Cache)
Genuine Windows Vista® Home Premium
1GB DDR2 800MHz memory
160GB SATA hard drive (7200rpm)

Intel® GMA 3100 graphics
Dual Layer DVD Rewriter
15-in-1 media card reader
6x USB ports (2x front, 4x rear)
Compaq Presario SR5601uk with 19" TFT

This is the core of the system. If you are going to spend more money on any element of your studio then spend more on your PC/Laptop/Mac. Don't bother with 24 track mixing desks with knobs and sliders like a layout of a 747 jet cockpit ; you will never use it! Everything a modern studio needs is contained within the computer. The system above is a Dual Core system that is more than powerfull enough for most studio requirements but you could run most Audio software (or DAW programs like cubase and reason) with much older and slower computers (Pentium 2 Upwards)
We would recommend you consider upgrading the hard drive spec on this set up as using multi track recording does eat up your hard drive space eventually.
The only other adaption to this machine to make it a true studio PC is the addition of a Firewire card in one of the spare PCI slots in your machine to be able to connect your 'break out' sound card box (Such as the M AUDIO product we have selected). You could ask PC world to install this but you could also do it yourself as it is very basic PC maintenance and a Firewire expansion card can be bought for about £20 in Maplins.
You could consider building your own PC from components to save money, although we would advise against this when you consider how cheap a ready built machine already is that will have a warranty and will be built with guaranteed compatible components.


For just about all the studios we have built for youth projects in London and East Anglia we have used Digital Village as suppliers. They are the experts at equipping schools and youth clubs and can give you good advice and support and are reasonable in terms of price and delivery times. It is important for you to note that because we are building this studio for a youth project/school that will have a 'community benefit' we can take advantage of not having to pay VAT. If you want to build this same studio for your own use in your own bedroom it will cost considerably more ; especially the software (Although if you are a media student you can still purchase these Education versions of Reason and Cubase at a reduced cost via your school/college) Other suppliers are available and if you are going to shop around you can try Studio Spares and Turnkey, although we recommend getting all your stuff from the one supplier to keep things simple.

Below is an example of a 'shopping cart' from Digital Village that along with the recommended PC set up above will give you everything you need to start recording and producing professional sounding demo's and mixtapes.

Shipping: £6.90 £6.00
Subtotal: £692.68
VAT: £0.00
Total: £692.68


OK, lets look at a breakdown of what we have selected above. Obviously you can choose alternative options for each element, but we have selected items for ease of use, compatibility and economy. We have used all the products above and know they work and produce good recordings and are relatively tough and 'future proof'.

Screenshots of Cubase (Top) and Reason (Bottom) They might look intimidating and horribly complicated, but you will get there in the end!


We have chosen to buy REASON 4 and CUBASE 5 programs purely because we use them and like them. You maybe are more familiar with other well known music programs you have already used ; if so stick with these. There are free options, although 'cracked' or illegally copied programs of course should not be used for many reasons, not just the legal issue. We think the cost of software is unfair and restricts the use of this technology to all. Our belief is that if you get paid for your music you must pay for your licences that created your music, however there should be easier and cheaper ways for young people and others to access and learn. You can get trial versions of many other programs to 'try out' first of course. There are at least two free multi track recording programs we dare recommend such as Audacity (Good multi tracker that will let you record and arrange, and edit tracks with ease) or Computer Music Magazines (CM) has a free giveaway music program with their magazine (pretty good for tips and suggestions for equipment as well ; so include the magazine(s) in your budget!) Reason and Cubase are not the simplest of interfaces and are perhaps not ideally suited to the absolute beginner. FLStudio (formerly 'Fruity Loops') is the easiest for producing beats and tunes and can now also record audio. An even simpler program is Ejay. We make all our beats with Reason because of the range of patches (sounds/instruments etc) and quality. Other widely used software tools would be Soundforge, Ableton, LOGIC, Sonar and Pro Tools.

2.The Soundcard/Breakout box (Firewire)

This is the 'interface' for your recording (where you plug in all your microphones,speakers,instruments, headphones) and your music software. It's doing the same job as the 'soundcard' on your average computer ; its just in a separate box and benefits from the 'super fast' Firewire connection (MEANING YOUR PC/LAPTOP MAC MUST HAVE A 'FIREWIRE' PORT THAT LOOKS LIKE A LONGER VERSION OF THE STANDARD USB PORT. you will have to add a Firewire Card to your host computer otherwise))
The alternative option would be a Soundcard that slots into the back of your computers PCI slot and has all the microphone/instrument/MIDI connections trailing out of the back of the computer (can make it less accessible, which is why we recommend a break out box). The M Audio fireweire solo (pictured above) is the best budget unit we have used, but if you have a bigger budget we would recommend a soundcard/control surface unit like the M Audio Project Mix that is a table top mixing desk style device with motorised faders and a lot more inputs for microphones and instruments.

3.The Microphone

You could spend over ten thousand pounds on a single microphone, but we have selected something a little more reasonable in the Behringer B-1 Condenser Microphone . Condenser microphones like these are 'powered' by a 48v phantom power supplied by the firewire solo device. They are more 'detailed' in sound quality compared to a conventional 'stick' type microphone such as the SM58. These microphones are very sensitive and need to be placed in a shockmount and cradle on the microphone stand and cannot be gripped in the hand like a normal 'stick' mic. Luckily Behringer supply all of these parts (not including the stand or popper stopper) in a carrycase (pictured) all for £56. Its a tasty little mic and i would challenge you to spot the difference between it and a mic costing hundreds of pounds more unless you have the ears of a bat! Alternatives would be the Samson C03U or the Studio Projects B1 Condenser Microphone .

4. The Controller/Control Surface

If your not interested in making beats and just want to use other peoples instrumentals from or where ever, you don't need this....but we need more producers out there; to many guys are just spitting and not learning the 'buttons' and being the next Dot Rotten or Timbaland.
The M-Audio Keystation 49E 49-Key USB Controller will connect to your computer via a simple USB connection and allow you to play the sounds in Reason or other software. This type of device does not have any 'sounds' of its own at all and only controls the sounds and instruments in your software. You can get more advanced control surfaces with lots of knobs/sliders controlling envelopes and filters, but most beginners will find these confusing
5. Monitors

We recommend something like the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 Powered Reference Monitor (Pair) which is a powered Monitor (Does not need a separate Amplifier) and should provide ample power and detail for most smaller studio set up's. A powered reference monitor is recommended because they are self powered and do not require a separate amplifier and also provide the high sound quality required for a studio. Its a good idea to check your finished recordings on a range of different set ups from car stereos to club style PA systems as your 'mix' will sound different on each set up.

6. Other considerations for your budget.

Have you remembered your blank CDR's and additional cables, power adapters/extension leads? Always leave a 'contingency' of your budget to allow for repairs/spares etc. For example you may find that a headphone extension cable is needed to reach your vocal booth. You may also want to think about soundproofing for your vocal booth/control room (See below).

7. Construction costs.

You might be lucky and have access to a space that is already equipped to give you a control room (Where your PC/Mixer/Speakers are placed) and your recording booth (For your microphone) Ideally you need to be able to see into your vocal booth from your control room whilst being able to soundproof both areas. Normally this is achieved by creating a 'room within a room' for your booth that has a window so you can see and communicate with the artist in the booth. You could place your booth in a location like a store room and link it to the control booth via a web cam. But if you want a truely proffesional booth we recomend getting a quote from a Builder/carpenter. We built a small booth at The Waterfront Community Centre that cost around £300 for materials and labour, but subsequantly wish we had built a bigger space that would comfortably fit two artists. In regard to sound proofing it is important to state that egg boxes stuck on your walls will not have any effect and are also a fire hazzard. You can buy 2mx1m fireproofed expanded foam panels from furniture suppliers (we got ours from a boat manufacturer) for about £17 each. These do a good job and can be glued in place on your walls, although they do become discoloured after a year or so.

8. Security

Do you need an alarm system for your studio? Do you really want to see it all get robbed? You will again probably need to get quotes for this and check your insurance policy on the building you put your studio into. Dont forget to include in your budget computer locks (that will chain your PC/laptop to a desk) and a lock for your vocal booth (Your microphone is probably the most 'nickable' element of your studio....they might be a good rapper/singer, but can you trust them to look after your gear? Dont put temptation in thier way is our advice)

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