A common question in the music industry is ‘what is the difference between a professional recording studio and a home studio setup?’

We’re going to go through what the differences are and the major pros and cons associated with them.

The atmosphere

What is going to work for you as an artist depends on a few things but in a creative field, one of the most important factors is how comfortable you are when you feel that creative spark.

A home studio can be really great if you’re going with the flow and want to be completely relaxed when doing your thing. You can get as crazy as you want to, and experiment with anything you like. It’s a great place to start and create ideas

A professional studio on the other hand, is a space where there is some pressure to make the right creative decisions with your music. Time is limited, so technical issues or problems which might occur at a home studio are something you don’t really want to deal with. This is what pro studios won’t generally go through because systems and programs are kept up to date. You also have a professional engineer or producer who will be responsible for making sure that all of the equipment is working properly.

Being at a pro recording studio means that you also have various other people around you, with experience that you may not have. They might also have ideas which you haven’t thought about that will help to improve your music. You can use the artistic energy from this to help you stay focussed and creative, and because there aren’t technical issues to deal with, you can stay in that space.

That isn’t to say that you can’t ever get a similar input from someone who’s working from a home studio, but more often, there isn’t likely to be the level of knowledge and input from a home studio owner as there will be from a team of people working from a larger pro studio.

The Tech 

The first big difference in terms of tech and equipment between pro and home studios is the room setup. Professional recording studios win in this regard because time and effort has been spent on soundproofing and dampening. While you may think that sound proofing is a simple thing of just putting a few panels up, think again. There is a science behind it and sound deflection, sound absorption and soundproofed doors and glass are what you find in all pro studios. It’s expensive to get the right setup but it’s actually so important, that soundproofing is an entire sub category of the music industry itself.

The reason that so much time and effort is spent on soundproofing is that a soundproof room provides better recording quality, and whilst you can get decent quality at a home studio, you simply won’t achieve the same quality. Without proper soundproofing, a home studio will also have to watch out for noise complaints, as neighbours can sometimes be problematic. 

The next thing after soundproofing, is that you will have a separated vocal booth in a pro studio whereas a home studio will most likely not. This is something which is important and it helps a lot with the musical process, which we will touch on a little bit later.

Hardware and software is next in the tech list. On rare occasions you will be able to find a home studio which has a really good setup with good quality equipment and programs. This isn’t what you’ll find most of the time though.

A professional recording studio on the other hand will have up to date software which is designed to work with all of the hardware which they are using, making recording more seamless. As an artist that comes to a pro studio you may want certain things (like headphone levels, input levels into their mixers and compressors) to be setup in a way which makes you feel comfortable. This is far easier to do if most of these are already setup.

In both professional and home studio setups, people will know their equipment well, but a pro studio will have more equipment available to them, so they have a broader knowledge.

The Process

Let’s get back to why a separated vocal booth is important.

In general, you want a booth that is separated from the engineering room, because background sounds and other noises are made by someone in the room, even just by breathing. Also, without this your engineer will be spending time doing things like turning their speakers back up when you’re not recording so he or she can hear what’s been recorded, and then back down when you record again, which can hinder your flow. 

A separated vocal booth allows the engineer to hear everything you’re doing clearly, and focus on the sound quality rather than sweating over the small stuff. 

Next up is the availability of instruments. A good home studio may have a midi controller or keyboard and perhaps a guitar. A pro studio will almost always have these and often more. Some pro studios will carry multiple amplifiers for different effects, or multiple midi controllers for different reasons. The reason why this is an important part of the process is that it allows an artist to play and sing to test something before recording it. Again, having multiple people at a pro studio who know how to play these instruments makes the process much easier. A home studio owner may know how to play an instrument very well, but they also may not know at all.

These two factors, mixed with the proper software and hardware, mean that at the end of the day, a pro studio will be able to spend more time making you sound better rather than focusing on making their own equipment sound good while recording.

The Budget

This is one of the most quoted factors between home and pro studios, and you as an artist have to weigh up the pros and cons of each to decide what it is you prefer and what your budget will allow.

As an artist going in to a studio, a home studio setup will be cheaper and you will be able to take your time and be completely creative. This can be comfortable if it’s your first time recording, and if you enjoy being creative and have a limited budget then this may be for you.

Going to a pro studio is more expensive, and time is limited because there may be multiple recordings happening in that same space on a single day, but where the pro studio wins is the quality you are getting in the end product.

There is also a third option, which is to record a basic vocal or to create a basic beat or backtrack, and then for you to book an hour or two of pro studio time to polish up what you have recorded. This can often be the best middle ground to find a budget friendly solution for good quality music. Just make sure that the recordings that you take to the pro studio are exported in the right format.This you can check with the studio you are going to record at.

For those artists who are looking at building a home studio of their own versus going in to a pro studio, initially your costs may be quite low. However, when you start wanting better quality, the price starts to go up, and quickly. You have to think about soundproofing your room, as well as buying sound cards, compressors software, better computers, hard drives… the list goes on. In short, if you want to go for a quality sound, building your own studio is possible, but it ends up actually being cheaper to go to a pro studio than to build your own, so consider this step very carefully.

The Takeaway

Home studios are great fun, and can provide you with some well needed confidence in the short term, as well as allowing you to feel creative and eventually bring those ideas to pro studios, but if you are really looking to make your music something which is marketable and has a chance to find radio play, then there is no comparison to a real professional studio.