Studio Gear

This post is part of a series intended to become a Mermaid’s Tavern Guide to Zoom Singing publication for folk arts organizations, feature artists, session singers, and online audiences for folk music. We welcome comments below.

“I’m starting to do more livestreaming music on Zoom/Facebook/YouTube. What mic and camera should I buy?”

This might be the most commonly asked question I get from new Zoom singers. My answer is that it depends: on whether you’re solo, duo, or a group; whether you’re a casual session singer or a digitally touring feature artist, and how far along the gearhead path you are of setting up your own home studio. That’s a journey that never ends, so here are two rigs that will suit new budgets, and a set of resources for you to do your own research.

Let’s Cut to the Chase: What I Use Myself

As a Session Singer

This is a modest rig that you can pick up as you can afford it for under $100 each for mic, webcam, and headphones/speakers. It’s also perfectly adequate for small digital houseconcerts as a feature artist, as the Snowball and the c920 deliver bright, clean sound and video. I use this gear every day for work as well as for weekend sessions and general listening on my HP Spectre x360 15” 2-In-1 Laptop. It will work just fine on older laptops or desktops as well, Windows or Mac.

As a Feature Artist

This is the next step up for a simple plug-and-play home digital studio. Mic, webcam, and headphones are in the $150 range each, and the clamp lamps and lightbulbs will set you back $20 apiece. I recently upgraded to a nice new iMac Pro, but for years I ran this rig on a midline Macbook Pro. Everything here works on Windows as well.

I like the Yeti’s mute button and ability to change the pickup pattern, and I’ve come to prefer its simplicity and ease of use vs. an audio interface and analog mics (see below). The Brio webcam has a nice zoom feature to get just the right framing, and it’s even better in low light than the c920 (which is saying something). That lets me get away with inexpensive lighting, which is a boon in a small (8x8’) studio. For latency reasons, I keep the AT cans plugged in for livestreaming, but for mixing and listening, wireless headphones are great when moving around the studio.

For Studio Recording

As a solo vocalist, I do much of my recording with the Yeti, plain and simple. If I’m looking to fine-tune the balance between instruments and vocal, it’s back to the analog condenser mics with an audio interface. The Focusrite Scarlett bundle comes with mic and headphones, which at $200 is great bang for the buck.

Studio monitors (speakers) are a great way to get outside your headphones and hear what the mix will sound like in a larger room. I have the now-discontinued Samson Studio GT Active Studio Monitors with USB Audio Interface, but for $99 you can get the equivalent from Presonus.

Your Mileage May Vary

Some scenarios NOT covered above:

  • using a smartphone as a camera and/or microphone with a desktop/laptop
  • using a second camera for closeups/camera angle variation
  • details of mixing through an audio interface and/or DAW (digital audio workstation software)
  • hybrid rigs that repurpose analog microphones and/or standalone video cameras
  • using an analog mixer with an audio interface
  • dedicated livestreaming or video software (OBS, Ecamm Live, &c)

I know, you have a closet full of sound gear gathering dust, you paid real money for it, and you know how to use it. So do I. My experienced professional advice on these scenarios is that you can spend a lot of time down a rabbit hole trying to reuse existing gear. You could be up and livestreaming for under $200 with the Session Singer rig above. Keep it simple to start. Buy a couple of pieces of plug-and-play digital tech and stay focused on making music and connecting with your audience with a website, mailing list, and tip jar. Then when you’re ready to take the next steps down Gearhead Road, perhaps your audience will have bought some CDs, donated to your tip jar, or become patron members so you can reinvest that money in more gear. Remember, in the DIY world of the digital home studio, you are the tech AND the musician. It’s all about balance.

Read on for more resources on setting up your own home studio.

Set Up a Home Studio

Microphone Buying Guides

Webcam Buying Guides

Lighting Buying Guides

Headphone Buying Guides