Best Songwriter Gifts in 2020: The Year of Home Recording

By:

Sarah Spencer

2020 was the year we started learning about home recording. Here is my list of great studio equipment to get you recording your material at home, too!

In SongFancy tradition, I’ll be sharing my big list of awesome gifts for songwriters and musicians, with a home recording theme. These are mostly products that I myself use, as well as a few well-loved items that the SongFancy community is digging.

2020 was the year we started learning about home recording.

As the pandemic hit and we found ourselves at home with no in-person co-writes, shows to play, or studio time to book, SongFancy songwriters turned to home recording. We filled our time with beats and loops and midi controllers, and slowly but surely, we’ve been building home studios, pitching our songs for sync opportunities, and even releasing records worth of our music.

The 5 in 5 song challenge alone saw a handful of completely home-recorded albums released.

2020 has been turbulent, but it has also been a creatively abundant time for songwriters and home studio producers.

*This post contains affiliate links. That means, when you purchase through one of my affiliate links, I get a small commission. Thanks for supporting SongFancy!

Table of Contents:

Awesome DAWs for singer/songwriter producers

Plugins, Samples, and Digital Instruments

Laptop Home Studio

Level Up Your Gear

For the Piano Composer

Fun Accessories and Streaming Tools

Inspiring Home Studio Decor

Books and Education

SongFancy Swag!

Let’s dive into some of the best home recording studio gear that 2020 has to offer!

Awesome DAWs for singer/songwriter producers

Reason 11

Reason

This is my personal weapon of choice. I’ve been a Reason user on and off since 2014. It’s remained one of my favorite ways to dive in and start composing. If you have a background in music performance or composition and want to be able to just play what you hear and get it down fast, Reason excels at this. It’s packed with a library of sounds and fun instruments that help you create relevant, exciting tracks. I love it for pop production!

 

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Logic Pro X
LogicPro X
SongFancy Community Favorite

Flexible and powerful, Logic is the choice of producers and writers all over the world. Like their website says, this DAW can take you all the way from first note to final master.

I used Logic many years ago, and since then it’s only gotten better. It’s got some awesome new features like their Live Loops setup for playing loops in real time—it looks insanely fun. Logic is well-loved within The 5 in 5 Song Challenge community and by SongFancy songwriters all over.

Ableton Live

Well-loved by pop producers, DJ’s, and creators who like to use their technology in live performance settings, Ableton Live has an exciting, unique workflow. You can move between a traditional timeline view, or find your flow in their Live Session’s View. The stock sounds, instruments, and effects that come with this DAW are cutting edge and beautiful. It’s truly a joyful and powerful DAW.

Plugins, Samples, and Digital Instruments

Native Instrument’s Kontakt Play Series

If diving into complex plugins and synths with all their dials and buttons seems overwhelming, the Play Series is a great place to start. You’ll get access to beautiful digital instruments that you can dive into and play. The interfaces are stunning to look at, and only comes with a few knobs that do super fun things to the sounds. The series comes with 7 instruments, including a fun piano and lots of interesting retro sounds.

Preview the patches in Hybrid Keys and Analog Dreams, and check out those beautiful interfaces!

Arcade by Output

Arcade by Output

I love this sample service from Output. Arcade is a massive library of beautifully curated and royalty-free samples. For $10/month, it’s budget-friendly, endless inspiration (they also have a free trial!).

Use Arcade’s samples to round out your recordings, mess them up, crunch ’em, slice ’em up, distort ’em, and turn them into your own unique sounds. Couldn’t be easier to use, and is so darn pretty. And y’all: They update DAILY.

Splice Membership

Ever see a plugin that you’d really like to try, but don’t want to dish out a couple hundred bucks just to see? Enter Splice. Pay monthly installments to rent-to-own any plugin in their system. And, for Splice’s monthly fee, you get access to their massive collection of royalty-free samples. They even have samples created by today’s hottest producers. Check it out!

Laptop Home Studio

Blue Snowball USB Mic

This little guy has been in my studio since college. Compact, cute, and super convenient, this USB mic allows me to play and sing all of my worktapes directly into my computer for later. And for the price, it’s a wonderful introduction to recording audio.

Great for dorm rooms, traveling writers, and total beginners who may only have a computer and a DAW.

FocusRite Scarlett USB Audio Interface

Want to record your instruments and your voice separately? Or plug in your electric guitar? Or record your keyboard or piano without having to mic it? You need an audio interface.

Long story short: an interface allows you to take in a variety of different signals and output them to your computer. It’s how you can use more powerful mics, and have a separate place to plug in headphones while you record and monitor the levels you hear. If you’re just getting started, a USB interface like this Scarlett from Focusrite is a popular and well-loved choice.

Shure SRH440 Headphones

A Good Pair of Headphones

A great set of headphones is necessary anytime you’re recording audio—aka, your voice, your acoustic guitar, or anything you’ve got mic’d up! They also allow you to work in places that need you to be quiet, like in a dorm or apartment, or mix in noisy environments like airplanes or cars.

I have this pair of Shure SRH 440 headphones which work well for recording vocals. I also got a set of memory foam ear pads because it can be fatiguing to wear headphones for hours at a time.

Avoid getting blue tooth headphones (it can interfere with your signal while recording) and anything with a mic in it. Trust me, you don’t want to record a whole song from the mic in your headphones by accident, instead of your actual mic!

Adaptors for home recording studio equipment

Adaptors

Adaptors, adaptors, adaptors! They always come in handy. What adaptors you need will depend on your gear and computer. Here are some you may find you’ll need: Quarter inch to aux (for headphones in an interface), USBC to lightning, or a hub with many different ports.

Be sure to look at what ports your computer has before you order any gear you’ll be plugging into it. Then, adapt away as needed!

Level Up Your Gear

Adam Audio T Series Studio Monitors

A great pair of speakers (monitors) will open up a whole new world of what you hear in your songs. Here’s what you need to know: Many computer speakers affect the sound they emit for the purpose of enjoyable listening by “sweetening up” the sound. And while that’s nice if you’re only listening, it works against you when you’re creating music.

Great monitors should show you exactly what your song sounds like so you can make informed decisions about what to keep, what to re-track, and how to mix it all down. If you’re ready to create engaging mixes and make music at a higher level, check out the T Series from Adam Audio. We’ve been using Adam’s at hour home studio for years and they never fail to amaze me. The T series is great for the writer/producer who wants to level up, has a small space, and doesn’t want to drop thousands on a pair of monitors just yet. (they also have a subwoofer!)

Shure's SM57 and SM58 mics

Shure SM58, Shure SM 57 Microphones

The workhorse mic’s! You’ve probably sung into one of these at a writer’s nite or open mic. They’re everywhere and for a reason.

The SM57 is designed to pick up specifically what’s in front of it, while reducing noise from behind it, making it stellar at recording instruments.

The SM58 is a vocal mic with the same pickup pattern and has a built-in pop filter to help with poppy S’s and T’s (plosives), making it wonderful for live performances and streams. I added an SM58 to my setup in college (thanks, Dad!) and it’s become a critical tool in my toolbox. If you’re performing these days, take your SM58 with you so you don’t have to use the house mic and risk touching it with your mouth. No, Miss Rona, you ain’t welcome here!

Condensor microphones for home studio recording

Condenser Mic

If you’ve been working from a USB mic for years and feel limited by it, you may want to level up to a condenser mic. These mic’s are powerful and capture more nuanced than a typical USB mic like our friend the Snowball, above. You’ll love the rich quality of sound you’ll hear when you make the switch. As a primarily acoustic guitar player and vocalist, I quickly became frustrated with the way my recordings sounded. Getting a condenser mic was a massive leap into creating pro-sounding vocals and acoustic tracks from home.

I’ve linked to a bunch of options here, but with condensers, you want to look for one that is not USB, but instead plugs into your interface and requires phantom power. Check out Soyuz and Neumann for a place to start.

Mic stands from OnStage

Mic stands

Can never have too many! Right now, I have two set up specifically for me to track live acoustic performances. I just keep them at the heights I need: Sitting down vocals, and sitting down guitar playing. They go right back into their little corner and I just grab them again when I need them. It’s SO much easier than swapping out mics and adjusting one mic stand every time. Plus, you may need two if you’re hosting streaming shows with a similar setup.

I had two On-Stage Boom Stands. There are a TON of unique stands to fit your needs, like a heavy-duty boom, this small desktop mic stand, even an arm to convert your mic stand into a hanging stand. Check them out and find the stands that work best in your space.

For the Piano Composer

Arcade Output Desk with tray

Look, y’all. It was a long journey to find my desk. But I found it. And it is truly the only one that does what I need, really, really freaking well.

Look at her. Just look:

 

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She’s stunning.

Here’s exactly why I love her and will not recommend any other desk:

  • SPACE. Space in front of you for a laptop to open up wide, space for a notebook (notebooks!), for mouse, coffee, a desktop tripod or mic stand, room for elbows, YOU NAME IT.
  • Rack space! You can add in rack mounted gear over time. Both horizontal and vertical. if you don’t have rack mounted gear, you can use this as storage space.
  • Platform for monitors and screen. Your monitors are perfectly placed for best hearing while you’re sitting at the desk!
  • and… most importantly: A STURDY TRAY THAT FITS AN 88 KEY MIDI CONTROLLER.

You can play hard on this tray and it is sturdy. My midi controller has drum pads on it, and even energetic finger drumming will not damage this tray.

It’s stunning to look at. You can choose from 2 wood stains or natural birch to match your space.

And it’s the only desk that gives you all this at this price.

I’m obsessed.

Nektar LX88+
SongFancy Community Favorite

My aforementioned 88 key midi controller! I love this girl. She’s the size of a full piano keyboard, and comes with some wonderful bells and whistles, but nothing too complex: A drum pad, programmable faders, knobs, two mod wheels, and even a small transport which is helpful when tracking (no reaching for the mouse or computer keyboard if you don’t want to!). All these are expressive tools you can play with when performing and recording.

The keys are semi-weighted, which would be my only gripe. I prefer fully weighted keys, but the rest of the features of this midi controlled make it 90% perfect for me to compose on and make beats with.

Other SongFancy writers have expressed their love of their Nektar midi controllers, making it a community favorite this year. Check them out!

A good pedal

Get yourself a pedal you love to use! Mine is a typical sustain pedal similar to what you’d find on a piano. If you’re purchasing a midi keyboard or controller, check out the polarity of your keyboard and your pedal, and if you can switch the polarity on the keyboard if you need to. (Polarity = essentially, when the pedal is down, does it sustain or not. Sometimes you may find the pedal is working in reverse, aka. up is sustain, down is dampen. It’s annoying. You can usually switch it on your instrument. But check before you buy.)

Fun Accessories and Streaming Tools

Pop filter

If you’ve invested in a good mic, you’ll want to grab yourself a pop filter. This little screen helps to keep out the plosives, or abrupt sounding letters like T’s and S’s. It can also help keep your mic protected from saliva (yuck). Check out this one from AUPHONIX, it looks really nice. You don’t need to spend this much on a pop filter, but it can lengthen the life of your mic (especially if you’ve invested in a nice mic). This one is similar to the one we use in our studio.

Ring light

A ring light can add face-flattering lighting in any room. I have a dark studio, and lighting is critical for everything from Zoom co-writes, to live streams, to video recording, to screen fatigue! There are a variety of ring lights out there. I dig this one with the interchangeable filters because you get to choose the light specific quality of light for your gorgeous face.

Camera tripods for streaming musicians

Camera tripod

A tripod will enable to place your camera wherever you need it to be. This is critical, especially for framing up the perfect shot in a small space without moving around all your gear every time you want to stream.

You can look into a small tabletop tripod like this one, or a full standing tripod. I have one similar to this one (it seems they don’t make mine exact tripod any longer), and I love it. Whatever type you choose, I suggest looking for one that has as many articulating points as you can get. Makes it SO much easier to frame a shot! (If you record from your phone, you can look into an adaptor with a universal camera mount so you can use it on any tripod.)

Turn your mic stand into a camera tripod with this adaptor, the On Stage CM01 Video Camera/Digital Recorder Adapter

On Stage CM01 Video Camera/Digital Recorder Adapter

Hey, guess what—your mic stand can be a tripod! Check out this adaptor that will turn any mic stand into a camera mount. So smart!

Inspiring Home Studio Decor

LED Rope lights for studio vibes.

Light Rope

This month, I’ve been all about creating a vibe in my studio, and lighting plays a huge role. These LED rope lights are on my Amazon Wish List, they look amazing. I love that there’s a separate remote for them, so I can turn them on and off without having to install another app on my phone.

Light projector for starry night vibes.

Light projector

Ok, this just looks cool as hell and is definitely on my Amazon wish list. I mean, the moon! And check out those reviews.

Faerie lights

I have them everywhere in my house, including on my desk. They’re actually all over my house. They create such cute sparkly light! I can’t get enough fairy lights. And they’re super cheap! They run on batteries to grab some AA or AAA’s with your order.

Wax warmer

One of the first “vibe” things I purchased for my room. I love this wax warmer because you can melt wax in it, and heat up old candles. (be still my heart!) I also got some disposable wax liners to make changing fragrances a breeze.

Here’s a hack: You know how candles always have a little bit of wax in the bottom after the wick has burned out? Grab a wax liner, then melt your candle on the wax burner. When the candle wax is liquid, pour it into the wax liner. Bam! You can now use the rest of your favorite candle in the form of a wax melt! I’m obsessed. If your wondering what my studio smells like right now: Pumpkin Spice from DW Home. But only because I haven’t ordered my Balsam Fir wax melts yet. ;)

Yet's 30oz tumbler with a lid is a wonderful home recording studio companion

Yeti Tumbler with lid

So I’m super neurotic about spilling drinks on my gear. I’ve spilled stuff on my laptop before. It’s not fun. So I always have my water in one of my Yeti tumblers with a lid and a straw. I love the 30oz Yeti Tumbler with the lag slider lid (in the best Yeti color, seafoam, obvs).

A cute tray to hold your picks makes your home studio feel curated

Cute tray for picks

We always need guitar picks within arm’s reach, so why not put them in a cute dish you love? I have a black crescent moon dish similar to this one with filled my favorite Taylor picks. I kinda look at it like the Chloe Kardashian oreo cookie jar, but with guitar picks. And like, tossed into the dish, rather than neatly stacked. It’s ok to laugh at me.

These amazing picks

The picks I mentioned above! I love them in this abalone blue, but I’m going to grab some in black to go with my decor. I love how thick they are!

Books and Education

The Beautiful Book of Songwriting Prompts

The Beautiful Book of Songwriting Prompts

SongFancy’s own book of songwriting prompts! 80+ pages of colorful imagery and exciting prompts to get you inspired. It even comes with a section at the end showing you how to remix all the prompts in the book, so they don’t get tired and old. If you purchase The Beautiful Book of Songwriting Prompts, I’d love if you left a 5 star review on Amazon. Thanks!

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way

This book is literal medicine for the artist’s soul. We all get kicked down along the way, and sometimes we forget why we make art in the first place. Julia Cameron gently guides you back into your light. It’s amazing. I re-read it frequently. I cannot recommend this book enough.

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Where The Artist’s way is gentle counseling, The War of Art is a swift kick in the ass. Every page is a knowledge bomb after bomb, guaranteed to blow your mind quickly and effectively. Stephen Pressfield coaches us about Resistance (with a capital R); why it happens, and how to fight it like an artist.

You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero

You Are A Badass

Let’s be honest, sometimes we forget! In a world where the arts feel required by not valued, it’s easy to feel lost in the noise of notifications and the numbers, the followers and achievements of others. Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass is the reminder we need that we are inherently awesome and rule our own lives.

30 Song Prompts: ’17-’18 Collection

Looking for more songwriting prompts? SongFancy’s got you! Our digital collection of song prompts will email you a fresh new prompt every day. Or, download them all at once and choose the one that calls to you.

Living an Inspired Life: How to Find Song Ideas

SongFancy’s flagship course on starting songs. LAIL will show you exactly where great song ideas are hiding out there in the world, how to capture them, and how to stay creatively turned-on! Great for the beginning writer who knows she’s a writer but wants to unleash her prolific side. It’s a self-paced online course, taught in easy to digest short videos, so you can take it at your own page. Best of all, when you enroll, you get all the updates without having to upgrade. If you’re feeling uninspired, or just don’t know where to start, Living an Inspired Life was built to help you find all the song ideas. ❤️

SongFancy Swag!

Any swag you purchase helps support me and SongFancy. If you purchase anything, be sure to snap a pic of it and tag me @SarahSpencerMusic and use the hashtag #SongFancy!

Songwriter Mug

Wake up ready to write with this cute coffee mug! We have one for those who prefer lyricist, too. They also make a great place to store your favorite pens and pencils in your writing room.

My favorite hoodie! It says, SongFancy Songwriter. I love it!

My Favorite Hoodie

My favorite hoodie! Show the world that you’re a SongFancy Songwriter with this branded, comfy hoodie. Seriously. I’ve got this in black and I wear it everywhere. It’s the comfiest hoodie I’ve ever owned, and it’s washed really well after probably 50 washes.

5 in 5 Song Challenge t-shirt

5 in 5 Song Challenge Community pick T-Shirt
SongFancy Community Favorite

We launched a line of 5/5 swag this year (yahoo!) and the group voted on their favorite designs. This faded photo design was the overwhelming winner. It gives me mad Taylor Swift Lover vibes. You can snag this design in a women’s fit t-shirt, unisex shirt, or a tote bag!

Happy writing, Merry Christmas, and happy holidays!

Psst—Want more songwriter gift ideas? Check out my other gift posts from 2018 and 2019, and my ultimate list of songwriter gifts.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at SarahSpencer.com or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.