Home recording has many levels, but if you are ready to get serious there are a few tips we have for you.
My last entry was focused on getting you recording right now. I’ve always found it beneficial to start practicing a skill with the most basic tools. Remember when you spent $750 on that brand new guitar, and then it sat in your garage for 3 years, while you waited for an opening in your schedule so that you could learn a few chords? I remember.
Forcing yourself to start with the basics helps you develop the skills you’ll need when you’re finally ready to move on to something more professional, and it’s a great way to separate your interests and intentions from your desire to buy a new thing.
Hopefully you’ve given iPhone or tape recording a shot, and found that you’re ready for something a little more advanced.
Home Recording Equipment Options
From here, you have several options, but I’ll lump them into two basic categories: computer-based recording, and portable recording.
Computer-based recording refers to tracking that is done on a computer, using
software. To do this, you’ll need 2 things: a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and an interface.
Popular DAWs include Pro Tools, Ableton, Reason, Adobe Audition and FL Studio. Most MACs now come loaded with GarageBand, which is a fine alternative, and http://audacityteam.org/ offers their DAW, Audacity, as a free download!
An interface is any device that plugs into your computer’s USB port, and allows you to plug in a microphone or instrument. Most USB interfaces also double as a pre-amp, allowing you to adjust the EQ, tone and volume of the instrument you’re recording.
The most basic of these include the Lexicon Alpha, the MBox and the Line 6 POD Studio UX2. The higher-priced model will offer you a wider selection of EQs, compressors and limiters, which will make your audio cleaner sounding, but an affordable one will get you started NOW.
Portable recording refers to tracking that is done on an external workstation, which is not linked to a computer. Microphones and instruments are plugged directly into the device, and recorded to an internal memory or memory card. From here, many models now allow you to burn your finished work directly to a CD.
Some other portable options are multi-track cassette tape recorders, like the Fostex X12, which record directly onto a tape, which can then be removed and played in any tape deck, or handheld recorders, like the Zoom H4N. These handheld field recorders have high-quality microphones built directly into the body. These are ideal for capturing acoustic instruments, or live performances of bands.
Setting Up Your Home Recording Studio
Once you select your method of home recording, you’ll need these things:
- At least 1 microphone, to pick up your sound source
- Instrument cables; these are typically ¼” to ¼”, and eventually, you’re going to want to get as many as possible. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself unplugging the same ones every time you’re ready to record a new track.
- Microphone cables; these have a female XLR end, which plugs into the bottom of a microphone. The other end can either be a male XLR or a ¼”, depending on what your workstation will accept.
Extras for your home recording studio:
- A pop filter, to place in front of the microphone to prevent blasts of air from overloading it while you’re singing
- A compressor, to keep your loud sounds from being too loud, and your soft sounds from being too soft. You’ll run into this problem pretty soon after you start recording, and it could drive you crazy. (If you’re using a computer DAW, there’s probably a built-in plugin for this!)
- Nice studio-grade headphones or speakers. Your computer speakers will not give you an accurate representation of what your music sounds like. You’ll find that when you play a mix in your car, it will sound VERY different than it did on small speakers. This goes double if you’re using a laptop.
Plug in to your portable workstation or interface, and start recording things! You’ll probably have a hundred problems that will frustrate and confuse you, but work through them! Once you solve them, you’ll have a hundred solutions. More on that in my next blog.