Whether you’re an aspiring solo musician or a hot off the press rock band, I can assume that at some point you are going to be looking into recording your music. Over the years this has been something that is typically done in a state of the art recording studio. However, in recent years, due to an increase in the amount of music technology available as well as a huge dip in the price of this technology, it’s now easier than ever to professionally record your music from home.
Now depending on what you want to record, a professional studio can, at times, offer a better end result based on the amount of time and money spent there to design an ideal recording environment but there’s nothing to say with the right set up and attention to detail, you cant get the same results from your bedroom.
The first thing that you’re going to need, as with most things in the 21st Century, is a computer. This can be a desktop computer or a laptop. PC or Mac. The computer you use will affect other parts of this set up in terms of software but when you are just starting out, anything will do. Obviously, computers with higher quality specs can offer an easier time when recording but you can work with almost anything.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
The next thing you will need is some software to record and edit your music with. There are many, many choices of DAWs out there but some of the most popular ones include Logic Pro, Pro Tools and GarageBand. Some of these programs are totally free but most come with a price. These prices do vary a lot so it’s important to work out which DAW you really need for what you are doing.
For a number of years, Pro Tools has been seen as the “industry standard” DAW for audio recording and mixing. It’s available on both Mac and PC but does come with a hefty price tag. It’s a very time efficient and handy piece of software when you know what you are doing but it does offer a very confusing and scary looking interface to new users so if you are just starting out, you may want to look elsewhere.
Logic Pro and GarageBand are both Mac only DAWs so if you are planning on using a PC, these will not work. However, if you do own a Mac, these are both very user-friendly and both have their own plus points. Logic’s being that it is not only a great piece of software for recording, its great for MIDI sequencing if you ever wanted to get into that side of music. Garageband’s main plus point is that it’s totally free for mac users. It’s also very basic compared to the other DAW’s mentioned but can still get the job done so I would recommend this as a starting point to anyone who’s a bit bewildered by confusing computer software.
It’s definitely worth checking out some more in-depth DAW reviews if you are unsure of which one to go for but I feel that it’s always good to try out a free piece of software first to get your head around things.
Now you’ve got your computer set up and your chosen software installed, you’re going to need something to record your music with. This is where the age-old invention of the microphone comes in. Something that a lot of people will not know is that all microphones are not the same in the way that they capture sound. You would assume that the microphone just picks up any sound going in which is true to an extent but there are a lot of different ways in which the sound can be picked up and therefore a lot of different microphones.
Depending on the quality of sound you are looking to achieve, it may be necessary to splash out on a range of different microphones to cover all of your recording needs but in theory, you could just use one basic microphone for everything and then improve the quality (slightly) when mixing in your DAW. This method will work a lot better if you record your tracks one at a time.
For example if you wanted to record yourself playing acoustic guitar and singing at the same time, it would be wise to record the guitar first and then record your vocals over the top as you will end up with a much clearer recording, making mixing a lot easier and in turn, improving the quality of your end product. This method of laying down tracks is usually what goes down in a professional studio.
The only problems you may run into when using only one mic is if you’re looking to record something with a lot of different parts, such as drums. As there are so many different parts of a drum kit, all producing very different but equally important sounds, at different amplitudes, it’s very difficult to capture a good drum sound with one mic. This is something you may want to consider when building your set up.
The next step is to bridge the connection between your microphones and your computer. An audio interface is a device that you use to connect your microphones to and set the levels at which your DAW is inputting up the sound. The interface is designed to take the analogue signal coming from your sound source and convert it into a digital signal to be used and manipulated within your computer.
Interfaces come in a number of shapes and sizes and more importantly, with a number of different inputs. Inputs correspond to the number of microphones you are using to record at any one time and will come in the form of XLR (most microphones) and ¼” TRS (guitar lead). This means that if you have opted to use just one microphone, a basic singular input interface will suffice. However, as I mentioned, if you are looking to professionally record a drum kit you will need a large number of microphones and this means that you will have to look around for a larger interface.
Without this piece of kit, your microphones would be rendered useless for digital recording. One exception to this is a USB microphone but I would still recommend the traditional set up we have discussed. Most interfaces are connected to your computer via USB and should all come with a cable to make this connection.
Headphones / Monitors
You’ve now got everything that you need to record your music. However, you’re also going to need a set of headphones and a set of monitor speakers. I would always recommend a good set of studio monitors over any normal everyday speakers due to their superior sound quality and more importantly, frequency response.
This is incredibly important when listening back and mixing your music as you can hear a true representation of your sound. I’m sure most people would agree that listening to music on your hi-fi is better than listening on your phone. Well, studio monitors are the next step up.
High-quality monitors will definitely improve the quality of your mix (and your life) but they are not “essential” to your set up if you’re looking to produce your own music on a budget. However, a set of headphones are critical when recording as you will need a way of monitoring your project that won’t be picked up by your microphone when laying down tracks. Say that you’ve recorded your guitar track and you now want to record your vocals on top of this. You need to listen back to your guitar as you sing but if you do this via speakers, your microphone will pick this up and ruin your mix. For this reason, it’s important to use a set of headphones, preferably of studio quality.
This next step is something for people who have shopped for their set up with quality in mind and want to take their home recordings to the next level. You could have the best sound recording equipment in the world but if you record a drum kit in a cupboard, you’re going to get a poor sound.
Professional recording studios are designed down to the very last detail to be the perfect recording environment. Everything from the shape of the room to the material of the floor and walls is considered when designing a studio. This is all done in the hope of removing the natural reverb of the room within your recordings so that a more controlled, and clean sound can be achieved.
For most people, altering the shape of your room is not an option but nevertheless, a few less costly things can be done to improve your recording space. The most important thing to consider is that you want to minimize the reflection of sound around your room. A sound will travel from the source directly to the microphone but will also travel from the source to walls and other surfaces where it will bounce off and then travel to the microphone.
Using acoustic panels and bass traps are the way to go for a home studio. Acoustic panels are designed to hang on walls and absorb sound to prevent it from reflecting against parallel walls. Bass traps are placed in the corners where a lot of sound reflection can occur and they and do exactly what they say on the tin.
Go and Record!
While all of this equipment may sound very expensive, which it can be, you will find that in the long run you can save yourself an awful lot of money and gain an awful lot of experience by recording at home. Recording studios are very expensive places to be and while you may need to use them in some circumstances, the development of technology has removed them as a compulsory way of recording. Whatever set up you decide to buy, have fun on your recording journey.