Home Recording Buyers Guide
You’ve been playing and writing songs for a while, and you’ve decided that now is the time to start sharing your music with the world. Here's a handy guide to what equipment you'll need.
In the past, musicians had to go into a studio to record their work. They would either have to pay for this themselves or be signed to a record label. This is no longer the case. Home recording is on the rise all over the world. Even established bands are turning to home recording to get their music out there. This basic home studio buyers guide aims to help you make the right decisions when setting up your first home studio.
Home Studio vs Professional Recording Studio
Before you can record anything, you should decide if a home recording rig is an ideal choice for you and your purposes. Home recording is a cost-effective way to lay and improve upon your ideas. If you have never recorded anything before, there can, however, be a steep learning curve.
Learning how to get a mix right, how to mic up certain instruments, adding effects, isolating and eliminating noise can all take a while to master.
If you are looking for a top quality production sound, it is still possible to achieve that at home; assuming you are patient. A professional studio engineer has years of experience behind a recording desk. They should be able to identify and fix tonal errors. They will also be able to get a good mix, in a shorter period of time.
Learning to record is almost as complex as learning to play an instrument. It is easy to learn the basics but can take years of dedicated work and practice to perfect.
If you have that level of dedication and know that your first project will take longer to launch, then a home recording set-up could work for you.
Home Recording Buyers Guide
So, you’ve had an honest look at what it takes to record at home, and you’ve decided that home recording is the right choice to make. What next?
PC vs Stand Alone Units
Stand-alone units have been deemed obsolete. While basic dictaphones and cell phones can record, these will not produce the quality that is expected. All recording is done with computers nowadays. The requirements for PCs are always changing. If you are unsure whether or not your PC can handle what is required, just ask your salesman. Remember, the more intensive recording you want to do, the better your PC would need to be.
Soundcard & Inputs
Your PC has passed muster, and you are now you’re ready to start building up the gear you need. Where do you start? The Soundcard is the first piece of gear you will need to buy.
First things first; you need to determine what you going to record. Do you want to just record your guitar and some vocals, or do you have a full band that you need to record?
If you are just looking at laying down some basic tracks with your guitar, then a simple USB soundcard will do the trick. You could start with a basic two-channel USB sound card.
If you want to record a full band, then you would need a soundcard with more inputs.
A basic rule of thumb is to always take more inputs than you would need. It is better to have input channels that you never use than to only have two and end up needing four.
Most soundcards come with recording software. If you are just starting out, these “light” versions of the recording software will be good enough.
The light versions of the software often include all the basic effects that you need. In the long run, you will want to replace the light versions of the software for the more robust, full versions. The full versions offer more channels to work with, as well as more effects and samples.
Headphones are an important part of the recording process. While you are playing or singing, you should be wearing headphones. Headphones allow you to isolate what you are playing so that you can hear what you are playing better.
If you never practice with headphones on, listening to yourself at first can be disconcerting. Headphones tend to be unforgiving. They will highlight every mistake you make. This is good, though. Using headphones will show you your weaknesses and allow you to fix them.
Studio monitors are speakers designed specifically to be flat response. When listening to your recording, you want something with a neutral sound. This is vital to getting your mix right. If your speakers add colour or tone to the mix that doesn’t exist in the recording, you will compensate for that. This means that when people listen to your tracks they won’t necessarily hear what you want them to hear.
The size of the monitors makes a huge difference. Bigger is not always better. It is important that you get the right size monitors for the room that you are mixing in. If you are unsure about what size you need, speak to your salesman. They’ll be able to teach you about the placement and size that would be ideal for your purposes.
Now that you have your headphones and monitors sorted out, you have yourself a basic home studio. If all you wanted to record was electric instruments, all you would need is the soundcard, headphones, monitors, PC, software, your instrument and a song!
If however, you want to record acoustic instruments or vocals, keep reading.
There is a huge selection of microphones on the market, and they all have different purposes. You get mics for karaoke, for live use and for studio use. As far as studio mics go, you get vocal mics, instrument mics, overhead mics, drum mics. You name it, they exist!
Unfortunately, there is no “one mic suits all” option available. A good quality vocal mic, for example, would not be able to handle to punishment that a bass drum mic would be able to handle.
Different mics use different capsule designs and pick up sound in different ways. That is why it always uses the right mic for the job.
If you want to record vocals, get a vocal mic. For acoustic guitars or other acoustic instruments (that don’t have a pickup built in) get a good quality condenser mic. For drums, buy a drum kit mic set. Remember, to get the best sound from the drums, each drum and cymbal would ideally have its own mic.
Recording Drums vs Sampling
The easiest way to record drums now days is to have an electronic drum kit. You can get your drummer to record via midi, quantize everything to get the timing right. You can then fix what needs to be fixed and be done with it. But what if you don’t already have an electronic drumkit?
Sampling drums is cheaper since you don’t need to buy more microphones. If you have a basic idea of how to program drums, it can even be easier. You can use midi, get a great sounding drum pack and be sure to get some huge drum tones.
Recording an acoustic drumkit can be a pain. First, you need to ensure that the recording levels are right over all the microphones. Then you need to have a drummer who can play to a click since you can’t fix bad timing in an audio recording. You can, but you would need to re-record the entire track, or do a drop in, and record a section. This can take a long time.
The payoff of recording acoustic drums as opposed to sampling the drums is that recorded drums will always be more musical. They will have a less robotic feel and will have a playing nuance unique to your drummer.
A Checklist of the Basics
- Laptop or PC
- Recording Software
- Studio Monitors
This is all you would need for a basic home studio. As you get more into recording, you can grow your inventory.
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