Home Recording in a Nutshell....


Recording your music can be a very simple process or an extremely complicated one depending on your equipment, software and desire to spend the time.  Right here I am going to give you the down and dirty on how to get music into your computer.

First, you need a decent computer, either PC or Mac, Pentium 4 class or better, 2gb ram at least, 4 is better, a good size hard drive, 500gb minimum at 7200 rpm.  SATA would be the best choice.  Don't worry about the sound card because they are all crap anyway.

Second, you need an audio interface.  Either USB or Fire wire.  M-audio, Lexicon, Presonus and line 6 are just a few brands to consider.  This is basically your sound card but it has XLR inputs  for microphones, 1/4" inputs for guitars etc. instead just headphone and line-in jacks on your computers sound card.  Also, the quality is much better and they usually come with asio and WDM Drivers.

Third, you need recording software.  The above audio interfaces usually come bundled with a lite version of Cubase or Ableton Live.  The lite versions will be enough to get started but will lack the bells and whistles needed to refine your mix.  Full versions of Cakewalk Sonar X3 or Cubase, Ableton, M-Audio Pro Tools etc. will usually contain the tools needed to refine your mix like EQ, Compression, Reverb, Noise Gate etc.

Fourth, you will need a microphone or two.  I am not going to get into the pro's and con's of each microphone, that would be a book.  Study up and get the best you can afford.

At this point you will be able to record just about anything.  Your band, yourself playing your instrument or singing etc.  If you are a singer songwriter and just want to record yourself playing guitar or keyboard and singing, you are good to go.  If on the other hand you want to include other instruments in your mix but don't have the instruments or know how to play them, you can still record some great stuff with a midi controller.  some basic keyboard skills would help but you can get around that with some extra work.

So if you are adding a midi controller to record bass, drums, orchestra, world instruments etc. you are going to want a Soft Synth as opposed to the Microsoft Wave Table that comes with your computer.  Most of the recording software packages come with some soft synths so you may be OK,  but again, they are probably the lite versions and may not include all of the sounds you want.  You will pay for higher quality.  soft synths contain real instrument samples recorded using quality instruments.  The higher quality the instruments and recording equipment used, the more you will pay.  Just about everything you hear in the movies or TV as well as most popular recorded music has some synth in it.

Remember, Midi is not sound!  Midi is the information that tells a synthesizer what to play.  So the same midi file can sound very different depending on the quality of the synthesizer used.

So your computer is running, you have installed the drivers for your audio interface and it is plugged in and optionally you have installed the drivers for your midi controller and it is plugged in as well.  You are ready to record.

The first thing you need to do is set up the recording software so that it is recognizing your audio interface and midi controller.  Usually under midi options and audio options you will make these changes.

At this point you have your recording software up on the screen and you are ready to insert tracks.  If you used a template when you started it you may already have some audio and midi tracks ready to go.  If not just insert however many audio and/or midi tracks you plan on using.

Even though you identified the drivers in the setup of your recording software, you still may need to setup the inputs and outputs of each track.  When recording audio the input needs to match the audio interface device.  If the device is small and does not have many inputs it may default to that device.  I use a KB37 from Line 6 and it has many different inputs and outputs for audio as well as a midi controller all in one package.  In this case I have a software interface for the audio device where I select which microphone, line in or instrument jack I am recording on.  this is done independent of the recording software.  So if I am recording on mic 1 my track input would be mic 1 and my output would be to the Line 6 audio driver.

If I am recording midi using a soft synth called Rapture, my track midi output would be to Rapture and my audio output would be to the Line 6 Audio Driver.

When we set up to record audio you can usually look at the channel strip associated with the audio track you are recording on and see if the decibel meter is moving.  Test your mic or instrument before recording and make sure the sound level never exceeds 0db.  Try to keep it around -6db.  If you exceed 0db it is called clipping and the sound is bad and cannot be fixed.

At this point you are about ready to record, your levels are set, now it is time to arm the track for recording.  Usually you will click on a red dot on the track you are recording on.  When it lights up the track is ready for recording.  Now check your metronome settings.  If you want the metronome while recording, use headphones and make sure you have the track set up to pass through the sound during recording so that you hear yourself in the headphones while the metronome is playing.  Set the count in on the metronome for 1 or 2 measures, whatever makes you comfortable.  At this point you are ready to record.  The easiest way is to hit R on the keyboard, most software will recognize this.  Or you could use the mouse and click on the red recording button near the top of the screen, next to the play, rewind etc.