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I used CuBase LE that came with my interface as a starting point and was considering investing in the more robust version of the program...but then my son gave me an iMAC and Logic Pro 9 and I jumped into that! I sure loved the LE version I had though! Edward
If you've always wanted own a recording system but thought you couldn't afford it, we're here to tell you that your time has come. With the onset of Digital Audio Workstations, also known as DAWs, the cost of owning a high quality home recording system has dropped about 5-10x every 4 years. All together that's a total 100,000x less over the past 20 years. In fact today's basic home recording studio package, which cost less than $250 is more powerful and sophisticated than the recording studio where I first recorded back in 1986, which cost about $150,000.
As time marched on, the difference between who recorded and who did not has become more about knowing how to use the equipment, which these days is mostly software, than who could afford it. And if you know how to use a basic Word Processor and move files around on your computer, then you're 80% the way there. While we won't dive into the details of how to use a specific DAW, we will point you in the direction of some very inexpensive solutions that sound fantastic.
The first thing to know is that there are three parts to a typical DAW. First is the microphone or instrument, second is the hardware interface, and third is the computer with software installed on it. When putting these together the microphone converts an acoustic signal to an electronic signal, which is sent via a microphone cable to the hardware interface. Then the hardware interface conditions the electronic signal so that it can be converted into a digital signal and sent to the computer using a USB or Firewire cable. Once inside the computer, the digital signal is written onto the hard drive for playback, editing and mixing in the software. It's that simple.
Although learning how to connect hardware interface may take a little time, it only needs to be done once and then you're ready record. The software is where you'll spend the most time learning how to record, edit and mix. However the learning curve is really not that steep as moderate use of most software can be learned in a weekend. Furthermore, learning the software is most easily done using video tutorials. Time and time again, I've tried to read DAW manuals without getting brainstrain and a subsequent perplexed look on my face to no avail. I've always found that the best method to learning DAW software is to find and view the video tutorials for that software. The best part is that these video tutorials are just a quick Google search away.
Now with the basic concepts under our belt, let's look at some great quality recording systems that you can truly afford...
Microphone: MXL V63M Condenser Studio Microphone ($69)
Hardware Interface: MXL MXL USB Mic Mate Classic ($49)
Software: Reaper ($40) - http://www.reaper.fm/
Total = $158
Custom Selected - Super Inexpensive
The first one is based around the availability of a relatively new, but extremely stable and well-designed software package by the name of Reaper. Reaper is available for free and instant download at the Reaper website. While the download is free and the software is not crippled or time-limited, they do ask that you honor their request for a $40 license if you decide to use it for personal use. They also have professional licenses available for $150, which shows that this is serious software with full support for professional plugins and such. The next part of the system is the MXL-V63M microphone, a solid member of a new class of ultra low cost large diaphragm condenser microphones, which are used to capture crystal clear and silky smooth vocals. Then to tie it all together we suggest an MXL USB Mic Mate, which is a simple inline hardware interface to get the audio signal into your computer. While this hardware interface does not accommodate large variations of signal, with the careful and correct gain adjustments you can get a great sound. As a final note, this gear is just a starting place. As you continue to record you will likely upgrade each piece of gear and the great part is that the connection and interface between each piece is standard and can be interchanged and upgraded with new additions as you grow into your new hobby.
Hardware Interface: M-Audio Fast Track MKII USB Audio Interface - Includes Pro Tools So...
Microphone: MXL V63M Condenser Studio Microphone ($69)
Microphone Cable and Stand ($20) - ask Musician's Friend when ordering
Total = $208
Next we'll look at a bundled system where the hardware interface and software are sold as a package. M-Audio has been around for over 12 years making high quality and affordable gear. In fact they do this so well, that their main competitor Digidesign (now Avid) purchased and owns them. This system comes with the Pro Tools software package, which is the industry standard for most professional recording studios. However, don't let this make this the deciding factor as having a compatible system with pro studios only matters if you have the same plugins as the studio (software extension for mixing and mastering), which cost thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that anything you record on any system at home can be exported out of your software and into another software package using standard file formats, while maintain perfect sound quality. One of the great features of the M-Audio system over the previously mentioned system is the audio interface has a higher dynamic range, meaning that it will sound cleaner. As you can see we've mated the same mic to this system.
PreSonus 1Box Audiobox Collector's Edition Recording Bundle - With ...
Microphone Stand ($10)
Total = $229
PreSonus is one of my favorite brands in that they focus on the quality of the hardware interface and balance it with features and price. I'm hard pressed to find a better value than these guys and the 1Box proves this in spades. This is truly a bundled system in that it includes software, hardware interface, microphone and even a set of headphones, as you will need something other than your built in computer speakers to monitor your recordings.
PreSonus FP10 10x10 Firewire Interface (Firepod) ¹
As a last note, all of the above systems are for recording 1 or 2 channels simultaneously; as most home recordings capture one channel at a time, also know as overdubbing.
If you have a little more to spend, you should definitely check out their FP10 hardware interface ($399)...
The FP10 has 8 audio inputs for those who want or need to record a drumset or full band per "take."
We hope this gives you the information you need to take the dive and start recording your own music at home.
Now, that's a mic!!! Chris Issak recording recently at the original Sun Studios...
Read all about it here:
OK, checking my own list (I made a composite of short clips of many, so I can compare sort of average EQ curves), I see
Good Dog - Stephen Bennett
Ruby's Eyes - Tommy Emanuel
Eureka Hotel - Al Petteway
McGuire's Landing - Pete Huttlinger
Angelina - Tommy Emanuel
Le Chien Qui Toure - Pierre Bensusan
Bakerloo - Brooks Williams
Annan Waters - Tony McManus
Feiilles-O - Andy Sheppard
Aint Life Grand - Masa Sumide
Moon River - Ed Gerhard
That's a big list, but there's some variety there, so I can refer to them as appropriate for the tune. I was going for a range from slow and dramatic, big reverb, like Gerhard's Moon River to punchy driving stuff like Masa Sumide,
A while back it occurred to me that the person to ask about reference tracks was a mastering engineer. So I asked Cass Anawaty, a mastering engineer who is also a guitarist and has studied with Alex de Grassi. He's got a great ear, and heard stuff on the recording I did of Anton Emery that I still can't hear. His list of reference tracks was:
Billy McLaughlin - Dream Sketcher
Michael Hedges - Bensusan
Michael Hedges - The Unexpected Vistor
Steve Tibbets - The Big WInd
Will Ackerman - Unconditional
He clearly leans in the Windham Hill direction :-)
I have my own list, which I'll try to post later
I love Lonely Runs Both Ways
Alison Krauss and Union Station
As a great acoustic reference
When you are mixing and mastering a track, what is your favorite recording to use as a "Reference Recording"? This is usually a commercially produced recording that is well-engineered, sounds great, and probably is not too different in genre from what you are recording.
Example: in the olden days (late '60s, early '70s) I had a Blood Sweat and Tears tape that I made that sounded really good on all of my equipment. If someone brought in a system for evaluation, I would use that tape to get a feel for how well their system was performing.
Recently I am recording solo fingerstyle acoustic guitar, occasionally with vocals. I haven't found a good reference recording yet. Please share what works for you.
Encyclopedia of Home Recording: Signal Flow
Understanding signal flow can help you troubleshoot problems and get the best sound out of your gear. This post is a clear explanation and helpful overview of the topic from Mark Garrison’s book Encyclopedia of Home Recording.
“The Encyclopedia of Home Recording puts those answers at your fingertips quickly and easily by explaining the tools, techniques, and terminology of the home studio in an easy-to-understand manner.” This post is an extract from that book.
Signal flow is the path taken by an audio signal. Like water, audio signal flows in one direction. An example of a common signal flow would be from the output of a microphone, through the mic cable, to an input on a mixer’s channel strip, then from the output of the mixer to the input of an amplifier, and from the output of an amplifier to a speaker (see Fig. 87).
Troubleshooting becomes much easier with a solid grasp on how the signal is getting from its origin to its destination. In the example above, if no sound was coming out of the speaker, finding the problem would be a matter of following the signal path back to find where the signal stops. So, if the amplifier was not receiving any signal, but the mixer is definitely sending signal out, the problem is probably the cable that connects them. If the input of the mixer is receiving signal and there is no signal coming out of the mixer, the problem must be somewhere in the mixer (perhaps the channel is muted, or the volume turned down).
With a firm grasp of signal flow also comes the ability to use more complex routing. A more complex example of signal flow would be using one mixer to record and play back four tracks on a four-track recorder (see Fig. 88). In this situation the signal would start with four microphones, through the mic cables to four channels on the mixing board, those four channels are then routed to four separate outputs, which are connected to the four inputs of the recorder. To listen back, the four outputs from the recorder are run into four more channels on the mixer, which are assigned to a separate stereo buss. This buss combines the four channels into a stereo pair and sends them to the main outputs of the mixer, which are connected to an amplifier, which in turn is plugged into a pair of speakers.
In the above example, the manner in which the four input channels are run directly to the recording unit will vary depending on the mixing board. Some mixers have direct outputs on each channel for this specific purpose. When direct outputs are not available, unbalanced audio can be output through the insert or, as shown in Fig. 88, the channels can be run in pairs (panned hard left and right) to stereo busses. Either way, it is important to ensure that these channels are not assigned to the master buss.
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