Beginners Recording Guide
There are very few things as rewarding as recording your own song, sitting back at the end of the day and listening to a track that you created. And as well as being great fun, you also learn a whole lot about your own playing, listening back to yourself play exposes both the good and bad. It's a seriously great thing to do for your playing on so many levels.
A whole lot has changed since I first started recording using a little Tascam 4 track tape recorder, these days you can do amazing things with just a basic personal computer, things that were only available in an expensive recording studio only 20 years ago.
In this article I want to explain the basics, what sort of things you will need and work out a rough budget for you if you want to get started.
Why start recording?
There are many ways that getting into recordings will help you develop as a musician. I figured it might help inspire you to point out some things I can think of off the top of my head...
• If you play by yourself a lot it gives you a great creative outlet without the hassle of putting a band together.
• It will force you to play in time, and show you very obviously if you are not!
• It will allow you to record your own compositions and share them with friends or the world.
• You'll learn about layering guitar parts.
• You can make your own backing tracks to practice improvisations.
• Hearing back your improvisations will help you improve them.
• You'll develop a whole new skill set as a recording engineer!
• It's LOADS of fun!
• You'll have something to waste endless amounts of money on when you run out of guitars to buy :) ha ha
• Understanding how recordings are made will help you appreciate the great albums you already love!
I'll think of some more later ;)
For someone making their first venture into recording themselves, using a computer based system is the best idea. It is relatively easy to get started and editing is a breeze.
I would avoid any kind of "all-in-one" recording boxes, they're almost extinct now and for good reason; they are hard to edit on, you can't upgrade them as you progress, and sooner or later you will end up on a computer anyhow, so why not start there!
So the first thing you are going to need is a computer. The higher specifications you get the better track count you will get (how many different parts you can play at the same time) and the more effects (plug-ins) you will be able to run.
I am a Mac evangelist, and think that they are a far better computer in every respect, and for AV (Audio Visual) applications they rule. I have not been to a professional studio that does not run on Mac (yes I am sure there are some, but I have not been in one). That said there are many people that make great recordings on PC's, and you will be surprised how great a system you can run on even an old machine. So that old computer you have doing nothing - you can convert into a studio!
A Basic Sound Path
To get the most basic picture I just want to explain the path of the audio signal and then we'll talk about each bit.
Well it's gotta start somewhere. This is you singing or playing your guitar, beating a drum or whatever you want to record.
Microphone / Line In
The sound needs to get picked up somehow. This is usually done with a microphone, but you can also use a "Line In", for example plugging your guitar directly into an Audio Interface (see next). Microphones are essential if you want to record a vocal and acoustic guitar will usually sound better recorded with a microphone than plugging it in, so a microphone is an important purchase. We'll go more into the different types of mics and how to use them later.
Though some computers will have a built in soundcard, using an Audio Interface designed for recording musical instruments will always be easier to use and sound better than one designed for gaming and general use. You can spend a little or a lot depending on the features that you need. This will probably be your first purchase after you have decided on the software you will use. They come in different levels of audio quality and different numbers of inputs and outputs, and this is the unit that will take your real "analogue" signal and covert it to a digital stream that can then be fed into a computer. The AD (Analogue to Digital) and DA (Digital to Analogue) converters are very important, and it is these that get a lot better when you spend a little more!
Now the sound is in your computer and ready to be manipulated by some software (more on that in next article). The better spec computer you have the more tracks you can use, the more effects you can apply and the faster stuff will get done.
The signal will go back out the interface when you are playing your track to the...
Speakers / Headphones
Well you are going to have to hear it somehow! So the sound must go out some speakers or headphones for you to hear it.
So there's the path, in the next lesson we'll look at the gear you need to buy to make it happen!