Loads of you have asked us about recording at home, setting up a bedroom studio and then getting the most out of your gear.
So where do you start?
We quizzed Pat Gradwell, Hull musician and sound engineer who's currently running the recording studios at Hull College of Further Education. So let's get down to it and get technical. Over to you Pat....
Jamie T started out at home
"As technology has advanced, audio recording has become available at a very reasonable price. Whether it is as a serious music producer, sound engineer, musician, DJ or simply a hobbyist, the possibilities for DIY music production are broad and appealing to most realistic budgets.
Digital sound recording utilising PC and Mac systems have revolutionised music production in much the same way as digital imagery has impacted photography, and this is what will be concentrated on here. There are now many software packages such as Cubase (approx £500), Cakewalk (approx £500), Fruity Loops (approx £470), Nuendo (approx £800) and many others. There is also hardware based systems of which the most widely used is Digidesign’s ProTools equipment, commonly acknowledged as the industry leader. You will find that different people prefer different programs – it all depends on what music you’re recording and what you’re used to. The best thing to do is consider what it is you will be recording and buy accordingly. If you are looking at mixing samples and creating loops, then it may be that a system such as Cubase more than satisfies your requirements. A full band, however, would probably prefer a ProTools or Nuendo setup.
Whatever software/hardware you choose, you will still need some basics. Bear in mind that you do indeed ‘get what you pay for’.
The microphone is the most obvious way of picking up sound signals for recording. Manufacturers design microphones for specific applications and to pick up particular frequencies, so it is worth doing some homework on technical aspects in order to pick the most versatile options.
There are two main types of microphone that you will commonly use for recording music. The first is known as a condenser or capacitor mic and is commonly used for vocals, acoustic instruments and ambience. You should be able to find good quality condenser mics for around £100 (the AKG C1000 is a well established example), although you can literally pay thousands of pounds for the elite models.
The second common microphone type is known as the dynamic mic. These are more robust and are used for close miking of instruments, amplifiers and drums. The industry standard Shure SM57 is a good example (approx £70). Sennheiser also make excellent dynamic microphones for prices staring at around £50.
There are other varieties of microphone available such as ribbon and valve mics, but these are generally more expensive and much less common that dynamic or condensers.
Home studio set up
The purpose of the missing desk is to control the various parameters of audio signal going from the sound source (microphone or instrument) into the audio storage facility (PC, Mac, other hard disk recorder, or even tape).
There are literally hundreds of models to choose from, so it is essential that you do some research before buying. It makes sense to have at least 12 channels on your desk as any less will probably cause problems – you will need at least 8 to fully record a drum kit. There are models with built in effects such as reverbs, delays and chorus, but most of these are added to recordings during mixing so they are largely unnecessary.
There are some very affordable analogue and digital desks on the market. Behringer make some good quality cheap 12 input models starting at around £250. much like microphones, you can spend thousands of pounds on a mixing desk that will incorporate everything you need (Digidesign’s Pro Tools HD Control 24 is a good example of a high end desk).
Your computer workstation is the destination of the signal that has gone through your mixing desk from your sound source. As well as being a storage facility for your recordings, it also acts as an editing and mixing station when equipped with the appropriate software/hardware as mentioned above.
Without getting into the age old argument about which is better, here are some basic facts about PC’s and Mac’s. PC’s are more widely available and generally cheaper, but will require more time in tweaking it in order for it to run smoothly in a recording environment. Mac’s are more stable and are therefore the preferred choice for audio recording by most studios – basically; Mac’s tend to be more reliable and don’t crash. As far as applications go, the two are pretty much the same and it really is best left to others to argue over which the better option is.
For a home studio your computer will need to have some minimum requirements:
• 1gz processor. Audio recording is very heavy on processing power and you really will need some muscle in this area.
• 512k RAM.
• CDROM drive (obviously).
• Firewire interface.
• 80+ gigabyte hard drive. Music tracks, or WAV files, soon build up so you will need a lot of storage space.
Bear in mind that these are MINIMUM requirements, and you may well find guidebooks that recommend higher specifications than these.
You will obviously need to listen to the sounds you are recording, so monitors are on the list too. Unlike stereo speakers, which ‘colour’ sound in order for the music to sound more appealing to the ear, studio monitors give a true representation of the sound as it is recorded. This makes them, generally, more expensive than standard hifi speakers. You will probably have to buy active monitors (powered speakers) in order to get the quality you will need for a good quality sound and you can expect to pay a minimum of around £200 for these.
There are lots of general accessories that are needed too. Things like microphone stands (‘boom’ stands), good quality headphones (expect to pay £50+ for some studio standard headphones), XLR cables (microphone cables – you’ll need quite a few!), jack to jack cables, pop shield and CD’s are just a few things that you will need to buy.
Finally, the most important thing is to research. Get hold of a few books on general sound recording techniques. There are some excellent magazines on the subject that are full of hints and tips by working engineers and producers. It may seem daunting at first, but you’ll soon pick up on the buzzwords and lingo (Sound on Sound magazine is an excellent place to start)
Check out some internet sites too. Here are some good ones:
Some scientific study will also reap rewards. You will find that a basic knowledge of physics relating to audio will help you to understand how everything works and save you a lot of headaches when dealing with problem frequencies in mixing.
Some words of warning:
• Copied or ‘cracked’ software may appear to be readily available at a fraction of the cost of the real thing, offering a bargain to the beginner. Apart from the fact that such software is illegal, it is also very likely to be unstable and unreliable. It is likely to completely shut down in the middle of a session or cause serious damage to your PC or Apple Mac. Investing in the genuine article is a much wiser choice!
• Think of others who may be affected by your sessions. Laying down drum tracks in your bedroom may be a great night in for you and your band, but neighbours are less likely to share your enthusiasm if you haven’t checked with them first."
Phew! Lots to think about then. Cheers to Pat Gradwell for giving his views and if you're setting up a home studio, tell us how you get on.