"Put together a home recording studio? How can I afford that?"

Well, even when times are hard, you can record yourself for very little money. I’ll describe a few home-studio setups at various price points. You may be surprised how little it costs to get started recording.


Last time we looked at a portable stereo recorder system (about $370). Let’s move on.


Free Recording Software System (about $300)


This is the cheapest way to record if you already have a computer. You’ll need to spend some time learning how to use some recording software. You can get a more "commercial" sound with this multitrack method than you can with a stereo recorder. For example, you can mike closer for a tight sound, add EQ and effects, and perfect the mix after the recording is done.



Gear examples:


Apple GarageBand (Editor’s Note: GarageBand is part of Apple’s iLife software package which is included on all new Mac purchases otherwise can be purchased from Apple) or Audacity’s cross platform, Mac OS X, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista and Linux/Unix recording software 


USB microphone such as Audio-Technica AT2020 USB  (MSRP $249.00) or Samson C01U (MSRP $150).  Another option is a large-diaphragm condenser mic ($100) plus a USB-mic interface (MXL Mic Mate Classic, (MSRP $99.00), or CEntrance MicPort Pro, $150). Headphones or good computer speakers ($50 – $150). Optional: Direct box (ART Zdirect, $26, or Tapco DB-1P, $40).


To record a singer-songwriter demo: If you sing and play at the same time, place the mic as described under "Portable stereo recorder system" last issue. For better sound, record your instrument first, then overdub your vocal. Start by placing the guitar mic 8 inches from where the fingerboard joins the guitar body, and experiment with different placements and distances. Place the piano mic 1 foot over the middle hammers at first, then try other placements. Put the vocal mic about 8 inches from your mouth at nose height to prevent breath pops (or use a $20 hoop pop filter). 


If you play an electronic keyboard, plug its audio output into your sound card line input using an adapter cable. Some keyboards have a USB or MIDI connector so you can record it via USB or MIDI. That tends to sound better than recording into a low-cost sound card.


To record a band demo: Since you have just one mic, you’ll need to record one instrument at a time. You might use your band’s PA mics if they sound good enough. Here are some suggested techniques:


Bass: Record direct off the bass using a direct box or guitar-to-USB interface.


Drums: Mount the mic overhead near the drummer’s forehead. Or try a small omni mic 4 inches above the snare rim, over the drummer’s right knee. Overdub the kick drum if necessary.


Piano, acoustic guitar, vocals: See "Portable stereo recorder system" last issue.


Electric guitar: Mike about one inch from a speaker cone, slightly off-center.


Fiddle, mandolin, banjo, etc: Mike about 8 to 12 inches from an f-hole or from the edge of the banjo head.


What sacrifices do you make at this price level? You can’t record an entire band at once, so the recording process is time consuming. You’ll need to overdub each instrument separately while the musician wears headphones plugged into the sound card or audio interface. The sound will be only as good as the low-cost mic can provide. A built-in computer sound card tends to be much noiser than a separate audio interface.


For more info on recording including books by Bruce Bartlett ("Practical Recording Techniques 5th Edition" and "Recording Music On Location") as well Mastering Services, please stop by Bruce’s website: Bartlett Recording

Originally posted 2009-03-02 01:44:01.