From Wired How-To Wiki
With recent innovations in small, digital, and relatively cheap audio recording gear, setting up a home studio is easier than ever. While the technology that used to require very large monetary investments and large amounts of space to accommodate is still relevant and shouldn’t be overlooked for more professional projects, for simpler ones, much can be achieved through a few small investments, a little bit of know-how, and trial and error.
Home studios can exist anywhere, consisting of setups from a microphone and computer, to a multi-channel vintage counsel in a dedicated recording live room and control room. You can always start small and upgrade. For our purposes, we’ll be focusing on how to get started with the simplest system that will give you the best results, and move forward from there. The first part of this will focus on what you need and why, and later, we’ll take a quick look at how it all comes together.
If you want to capture any live audio, that is not simply loops, samples, or MIDI, you’ll need a microphone or two. There are two main classes of mics, and depending on what you’re planning on recording, one may be much better suited than the other.
These are relatively cheap, sturdy and very easy to use. A classic example of one of these is the Shure SM57, a workhorse in both live and studio sound. There are plenty of variations but most will be very similar in their use. They are generally best for very short-range and loud audio. They are most often used on snare drums or guitar amplifiers but can also lead to some interesting sounds when used on acoustic guitars.
This variety comes in all various shapes and sizes, and generally work more delicately. With a condenser, it will be possible to place one anywhere in a room and pick up every little creak and whisper, whereas the dynamic mic would only pick up the sound directly in front of and directed into it. It’s usually a good idea to have a nice condenser around for any acoustic instruments such as a guitar, as well as for vocals. Keep in mind, however, that because they’re more sensitive, they will tend to pick up more background noise, and you’ll need a quieter or nice sounding room to get the most out of them.
The physical space you’re recording in cannot be overlooked. Generally in home studios you’re limited to one of the rooms in your home or apartment. This is fine. You won’t benefit from the serious acoustic design that goes into professional studios, but there are techniques to improve the natural sound of any room. More hard surfaces and floors will create more reverb and “live” sound in your room. With more furniture and padding, carpeted floors, etc, some of the sound waves will be soaked up, refrained from bouncing around the room, and won’t make their way into your mics. Take the time to try different rooms in your space, moving around furniture or blankets, and also moving your mics into different positions. You’ll be able to hear how the reflections or lack thereof in your room affect the overall sound. And if you have access to both dynamic and condenser mics, keep in mind how they will be able to pick up less or more of that room tone respectively.
Pro tip: If possible, avoid windows and appliances. With a nice condenser, you’ll notice when any car passes by, or when your refrigerator hums just the slightest bit. Dynamic mics will also help alleviate this if all your rooms are flat-out noisy.
Computer and Software
You’ll want a computer with strong enough processing to run a solid audio recording program. As I mentioned in my article on how to Remix a Track, Logic has been and is still my preferred audio recording and editing program. However ProTools is equally as capable, and may come free with many interfaces. It is VERY important to learn how to properly master these programs. You’ll be using the plug ins to digitally control most of the variables that used to be controlled by outboard gear or analog consoles, such as EQ, Compression, Limiting, Reverb, Delay/Echo, or any number of other desirable effects, Chorus, Phasers, Stereo Images, etc. As you can imagine, it’s also very important to truly learn about and understand how and when these tools should be used, but the good news is that trial and error is a wonderful learning tool as well as proper instruction.
This piece of the puzzle is the key to any good home studio. It is what allows us to easily convert audio into a digital signal by simply plugging a microphone into one end, and either a USB or Firewire from there into a computer. Interfaces range from very affordable with only one or two channels (or inputs for microphones) to quite pricy and often having 8 or 16 inputs. Some offer fewer channels, but provide a better means of conversion (i.e. they may only allow two mics to be plugged in, but will sound better than some that offer 16 inputs). A good example of this is my interface of choice, the Apogee Duet. Of the half-dozen or so that I’ve worked with, this particular interface has a very nice sound, and is also quite aesthetically pleasing (something that you may not want to overlook given that this equipment will be in your home). As I mentioned earlier, SOME of these interfaces will come with recording software, so if you’re looking to minimize your investment, this may be something you’ll want to look out for. Another thing to note will be whether or not they have MIDI capability. The Apogee Duet for example doesn't, and to use MIDI you will need some other type of USB to MIDI interface.
It is crucial that you hear what you are actually recording. Unbeknownst to many, consumer stereo products and speakers often adjust frequencies in the sound to make music more exciting. Monitors however are designed to be incredibly accurate to the true audio signal — What you hear is what you get, essentially. They can come in the form of speakers as well as headphones, which may be more desirable if you have close neighbors.
Regardless of which direction you choose for your monitors, you will want some headphones as well so that as you add more and more layers or tracks to your recordings, you can play along and record along in time to what you have already recorded. You obviously only want the new sound going into the microphone, and headphones will allow you to hear what’s already in your song, but only make new sound in the room to be recorded.
Keyboards/Samplers and other MIDI Gear
In addition to live audio capturing, a lot can be achieved through keyboards or samplers that do not need to be recorded through microphones. They can often be plugged directly into your inputs or run in a MIDI mode. MIDI simply sends “control” signals to your software, where the sound is either synthesized or triggered as samples. These days most programs, especially Logic, will come with banks and banks of samples and MIDI instruments which will allow you to really flush out your arrangements with horns, strings, plenty of keyboard or synthesizer sounds, all being run through just a simple MIDI controller.
Putting it All Together
Now that you’ve got all the components, it's time to connect it all together (you’ll need XLR cables for the mics, 1/4” cables for your monitors or instruments, Firewire or USB depending on your interface, and MIDI cables if you’re using any MIDI gear). Also keep in mind that if your interface has more than one input, and you have more than one mic, you can place multiple mics on the same instrument. Perhaps you want to use one dynamic mic close to a set of bongo drums, but also want to place a sensitive condenser farther away as a Room Mic, in order to capture the way the bongos reverberate in the room. This will allow you to be more creative with how you start capturing audio.
At the end of the day, always trust your ears. If something sounds great, remember what you did to get that sound, and if it doesn’t, then try something else. Start moving mics, trying different ones, changing the angles and placement of instruments and mics, or how close how far you are etc. Doing this all the time actively as you work will always lead to the best results.
Original article by Ross Federman, AKA DJ Mr. F.
This page was last modified 17:26, 21 September 2011 by howto_admin.