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Home Recording 101 by James Lissette

Posted by on 19 April 2011



I have always thought that after you learn to play your instrument and then played a gig or 2 then the next thing to do is record your music. Now if you are not fortunate to live in Palmerston North where we have cheap recording studios like the Stomach and the City Library (yes we have a studio in our library here) the cost of going into a studio can be a bit daunting.

Professional studios certainly have their place for people who want to go in, pay their money, play their song and get a CD … but for those of you that like to DIY and learn about the process … then it’s an amazingly fun and enjoyable ride.

What I am going to talk about here is the basics of what you need to set up a small and productive studio for yourself. Further blogs will advance and expand upon this. This one here is just a bit of an introduction and explains the basics of what you will need. Later on we will get into Mics and setups, monitors and headphones.

You can take over the garage, record on your bed or just have a small setup in a cupboard.

So what are you going to need?
Well to start with ... something to record onto. There are two main options, computer or digital recorder. There are a few keyboards that have multitrack recorders in them, but those features will be covered in a later keyboard blog.

Computer Based
These days 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be a computer. It's important to note that you will need a small degree of computer experience to begin with. Clicking, dragging, double clicking, right clicking, folders, copy, paste, delete - if you are familiar with all of them ... then you'll be almost set to go computer based.

Either an Apple (Mac) or a PC. There are endless debates about the merits of both, but in the end I think the most important thing is to find the computer that works for you. It’s important to make the computer and software package decisions BEFORE you purchase the computer.

Despite computer stores saying that their system will run just about everything … computer recording has some specific requirements and the newest, hottest, fastest PC on the planet … may not be ideal for recording.

So what to buy a laptop or a desktop? Well from my own experience if you want to move about a bit, you should buy a laptop. A laptop allows you make your studio portable, take it on holiday with you, or take it to the band room etc. The smaller screen can be a hassle sometimes and it pays to remember that a lot of laptops have slower speed drives than desktops. Desktops are the business for at home and if you want to separate the computer away from were you are making music so you don’t hear the fan noise or any hum etc from it. You can also have a large monitor (or two) with a desktop. I mostly use a laptop as I can take it to band practice and set up for gigs easy as, and I have found it suits what I do.

PC have the heritage of being cheaper and having cheaper, more expandable parts, however they also have the pedigree of operating system issues. A lot of these issues have been ironed out now and there are some very professional recordings being done on PC these days.

Mac, have been the solid workhouse of audio/video studios the world over. You have very little worry about whether your Mac will be compatible with the software – because 99% of the time, the answer is yes. Certainly anything you buy today will be excellent. As an Apple Authorised Reseller, we actually provide custom configured and installed Mac based recording packages which you can see on our website under the Packages section.

When you are researching your computer, one of the most important things to consider I reckon, is what software you are going to use and then get a computer to suit that. Check out programs like Pro Tools, Logic Audio, Record and Sonar. Most software comes with recommendations as to what processor and RAM it needs and it is very important to get a computer to suit this otherwise you will just get errors and a sore head from hitting the table in frustration. If you’re not sure, make sure you ask one of our staff before you purchase the computer to make sure that it will do what you want it to.

You will find once you start recording you can fill up a drive quick so get a big one and also a portable drive just for backing up. A 1TB (that’s 1000 GBs) drive is very cheap today and is becoming more common in computers.

Inputs / Outputs / Interfaces
The next thing to think about is what you want to record.

Is it just you and your accordion or do you want to record drums etc as well? Perhaps you want to record your whole band at once?

The reason to think about this is that the next most important thing to get is an interface. These connect to the computer via USB or Firewire. This is what you plug your mic and/or instrument into. To get an acceptable quality of sound, you can’t use the default MIC input on a computer. It also plays your music back out of the computer into headphones or speakers so you can play along with what you have recorded (this is what multitrack recording is). My good hint here is to think about how many inputs you need, two will suit most people but if you want to record a few things at once then get one with 8 inputs. Remember, that multitracking allows you to record many tracks alongside other tracks so you may be able to just use two.

The difference between 2 inputs and 8 inputs is a few hundred dollars, so it’s worth considering if you are working to a budget

Digital Recorder / Workstations Based
If you don’t want to go the way of the computer you can still get a good ol’ fashioned 4 track tapedeck but one of the best ways is to get a Boss BR digital recorder. There are a few models in the range to suit all needs ranging from models that record to flash media to models that record to a hard drive.. My personal fave is the Micro BR (4 track recorder with drum patterns and effects!!!).

BR 600
BR 900 CD
BR 1200 CD
BR 1600 CD
Click to enlarge

What these machines are is an all-in-one recording device with mic and instrument inputs and have a fantastic sound. The BR1600 features 8 mic inputs!!! They have effects and amplifier simulators in them and record to an internal hard drive like a computer does. Some of the larger models in the BR series have a built-in CD burner with mastering software which means you can go from playing to recording to mastering to burning a CD - on the unit. They are easy to use, as portable as a laptop and very creative.

Some models having drum and bass sequencers in them as well. This allows you to program up drum beats and bass lines (very useful if you don’t have a band). They have faders and are a very “hands on” machine.

Final Thoughts
So either a computer or a hard drive recorder are the main two options. These days we are almost spoilt for choice with options but this also means you are going to be sure to find what you want. After you have made your decision, the most important thing is to record as much as possible as this is the best way to learn but more on that later …


James Lissette is the Hi Tech Guy and Branch Manager at the Palmerston North Rockshop.

He has been making music and recording it for far too long. Starting out with a tapedeck he then got a 4 track reel to reel before progressing to using a computer.

Being a little over the top he has a rather large garage studio and has also taken over a room at home.