The Correct Mindset
On Home Recording
Recording an album from the comfort of one’s home can be an exciting and scary thought at first.
Some artists might think that the whole idea is ridiculous and unachievable. While others might think that if their heroes can do it easily, so can they.
Recording your own album requires that you embrace the project at a realistic level; it takes some work, work that might never have occurred to you. It requires preparation of your songs and yourself as a player. And it requires that you educate yourself on important topics that might seem overwhelming but are necessary to know.
So while rehearsing the music that will be recorded, really focus on things that can’t or are not worth changing after it’s recorded, such as: timing, time signatures, key signatures, tempo, and layering of rhythm and melodies.
Setting Your Goals
So They Can Be Achieved
Setting your goals in recording is important, since it motivates you to accomplish these goals at a realistic effort. You will want to set goals that can revolve around a schedule of your project; have a deadline you want to be finished and plan your pace of recording.
Remember recording a song is all about layering; multiple instruments taking care of different roles in the song, mainly rhythm and melody. So the more instruments you have, the more you have to think about what role they’re going to be assigned, and the time it will take to record them.
Usually, a 3-and-a-half minute rock song can be recorded within a day. The song usually will have an intro, 2 verses, 3 choruses, pre-choruses, bridge, and an outro. The instruments used in it usually can be: drums, bass, 2 rhythm guitars, 1 lead guitar, keyboards, and vocals. But it all depends on the complexity of the parts, the playing ability of the musicians, and how long the parts are.
So if you think that you or your bandmates can’t achieve the recording of your first song within a couple of days, then really take the time of structuring your song, memorizing parts to the point where you don’t even think about it.
Setting these types of goals will help you not be intimidated by the whole process and leave you room for enjoyment of the whole thing.
Obtaining The Materials
Without Having A Hole Burnt Into Your Wallet
With recording at home, there are some materials that you will HAVE to get, if you want to get a quality recording. These materials are: a recording interface/direct-in box, patch cords, Digital Audio Workstation (D.A.W.), and a microphone(s).
1. The recording interface is device that is the hub for all the input and output of your recording. This is where you’ll plug in your microphones or instruments, set their input levels, and also plugging it in to your computer where the input will be picked up by the Digital Audio Workstation (D.A.W.).
You can find a 2-channel, optical in interface for about $100 at your local music retailer.
2. Patch cords are essential if you’re doing any of your instruments directly into the interface; doing it this way without pre-amplification can risk losing a lot of the tonal quality and resonance of your instrument. But, these qualities can be compensated with the use of specific VST’s (Virtual Studio Technology), essentially they are audio plugins.
3. Digital Audio Workstation (D.A.W.), is basically, the recording software that you’ll use. This piece of software integrates with your recording interface to let you record things onto different tracks, and play them back, put on audio VST’s like EQ or compression, and edit the already recorded audio files real-time.
The completely free, bare-bones of this would be Audacity, but it’s not recommended and almost never used because of it’s significant limitations in recording possibilities.
I would recommend Reaper by Cockos. It contains everything needed to record, mix and master, and it only costs $60.
4. Microphones are how you pick up acoustic sound for your project. There are many different types of microphones and they are all good for different uses. The most common types you’ll encounter are dynamic, and condenser. Dynamic microphones usually are extremely durable, and can handle a wide frequency response. Because of this they are very good microphones for instrument amplification and percussion. Condensers are really good for things in the higher frequency range, such as vocals, acoustic guitars, percussion, and great for instrument amplification. Usually these microphones require an external source of power that usually can be provided by your interface.
A good dynamic microphone that is world-renowned is the Shure SM57. It’s only $100.
A good condenser microphone is the Audio Technica AT2020, and it as well is around $100.
Song Preparation And Scoring
Pen And Paper, Or Digital?
Planning your song(s) is essential for getting the most efficient use of your recording time. There are many ways to get your idea of your song, into your D.A.W., one of the ways that you can do this is to score your song in a scoring software, export it as a MIDI file and import it into your D.A.W. From there you can apply VSTi’s (Virtual instruments essentially) to your different tracks instead of recording real ones. There are advantages and disadvantages of doing this.
Or you can plug in your instruments, and record some scratch tracks to your song’s tempo, to layout the song in your D.A.W.
Some great FREE scoring softwares include MuseScore and Finale Notepad.
While these softwares are great for scoring, I don’t find that they are the easiest to understand as a new user and therefore, efficient in your use of time.
Guitar Pro is a fantastic scoring software, simply because it is extremely easy to use, and can score loads of different instruments. These instruments range from guitars, drums, percussion, voices, strings, and much more. Guitar Pro is only $60 on their website.
Once you have your song scored, you can export it as a MIDI file (basically a virtual interpretation of your whole song) and import it into your D.A.W. to make use of virtual instruments.
Virtual vs. Real Instruments
Some musicians prefer not to give in to using virtual instruments in their songs for a number of different reasons, mainly because people think they don’t sound realistic enough, and it’s too easy use them.
While conversely, a lot of musicians like using virtual instruments because they’re easy to use (most of the time), can save you money on purchasing equipment that would have to achieve the same instrumentation, and a lot of good, authentic virtual instruments that are relatively cheap.
Native Instruments’ Kontakt is a great sampler for use with drums, bass, concert instruments, and much more.
Toontrack has great sampler sets for drum kits, like EZDrummer or Superior Drummer, but can be quite expensive depending if you have the money.
So it is up to you whether you want to make the choice of using virtual or real instruments. Both offer great amount go possibilities for making great music.
If you are using real instruments, make sure they are all ready to go. With guitars, make sure you have new strings on that are slacked and tuned. Make sure your guitar sounds nice through a good amp, so you’ll know it will sound nice in your recording. For drums and percussion, make sure the heads are stretched and tuned well, and don’t cause any irritating vibrations and odd ambient noises.
Recording and Editing
With your favourite D.A.W., you can record your tracks onto one or more tracks simultaneously, as either mono or stereo tracks. With recording, this is the implementing stage. This is where your preparation will pay off as hopefully you will record your parts into your project with ease.
A great feature of D.A.W.’s is their use of punching in and out of select areas in your recording to correct any errors you made. The use of punching and out will depend on the D.A.W. you’re using. For example, Pro Tools’ might have a different punching feature than Cubase’s or Reaper’s.
As with most features of different D.A.W.’s., different functions will take different steps to use it.
Once you have all of your tracks recorded. You can move on to mixing, automation, and eventually mastering.
More Of An Art Than Most People Think
Mixing is a pivotal stage in the recording process. While there are some standards and techniques you should probably follow while mixing, a lot of the mixing stage is part of the art. This is when you can change the way things sound, how loud an instrument is, when the fade-ins/outs are, applying compression to a certain instrument, etc.
But ultimately, the most essential tool you will need to use correctly and constantly is:
It’s all up to how you or your bandmates think how your song sounds. If you’ve been mixing for a quite a lengthy period of time, take a quick second to really listen your current mix and/or get a second opinion.
If you don’t like how you’ve been making it sound, erase all your effects and such. Start over.
It is very easy to get carried away on the specifics on some sound, and ignore the effect it is having on the big picture. Always take time after your editing to see if the changes suit your song.
Here are some of the most common tools you’ll use while mixing. Remember that some are free, some are not:
-Modulation (i.e. phaser, tremolo, delay)
Brush up YouTube videos, or other resources to see how these tools work and can be used for your project.
Finalization and Export
Get Ready For Loud
Mastering is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the general public. While most people probably don’t know what it actually means in terms of music production.
Mastering is essentially applying some final dynamic compression, equalization, stereo enhancements, and raising the gain of the master track to as loud as it can be without clipping.
A big part of the mastering stage is maximizing. A maximizer is a type of limiter where an output threshold is set for the track not to clip above, and seeing how loud it can get before too much compression is applied.
In other words, seeing how loud the track can get without distorting.
Most D.A.W.’s have all the tools you’ll need to master:
You can search up how to operate these specific tools in your D.A.W.
However, if you’re planning on putting your song onto an audio CD, you’re going to need to use a ditherer.
If you have a ditherer, putting it on your master track and setting the bit rate to 16, will make it so your song can be burned to a CD and not have any pops or clicks in the output.
It does not change how your track sounds at all.
After you have done all of that, you can export your song as an MP3 if your D.A.W. has a built-in MP3 encoder. Most do, so you shouldn’t worry about it.
From exporting your song, you can now repeat the whole, painfully fun process of recording a song, for your whole album! With an album in hand, submit it to the internet, burn it to a CD and give it to your friends, or see if you can be signed with your new daunting, self-produced record.