If the next generation of musicians has their way, every chartbuster will get produced in the home. Modern recording studios are helping redefine the music production landscape. With the advent of the Internet and YouTube), artists are practically turning their bedrooms into studios. Laptops and computers are taking over from mixing consoles and traditional recording interfaces.
This is definitely making things a bit easier for many struggling songwriters and instrumentalists who work towards making ends meet, solely based on their music careers.
Recording songs, mixing and layering them is significantly cheaper – and easier – now. Gone are the days when everything was sent back to the physical console – you had to hear it, slice it and then get the final output. Everything can be done on the computer now – delete if you don’t like a section and even redo it. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why most of our favourite contemporary musicians don’t sound the same when they perform live.
Whether you are a solo performer or a novice, you can set up a decent studio and start recording at home. However, the setup will change depending on your interest and vocation.
- Vocalist: If you want to record your songs, you definitely need a good pair of condenser microphones which can be directly connected to the computer using a USB cable.
- Instrumentalist: You’ll need either a MIDI Interface or an instrument microphone. This, again, depends on the kind of instrument you play.
- Guitarist: You’ll need a microphone that suits the pitch and a DI Box which directly goes into the console, for a well-balanced output.
- Keyboardist: Along with with a pair of good microphones, you can add a MIDI Box which is similar to a controller working on the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital) interface.
- Drummer: You’ll need a drum machine or an acoustic drum-kit, but recording them can be a tad difficult. You will need the perfect environment where you can record in absolute silence.
The entire process of building a home recording studio is far easier and faster than most people might imagine. All you really need are a few key essentials.
- A computer: These days everyone already has a laptop and virtually all laptops are fast enough to at least get you started. The choice between Mac and PC depends upon which recording software is being used, and what the user is comfortable with. Sessions with more number of tracks are heavier in terms of processing, and will need faster processors, and more RAM, but you can get started with whatever computer you already have.
- A set of microphones: The type of microphones depends on your specific requirement. You could start-off with a good large diaphragm condenser microphone for vocal recording. Condenser microphones will give the necessary sensitivity to capture all nuances in the voice. For an acoustic instrument, a dedicated instrument microphone is advisable. For use with loud instruments such as guitar amplifiers, drum-kits, and so on, a dynamic instrument microphone with suitable clamping hardware will make it easier. For acoustic instruments like strings, guitars, or flutes, a small diaphragm condenser microphone with good SPL handling capacity will be required. For micing up a complete drumkit, you will need a drumset microphone kit which will include special microphones for the kick drum, snare, toms, and condenser microphones for overhead micing. This is a set standard across all studios these days. An enthusiastic percussionist can add a 5-microphone drum-kit to amplify the performance. This provides one microphone each for the bass and snare drums, two microphones for the toms and one for the cymbals.
- The software: A number of professional music recording software for both Windows and Mac are available nowadays. Each of them is specifically designed for particular recording tasks including general audio recording, music mixing, editing and much more. You can install Logic Pro X on your Mac, which offers you all the tools to create, edit and deliver the best music, if you are an inspiring musician or even if you record in a professional studio. Software like Nuendo, Protools can be used for more detailed multitrack editing, whereas Ableton Live, and Cubase would be more suitable for Music Production.
- Audio interface: An audio interface is connected to your computer and converts your analog sound into digital sound and vice versa. This is the unit that will allow your audio signal to be transferred from the source (your voice into a microphone) to the software. Most of the audio interfaces available today are USB based. The quality of the recording highly depends upon the interface a quality of the preamps. A high quality interface with low noise Mic Preamps, 24bit/96KHz A/D-D/A convertors and with digital In-outs like SPDIF, ADAT is highly recommended.
- MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) Controller: The most commonly used MIDI controllers are the electronic musical keyboard MIDI controllers and the wind controllers. It helps trigger sounds and control parameters of an electronic music performance. MIDI controllers of varied sizes are available in the market e.g. 49 Key, 61 Key, 88 Key etc. The model needs to be selected according to the number of octaves and other functionalities you may need.
- Acoustic treatment: All those background noises that you never really noticed before suddenly become painfully obvious when heard through a quality condenser microphone. To handle this, you can cover the walls with acoustically absorbent material. Choose from acoustic foam, egg-crate foam, heavy drapes, old towels or cardboard, depending on your budget. This will help absorb the sound, ensuring it does not reflect back into the microphones, thus producing a clean sound.
- Small space to set up a small mixing console or sound mixer: This doesn’t have to be an expensive set up – a small mixer can be connected through a USB interface back to your computer. It gives you a sound output in a portable, digital format. Most artists and famous sound recorders work with this type of a studio set-up. Today with mixers like Soundcraft Signature MTK series, one can easily setup a studio and do multi-track recording without an additional and separate audio interface.
These are the basics if you need to set up your own recording studio as a beginner. In fact, the entire kit is portable – you can dismantle it in a few hours, put each piece in your van and hit the road. It is like carrying your own studio and setting it up in multiple locations.
As you become more and more familiar with the equipment and your level of commitment and seriousness in the field increases, you can enhance your studio by adding few extra things.
- Monitoring: An important factor in the studio is how you monitor the audio. Based on the type of music you make and the type of monitor set up you wish to do – you can either go for headphones or studio monitors. In post-production recording studios, you can see artists using bulky headphones while performing – these are over-the-ear monitors which give them an unbiased reference point to their singing. Nowadays, this is also evolving and we have miniature in-ear headphones which are as good as over-the-ear headphones. People use in-ear monitoring both in the live and recording scenarios.
The headphones need to be studio grade, preferably reference grade with a good quality headphone amplifier driving it. Almost all the time, the headphone amplifier in the interface is sufficient to drive the headphones. In case of high impedance reference headphones, you may have to add an additional powerful headphone amplifier to drive them. Typical rooms for Music production are small, and a 5-inch studio monitor is usually sufficient for near field monitoring. A full range monitor with good stereo imaging and frequency response is desirable.
- Layering: Usually when you are putting together a song, you start with the drums as it helps you set the rhythm, tempo, timing etc. Then, you start layering it with different elements of the song – place the bass drum, then the lead guitar on top of it, followed by the keys or rhythm guitar special and finally the vocals are added. The procedure is quite easy today as you have the liberty to record each session separately, plug that into a GarageBand (bundled music production software on the Mac), see all the tracks, mix it, master it, edit it and you’re good to go.
Prashant Govindan is senior director for India and Sri Lanka for Harman Professional.
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