Cheap Recording Tips

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Ramshackles

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« on: May 23, 2011, 08:36:12 AM »
Ive been encouraged to write this partly because of the sometimes varying quality in the production of songs in the reviews forum.
- 'This is a songwriting forum, not recording/Why bother?' - I would argue that a well produced song gives a much easier foundation to get your ideas across and improve the clarity of your work, making it a better experience for the listener. The production can really affect peoples judgement of your songwriting (imo at least).

- 'But studios are expensive to use, it must cost loads to get even close in my bedroom'. Wrong, while studios are acoustically treated and have top of the range gear, really the major benefit you get for your money is a professional to engineer and mix your songs and a nice environment in which to work. Recording can be into 3 parts - tracking, mixing and mastering.
Im gonna deal with tracking (where you actually record your instruments/sounds), as I think this the area where it is easiest to make huge improvements for little cash. So lets talk about equipment.

Sound card + Mixers
Im assuming that most people are recording into computers. A Sound card/Analog-Digital converter and subsequent mixer are essential bits of equipment. If you are recording straight into the computers 'mic' input, stop now. The built in audio just cannot cut it.
The cheapest option is to get an analog-digital converter and a little mixer. Something like the behringer u-control can convert analog signals to 44.1 KHz, 16 bit digital signals and costs about £20
http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/UCA202.aspx

A word of warning with this is its fairly high latency. The input is RCA and there is no volume control, so you will need some kind of mixer. When I started I bought a phonic MM1002 mixer off ebay for £16. I still use it and it is great for track by track recording. Recently I have been considering upgrading to a slightly better mixer (http://www.thomann.de/gb/behringer_xenyx_1204_usb.htm) but at closer to £100 this requires a lot of weighing up!

Moving up slightly in price, but sticking with the same mixer/sound card format, we come to the PCI/built in sound cards, such as the M-Audio Audiophile 2496. More pricey at ~£70, but GREAT value for money. Again, it is an RCA input for audio, with no external volume control, so you will need some kind of mixer/pre amp to get the audio into it. But, it delivers ultra low latency (no delay), variable sample rates up to 96 KHz and 32 bit, and MIDI input. EMU also make a comparable card for £50, which also comes with bundled software (http://www.thomann.de/gb/emu_0404_digital_audio_system.htm).

All-in-one options
There are a large number of audio interfaces specifically designed for recording. These are basically a/d converters with a volume control and mic/jack inputs. The most well known is the M-Audio fast track series, which starts at about £55 and increases in price as the number of inputs and knobs gets more. It usually comes with bundled software
http://www.thomann.de/gb/maudio_essential_recording_studio.htm
Miditech produce something similar for cheaper - http://www.thomann.de/gb/miditech_audiolink_ii.htm, which has a single mic input with phantom power - great if you just wanna record acoustic and voice.
For a little more, you can get a mixer which outputs digital to usb, which is a versatile option - ALESIS MULTIMIX 4 USB


So there you go - make sure the signal going into your pc is the true signal, and do it for as little as £50 (or less if you are crafty). A few days busking and you are there.
Apologies if all the thomann links make it seem like an advert, its not, thats just where I shop and its good to show the options :P
IMO this is really an essential part of making a recording, even if you just want to showcase you songwriting, and many people shy away from it because they either think it is expensive or dont know which of the huge number of options is the right one.

My main tip is - all audio interfaces or a/d converters will output a sample rate and bit rate that is good enough for recording, so dont worry about that, and dont be tempted to pay £50 more because you can get 96 khz instead of 48 khz (you wont notice the difference).
Pay attention to the inputs (what kind of inputs do you need and how many) and the latency (although again, this is less of a problem with most options now).

In the next post I think Ill look at cheap mics and preamps, then move onto free software, and finally a few tips about getting the tracking right.

Hope its helpful!

tone

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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2011, 09:40:07 AM »
Excellent, excellent advice, Ramshackles. I'm looking forward to part 2 :)
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gibsona07

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« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2011, 10:12:53 AM »
Thank you very much for these tips, I've looked into these bits and bobs before but never had the confidence to purchase any of them. I shall do so now! ;D

Many a great album has been recorded simply in a bedroom! (*cough* White Stripes second record *cough*)

massa

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« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2011, 10:41:45 AM »
Thank you very much for these tips, I've looked into these bits and bobs before but never had the confidence to purchase any of them. I shall do so now! ;D

Hurray, maybe your recordings will finally sound tolerable.

Ramshackles

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« Reply #4 on: May 23, 2011, 12:29:10 PM »
Thank you very much for these tips, I've looked into these bits and bobs before but never had the confidence to purchase any of them. I shall do so now! ;D

Hurray, maybe your recordings will finally sound tolerable.

lols. I really think there are increasingly becoming less and less excuses for not having decent sounding recordings (production wise). Im not talking about robo-engineered mega recordings, but recordings that sound decent to the listen and would be of good enough quality for bloggers to review them, local radio to play etc etc.
There are some great songwriters who are held back cos they dont know how to record properly and they *think* that it is too expensive or requires years of courses etc.
It doesnt. A week or two of working at macdonalds would get you enough money to get a good setup.