Cheap Recording Tips 3

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« on: May 23, 2011, 03:44:40 PM »
These posts are coming in a purge I know, but I just what to put down what I know before I forget!
If you read #1 and #2 you know the path I'm taking. We have our microphone, and we have hooked it up to the computer using an audio interface, and we've done it on a small budget.
But how do we record the damn thing?

Recording Software
To record more than 1 track and be able to edit your audio, add effects and the like, you are going to need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). You might've heard of Pro-Tools, Logic, Cubase or another commercial product. These are top of the range DAWs which do a lot and cost a lot.
But there are FREE DAWs out there, and some are excellent. So, remembering that we are on a budget, we are going to look at them.
Note: I am only familiar with windows, so will not be looking at Mac or Linux-specific DAWs, although there are plenty of them.

One of the more well known free Daws, audacity has been around for a while and is quite popular. However, it is poorly updated and has (imo) bad help pages.

What it does do
- Is completely FREE
- Multitrack recording, editing and playback. (Number of tracks only limited by memory).
- Lots of digital effects/plug is
- Some simple processing like noise removal, spectrum analysis and pitch change (with no effect on speed)
-unlimited undo

What it doesnt do
- While it can in theory support VST, you need a seperate plug-in to enable it and MIDI cannot be written, edited, nada. It can only be viewed. Big negative.
- Limited support and lots of bugs under Windows 7
- Doesnt support WMA, AAC or other protected formats (only a small negative)
- No dynamic equalizer, real time effects or 'scrubbing' support.
- User interface looks quite dated.

I have to confess, I have little experience with this DAW, so most of what I put is coming from other people...

What it does do
-Is completely FREE.
-Multitrack recording, editing and playback
-Fast, tiny program, with minimal RAM impact.
-Tracks limited only by RAM
-Very stark and elegant user interface
-Compatible with Linux, Macs and Windows

What it doesnt do
-Very stark and elegant user interface (some people complain about having to go to menus for everything)
- Limited built-in editing/effects capabilities
-Takes time to learn, especially for beginners (again, it seems the interface, while pretty is non-intuitive).

The big-boy of free(ish) software world. It is a wonder how they keep it free, so get it while it still is! Reaper comes with an uncrippled evaluation license (all features supported). They request that you purchase a full license after 30 days, but even then it is merely $40 for a single user (and no copy protection is suddenly activated anyway).

What it does do
-Is kind of FREE
-Multitrack recording, playback, editing
-MIDI writing and editing in the 'piano roll' style (like cubase if you are familiar with that)
-Full VST support
-Good automation features (automation is the control of parameters such as volume and panning through time)
-Very open-ended functions (lots of user control)
-Lots of effects and plugins
- The concept and interface is very familiar as it is line with that of commercial daws (Cubase et al)
-The number of times it is updated is phenomenal (ps your license covers most updates)

What it doesnt do
- Quite a steep learning curve compared to other DAWs due to its open endedness (you get thrown in at the deep end)
- Its open endeness means you could end up with ridiculously involved signal chains resulting in an unholy mess if you arent careful.
- No seperate audio editing window, and basic functions such as cut/paste are not intuitive.
- Technically not free (after 30 days)
- The introduction guide is good, but after that the help can be a bit sketchy.

There we have it for DAWs. Clearly Reaper appears to be the godfather of free daws (well, mostly free, with non-existent copy protection), and if I was forced to switch DAWs this would probably be my choice. As with all free things though, it is not perfect, the help being sketchy and it is not as slick as e.g. Cubase or have such advanced features as commerical DAWs. But this might not be a problem for most people.

If you are just interested in recording a few tracks with a microphone, then audacity or traverso is the way to go. If you want more complicated multitracking, perhaps with some MIDI/VST capabilities and stronger mixing capabilities, then choose Reaper.
If you have a bit of money and want something a bit more powerful, with great help, reliability and with more advanced features, take a look at 'lite' versions of commercial products such as Cubase Artist.
If you are rich, then by all means go for the full-blown product (I own cubase), but a word of warning:
You're software is only as good as your hardware. Spending you money on a good mic and audio interface and then picking up Reaper will give infinitely better results than blowing it all on Pro-tools and playing through the computer mic. Seriously, until your hardware is sorted, free software is all thats necessary.

Notice that I have not covered other free software such as plugins. Thats because you only want to use these in the mixing process and here I am concerned with tracking - getting the signal into the computer.

It seems now that we are pretty much ready to record, we have a mic which we can plug into our mixer/audio interface, which is hooked up to our computer running a nice DAW. Plus we have done it for ~£100-£200, which is pretty good.
But we arent done yet. There are still some tips and tricks to help ensure you have maxmized the tracking process and recorded the best signal possible. I'll look at that in the next post.