Trying to set up a home studio...
June 4, 2009 7:00 PM   Subscribe

A few quick questions about home music recording, including gear and technique...

So I'm in a group that wants to experiment with recording some stuff (Christian praise band) and although I know a little bit about the process, I have a few questions.

First, a recording interface: We have 6 total audio sources that we'll want to record--2 guitars, 2 vocalists, a bass, and drums. However, it's my understanding that it's very uncommon to record everything at once anyway, so we can probably use maybe a 4-input recording interface, right? I was thinking something like the Presonus Firebox, which has 2 XLR's, 2 instrument-level inputs, MIDI and SPDIF. It also comes with Cubase, which seems like a huge plus starting out.

Second, what's standard practice as far as recording procedure? Do we record everything at once? One instrument at a time? The methodical engineer side of me says to record one thing at a time for simplicity's sake, but the musician in me says that it's going to be kind of frustrating for each person to play their part individually with only headphones to play along with. Is it standard to have the whole band play, and only record one or two instruments at a time? Or should most musicians expect to have to play alone in a studio situation? I honestly have no idea how this is supposed to work.

Any help would be greatly appreciated--basically, I'm looking for general advice about home studio recording, both in equipment and procedure. Thanks all!
posted by DMan to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I asked this question a couple of weeks ago that you might find interesting.

As for your specific questions: We usually record one instrument at a time, but it's mostly because we aren't quite cohesive enough to play as a full band. Some of the greatest albums in history were recorded in one sitting, whole band right there in the room, playing and improvising. Think, Blonde On Blonde, Kind of Blue, and many others. On the other hand, recording one track at a time certainly has it's place in rock history too (e.g., Sgt. Pepper).

So, I think the answer is that it just depends on what kind of sound you want to get, and what your skill levels are. This is just me talking, but it seems to me that recording all at once results in a bit less formal sound. Things aren't quite as crisp, and there's a realness and a wildness there that can't be duplicated when recording on tracks.

Good luck.
posted by crapples at 8:26 PM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's nice to be able to record everything "live off the floor" - that is, with the whole band playing together. Often the only tracks used from the first take are the drums - the rest are considered "scratch tracks", but it is not unheard of to use the other instruments from this take as well. This approach is often used to help the band feed off of each other in order to get a more natural sound.

I think you should aim for more inputs - I'd say 8 as a minimum. I use a MOTO 828 MkII coupled with a Behrenger ADAT interface for a total of 16 tracks live at once (I don't often use more than the 8 on the MOTU though)

You may be underestimating the requirements of micing acoustic drums - I usually have a mike on each drum and at least a pair of overheads - this often gives me 8 inputs just for the drums. You can get decent results (and many people have) with one or two carefully placed mics, but it's nice to have the option of adjusting your levels in the mixdown process instead.
posted by davey_darling at 8:26 PM on June 4, 2009

Response by poster: Davey: I've done the "one carefully placed mic" before for live recordings, but for this situation I'll probably be using an electric drumset--I'll take a hit in sound quality but it's the easiest thing in the world to record and will work great for now. So I just need 1 input for the drums.
posted by DMan at 8:34 PM on June 4, 2009

For a conventional band recording through mics, far more important than what audio interface you have is the quality of the "room sound" where you are recording. You will probably need to deaden reflections off the walls and isolate your instruments using baffles, at the very least. If you are being cheap you can use mattresses and hang blankets and shit.

If you are just fucking around recording some demos, get a four track recorder and a couple of mics - I'd recommend a couple of Audix i5's and one of the cheaper Røde's. Or just get SM57's used off of ebay.

First, record the drums, with the overhead hanging above the kit and the other mics on the snare, kick and maybe hihats, or position the last one to taste (experiment). Bounce all those tracks down to one track. With your remaining three tracks, put a mic near the lead guitar's cab for one, a DI from the lead guitar's amp on the second track, and a DI from the rhythm guitar's amp on the third. Record those and bounce them down to one track. Now you have two tracks left. Record vocals on your two tracks, and bounce them down to one, then record bass on the final track. Now you've used the equivalent of 10 tracks.
posted by Spacelegoman at 9:50 PM on June 4, 2009

Korg D-888 Hard Disk recorder. Records 8 simulteneous inputs, with 1/4" or lo-z jacks.

Purchase 2 condenser mics of the same type, 2-SM 58's for the vocals, 2 SM-57's for the guitars, 2 AKG D-112 mics for the bass and bass drum. Everybody's in charge of buying their own. You'll need 4 low mic stands and 2 regular mic stands.Obviously, you'll need 8 mic cords. I'm assuming you have a PA.

Each vocalist runs a line into the PA, 1 line out to the board/recorder. Drums has R/L condenser mics well above the kit and a D-112 in front of the bass drum (have a hole in the front head). Each guitar amp gets an SM-57. Bass amp gets a D-112 as well.

You can download the output as .wav files and convert to .mp3 or other format.

That's how I'd do it.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2009

Ironmouth mentioned a whole bunch of things I'd assumed were self-evident, but probably weren't, like mic stands... on the other hand, his mics (which are all solid) and the D-888 will run you over $1.5k... you might as well just go into a local studio for that kind of cash!
posted by Spacelegoman at 11:18 PM on June 4, 2009

The world has moved on from 4-track tapes and 8-track hard disk recorders. If you're just getting started with recording, you're much better off starting with a computer-based setup: Logic, Cubase, Nuendo, etc.

Electronic drums will make recording ten times easier -- less mics, fewer mic placement issues, fewer input channels needed, plus the flexibility of midi. I would record the drums as a midi track through a program like Superior Drummer. I've found you generally get better quality sound than using a typical Roland V-Drum head. Due to latency issues, though, the drummer should probably listen to the headphone output of his drum set's head unit (or just hook it up to a keyboard amp for monitoring).

Depending on how tight you are as a band, you may want to have the bassist record at the same time as the drummer. The bassist can record straight into an "instrument" input on your audio interface, or through his amp's DI out into a line level input.

Once the bass and drum tracks are down, the guitarists can record their parts over top of it. A lot of "praise" or "worship" guitarists seem to use Roland Cube amps, and if that's what your guitarists use, they can run the recording outs of their amps straight into the audio interface. If their amps don't have direct outs, or if you want a more natural sound, an SM-57 in front of the cabinet will work fine.

It would be nice to have a decent condenser mic (Rode are generally good value for the price) in a vocal booth for the singers, but you could get away with an SM-58 and a few pieces of foam, if necessary.

You could do all of the above with a usb-midi adapter and a single-channel mic/line interface: Drums + bass, first guitar, second guitar, first vocalist, second vocalist. With a four-channel interface, you could record all of the instruments at the same time, only doing the singers separately.
posted by twisted mister at 2:47 AM on June 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would do it the way twisted mister suggests.... except I prefer firewire to usb interfaces (much less lag). The more isolation you achieve on the individual tracks, the easier it will be to edit each instrument's track post-recording, using your sequencing software.
If you get a condenser mic, remember to get a pop filter too (or make one yourself, with a hanger and a stocking).
The fewer instruments you record simultaneously, the fewer mics you will need (so for example, if you record two tracks at a time, you wouldn't need the two SM57s, two SM58s, etc that Ironmouth suggests... plus SM57s are kinda similar to SM58s; I sometimes record vocals on an SM57).
What's your budget like? That can make a big difference...
posted by aielen at 3:12 AM on June 5, 2009

First question I have is this going to be for public release? Then you can make judgment call on how to record.

If not for public consumption, record everyone together. In the beginning (way back when), it was just one mic and everyone played together. (They made some great music that way). The problem is if one person has an issue, then you will all have do the take all over again. But, I find this is usually makes some great recordings IF everyone plays together well. It will also save on the total time of recording but you are going to doing alot of up-front work. Among the issues to worry about are: is everyone in tune, are the levels are good (someone isn't too high or low in the mix) and is the performance what you want? If so, then you have saved yourself time and effort. (On a side note, most demos sound great because there is no pressure to get the greatest performance ever, just get an idea down and the magic comes out). Plus something people forget, is that if the band is making the recording its usually one of the people playing who is worrying about the recording. This can be distracting and one of the reasons not to do a whole band recording.

If you do want to make it a commercial release, multi-track recording is the way to go. You can have control over every aspect of the recording. But it takes time. But hey, if you want a good recording don't short change yourself, take the time.

When you record the 'bed' tracks, you usually start of with the rhythm: drums and bass, then you layer the more melodic instruments next, rhy. guitar, keyboards and then vocals and guitar solos, usually in that order. The whole band might be playing together but the focus is on getting the foundation of the song down first (the drums and bass). You will probably have everyone play together but not record them. If you have the inputs, then try it but the goal is get the drums and bass completed to your satisfaction first.

We now have 48 or 96 track recording but the essence still can be made with a two track (a stereo mic set in a the right location). Think of how many bootlegs sounded good with this set-up.

Good luck. Its alot of fun if you do it right. Remember, never rush, make everything work first. Alittle pre-production will always pays off.
posted by mighty wind at 9:08 AM on June 5, 2009

Just a data point, I have the Presonus Firebox and like it a lot, although I have trouble recording multiple tracks into Ableton Live (that's an Ableton bug, though). Otherwise, it's great, and the pre-amps are clean even at high gain. Looks like twisted mister has laid the procedure out pretty well.
posted by Dean King at 9:14 AM on June 5, 2009

@Dean King: I record multiple tracks into ableton all the time...guitar and vocals at the same time....unless its a bug with ableton regarding the firebox specifically, you may want to check out your setup.
posted by AltReality at 5:37 PM on June 5, 2009

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