Home recording 101
February 22, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Help this musician get started with home recording. I've written lots of music and its time to get it recorded. I have basically zero equipment and zero knowledge, so start me from the beginning.

Goal: I write progressive rock. My initial goal is to be able to record vocals, guitars, and bass. I'm not planning on recording drums myself. I'll either program the drum parts or record drums elsewhere. Aside from those standard instruments I also like to use violins, flutes, clarinets, and other symphonic instruments. Ideally I'd have those parts played by live musicians, but more realistically I'd like to be able to synthesize those parts for now.

Hardware: I have a couple guitars and a MIDI keyboard. I just bought a beefy new iMac. Aside from that I have nothing. What equipment do I need? My initial research suggests I need an audio interface, DAW software, and one or more mics.

My budget is around $2000. I'm flexible. Anything I'd buy I'd like to be something I can use for a long time, so I don't really want to get cheap stuff that I'll have to upgrade later. I'd rather get medium-range equipment that can stay in use for a while.

Software: What DAW do you recommend? I'm leaning towards Pro Tools just cause it's so ubiquitous. I haven't looked into other programs, though, so I could be talked into something else. Also I gather that the newest version, Pro Tools 9, is hardware independent and doesn't require Digidesign-made hardware. That opens up a hundred more options for my interface hardware, which is just, yikes! Overwhelming.

What's the deal with plugins? Should I expect to drop some money on those, or can I get by without?

What else? I'm so new to this I hardly even know what questions to ask. If I'm overlooking other big ticket items please advise...
posted by Khalad to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to mention: I am intrigued by all this amp modeling software and am totally onboard with plugging my guitar into my computer directly and doing all the effects in software. I don't think I need to mic any amps just yet...
posted by Khalad at 6:28 PM on February 22, 2011

Best answer: I hope to return to this thread later and give you a lot more information, but I wanted to point you to this. It's a pretty good primer on recording, IMO.

As far as software: Pro Tools is fine, but do some research; I use Logic myself and really like it. I just have the Express version and I think it's surprisingly full featured for such a cheap application.
posted by DMan at 6:37 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wish I had the time to expound on this…

Try the Apogee Duet. You'll need some good mics too. Get familiar with GarageBand (came with your mac). If you like it, look into Logic. Or try demos of things - Ableton Cubase and Reaper all worth a shot. Read Sound On Sound for recording tips - v good stuff in there. For amp modelling try NI Guitar Rig or Line 6.
posted by Magnakai at 6:47 PM on February 22, 2011

Check out Reaper. It's a very full-featured DAW for Windows and Mac. You can try it for free as long as you like and the non-commercial license is really cheap.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 6:53 PM on February 22, 2011

I 2nd the Apogee Duet.

Gearslutz.com is your friend.

Reaper is the future of DAW even though I personally use Logic.

My best possible advice for you is the following: whatever you do, don't spend more than 1000 dollars now and save the other 1000 for 6 months from now when you realize all the stuff you should've gotten.

1. Room treatment: 500 bucks
2. Audio interface: 500 bucks (Duet)
3. Software: 50 to 600 bucks (hence the beauty of Reaper)
4. Plugins:.....................one million dollars (unless you buy Logic, which comes with enough all inclusive that you should be fine for a few months)
posted by fantasticninety at 10:46 PM on February 22, 2011

You're the perfect candidate for Logic Studio, which includes a very capable MIDI sequencer, sampled audio editor, a really good (and comprehensive) selection of synths, sampled audio libraries and effects plugins. That's $499. Add a Native Instruments Kontrol 1 interface, $200 street price, a 192 kHz , 24-bit interface for the guitars and microphone, which if you're shooting for a really good, overall vocal mic, look at the SE Electronics 2200A, a few hundred bucks. Software drummer: Steinberg Groove Agent 3, $249 online. Budget another $149 for PSP Audioware's Vintage Warmer Audio Units plugin, a true magic mojo sauce for all your compression and sweetening needs, it's a secret weapon for an entire legion of working audio geeks. $99 for an H1 field recorder, $20-30 for a 16 gig SD card. You're basically done, save for a few weird plugins. and the Logic package has a really strong set of guitar-related modeling stuff, in terms of amps and pedals. Feel free to email me if you have any other questions, I live for this stuff. :-)
posted by dbiedny at 10:53 PM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, I forgot a decent set of powered monitors. There goes the rest of your budget.
posted by dbiedny at 10:56 PM on February 22, 2011

Spend everything on studio monitors.

Keep everything else simple and cheap. Record with Apple Rock Band and maybe one of those BLUE USB microphones. One day you'll find yourself unable to do something with that combination, then go out and spend on whatever it is you need at that time.

After spending many thousands over the years on fancy mics and outboard equipment, the best investment is speakers. If you can't hear things properly, you'll never get a satisfying mix.

The best recordings I have ever made were done on a cassette 4 track with the worlds crappiest microphones. Mic placement is 100x more important than how expensive your microphone is. Mic placement is 90% luck, 10% skill.

good luck, have fun.
posted by j03 at 12:34 AM on February 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Look at Record and Reason from Propellerhead Software. They're more musician-friendly than ProTools or any other high-end DAW I've tried out.
posted by sinfony at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2011

Best answer: I have one piece of advice about DAW shopping: check out what comes with various hardware. Most decent audio interfaces come with at least a stripped-down DAW version as part of the package, and you may get one free without even expecting it: I purchased a handheld Olympus audio recorder recently and it to my surprise it happened to come with a version of Cubase. Make your DAW decision and your hardware decision at the same time to avoid paying twice.

As for microphones, maybe not everyone will agree but I in your situation I would recommend starting with the two classic workhorses from Shure: The SM57 (flat faced, primarily for close amp miking) and the SM58 (round headed, primarily for vocals). These mics will run you ~$100 each new, and if properly cared for (actually even if dropped and slammed around repeatedly!) they will provide you with great sounds for decades.

For gaining knowledge about how sound works, there are worse places to start than this legendary forum thread: Why do your recordings sound like ass?
posted by chaff at 12:37 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also since you mentioned amp modeling software have a look at Guitar Rig 4. Not exactly cheap but I can testify that it is very very tasty.
posted by chaff at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2011

And plugins: whichever modern DAW you choose will come with a wealth of basic plugins (EQ, chorus, reverb, delay etc etc). You will be very far along before it comes time to consider purchasing a 3rd party plugin to get a particular sound or effect, so don't worry about that for now.
posted by chaff at 12:41 PM on February 23, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. I got Logic Studio, an Apogee Duet, a set of KRK RP8G2 monitors (recommended by TweakHeadz) and have two Shure mics on the way. I'm really happy with Logic, and I feel like I dodged a usability bullet.

Shot in the dark follow up question: how can I make my violin parts sound better? I'm using the Violin (Arco) software instrument in Logic and it sounds really thin and low quality. Unfortunately it's the only (!) solo violin patch I see. Am I missing something, or is there perhaps some way to beef it up with effects & processors?
posted by Khalad at 12:51 PM on February 28, 2011

I picked this thread up after looking for something else but wanted to chime in. On the violin and amp modeling question, check out the Line 6 POD HD series. 16 classic amp models (with more being added ) and over 100 really good effects. All very well done...by far the best vintage equipment modeling tool I've come across. Right now, there are only floorboard pedal versions, but a desktop model is coming out this month. I use the "Reverse Volume Tape Echo"...it has a volume-swell-delay thing that sounds exactly like a violin/viola/cello when set correctly.
posted by unccivil at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2011

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