Please help me set up a small, humble home recording studio
December 30, 2011 6:47 PM   Subscribe

New to home-recording and need recommendations for a condenser mic, reference monitors, a few other things.

I was a songwriter about 10 years ago and haven't really recorded since, so I'm a little out of touch. Right now I have a Macbook with GarageBand and an 8-Channel Mackie board. I want to basically record a decent demo, not a polished record. In terms of mics, I need something for vocals and percussion and assume and I should use an SM-57 to mic my guitar amp. I'm pretty low-fi. I'm not doing any MIDI or anything complicated. Basically rootsy, 1960s garage music.

My questions are:

1) I've never used reference monitors before so I assume I can just run from the Mackie out to those? I'm currently looking at a pair of M-Audio Studiophile BX5a, which seem good quality and decent price. Any other suggestions?

2) I want a condenser mic because I want to record both vocals, plus occasional claps, tambourine, etc. Does that make sense? I'm looking for both mic and monitors that are good but basically middle of the road.

3) Would you recommend starting with GarageBand, or Logic Pro?

4) Can I go straight from the Mackie into my Macbook? Is there any other kind of box I need in between those two things?

5) With this setup, in terms of multi-tracking, do I have to wear headphones? Or is there a switch I can hit that will be able to playback the existing track without it bleeding into the track I'm recording? Kind of a dumb question, but I seem to have forgotten everything I know about recording. Thanks!
posted by deern the headlice to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One more question (sorry) - For the vocals I definitely want something with slapback, almost 1950s Gene Vincent style. Not sure if there's a good pedal for that, or if I should use something software-based or what...
posted by deern the headlice at 7:18 PM on December 30, 2011

1) i own genelecs, but i recorded a project on makie hr824's once and they sounded great, the mix came out solidly (the project got an international release fwiw) i realize they're significantly more expensive than the one's you're looking at; others might have suggestions in your price range but i can definitely vouch for the hr824's as solid monitors for a reasonable price. you should be able to run your mackie mixer into whatever monitors you buy, just make sure the have inputs that match whatever your mixer outputs (probably xlr jacks but check first, obviously)

2) yep, that makes sense, again i can't recommend a condenser at a lower price point, but generally speaking it's not a bad idea to own one really good mic if you're recording a home project. make sure your mixer has phantom power if you're buying a condenser though (it should, but again, check before you spend a lot of money on a new mic!)

3) logic is the professional choice over garage band, and i believe the price is very reasonable these days. it comes with a wide range of eq's, condensers, virtual instruments and lots of other high quality effects which come highly recommended by many pros. this may not be applicable to you, but projects in logic pro can easily be exported to a format that can be mixed later in a professional studio (pro tools in particular) should you, say, get your demo signed and the label wants to polish it up for a general release.

4) the mackie should be able to send a useable signal to your macbook - you'll probably want to use an aux send to send the signal from your mackie to the 1/8" input on your macbook - i can't guarantee it (audio ins and outs are funny sometimes) but you can probably find a suitable converter at radio shack for cheap and check yourself. however, for better sound quality it might be worthwhile investing in some sort of firewire audio interface. if you're only recording yourself, one or two tracks at a time, you might find going directly into a box like this, and directly out from it to your monitors, may give you a better sound than running things through your mackie mixer.

5) yes, you'll probably want to record using headphones to reduce the sound bleeding from the speakers into the microphone (though if you're recording something like a guitar or synth directly into your mac, it wouldn't be necessary)

6) logic pro, and garage band as well i'm guessing, will have a software echo that could reproduce the slapback effect you want. however, a vintage effect box of some sort might be a worthwhile investment if you're going to be using it a lot - a good vintage effect should add a bit of character to the sound of your recordings.

finally, askmefi is a great place to start with these questions, but i really can't recommend enough as a resource for every possible question along these lines - that would be where i'd start searching for recommendations for a good, inexpensive condenser mic and pair of monitors for instance...
posted by messiahwannabe at 7:52 PM on December 30, 2011

Yeah, go over to gearslutz.

First, buy a book on mic placement. Best 40 dollars you'll ever spend.

Here's my ideal rig:
Audio technica 2040 large diaphragm condenser
Apogee duet audio interface
Sony studio headphones (20 bucks!)
Electro Harmonix preamp:

Go AT2040 into the EH preamp, out to the apogee duet, into the Mac. Garage band or logic, it really doesn't matter a hell of of a lot at that point because your apogee converter did all the heavy lifting making your creamy analog signal conversion into an excellent digital representation.

Logic kicks ass though, but I'd rather spend money on the mic and pre as they have more bang for each dollar spent.

posted by roboton666 at 8:20 PM on December 30, 2011

As far as monitors go, until you understand referencing sound, just burn CD's and listen to em in your car. If you know someone with a MacIntosh stereo system, see if they'll let you come over and listen to your mixes. The budget method is to use your headphones, car stereo, home stereo, and whatever else you can find and try to distinguish what is lost and gained through each sound system, then adjusting your mixes so that your sound is always balanced across al systems. Note I did not say identical, but balanced. For instance, make sure the bass is always present in every system you listen on, but in better systems that can represent sub-100 Hz signal, the bass sounds bigger, but not overwhelming, etc. until you have good reference ears, you'll get better results using myriad stereos.

In short, good monitors are $$$ and if you don't know what to listen for, it's like spending a hundred bucks on a glass of 73 stag's leap when Rossi would have tasted just the same to you.
posted by roboton666 at 8:30 PM on December 30, 2011

Thanks guys. I can't tell if you're saying I still need the Mackie board or not, or rather use a firewire/preamp. I figured I needed a mixer just because I was going to have 4-5 different instruments plugged in while recording... unless I'm misunderstanding.
posted by deern the headlice at 8:49 PM on December 30, 2011

To use the mackie in your workflow, sub-mix out to a decent pre, then go XLR out to a good converter, up to your computer.
posted by roboton666 at 9:06 PM on December 30, 2011

Gotcha. So what does the Apogee do? Is it just conversion to digital? Also, since it's a powered mixer, wouldn't that mean I don't need a preamp? Sorry just trying to understand.
posted by deern the headlice at 9:16 PM on December 30, 2011

Love my KRK V8s.

So what does the Apogee do? Is it just conversion to digital?

Basically, but nice.
posted by rhizome at 9:35 PM on December 30, 2011

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