What equipment do I need to start laying down my own music tracks and orchestrating my compositions? I have a Yamaha PSR500M.
March 7, 2004 2:54 PM   Subscribe

I write and compose music. What I would like to know is what kind of basic equipment do I need to start laying down my own tracks and orchestrating my own stuff? My expensive toy PSR500M Yamaha has just enough bells and whistles to tantalize me as to what is possible to do. I have to start small, as finances are an issue at present.
posted by konolia to Media & Arts (10 answers total)
It's a difficult question to answer, as it depends on exactly what sort of music you want to make, and how you want to make it - fill us in with more info. I'm guessing you want to know about various methods of multitrack recording? I'm assuming by the word "orchestrating" you want to make complex, hi-fi instrumental music, rather than say, be able to record rock demo tapes.
posted by Jimbob at 3:28 PM on March 7, 2004

By 'laying down [your] own tracks', do you mean doing MIDI sequencing, or recording the actual audio?
posted by cmonkey at 3:29 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: Yes, I want to do instrumental music.

My vocabulary in this area is really weak, so let me try to give you a little more idea what I need-I am a keyboardist and I like the idea of being able to lay down different layers of sound-like Enya does with her keyboards, for example. I have also just now gotten interested in electronica,etc. and wouldn't mind snatching some ideas from that direction.

What my worship pastor does is use a drum machine and then add stuff with other equipment. He's got some kind of box-shaped electronic thing -sequencer?-that he uses to play back parts to us when we are learning stuff-I also think he uses it to do some composing but I would imagine he'd have to hook up a keyboard or something to it? I know I am sounding more ignorant by the minute. I know I need a synthesizer of some sort.
posted by konolia at 4:20 PM on March 7, 2004

It sounds like what you want to do could be done pretty much all in MIDI, which means the cheapest option would probably be through software on your PC. Recording MIDI means the software doesn't record the sounds you're making - just an exact description of the notes you're playing, which can then be played back either through software synthesizers on the PC, or on any other MIDI instrument you've got connected (including your keyboard). This allows, of course, for multi-tracking. You could play one part of the song and record it in your MIDI software, create a new "track", record the next part over the top of the first (and assign a new instrument to it, for instance), and so-on. Some possible software: Cubase VST - pretty much the industry standard, expensive, but it can do whatever you want to do. Cakewalk - simpler, less features, but still perfectly useable for recording multi-track MIDI. FruityLoops - check this one out if you want to head in the electronica direction, because as well as being able to record MIDI, it also functions as a drum machine / sequencer / sampler, which might make it easier to create full composition with just your keyboard.

All this software will record the notes on the PC, and has the ability to play back those notes through synthesizers on the PC on your keyboard (at least one track at a time, anyway, depending on the keyboard). An advantage of recording MIDI is that you can actually go and edit the notes you've played, one-by-one, on the PC.

However, it sounds like you're in love with the sounds on your keyboard: If you're really interested in recording the sounds of your keyboard in a natural way, real multi-track recording is probably the way to go. In this case, tracks record the actual sounds you are playing, and allows you to layer these sounds and mix them down. There are plenty of software-based multi-track recorders out there (Cubase and Cakewalk both do the job), but I'm a firm believer in hardware based multi-tracking. It just feels nicer. Basically, you connect the audio-output of your keyboard to the recorder, select a track to record on, and record the first track. Then you "rewind" to the start, select the first track to "play", the second track to "record", and lay down the next track (during which you can hear the first played back through your headphones). And so on. When you're finished, you set all the channels to "play" and make a final mix. Home multi-track recorders are available with a wide range of features, from simple 4-track "demo" recorders that use standard cassette tapes, to digital harddrive based machines with lots more tracks. An 8-track digital recorder would probably be good for your purposes.

I usually work, for instance, by putting together the drums and MIDI-based melodies on my PC in FruityLoops, then recording them onto a couple of tracks of my multi-track recorder. I can then lay down extra tracks of guitar, vocals etc. on the multi-track recorder, then connect the output of the recorder to my soundcard's input and record the final mix to a WAV file.
posted by Jimbob at 4:43 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: Jimbob, that's it!

My husband is computer geek enough to help me get this going.

Now the scary part (looking at prices...)

Thank you so much for your help.
posted by konolia at 4:49 PM on March 7, 2004

Coinkydentally, I just installed "LilyPad" music notation software. It's confusing heck out of me, but that's probably mostly because I know nothing about music...

Anyway, it does a nice job of engraving music.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:22 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: Is that the software that writes down what you play? I tried that at someone's house once-pretty cool.

Does it have an edit function? A bunch of us were sitting around talking about this stuff today and that was a question that came up.
posted by konolia at 7:50 PM on March 7, 2004

I think LilyPad is more for musical typesetting. Sibelius and Finale do notation-as-you-play but they're pricey.
posted by TimeFactor at 8:10 PM on March 7, 2004

an ask mefi thread on different equipment for recording using your pc.
posted by lescour at 8:33 PM on March 7, 2004

Other sequencers: Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer is pricey but nice -- it will do both audio and MIDI. Actually, most software packages do both these days. Logic Audio, Propellerhead's Reason.... even Digidesign's Pro-Tools Free has a nice little MIDI sequencer built in.
posted by weston at 12:04 PM on March 8, 2004

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