What is the cheapest and easiest way to record music on PC?
June 18, 2007 8:30 PM   Subscribe

What is the cheapest and easiest way to record songs on PC?

I'm looking for the cheapest and easiest (lowest learning curve) way to record songs on my PC. My roommate has ProTools and that thing is just too complicated.

My goal is to be able to record my ideas on guitar and vocals and then add the backing instruments myself instead of relying on my band to be there. It doesn't need to be pro quality. My bandmate has GarageBand and it's awesome, but I have a PC.

I'm trying to keep hardware purchases to a minimum (I don't have much space in my room).

What I need:
-Record live guitar parts w/ software that has plenty of effects.
-Record vocals.
-Multitrack capablilities.
-Add instruments (synth, bass, drums) through an interface.
-Tool that allows me to create beats for all types of music (rock, hip hop, latin, etc...)

What I have:
-Budget <$500
-Desktop PC w/ Windows XP

I have almost no knowledge of recording on PC, except from what I've read on MeFi and some forums. From what I understand, this will be the best option for me:

-Used soundcard w/ multiple inputs (E-mu)
-Software (GuitarRig and Cakewalk)

Am I on the button here?

Thank you MeFi.
posted by atmu to Education (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Audacity free audio editor and recorder?

Basic features... might to the job
posted by singingfish at 8:34 PM on June 18, 2007

You can buy a new M-Audio USB audio device, a nice Rode condensor mic, and some pro headphones (I like the Sennheiser 280s because of the relatively flat response) for under $500.

For the software end, the USB audio device will come with some software you can play with (typically, a less feature-rich version of Ableton Live). For sampling, you may have to scour the net for free audio samples, but all of the features you're looking for can be found in the software bundle.

See also.
posted by spiderskull at 8:35 PM on June 18, 2007

Like spiderskull said, something like the M-Audio Fast Track Pro or the Line6 TonePort UX1, paired with one of these mics.
posted by trim17 at 9:25 PM on June 18, 2007

Are we talking acoustic guitars or electric?

For hardware, I would take a look at the above posters' recommendations. The M-Audio stuff is a good deal. Your budget won't allow for it now, but consider buying a set of studio monitors eventually. Good headphones will do for now, though. A condenser mic is good for acoustic guitar and other quiet instruments, but I'm pretty sure you'd be better off with a dynamic mic (like a Shure SM58) for vocals. Also remember that you need phantom power for most condensers. Many of the USB/Firewire interfaces coming out these days include mic preamps with that, but check to make sure.

On the software side, I would really try to avoid Cakewalk, Cubase, or any of their ilk. Something like Audacity is fine for recording samples and longer audio parts (and you can't argue with the price), but for sequencing stuff (making beats, etc.) you want something that can do MIDI sequencing.

Ableton Live is my audio application of choice. It's got just about everything you'd want, including lots of actually good built-in effects, and it can use VSTs (Audactiy can, too). VSTs are the software equivalent of effects pedals. I've used several recording apps and Live is by far the most intuitive and easy to use while also wielding a ton of power. It is not cheap, but is well worth the $400 it goes for. The Lite version that will ship with M-Audio products might be enough to get you started, though. Or you might get lucky and pick up a used copy of an older version (they're up to v6 now) and then pay a little bit to upgrade. That's what I did a few years ago.

Good luck, and have fun!
posted by GS1977 at 1:36 AM on June 19, 2007

Adobe Audition (formerly Cool Edit Pro) is a pretty professional but still easy to learn multitrack audio application. I'm not sure about Audacity, i've tried it a few times and it seems good in terms of capabilities but somehow i can't get around it's user interface. Also Reason is a great application if you want to make beats and use other instruments, although a little bit on the expensive side.
posted by husky at 2:04 AM on June 19, 2007

This soundcard has kept me incrediby happy for a long time.

It comes with the limited version of Live. It'll get you through the day.

You need a halfway decent mic like this. It's the standard workhorse mic. Get a pop guard (cheap) for vocals.

You'll also need a preamp for that mic. This is probably where you'll spend the most money. You get exactly what you pay for with a preamp. People who say you can filter out hiss from cheap preamps with software are lying to you. They are not your friends.

Then again, Robert Johnson had tons of background hiss. It all depends on what you're trying to do.

These headphones are good enough to mix stuff down if you have a good ear.

Best advice: Head to the pawn shop and see how much recording gear you can get used, but be careful when buying used mics. If they've been dropped, they're useless. This is probably the best place to get a preamp. I'll let someone else suggest that hardware.
posted by onedarkride at 5:04 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is about as cheap as it gets:

Here's what I have:
Low end PC (PIII, 384MB RAM) which has
-a Creative Audigy Soundcard with a 1/4" jack input
-Multitrack software called Cakewalk, which to me is very simple to use. Almost one-click recording. There is still a learning curve for getting it set up and using it the first time, but it is far easier than Protools. Decent effects built in and possibility to add plug-ins though this isn't something I bother. I highly recommend pirating several such software programs first to see what fits you the best. Then, do the right thing and pay for it.

Into this setup, I record some or all of the following, one at a time, through the single input above:
-acoustic guitar, mic'd
-electric guitar, direct
-bass direct
-drums, direct from a keyboard, played with my fingers
-keys same way obviously
-vocals, mic'd

Even with my extremely cheap setup (definitely less than $500 not including the bass or guitar), you can get a very decent sound. Check out my latest recording over here on music.metafilter. Even if you don't like my music, I think you can agree the sound is great for an inexpensive setup.
posted by poppo at 7:41 AM on June 19, 2007

I was about to say "Do not get a Creative Audigy Soundcard. They are not built for recording. There is a huge delay between you playing something and hearing it in the headphones. "

But I read Poppo's and now I'm wondering if I'm doing something wrong.

Either way, I found an M-audio card onsale for just over 100 bucks. It was this one.

It records at cd quality with under 5 Ms delay on my 4 year old computer.
posted by magikker at 9:29 AM on June 19, 2007

Yeah, a Creative Audigy soundcard is on the low end for recording hardware. Yet, I have no discernible playback delay or other problems with it.

Still and all, if you look in Musician's Friend these days, you will also see a lot of 'bundles' which include some hardware like a soundcard and/or preamp or mixer of some kind along with some multitracking software and maybe even a mic. I can't recommend any one of these because I don't have experience with them, but it's worth noting that many are well below $500.
posted by poppo at 10:17 AM on June 19, 2007

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