Music Production

Home recording for total beginners

So you want to record your first song demos, but don´t know how to get started? Don´t worry! I´m here to help!

There are multiple ways to record a so called rough recording, which often merely contains vocals and a melodic instrument like guitar or piano.

The easiest way to record a basic sound file would be to record it via your smartphone´s voice memo function. Just place the phone on a table in front of you, pick up your guitar or sit down at the piano and play and sing like you usually do.

I usually use such mobile phone recordings to save initial song ideas and drafts, that I can listen back to later on.

However, if you want to obtain a better quality, I suggest working with some home recording gear.

And this is what you will need:

With regard to technical supplies, you will need an audio interface that allows you to connect a microphone and one or more line cables to your computer. There are plenty of interfaces in the market and they range from 100 bucks to up to a thousands depending on how many input and output channels you may want, and whether it should come with a pre-amp or not etc.

To record a simple demo track, a basic interface, such as the Roland Rubix22 or a Steinberg UR22  or a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 will be perfectly fine!

To record vocals, you will obviously need a microphone. I recommend choosing a condenser microphone as opposed to a dynamic one (which is more suited for live performances). A condenser microphone is very sensitive and will pick up almost all frequencies of your voice. If you want a very “honest” playback, you will need to make sure to buy a linear one. Linear means, it won´t distort your natural sounds by boosting or filtering certain frequencies. In short: There are no effects on the microphone whatsoever.

I personally love the Blue Baby Bottle SL microphones a lot, but am also happy with the Aston Origins. Both cost about 250-350 bucks. Depending on your voice you might prefer other microphones, though! Some classics would be the Shure SM 7b (originally a speaker mic), which Michael Jackson used to record the legendary Thriller album.

People also love microphones by Neuman and AKG. So, I suggest you go to a music store that allows you to test some of these microphones.

Alright, to connect your microphone to the interface you need an XLR cable (You will obviously also need a microphone stand, but that should be clear).

And to connect your guitar, you may need a line cable. You can of course also pick up your guitar via the condenser microphone. I generally suggest doing both!

In order to play to a metronome click and listen back to your playing while recording it, you will also need studio headphones. Take a look at the Audio Technica brand or Beyerdynamic. Just my recommendation! We are not being endorsed by any audio brand whatsoever!

Find the right DAW

Now, once you have all the technical gear at hands, you will need a software to record with. An audio recording software is called DAW. More precisely: Digital Audio Workstation. This software works as a ADC (analog to digital converter) and basically translates electrical signals into digital signals, so called samples that are being resolved by bit rates.

There are plenty of DAWs in the market. Free ones would include Garage Band by Apple (downloadabel to any Apple device) or the Fruity loops demo version. If you would like to spice things up, there are DAWs like Abelton live (about 99 bucks), LogicX for Apple (about 200 bucks) or Pro Tools (about 600 bucks). There are plenty of other brands as well.

To get you started, I suggest using a free version. Maybe even compare various DAW demo versions and see which one you like the best. It all depends on personal preferences really!

To give you a very quick insight of how the recording process looks like:

You need to open the DAW and open a new “project or session”.

In LogicX this would look like this:

Now, make sure to add one or two or more audio tracks. Each track will be necessary for your various recordings. First you may want to record the guitar (on a click). Next you may want to add vocals in a seperate track.And then maybe add some percussion or a bass line or whatever.

Each recording requires a separate track. That way if you are not happy with a voice recording for example, you can just delete it and rerecord it without loosing all instrumental recordings likewise. Keep each instrument on a separate track!  I recommend recording one track after the other and also recording multiple vocal tracks to choose from.

It is best to focus on the guitar or piano layout first, and then give your full attention to vocals and anything else you may want to add.

I will not go into programming music via MIDI keyboards in this post, but might do an extra post on that!

Today we will focus mainly on recording live instrumentation and vocals.

Make sure that the microphone and your guitar cables are all plugged in and connected to your computer. For the condenser mic to work, you will need to provide it with 48V phantom power. There is usually a button on the interface to switch on phantom power. Make sure ALWAYS to put it off, before unplugging the microphone. Otherwise you might crash your sensitive microphone membrane!

Alright, to record guitar via a microphone, place the mic about 10 cm in front of your guitar´s sound hole.

To record vocals, also make sure to stay away about 10-15 cm from the microphone.

It is very important to test the volume levels of your mic prior to recording. Make sure the levels aren´t too far up (you can regulate that on the interface), as this may cause your recordings to distort (clip) once you get louder. It is always recommendable to keep the mic input rather low to begin with!

Another important note:

Make sure that the tracks in your DAW are set to the right input channel. E.G. Your microphone cable for vocals would have to come through the input that it is plugged in in the interface (might be input one). The guitar cable would have to come in through the input that you used for line recordings on the interface (might be input two etc.). If the inputs are not matching, there will be no sound coming through! No sound means no recording! So if recording isn´t working, make sure to check the input channels.

Once you have recorded your guitars and vocals, you may edit the track by cutting out parts you messed up or replace certain parts in a song with a better version.

A DAW gives you plenty of options to use effects, such as compression, reverb, EQ, Distortion and the like. But, let´s take it one step at a time!

So today´s task is to find your perfect gear and set up your home studio. Have fun with some first recordings and let me know if this post was helpful!