• Phil McDonald

Getting started with home recording

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

More and more people are having a go at recording themselves at home now that the technology exists to make this process cheap and relatively easy. Gone are the days of needing expensive hardware and microphones that cost the earth. These days all you need is a half decent computer and an affordable microphone and you’re good to go. Almost. There are a few things you need to know to make a success of recording at home.

First things first - the room. Think carefully about where you are going to record. Large rooms with a lot of reflective surfaces will cause a lot of problems. So your conservatory is probably out. Ideally you want a room where you can deaden the sound as much as possible, heavy curtains, drapes, anything that absorbs the sound will help. If you have no choice then try to treat the room in some way. Hang some blankets or duvets on the walls or better, some foam tiles are affordable and will do the job.

In terms of hardware a PC running one of the free versions of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) such as Pro Tools or Presonus Studio 1 will suffice to get you going. Or Garageband or Audacity are free and will do the job. You can upgrade later if needs be. There are a lot of DAWs out there and they’re much of a muchness in my opinion. You'll also need an audio interface. Again, these aren't expensive for someone just starting out. For around the £100 mark you can get a perfectly adequate interface for home recording. Indeed, Presonus and Focusrite both offer a complete bundle with interface, microphone, cable, headphones and free version of their software.

Speaking of microphones, this is something you’re going to need and here’s where I advise you splash the cash if you can. A large diaphragm condenser mic is a must have for vocals and pretty much everything else. You can pick up a cheap one for less that £100 but if you can, the next bracket up £200 ish is a lot better. You don’t need to buy a Neumann U87 (around the two grand mark!) Bear in mind condenser mics need to run on 48V Phantom power. Most audio interfaces have this, you just flick a switch and on it comes. If for any reason your interface doesn’t have this you’ll have to buy a separate power supply (not expensive) The other alternative is to buy a USB powered mic which are reasonably priced and will do the job to get you started. With one half decent mic you can record just about anything but how you do it makes all the difference.

Again there are umpteen videos on Youtube which will show you practically every mic placement option there is. The key is to experiment and find a sound that you like. For example, placing a mic right opposite a guitar’s sound hole will give you a boomy sound (not ideal) Positioning the mic where the neck meets the body of the guitar will give you a much more pleasing sound. Similarly, recording vocals close to the mic will give you a deeper sound, recording from further away will do the opposite.

Getting started in recording is pretty straightforward and you can get results in a short space of time with a little practice and experimenting. The keys is to be patient, see what works and what doesn’t, and enjoy what will be a very rewarding process.

Questions? Please feel free to email me at phil@thesuccessfulsingersongwriter.com

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