Home recording plus professional mixing and mastering – Your guide to successful DIY production
Recording and publishing music has never been easier and more affordable than today. Good recording equipment is affordable and many bands and artists record and produce their records themselves.
Even if a good sounding recording room, paired with the ears and experience of a good engineer probably won’t be replaced any time soon – on a tight budget, home recording can definitely come to astonishingly impressive results. All you need to do is consider a few things when recording in your rehearsal room and then put the DIY recording into the hands of a professional mixing and mastering engineer.
In this first part, we’ll answer the question you’ll probably be asking first: what do I actually need?
So, here’s your checklist:
❏ A computer
Almost any half-decent up-to-date PC or Mac has enough power to record entire band projects with several tracks. If you plan on buying or having a new computer built for you, make sure to get expert advice (from an audio specialist) to avoid spending too much money unnecessarily.
To put it simply: you need software that allows you to record multiple audio tracks simultaneously, play them back all at once and export them individually. Apart from industry standards like “Pro Tools“, “Cubase/Nuendo” or “Logic Pro”, there are some very affordable and even free DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) that are capable of everything you need for your DIY production. “Reaper” by a company called Cockos, for example, is highly recommendable, inexpensive and now also widely used. It is in no way inferior to the common DAWs mentioned above and offers an unbelievable price-performance ratio.
❏ Audio Interface
The audio interface replaces the sound card in your computer. The on-board sound cards neither have the right or enough connections respectively, nor the quality you need to record usable audio signals onto your hard drive. Interfaces are available as PCI(e) cards with corresponding peripherals, or as external all-in-one USB and Thunderbolt interfaces. I recommend the latter for this purpose, as they offer everything you need in a single, mobile device. They essentially consist of four components: – the inputs (microphone preamps, line inputs, instrument inputs) – the outputs (for speakers and headphones) – the AD/DA converters (convert the analog input signals into digital signals and vice versa) – the interface to the computer (besides USB and Thunderbolt there are others, but I would recommend these two for the application described here). An exact recommendation is of course difficult without knowing the band, the project and thus the requirements. The various models differ considerably in the number of inputs and outputs and the equipment. But once you understand what an audio interface is and know what features you need for your production, you should be able to find your way around pretty quickly and make the right purchase decision. In terms of quality, practically all current interfaces are good enough not to be used as an excuse for bad-sounding recordings. 😉
❏ Studio monitors (speakers) and headphones
You need reasonably accurate monitoring in order to appropriately judge what you are recording. A pair of usable active near-field monitors and a pair of high-quality, closed-back headphones are best. The selection is also very large here. Go to a music store with a recording department, listen to some speakers and get some advice.
3-4 dynamic all-round microphones (Shure SM57, Audix i5, or similar), a dynamic “bass drum microphone” (AKG D112, Audix D6, or similar), some inexpensive small diaphragm condenser microphones (Røde NT5, Oktava mk 012, or similar) and one inexpensive large diaphragm condenser microphone (Røde nt1-a, Sennheiser MK4, or similar) are sufficient for a standard band formation. With this equipment you can record everything from complete drum kits, guitar amps to vocals. As an alternative to the large diaphragm condenser microphone (although sooner or later you pretty much always need one), a dynamic large diaphragm microphone, such as the popular Shure SM7B, is also an option.
❏ Cabling, tripods, pop filter, DI box, etc.
You need XLR cables from the microphones to your interface. To record a direct signal, in addition to the amplifier signal, on bass and guitars at the same time, you should buy a DI box. You will find out more about the exact procedure in one of the next parts of this guide. In addition, you need enough microphone stands and pop filters to prevent disturbing noises caused by plosives (“P”, “B”, “T” and so on) out of the vocal track.
This list should contain all the equipment you need to make high-quality recordings in your rehearsal room. What else you need and what else you need to know before, during and after the recording process will be explained in the coming parts of this guide. Have fun experimenting and testing!
If you have any questions about this article, would like to give me feedback, or need further help with the preparation, please feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I read and answer everything!
Have a nice day!
Benedikt Hain | Outback Recordings