Singing the Microphone-Don’t-Work Blues: The Journey of Amateur Musicians

670px-Build-a-Home-Studio-for-Computer-Based-Music-Recording-Step-1Besides working as a professional content and communications specialist, (❤ Love that job title ❤), I wear many other hats in my life, including that of a singer. Surprisingly, although I write pretty much everything else you can imagine, I don’t write music, which is why I count myself blessed to have such a talented composer/songwriter as a partner and best friend.

He has been writing music for quite some time, and he is known for performing his own pieces – well, known within our artistic circles. I’ve always enjoyed singing with him. I also take great pride in knowing that I’ve been responsible for getting him organized, which has been a monumental job, let me tell you!

Due to changes in our lives, about a year or so ago we both decided to perform together as a duet. He’s been rewriting a lot of his old music to work for two voices and he’s been writing loads of new music specifically for our combined voices.

Although the two of us have extensive musical training and talent, if I do say so myself, neither of us have the technical skills necessary to utilize high-end recording equipment effectively.

diffGranted, in today’s age, so much software and equipment is pretty much plug-in and play. We’ve even been able to use our phones to make VERY rough recordings for our own reference files. Some of the less rough recordings have sounded somewhat good enough to be shared with the public, but we keep running into the following problems:

Horrible Sound Quality – of the songs we’ve uploaded, people have had to turn their dials up to 11 just to hear us! On the few occasions when people could hear us at a reasonable volume, the balance on each song tended to be off, or our voices sounded muddled and wobbly.

File Format Issues – if we used our phones to record, the sound comes out okay on a cell phone, but when you play the file format on a regular computer, it messes with everything. Plus, some formats aren’t always compatible when you go from a cell phone to a regular computer system. With the basic recording equipment on our computers, we have also had to deal with humongous wav. files that sounded horrendous when converted to smaller formats.

Obviously, we need to do some research or get some professional help. Since good help costs more money than we can afford at the moment, research comes first.

We know that we will have to invest in better equipment – no way around it – but we can at least see what’s out there before we go spend our hard-earned cash.

Since I love both sharing my research AND paying it forward, I have decided that I would write a multipart blog about this adventure.

So, if you’re a fellow amateur musician who’s looking into how to make good recordings, I hope this research helps. If you’re already making high-quality recordings and you want to throw us some advice, plug it into the comments! Any help is well appreciated :o)

Basic Instructions and Amazing Videos

For some basic tutorials that tell you how to get started with making high quality recordings, Lewin Barringer’s GaragebandandBeyond channel on YouTube is phenomenal! He provides great information, delivers it well, and offers some unique low-budget DIY tips.

The only caveat is that Lewin is a Mac guy, so as far as software goes, he really only knows about Mac-based products, but he admits that completely. In fact, he’s even made a video telling people that he only knows about the Mac program GarageBand, but he made the video in hopes that people would write comments about similar PC-related programs, and oh boy did the comments come in!

Below are two really good videos from Lewin. The video on the top is for beginners, and in it he talks about the basic equipment and software elements people need to start recording. I included the video on the bottom because it offers such awesome advice for making an impromptu voice recording booth.

What Equipment Will I Need?

I compared Lewin’s equipment advice with several other articles and videos. There does seem to be a general consensus on what type of equipment everyone needs for creating a recording studio.

First of all, a computer is essential.

You can use a PC or Mac, or whatever you prefer, but most experts say that you should use a computer with high processing speeds and lots of memory. Additionally, depending on the type of software you use, which I’ll discuss next, you’ll need to make sure that your computer meets the minimum requirements for the software. Also, an article on wikihow recommended that computer users should consider upgrading their soundcards, since recording music involves playing diverse sounds, and most default soundcards are too low-end.

Second, you can’t record without the proper software.

There are loads of options for recording software these days. Free or inexpensive software will get the job done, but it doesn’t include all the bells and whistles. However, if you’re not super tech savvy, you may not know how to use all the extras, so why buy equipment you won’t be able to use anyway?

FreeIf you’re comfortable using shareware type technology, i.e. free, my research shows that most people use either Audacity (PC) or GarageBand (Mac).

Looking at the website for Audacity, since I’m a PC girl, after all, there seems to be some good instructional guides for newbies. Furthermore, Audacity will do multitrack recording, which you need if you plan to play your instrument track while you’re trying to record your vocals.

There are many other software programs recommended for beginners and professional users. I’ve included a list of the most commonly recommended ones along with their current prices.

FREE:

Linux MultiMedia Studio (LMMS), (Linux/Windows compatible), Free [It comes with a lot of features for free software, but Linux-based products tend to be a bit more technical, which may frustrate people with minimal computer skills. The latest patches do claim to be more user-friendly, though].

Low to Mid-Range Budgets:

Cakewalk Music Creator 6 Touch, (PC only), $49.99 [Loads of really awesome features for multitrack recording and adding digital instrumentation, plus a digital mixer].

Mixcraft, (PC only), $74.95.

Magix Music Maker, (PC only), $59.99-$99.99 [Multiple versions for different skill levels].

money signsGetting Pricy:

Adobe Audition, (Mac/PC), Trial Available, Annual package lets you have the software for $19.99 per month, (i.e., nearly $240 every year).

Reaper, (Mac/PC), Licensing fees $60-$225 [You NEED significant tech skills to run this program effectively].

FL Studio, (Mac/PC), $99-$399 [Multiple versions for different skill levels].

Ableton Live Suite, (Mac/PC), 30-Day Trial Available, $599-$1198 [Multiple versions for different skill levels].

Third, you need a good microphone.

old-time-microphone_68424Typically there are two types of microphones, condenser and dynamic. Some experts recommend that every recording studio should have one of each of these types of microphones, since each microphone specializes in different types of recording. Lewin recommends USB microphones, since they often don’t require soundcards or any other sort of interface technology. To go with your microphone purchase, you should consider getting an adjustable microphone stand along with other microphone accessories, such as shock mounts and windscreens.

Fourth, to fix and edit your music, you will need either really good headphones or sound monitors.

If you look at sound monitors, they pretty much look like stereo speakers, but they’re actually more high-tech than that. Typical stereo speakers produce only certain types of sounds that are good enough for casual listening. Sound monitors, on the other hand, play the full range of sound so that you hear the recording exactly how it sounds as if it were live. This makes it easier to listen to multiple tracks and here all the elements, which is necessary for editing and mixing.

According to my research, good sound monitors can run anywhere from $200-$400+, and most experts recommend avoiding the cheap ones. If you can’t afford sound monitors, you may want to consider high-quality headphones. Although headphones are typically cheaper than sound monitors, again, try to buy higher quality ones and avoid the cheapest ones available.

The final two pieces of equipment include an audio mixer and an audio interface. Realize that these pieces of equipment are recommended by some experts, but not by all recording professionals.

After reviewing so many different software programs, I think some people are no longer recommending audio mixers because the majority of software programs come equipped with this sort of technology. Since I’m not enough of a techy to know, I’m not sure if an external mixer is better or more precise than a digital version found on a recording software program. Additionally, the experts may not be recommending mixers because they are very technical pieces of equipment that require a lot of training, which most novices do not possess.

An audio interface may be necessary, however. You can either get the type of interface that you physically install into your computer, or you can get an external one. You might be asking yourself why you need an interface if you have recording software and a sound card. Unless you have a high-grade soundcard, the standard computer is not equipped to deal with the range of sounds produced during musical recordings. The interface works as a liaison between the sound being recorded and the computer. If you have a USB microphone, however, and decent enough recording software, the interface may not be necessary.

Review of Research Results

In summary, to start recording high-quality sounding music, you need a computer, recording software, a decent microphone, sound monitors or headphones, and possibly a few other pieces of equipment, depending on the software you purchase. If you already have a computer, which many of us do, and if you can find everything else you need at the best prices possible, hypothetically you can build your own studio on a budget of around $200-$500. It is a bit of an investment, true, but if you really want to make recordings that people actually want, you have to be willing to spend the money.

As to using the equipment, most equipment just plugs directly into your system. The most difficult part will be learning how to use the software you purchase. Although price may be a factor when choosing software, consider how technically skilled you are before buying anything. For example, I’m fairly good with technology and I can generally understand technical instruction guides, but my music partner is not as tech savvy. Therefore, I should probably consider purchasing something user-friendly enough for my partner’s needs and not too high-tech to suit my own needs.

divinity-croppedNow all we need to do is figure out what we want to buy and when we want to buy it. After we make our purchases, and I do not know when that will happen, I’ll try to write another blog about our experiences with our own home-based recording studio. Feel free to include your own adventures and recommendations in the comments below.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s