Getting studio sounds in your front room
One of the joys of playing, writing and performing music is hearing your tunes back once you’ve recorded them. In days gone by, this used to mean either cobbling together a few microphones and a four track tape recorder, or booking in to a professional studio with all the expense and time restrictions that brought with it. Thankfully, the options open to hobby players are much more plentiful these days, as recording gear becomes more widely available and financially accessible. Anybody with a computer or tablet device can now approximate a well-stocked studio with just a few choice items. Here’s a look at a few things to start you off home recording guitar if you’re on a budget.
To start off, you’ll need a way of getting the sounds produced by your instrument into your recording device. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume said device is a computer, as opposed to dedicated recording devices like the classic Boss BR units of yesteryear. Most people have access to a computer, and even the most basic feature-free laptops will be able to cope with a start-up recording rig.
The first thing to note is that while some computers come with a built in sound card, unless it’s a dedicated music machine it’s probably not much cop. Step forward audio interfaces. These devices are effectively external sound cards, and come in a range of different sizes, each with differing levels of connectivity and functionality. Some are designed to capture multi-microphone setups which are ideal for recording a full band simultaneously, but for the lone guitarist these are probably a bit over the top. Instead, a simple two-in, two-out interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Second Generation (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface (pictured above) or the M-Audio M-Track 2X2M C-Series Audio Interface (pictured below) will be all you need to make that connection between instrument and computer. It connects to the computer via USB, and features two input connectors so you can record two things at once, and two outputs so you can connect a set of audio monitors – more on these later.
If you’re using a tablet device as your recording rig, then the hugely popular IK Multimedia iRig would be perfect for you. These highly portable devices connect to your phone or tablet’s headphone jack, and feed the audio signal into your recording app of choice. IK’s Amplitube app is well worth checking out too; it effectively makes your smartphone or tablet into a portable studio, complete with guitar amps and effects so you can play on the move.
Traditionally, Apple device owners have had the monopoly on this kind of gear, however things are changing. The IK Multimedia iRig HD-A is among the first dedicated Android interfaces on the market, opening up tablet recording to users of pretty much every non Apple device. If, however, you are indeed an iPad user, then you might consider the Alesis IO Dock II, which actually houses the tablet within the unit and offers all the connectivity you could ever need.
Once you’ve connected the guitar to the interface, you’ll need the right software to record into. It’s hard to look beyond Ableton Live for this; Live has been a firm favourite of bands and recording artists on account of its (relatively) low learning curve and ease with which users can gain amazing recording results. It comes in a few different versions, each with differing levels of included instruments, effects and gizmos, but for basic recording we’d wholeheartedly recommend Ableton Live 9 Intro. It’s not over-the-top expensive for what it is, and gives you enough tools to begin your recording adventure without overwhelming anyone who’s not familiar with this type of software.
If, on the other hand, you’re feeling confident or you’ve done some recording before, the full version of Ableton Live 9 could be everything you’ve ever needed. Better still is the fact that Ableton regularly release quality updates, offering even more in the way of instruments and effects, for free.
As anyone who has ever played with a band before will know, you’ll need something to play along with and keep time. Yes, you can use a metronome but a guitar on its own can sound kinda sparse, right? We’d highly recommend Toontrack EZ Drummer 2 as an add-on, if your budget can stretch to it. EZ Drummer is a plug-in for Ableton (and other software) which gives you full, quick and easy control over great sounding drum kits so you can craft entire songs using little more than a few clicks of your mouse.
So, you’ve connected the interface up, and the software is installed. One thing is missing. Ah yes, sound. Unless you plan on listening back through your computer speakers or headphones – and we wouldn’t recommend this as a long term arrangement – you’ll want to look at a set of dedicated studio monitor speakers. Studio monitors differ from the speakers you’d find with a traditional hi-fi, in that they don’t alter the sound before it hits your ears. Basically, hi-fi speakers will often sweeten certain elements of the sound to make it nicer to listen to. This is fine for simply listening to music, but for recording and mixing you will get better, more accurate results from a set of studio monitors which don’t colour the sound in any way.
The entry-level bracket is chock full of great quality, reasonably priced monitor speakers but we’d draw your attention to either the KRK Rokit RP5 set or the M-Audio BX5 D2 set. Either of these will provide the clarity, volume and sound you’ll want as you start recording.
Aside from gear, there are other more cost-effective things you can do to give yourself the best possible tone for recording. You should always ensure your guitar is in fighting shape, so new strings and a basic setup to remove any fret buzz or crackly pots will pay off in the final results. Think about the room in which you’re recording too. A cold room with wooden or tiled floors, or an overly large room, will provide certain characteristics to your recording which may not be desirable. We published a blog recently which will help anyone looking to make adjustments to the space they are recording in, in an effort to improve its acoustics. These may not seem like the biggest deal, but they will certainly help you to make the best of what you have.
The whole process, from composing a tune to recording it and listening back, is among the most rewarding things we can think of. And, who knows? It could end up being the first step on a journey which lasts a lifetime. We hope you enjoy it! If you need any support, advice or assistance on home recording, our product specialists will be happy to help.