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Making Mini Recording Studio?


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  • Making Mini Recording Studio?

    Rather than paying to go into a studio and record, I was thinking to just do it myself (cheap). Not like an entire studio, but just like a mixing board, some mics, etc. I already have a powerful computer. If I was to do this, what would I need? I know I could do it with just a usb mixer and some mics, but is there anything else that I should look into?


  • #2
    That's sort of a loaded question without a simple answer. A lot of us got into this biz for the same reasons. You mean your band?

    Over the years I have purchased a lot of the gear I needed used, eBay, Craigslist. I've built 3 studios for myself over the years.
    Anyhow, briefly, you need:
    A room to record in big enough to put the band, Or at least drums
    Enough mics to record a drum set, probably minimum of 4, more like 6.
    Stands, cables
    A mixer or interface with at least 4 XLR ins, more like 8. If its a mixer you'll need to get its outputs into a computer, USB or FireWire.
    A daw recording program for the computer
    A pair of studio monitors
    Some headphones and headphone cables
    A lot of patience
    A song!


    • WRGKMC
      WRGKMC commented
      Editing a comment

      Since you're new, the first thing You need is information on making decisions. Forums like this are good but ultimately, You are the decision maker when making purchases. The first place I suggest You visit is this.


      Read every category on the left so You have some clue to what You plan on purchasing.

      After that You have to Get specific on what You need to purchase. The 4 big purchase items are the Monitors, The interface, The Mics, The Computer, and the DAW program. 

      As You notice I didn't mention a mixer there because Its not needed. Back in the analog days, a mixer was an integral part of a studio. Now they are simply eye candy for your clients, not a necessary piece of gear like your older analog studios where everything that was routed to and from the multitrack Reel to Reel.

       The DAW program "is" your virtual mixer and having a hardware version is simply a redundant device. The only time You might would need one is if You don't have enough interface channels and want to sub mix several mics or You purchased an interface with no built in mic preamps. Even then expanding your interface for more mic channels is a much better solution because more channels means You can have all your instruments recorded on separate tracks. All a mixer will do is put multiple instruments on the same track which makes mixing the individual parts nearly impossible.


      Since most interfaces have built in mic preamps, and since all your mixing is done in the computer and sent straight to the monitors, I suggest You skip using a mixer all together. If your studio grows, then buying a Digital Mixer/Recorder is a better way to go now then buying some old piece of junk mixing board with scratchy pots designed for live sound.

      Unless the mixer is a very high quality and has high quality noise free preamps, all the Sends, Busses Subgroups needed to connect to a recording interface, Its not going to be of much use recording or mixing. 

       In fact if You think You really want one, I have 8 of them I've collected over the years. I ran an analog studio before going digital and since my profession is an electronic tech I used to buy used gear and restore it,  Right now they are all in my storage room. Other than my live mixing board, I have no need for them since going digital in the mid 90's.

      The key is this. When You used analog a mixer was essential part of recording. You would EQ the mic frequencies prior to hitting the tape and saturated the tape with tuned frequencies from the mic to Get specific saturation when You pushed the sound onto the tape. The tape had limited dynamic characteristics and it was essential You EQ the mics so You wouldn't have to deal with the tapes hiss and Get juicy tracks recorded.

      None of this exists with digital. There is no saturation and if You do record above 0db You Get the nastiest clipping You ever heard, like a blown speaker or bad cable. Everything in digital is/ should be tracked below saturation. And since digital offers such a wide dynamic range between the lowest level (noise floor) and maximum, You can track a mic with Its full frequency response and EQ afterwards mixing. All You do by placing any analog in the path between the mic and interface preamp is bottleneck what the mic is capturing.

      This is not to say You can't use analog gear to pre eq or color what the mic is capturing. When doing solo or adding instruments multitracking, I often choose to run my instruments through analog boxes to Get specific sounds. It saves me all kinds of time mixing later. I use several different guitar preamp/effects units tracking and can Get great live tones that would take me much longer to obtain using a miced guitar amp. Bass guitar is another item that can benefit by using an amp modeling preamp for recording direct. I have several that have tone and cab settings and I can dial up anything from an SVT cab to a small 10" practice amp and Get very convincing bass tracks without all the hassle of having a miced bass cab and dealing with room resonance and bleedover from other instruments when I track a band.   

      You will learn all these tricks as You go along.

      You can cheapen up on the DAW program, Get one bundled with the interface or even Get a free one and it wont influence the sound quality tracking. All a DAW program does Tracking is direct the digital info from the Interface to the hard drive. It doesn't change the data like an analog mixer does. Where different DAW programs shine is mixing when the stored digital information is played back. Even then it often comes down to the plugin package that comes with the DAW and how easy it is to manipulate the tracks. In the beginning using a simple DAW may be better until You learn more advanced mixing techniques and need what more expensive DAW's have to offer.

      Besides the basic effects plugins a daw has, there are thousands of free plugins You can download, and thousands of very good ones You can purchase at low cost. After awhile You try out these plugins and build your own effects toolbox for mixing. In my case I use about 50% free plugins and 50% purchased and even some of those came with the DAW program.

      For other items You can cheapen up to save money on your big purchase items. Things like headphones are really only needed for tracking vocals, or in loud music situations where You want to hear through the mic. Dialing up the sound of a miced amp, or a drummer who wants to multitrack to a recording are good examples. Most headphones don't have a flat response, and none will allow You to properly mix because of their lack of space between the ears and sound source. This robs You of being able to properly judge the three dimensionality of the music and are therefore not a substitute for nearfield studio monitors.

      Headphones will allow You isolation tracking and adjust the stereo spread, but You can only guess at the proper depth and frequency response using them. I used them for years when I had small kids and noise was a factor. I did hundreds of recordings that way and maybe one out of 50 and got a decent mix, purely by luck. Through the headphones it sounded great but playing back on speakers it sounded awful.

      As a musician your instrument is your source of good sound quality. In recording Its your monitors.

      The interface comes down to how many "Channels" You can simultaneously record. If You have a 2 channel, You basically record two tracks as once. Get a 4 channel, You can record 4 tracks at once, Get 8 channels You can record 8 channels at once, etc.

      Multitracking is different. In analog You had channel and track limitations. Once You filled all the tracks, then You had to start blending two tracks together to free up another track and once You erased the original track it was gone. (unless You backed up the solo track)

      In digital those physical limitations don't exist. You can use a two channel interface and record 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 etc to Build a multitrack recording up till You have as many tracks as the musical arrangement requires or your computer bogs down from the CPU load of all the plugins running on those tracks. Also you'll find what does bog down a computer are the High CPU consumption plugins, not the number of tracks You recorded. I used old single processor computers with 1/2 Gig or less processors speeds and was easily able to record 32 tracks. It sucked for mixing down though. I'd often have to wait 15 minutes on a big project to mix the tracks down to a stereo master. 

      The other item to look at is the number of built in preamps the interface has. Many boast 8 channels, but only have two mic preamps. That doesn't do much good micing a band when You have to have 6 additional external mic preamps to Get the mics boosted up to line level. Even then You can buy an 8 channel mic preamp fairly cheap (or use a mixers preamps) In my case I use M-Audio 1010LT PCI interfaces. Since I was running analog prior to going digital I already has all the patch bays and preamps to run a line level interface so it was a good choice in my case.

      If I had to start from scratch I'd definitely go for a multichannel interface that has built in preamps for all the channels. A pair of 8 channels or one 16 channel would be all I'd ever need to track a band. Everything else can be dubbed in after the initial tracks were recorded. The other thing a multichannel interface offers is You don't have to constantly swap cables for everything You track. I have everything connected up in my studio to record a live band through a patch bay connected directly to the computer interface. If I want to multitrack, I simply plug a mic into the patch bay and it bypasses the mics normally connected to the computer. I can leave a drumset miced up with the mics carefully positions and use those channels by bypassing them through the patch bay.

      Sorry I got on a roll here. Much of this doesn't apply to someone just starting out. I just wanted to be made aware of how specific needs dictate specific solutions. And You don't even know what those needs are till You Get involved doing it yourself. There are many paths You can take to Get going and expand once You do. Making wise choices now when You are beginning will help You avoid purchasing a bunch of crap that is either obsolete now or will be in a few years when You do begin to expand.

      So take the time and Read up on what your purchase. Don't be over anxious to make that big purchase and even when You do decide to spring for that piece of gear or software, stop and investigate it. Read the manuals, the forums of the manufacturer, the good "and" the bad reviews so You know what you'll be dealing with. 9 times out of 10 buying gear on impulse leads to disappointment. Once the magic wears off and You find Its limitations, or that half price sale or EBay deal You kick yourself in the butt for not having looked around a little more, or reading that review on Its flaws.

      Other than that have fun. Building a Recording setup and using it is a wonderful adventure. As Whitesol mentioned it takes patience. You can Get some results in short order but You have to realize it may be years if not decades before You Get professional results that are of commercial quality. You have to realize there are professionals out there who have spent a lifetime making this their trade and their art form. If you're first goal is to be a musician, You must realize recording requires just as much effort to learn as it does to play an instrument from scratch.

      Any amature can pick up a guitar, plug it in and make noise. It takes talent gained through study and practice to become a great artist. The exact thing holds true for recording. You have to invest just as much time to perfect it. You have to train your ears, learn the gear, the techniques just like You would playing and instrument and if You want immediate results, forget it, Its not going to happen. You might be better off hiring pros to record You and Get next day results. But even with minimal time invested recording will Get results and those results will be satisfying. Its a direct reflection of your abilities as a musician. Its a truth detector and your skills as a musician are going to be blatantly obvious once You begin. Your musical skills are going to improve because your influence over the recording by just playing well is an integral part of getting a good recording. Its also a method of communicating with other musicians. Its allot easier to play a song for someone to learn than it is to write it down or tell them verbally. It documents what You play so You can judge your improvements, You can write musical compositions and refine your skills playing to the tracks over and over, so even if You don't Get pro results, the benefits of learning to record have so many good aspects, it becomes hard to have a reason not to utilize recording on a daily basis.