Being able to record audio at home is a necessity for every music producer. It is always helpful to know your way around sound recording equipment, and it makes the music production or song recording process much faster.
It is also the best way to obtain a better understanding of how music equipment work, and gain experience to improve your music productions.
The ability to record audio is not hard to acquire, although it requires time investment as far as practice is concerned, in order to acquire the knowledge needed to produce better results and take the quality of your projects to the next level.
Let’s find out what are the steps required to record audio at home properly.
What you need to start recording
PC or Laptop
The first and most important piece of equipment that you are going to need is a personal computer or a laptop. We would assume that any producer or amateur sound engineer has one available in order to be able to record audio at home.
It is required that you have the basic knowledge to use computer software and that you can properly set it up. In the case that you do not own a computer or a laptop, now is the right time to invest some money and buy one.
You do not need to buy the most expensive PC / Laptop in the market, as the requirements for an audio recording are low. On the other hand, if you have some money to spend, you could buy a higher-quality PC to make the recording procedure easier, and acquire two PC monitors instead of one as this will be very convenient for you during the editing process.
You can use the audio interface to convert the signal of your microphone or instruments to your PC and DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), and also use it to connect your studio monitors so that you are able to listen to what you are recording.
There are a lot of quality audio interfaces available, and just starting out you should be looking to buy one at the price of $100 to $150. This is a very affordable price range and you do not need to look for anything more expensive for now.
What you need to be aware of when you buy an audio interface, is to look for a XLR port so that you can connect your microphone and instruments, even though most interfaces have it. You should also make sure that your interface has the ability to connect to your PC via a USB port, which will make its use much easier.
Studio monitors are an essential part of your audio recording process. They are the means that you will use to listen to your recordings and edit your sound.
The price range of decent studio monitors is between $150 to $200, but if your budget allows you to, you should consider investing a bigger amount of money, somewhere around $300 to $400 in order to acquire better quality monitors.
The difference in the sound quality will be substantial and it will help you do a better work, such listening more clearly to the details of your recordings to decide whether you can spot any imperfections or noises that may cause problems to your session.
Furthermore, studio monitors are one of the most important tools when it comes to audio mixing and mastering. Although these are procedures that do not concern a beginner that wants to record audio or songs at home, it is essential to know that you have the appropriate equipment to complete your tracks to perfection when needed.
You need a pre-amplifier to turn up the quiet signal of the microphone when recording, in order to balance the recorder sound. Most audio interfaces have their own pre-amplifiers called gain, but in order to obtain a better signal source we can use external pre-amplifiers.
You must hook your microphone on the external pre-amplifier, and then the amplifier to your audio interface. The gain knob on the audio interface controls the preamp on that certain interface, so when you hook up your external pre-amplifier, you do no longer need the preamp on the interface.
You can use the pre-amplifier to bring the signal level of the microphone to the right levels, and acquire better quality for your recordings.
If you need to boost the signal level of your microphone, it is suggested that you use the pre-amplifier to do so, otherwise you would be using two pre-amplifiers and that would lower the quality of your signal.
Microphones are not only used to record vocals, but also instruments. When starting, it is advised that you search and find a microphone that is decent for both uses, so that you do not have to purchase two different kind of microphones.
That being said, you can acquire quality microphones at the price range of $100 to $150. You could look for cheaper microphones, but the quality of your recordings would become substantially lower and you do not need that.
What you should be looking for is large-diaphragm condenser microphones, which can produce the best quality when it comes to recording vocals or instruments at home. Their quality levels vary a lot and the more expensive they get the better the quality.
If you have an extremely limited budget, you could use cheap dynamic microphones or even the built-in microphone of your laptop, although you should expect to obtain the best quality possible this way.
In order to connect your microphone to your audio interface, you are going to need a cable. That cable is called XLR and you can hook it up to the XLR port of your interface.
Your XLR cable should be as long as you need it to be according to the size of your room, and it should cost $15 to $25.
If you want to create an effective listening environment for your recordings, you need to soundproof the room you are going to use as a studio. This is an essential step to stop the sound reflections, and avoid the noise and blurriness that will make the recording process difficult.
In order to do so, you need to purchase foam panel and place them to the walls and corners of the room that have the larger surface. In addition to this, you can add one or more carpets to the floor, so that you can cover most of its surface.
If you test the environment of the room, and you can still notice sound reflections, you should consider covering some of the furniture that may reflect the sound with blankets or something similar. Furthermore, you can add curtains to the windows so that you can trap the sound and make it even dryer.
Another important step is to put your studio monitors over monitor isolation pads, so that you can reduce some of the sound shock waves, produced mainly by the lower frequencies of the sound, such as the bass and the drum kicks.
These soundproofing methods will help get the most out of your studio monitors’ quality, and will make the sound environment dry so that you can focus on every single detail of your recordings.
In order to be able to record audio into your PC, you need the appropriate music software. This music software is called Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
This software takes the signal from your audio interface, and records it into its own interface. The sound takes the form of a wave and you can save and export it in any format you want, such as WAV, AIFF, MP3, MIDI and more.
Some of the best DAWs available are:
These are all very powerful DAWs that offer the user the ability to edit, mix and master his recordings. They offer a large variety of plugins so that you can tweak the sounds you produce, and have very friendly and effective interfaces for an amazing user experience.
No one can say with certainty which of the above music software will be the most important for him, unless he tests their interface and finds out if they are the appropriate tools for their job.
Furthermore, you can add external plugins to these DAWs and enhance their abilities concerning the sound editing process, as well as the mixing and mastering process. Such plugins are:
Reputable and trustworthy companies created all of the plugins mentioned above, and they are some of the most important tools for sound engineers and producers.
How to set up the equipment
After you have soundproofed your space and you have acquired all the equipment mentioned above, it is time to set them up properly in your room.
It would be a good idea to purchase a studio desk, so that you are able to place most of the equipment.
It is advised that you search for a studio desk that has a shelf as well, so that you can place your studio monitors along with the isolation pads on the right height, which is the level of your ears. Furthermore, the shelf of the desk can provide the most appropriate place for your PC monitor.
Make sure that you acquire a base for your microphone and a pop filter for cleaner recordings. The ideal place in the studio room that you can put your microphone, is the best soundproofed corner. Keep in mind that the front part of the microphone should face your mouth and the back part the wall with the soundproof material.
This way, you can supply your microphone with the best vocal or instrument signal, and you can reduce the sound reflections to the minimum with the foam panels placed behind it. Always take into serious consideration the height of the microphone when it comes to recording.
For example, when you record an instrument such as the guitar, where the guitarist has to play while he sits, you have to adjust the microphone height to a lower level, so that its front part faces the guitar’s sound hole to acquire the best quality possible.
Your seat should be as close to the center of the room and near the desk as possible. The studio monitors should be placed in an equal distance from you, and not above or below the height level of your ears.
This way, you can guarantee that you are going to have a stereo perception of the sound produced, and that you will be able to spot any kind of imperfections concerning both sound noises and panning, which could make your audio recording sound dirty and unbalanced.
Keep in mind, that your distance from the audio interface and the personal computer should not be long, so that you can adjust the level at any given moment, and edit sounds and waveforms within your DAW.
Install your DAW and hook the cables
Next thing after setting up your equipment, is installing your DAW and all the plugins that you have acquired. Doing this, you are preparing your PC or Laptop for the recording session.
Make sure that after the installation takes place, you load all your plugin libraries into your DAW so that you are able to use them.
Connect all of your equipment together. Hook the XLR cable to your microphone and the other end to the XLR port of your pre-amplifier. The pre-amplifier XLR cable connects to the equivalent port of the audio interface, and last but not least, connect the usb cable of your interface to the usb port of your personal computer or laptop.
Test the entire set up to see if everything is working properly and correct the misconnections.
That’s it. You can start recording audio at the convenience of your own home. Make sure that you follow all the steps and you will have no problem connecting the equipment and setting up the listening environment of your room.
Recording audio at home is not as complicated as it may sound.