HOME RECORDING-THE BASICS

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HOME RECORDING-THE BASICS

Post  Admin on Sun Mar 23, 2008 11:48 am

01 Introduction:

Setting up a studio and recording at home is how a lot of people make music.

It can be quite a technical subject (many many books have been written about it). So we can only give you an introduction.

This first section has advice on what to look for when buying equipment and the basics of how it works. Have a look at 'Home recording - the equipment' for more on what you need to buy.

02 Buying New Equipment:
Studio equipment is a very competitive market so you'll rarely have to pay the manufacturer's list price for anything. You can always find someone who'll give you a discount, so shop around. You'll often find that you get further discounts if you buy a package of two or three items at once or if a product is about to be discontinued.

Ideally, you want to be able to try out the equipment in the shop but this can be quite tricky - especially in a noisy shop. Generally, try and get along mid-week when the shop will be quieter so you can actually hear things.

Take along something appropriate to try it out - your singer or an instrument if you're buying microphones, or some of your favourite music if you're buying speakers.

See if the shop will let you book an appointment - it can be difficult to flag down a shop assistant on a weekend and the queues to try out popular bits of gear can be long.

Most shops will do mail order so you're not limited to using your local store. It can get a bit messy if you miss the delivery van, so make sure you specify an address and time when you know you'll be able to receive the goods.

Many shops offer a home trial period so you can exchange the item for something else if it turns out not to be the one for you. This is the ideal way to try out equipment. Actually trying to do some work with it will give you a much better idea of whether it's right for you than a demo in a shop will.

03 Buying From Overseas:

There are plenty of places in other European countries which will ship stuff to the UK and some are cheaper than shops here.

Bear in mind though, that if it goes wrong, you'll have to send it back to them. That means you could be without it for quite a long time while it's being fixed and shipped back. And phone calls to chase your lost equipment will be more expensive.

Buying from the US always looks tempting - everything is so much cheaper over there! Bear in mind that you'll have to add international shipping and import tax to the basic price.

Also, remember that the country you buy from could use different mains voltage to the UK . Some items will work without you having to do anything but don't assume this. Make sure you check carefully with the manufacturer before you plug anything in. For some equipment, changing the voltage over can be a simple matter of flipping a switch on the back of the machine. Other equipment will need a whole new power supply. That will add to the cost so check with the manufacturer before you order.

04 Buying Second-hand:
This is a pretty fraught area, although very rarely as scary as it looks.

Music shops often sell off things that they've acquired in part-exchange for new gear quite cheaply, but they'll still want to add a fair amount of cash to cover their overheads. That said, the extra money may be worth it to know that you can take the gear back if it doesn't work. You have a legal right to do this, unless the trader points out the fault to you before you buy.

There are plenty of places to buy from individuals. The small ads of most music mags are crammed with secondhand equipment. Many of them offer free ad space for readers to sell their old gear, so there's usually plenty to choose from.

Then there are free ad papers like Loot and on-line auction sites like eBay. It can be a bit worrying to work like this, especially if the person you're dealing with lives a long way away. Most people buy from these kind of things without any problems - the people selling from them are just ordinary people upgrading their equipment. There's a simple rule, though. If you're worried, don't buy it.

Generally speaking, things with moving parts are a much less reliable bet than equipment like computers.

That said, any gear more than about 7 years old is probably a less good bet as even electronic components have a limited life.

Check for signs that the machine has been cleaned - this can make it look like a more attractive buy but may cover up very heavy usage. Look in the nooks and crannies that would be hard to clean.

Check all switches and knobs for crackles and other signs of wear. If they feel a bit loose or wobbly then be careful.

The condition of the manual can be a dead giveaway. You can polish up a metal panel but once a manual is well-thumbed, there's not much you can do to make it look better.

Some items like DAT machines may also store the amount of usage they've had for maintenance purposes. You can usually retrieve the figures by holding down peculiar combinations of front panel buttons. Have a poke about on the manufacturer's website before you go along to buy and see if the item you're considering will do this.

05 Basics: Audio:
When people talk about recording audio, they talk about the 'signal chain'. This is the series of devices that the signal goes through before it reaches the recorder itself - perhaps a microphone plugged into a mixing desk and then a recording device on the end. We'll cover the devices that you're likely to find in the chain later on.

First of all, let's look at how to set the correct level for the signal you're recording. Think of the signal chain like a door frame. When you're setting up the signal chain, you want to keep the signal as far as possible from scraping its feet on the floor, without it banging its head the top of the door frame.

The top of the frame is the loudest signal that any device can cope with before it begins to distort. Every device has a limit like this - it's the point where the signal gets so loud that the electronics run out of welly and can't follow the loud bits any more. At that point, the peaks in the signal get chopped off and the result is distortion.

The floor is noise. Every device, however simple, adds noise to the signal chain. You can't get rid of it, all you can do is drown it out by keeping the wanted signal as loud as possible.

Most audio devices have some kind of indication that the signal it too loud. Either there'll be a meter with a red area to show that the signal is too loud, or simpler devices might just have a single light which comes on when the signal is beginning to distort. You set the level so that it is just short of this point.

Setting up the signal chain for the ideal level is known as 'getting a level.' Usually it'll only take a few minutes but then the human element comes into play. When you tell a singer or musician that you're actually recording, rather than getting a level, they usually try harder. That means that they'll play or sing louder and so you have to start all over again.

Signals come in two basic flavours. 'Line level' is a standard level for electronic instruments. Anything like drum machines, synth modules or the line outputs from guitar amps that you plug straight into the mixer or recorder without needing a microphone. Line level signals are generally pretty easy to set up because you can control the levels from the instrument's front panel knobs.

Microphone levels are bit trickier. The same mic stuffed into the bell of a saxophone will give a lot more signal level than one that's placed near a quiet instrument like a violin.

And two different types of microphone placed near the same instrument may give different levels too.

To get around this, microphones are put through a device called a mic pre-amp. This is designed to cope with all of these differences and bring all the different signals up to the same sort of level. Generally speaking, when you're starting out you'll be using the mic pre-amps built into your mixer, recorder or computer sound-card.

06 Basics: MIDI
If you think about a synthesiser, it's a device of two halves. One half is the 'user interface' - the keys you press to play the instrument and the knobs and dials that you use to select and modify the sound. The second half is inside the box - it's the bit that actually generates the sound.

So if you press the middle C key the user interface half needs to tell the sound-generating half to play a middle C note. And if you change from a piano sound to an organ or push the pitch bend wheel, this information gets passed on and the sound generator changes the sound accordingly. When you release the key, the sound generator needs to know to stop sounding the note.

MIDI is a way of communicating between the user interface and the sound generating halves of a synth. It's an agreed standard between all the instrument manufacturers, so you can use a Yamaha keyboard to control a sampler made by Akai or a drum machine by Roland etc.

There are all sorts of reasons why you might want to do that. For example, you can use the user interface of one synth to control the sound generating half of another.

That means you can have a big rack of keyboards but you only need one of them in the ideal playing position - the rest you can put wherever you like and control them remotely using MIDI .

Better still, you only need one actual keyboard at all. You can buy a series of sound generating modules without keyboards - usually known as synth modules - and control them all from one master keyboard.

That saves you money because you're not paying for loads of keys that you don't need and it saves you space in the studio or on the stage because the synth modules can be made much smaller.

You can record MIDI into a device called a sequencer. This is a gadget which logs every key press and release, together with how hard you pressed it and can also record any changes in the sound that you make as you play.

The sequencer doesn't record the actual sound like a tape machine does, it records the MIDI information that a synth module needs to re-create the performance. So you can record a solo using, say, a piano sound and then try playing it back using different sounds to fit into the tune.

You can also edit the performance in a way that's not easy to do if you record actual sound. That might be just correcting bum notes or you can use a process called quantising which will nail every note to exact time. That gives the kind of mechanical sound that you hear in dance music.

Or you can pick up a phrase or a whole chorus and repeat it many times to make a main part or a bassline for the tune. We look into sequencers in 'Home Recording - Equipment'.

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Re: HOME RECORDING-THE BASICS

Post  rifimus on Tue Jun 10, 2008 4:38 pm

Again, any questions, see my other post... Smile
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