SONGWRITING/RECORDING TIPS

RECORDING TIP: Basic, cheap small studio setup for singer-songwriter

There are countless videos on YouTube about how to buy a small home studio setup if you’re a singer-songwriter. Some of the videos are better than others, of course.

Chances are, you already have a computer (you’re reading this blog on it, I’m sure). Next step? A good audio interface.

Audio Interface

An audio interface (aka “soundcard”) is essential if you want to have your recordings sound decent. An audio interface averages around $150-200 for a decent one, and way up for the better ones. If you’re just getting started, a cheaper one would be best.

There are three types: USB (most common), firewire (less common), and PCI/internal (even less common, but the best option in my opinion). No matter what you go for, make sure the unit has “phantom power” (required for condenser microphones which I talk about in the next section).

I’ve found that for the money, the Focusrite Saffire series are great (USB or Firewire), as well as the Tascam US-200 or US-600 (USB). The Focusrite are slightly more expensive. They’re great for what you get, though.

As far as PCI interfaces go, I’ve been using my M-Audio Delta 44 since early 2003, and I love it. They can be bought for $150 new, and they’re worth every penny. Just make sure your computer has a PCI slot (laptops don’t of course, these are for desktops, only). You’ll also need a little mini-mixer or mic preamp with phantom power as the Delta 44 does not have inputs for an XLR mic cable, nor phantom power.

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Condenser Microphone

There are a few types of microphones, and you can easily get lost in the types of mics. Stick with “condenser” microphones for studio applications. Condensers are very sensitive mics and because of this, they’re very clear and you can hear every detail, vocally… that’s usually what you want in a vocal performance, especially for hip-hop and stuff.

Condenser mics require additional voltage for them to work, called “phantom power”, and most good audio interfaces have a phantom power switch. That’s also why the mics are so sensitive to detail.

My recommendation for condenser mics are the MXL series. They run anywhere from $80 and up… the best value in my opinion is the MXL V67g. It’s a $100 microphone, green and gold, and really works pretty well overall for a lot of things (vocals, acoustic guitars, tambourines, shakers, etc). You can hear me use it on all tracks of my Weepies “World Spins Madly On” cover video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuemVWbf2LA]

So right now, between your interface and mic, you spent about $300. Not too bad. If you’re mainly a guitar-based singer-songwriter, you have everything you need, sans software.

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Software / Recording program aka “DAW”

Mac users are very familiar with Garageband. It’s a great, simple program to lay down demos and gives you a lot of fun options to mess around with. PC users aren’t so lucky, but… there’s a free program out there called Reaper (well, it’s not “free” per se… they want you to pay for it, but what’s cool is it will never expire… so even though the program will “nag” you every time you open it, it will still work just as the first day you downloaded it, so DOWNLOAD IT!). It’s more complicated to use than Garageband, but it’s more powerful. You can download it at www.reaper.fm. I can’t show you how to use the program through this blog, as it would take too long to explain… but, search the forums at the Reaper site, and also search YouTube for tutorials on it. It’s such a great program in so many ways.

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So there you have it… a $300 investment (well slightly more… as you’ll need a mic stand, mic cable, pop filter, etc), and you can start recording your song ideas. $300 is not that much money if you really think about it. So do some research, and pick up that gear… and watch YouTube videos constantly about how to record at home… and also visit www.tweakheadz.com and Gearslutz.com for tips and advice if you are going into all of this blindly.

Good luck!

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3 Comments

  1. David

    really useful article. Just what I needed to start me thinking about what set-up to go for. thanks for posting

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  3. This design is wicked! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my
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