Absolute Beginner’s Basement Recording Guide
-By Ethan May
So… me (I’m a drummer/singer…) and my best musical buddy Sam (bassist/guitarist) had this crazy idea to start using Audacity to record jam sessions to study/practice/look back at for reference. Only problem was, we didn’t have any clue how to use it! All we had were two mics, an okay P A system, a really nice bass amp, a drumset, and a few guitars and basses. We learned a lot messing around with Audacity and we’d like to stress some points- but don’t take them for granted…we’re still learning too! Well, here we go…
Setup your recording studio!!!
Our setup consists of two mics on the drums, and one line out from a bass amp- all plugged into a PA system/mixer which is then plugged into the computer’s soundcard.
If you just want to use:
an electric guitar/electric bass, you gotta buy a converter at radioshack or someplace… there’s everything from a “standard-guitar-line-to-headphone-line” jack all the way to a full usb cord you plug into your guitar. Just ask the salesperson at the electronics store you’re at for a converter to record guitar (and stress that it’s going into the small headphone/speaker jack in the back of your computer) Good Luck!
*An alternative that is sometimes a very good one (depends on guitar type, possibly if you want a more full, “real” sound, and such) is to get a mic and mic your guitar amp. This requiers more equipment and such though…
an acustic guitar/bass (with no pickups or line out), then put a mic close up to the sound hole and plug the mic into the computer, or into an amp, and then into the computer for more volume! (Warning…you may get some serious feedback for a second…you’ve been warned!)
your voice, then you’d better get a mic and decide on if you want the kind that pics up everything or a directional “vocal mic”. If your place to record is quiet enough, i’d say a normal one that pics up everything is fine (I actually perfer it…then you don’t have to like…well…KiSs it…eewww!) anyway…
a midi keyboard, then you have to check a few things…if you have a usb cord then you’re good to go! Just plug it into your computer and I think it just takes over and it’s sort of magical…but if you’re like us and it’s too old to have a USB cord, then there should be a “headphone” or “line out” jack and you can run a line from it to an amp…which you run to your computer’s soundcard (you’re probably getting the hang of that by now…) and you’re good to go! Play the synth from Van Halen’s “jump”!!!
drums, oh boy…uhhh…well I’m a drummer, so I should know about this, but uhh…these puppies are one pain in the neck to record, especially in an un-acustic room. Truly, it’s a really simple concept though: the more mics the better. Other than that you just gotta experiment. (yes…that does mean you need a mixer to record a set…unless you do each piece individualy and record on top of each other…hhmmm…you’d hafta select “play other tracks while recording a new one” in the preferences menu to do so…) It’s good practice to make sure the bass drum has a mic on/in it and a few going overhead- but I only have 2 mics so…yeah…just experiment. If you get annoyed with it just use the “drum kit” on your midi keyboard. If you’re really just done with it, look for a drum loop off the net! Yep. Yep.
Anyway, you got the recording equipment…so with that said…
(Warning… Please be careful not to blow out your ears or your soundcard, especially when running anything through an amp to the computer’s soundcard…keep everything quiet and work your way up to a higher volume oohhh which takes us to our next point!)
*** Btw…Don’t use the “mic” (red?) plugin on your soundcard, use the “line in” (blue?). “mic” is for junky MSN chatting microphones. Be sure to set this in Audacity.***
Get the volumes right!!!
Volume was a problem we had to cope with for a long while…yet we didn’t know it was the culprit!
Get your guitar or whatever else is plugged in and hit the red circle “record” button…strum at about how you would strum…now see that red bar on the top of Audacity? Yeah that one! Now tell me, does it look like it’s barely showing? If so, you gotta turn your instrament up! But it bet that’s not your problem if you’re a hardcore-amp-into-the-soundcard-rocker like us. So really, is it “dusting” the 0 (or the -6 if it’s a junk mic) or is it bAsHiNg into it? You ABSOLUTLEY do NOT want it bashing into the right of the screen, past the zero. That’s bad stuff and it makes everything sound like boggy garbage. What you want is the sound to “bounce” or “brush” the zero, or whatever the limit of the mic/instrament is. That way you get max volume- without that boggy, gross,distortiony thing. If you’re just messing around and just want a quick-y recording, then just get the sound in the (-24)-(-18)-(-12) ballpark. Yeah!
Save your hard work!!!
You have got to save your work, as something bad could happen at any time to it. You might even just happen to be the offender! Don’t do any normalizing or any effects or anything before you save! There’s nothing like you and a friend going “yeah!!! yeah!!! that’s the best take yet!!!” and then you apply some crazy vst plugin that crashes Audacity.
Use the equalizer in itunes.
Well, you don’t have to, but if you want your music to have “color”,“style”, or “radio ready” qualities, equalization is an enormous part. Audacity can only do effects after you record- and they’re still not realtime effects, even then! Equalization is something you have GOT to do whilst listening to the music you recorded. I would recommend using itunes’ equalizer… Some noobie hints to equalizing:
Look for continuous bad sounds by boosting different frequencies and then dropping them down until everything else sounds better than before. Remember if you boost and keep it there, you will most likely get that really annoying boggy-gross-distortion sound with that said try to only lower frequencies, don’t boost unless you’re sure the frequency won’t bog-dist- out. Just do it carefully and slowly.
There are presets in itunes,windows media player, moreamp (hey! now this is a really cool free, open source program…and oddly it looks a lot like Audacity…but it can do realtime stuff!!!), and in many other random programs (there’s even freebie “live equalizing” apps…) Try them.
Compression and such…
There are many seemingly “wonderful” vst and nyquist plugins but it is strictly a matter of preference. These won’t make your music all of the sudden “amazing”. Equalizing is more what does that- but NOTHING is an instant “fix”. You gotta work with your recordings- once recorded- equalizing and compression and all the other effects are all like different paint colors to paint on the top of your pencil sketch on the canvas. Sorry…whew it’s getting late! (i get more metaphorical the later it gets…I thought I’d just type some recording things really quick in notepad… and look what happened!!!)
One last thing!
Don’t forget what Audacity is! It’s a recording program, and in such you can record anything you get sounding good in any random program from a freeware reverb app to the equalizer in itunes… all you got to do is choose “Wave out mix” (in Audacity) instead of “line in” and hit record whilst the sound is playing! No more looking for “save as .mp3” as a feature in any program! -just get the volumes right
AnYwAy, have a good time recording!!! If there’s anything you’re still confused about, i probably don’t know what to do…but hey email me and we’ll figure it out! I just love “googling”
(put a “Re: Audacity” on it please! Thanks!)