There comes a stage in almost every musician’s life when they want to take that big leap and record a (semi) professional sounding home demo. It can seem like you’re going nowhere when all you’re doing is playing to your teddy bear collection in your bedroom, so this is naturally the next step that will help you realise your progression as a musician. However, there’s a few things that you’re going to need before you consider yourself the next Rick Rubin or Steve Albini, so let us guide you through the initial phases of recording a home demo.
One of the most important things that you will need (and possibly the most costly) is some music software, otherwise known as a DAW (Digital audio workstation) on which you can collate all the various instruments and tracks for your song. There’s a whole load of options on the market, some of which you might find for free on the internet, but if you’re serious about recording, you’re going to want to invest in a proper program that can provide you with the tools and flexibility you need.
Some of these programs include: ProTools, Ableton, Logic (Apple Mac) or Cubase – all of which have their varying advantages and prices – it’s worth doing some research before hand to make sure you’re getting the right product for you. Depending on the version, you should be able to get one of these for around £100-200. It seems a lot now, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Most of this software will come included with a number of plug-ins for things like compression, EQ, reverb and click tracks, and if this all sounds like a foreign language to you, then don’t worry – they’ll all help when it comes to creating your demo.
The audio interface is the middle man between your computer and your instruments. It usually comes in the form of a small box that you plug your instruments into, and then into your computer. They expand and improve the sonic capabilities of your computer and allow you to connect all sorts of live input signals, from guitars to keyboards, into your DAW.
Audio interfaces start at about £50 and scale quickly upwards, but we’d recommend spending around £100 to get something that’s comprehensive and good value for money.
If you want to do live, natural takes playing your instruments, rather than plugging straight into your interface and editing the sound afterwards, you’re also going to need a microphone. Quite Great recommends getting a condenser microphone as these can cater to all your needs whether you want to record guitar, keys or even vocals. You’ll want one with an XLR output that can plug into your audio interface.
The audio interface has the ability to set the levels of your input and monitor your recordings, so before you start playing, make sure that your microphone is a suitable distance from the sound source (usually a stretched hand width works fine) and that your levels are set correctly. If you don’t get these and the decibel monitor right, you may well end up with a little red light that signals the ‘clipping’ of the sound wave of your input. ‘Clipping’ is a form of distortion that happens when an audio signal is too large to be represented.
Once you’re happy with the initial recordings, there are a number of things you may want to consider to polish up your masterpiece. You can have a play around with the things we mentioned earlier (compression, EQ, reverb), but most software will have presets for a number of different styles, for example, acoustic guitar or warm vocals.
Also, in order to create a full-bodied stereo sound, you may want to consider panning your instruments left, right and centre to achieve that balanced and professional edge.
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