Over past few months some of my friends out here in India have asked me about my home-studio, music making gadgets, some random discussions about MIDI etc and also suggestions about how they should go about building a home-studio for themselves. Though there’s no fixed correct ways to do so..but I shared my experiences with them..and they found it helpful. I am providing the text (our interactions) below..as I felt this may help someone who is looking for a similar info. Thanks and best wishes for your musical explorations!
Discussion 2 (January 2013)
I’ve taken a decision to buy a soundcard for composing stuff.
Could you guide me in helping me choose a decent one, not too expensive at present?
Very soon I’m going to buy Macbook Pro too.
The choice of your soundcard also depends on what you intend to record ? Typically for home studios people buy a soundcard that enables them to record atleast 1 Mic and 1 instrument (Guitar etc.). There on..depending upon the budget and requirement you can choose a soundcard with more channels…e.g. 2 Mics and 2 Guitars…and so on.
I use Apogee Duet for my music works. This provides me 2 channels in which I can plug both Guitar and Mic. (Apogee products are designed for Apple computers though).
There’s an Apogee product with one channel as well..called Apogee “ONE”
You can explore the following for yourself :
Apogee “ONE” or “DUET2” : http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/
I checked with my friend who also has a good home-studio. He uses RME Fireface 400. (This product line is for both Macs n Windows.)
RME Audio : http://www.rme-audio.de/en_index.php
Both Apogee and RME are successful products of professional quality.
I’ve also heard good things about Line 6 products. You can choose from UX1 or UX2 ..
Apart from all these… most home-studios typically need a small MIDI Controller. (Soundcard enables you to do the Audio work…recording Mics…electric guitar etc AND MIDI enables you to play any digital synths or sampled pianos, pads, drumkits etc.) Often people straightaway buy a combo product which provides them a small MIDI controller with 2 Audio channels (Mic and Guitar both). M-Audio (www.m-audio.com/) used to offer these Combo Controllers (called Keystation)…but I don’t see these on the site now. You can chk with some music-shops if they have these in stock.
One catch with the Midi Cotroller+Audio channel product is that its obviously bigger in size than just a soundcard..and hence less portable. If you only have a soundcard (like Apogee ONE suppose)..you can easily pick your Mic, your soundcard, your Macbook Pro…and you are ready to record..anywhere! This will be little cumbersome with the Midi Cotroller …though u’ll save money !
Hope this helped. Feel free to ask further.
Thank you Aditya for such a detailed and thorough answer.
This will really help me. Now I shall get into action mode.
Discussion 1 (September 2012)
I heard about you from a friend of mine..he’s the drummer in our band.
These days I am looking to record acoustic/electric guitar + vocals + background score at my home. However, I do not have much at my place. I have a normal HP laptop with a good enough RAM. I use a small analogue-USB converter pin. And I have Korg AX5G guitar effects processor.
With the electric guitar, I can record well on my laptop. I have attached a one minute sound clip for your review. So, I don’t have much problem with the electric guitars. I use Fruity loops and Audacity.
It is the acoustic guitar recording which I am struggling with. I do not have a microphone. And I don’t want to use those low quality acoustic guitar pick-ups. Now, I found out certain things from the online search about microphones for acoustic guitar.
1) I need to have a condenser Mic. I have checked out Behringer C-1U at a local shop here. It needs Phantom power so they could not get it running. And they didn;t have much information about microphones anyways. I also thought , may be, the microphone of a good digital camera could be used. But there’s no information on the net about what kind of microphones are there in digital cameras. I have Canon Ixus 115 HS. Decent and sensitive microphone. But there’s humming.
2) Dynamic mics are best suited for live performances. They are sturdy. Condenser mics are suited for vocals and instrument recording in studio or home. And they can also be used for performances.
I am sorry for this longish mail. But I thought I need to tell you the background before asking your opinion.
Starting from a budget of 5k to 10k, how would you set up a home recording set-up, considering there is a decent laptop, acoustic and electric guitars, good effects processor and fruity loops. My aim is to record the songs I compose at home. So I will be looking at vocals recording as well.
I will be thrilled to get a response from you. I have heard your recordings from the site and the blog. And those are amazing. I would like to try something of that quality. Would love to hear your feedback on the attachment.
Thanks a lot.
I am glad you heard my music and liked it as well. Thanks.
Regarding your queries :
Ya, I remember your drummer texting me about your questions.
For plugging a Mic or an Electric Guitar into a computer you need an interface device that takes care of the signal before it enters the computer. Directly plugging the Mic/Guitar into the computer sound-card doesn’t give good enough levels and also may have a slight latency in some caes. Such interfaces essentially consist of electronic stuff like Pre-Amps ..A/D converters..and external sound-card in some cases. Some interfaces also have the capability of providing Phantom power in case a condenser Mic is attached to it.
Have a look at this..may be what you are looking for : http://line6.com/podstudioux1/specifications.html
I heard your recording. The guitar playing is good but I felt the sound to be weak which, I felt, is because of the missing interface in your setup.
The link mentioned above shows a product that supports 2 inputs. You’ll also get cheaper versions with single input..but I would suggest that you go for atleast 2 simultaneous inputs because as you progress with acoustic guitar recordings, soon you will feel the need to record your guitar in stereo..and that needs 2 channels at once.
I haven’t used any such product for my needs..so can’t give you a review in that. But I’ve heard from some of my friends about this Line 6 product mentioned above..and they liked it.
You’ve mentioned that you also want to do background-scoring. For that you would need a MIDI keyboard. These come separately and you can explore this link for the same : http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.family&ID=USBkeyboardcontrollers
Now..from my experience of a typical life-cycle of a new music producer who is developing a home-studio for himself, I would suggest a third kind of device for you…that, I believe, will help in a very long run! I think you should rather wait (if that’s possible)..gather some more money and buy a device from this range (the link is no longer available on their site) : http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.family&ID=audiointerfacekb
These are combo devices that give you a good enough MIDI keyboard + a 2 channel audio interface that supports Mic and Guitars both..and has all typical features like Phantom Power…external sound-card thats suited for music. With this, you shouldn’t need any other device for a basic setup.
Now, for the Mics. You are right in a way in your explanation of the 2 kinds of microphones. However, I have experienced that investing in Condenser Mics is worth enough only if you have a very quiet (if not sound-proof) recording room. These are very sensitive mics and they catch even the minutest sounds. Dynamic mics are not just for Live performances. There are some very good quality (and affordable) dynamic mics available in the market that are used globally. I do have a decent collection of condenser mics ..still I use my dynamic mics often for many projects..and the results are quite good.
I would suggest that you buy a dynamic mic for starters..you can go for a Shure SM58 which would serve good for both Vocals as well as Guitars/other instruments. And that is not a very costly mic..despite being the favorite across the globe. In case you want to save some money here..you can go for Shure SM57 (more suited to instruments..can manage vocals as well).
Digicam Mics : The mics on Canon IXUS are good and sensitive…but the major problems that I anticipate is.. the sample-rate of these recordings sometimes differ. And this affects the processing that you may need to do on these sounds..like FX, EQ etc. Have you tried importing these audio-files into your FLStudio projects ? I anticipate that they’ll either run faster or slower in there (and accordingly pitch may also shift). You can fix this by converting the sample rates either within FL or using some freeware available online. Another drawback is that since the opening of the mic is very small..just a small dot on the face of the camera..due to this theres a lot of wind-noise in the recordings. Even if your ears may find the air around to be quiet..the camera will catch lots of disturbances.
You’ll also soon need a mic-stand.
Within the budget that you have mentioned..may be you’ll get a 1 or 2 channel audio interface and a decent dynamic mic..but from what I have observed..you may very soon feel the limitations of these..and then typically folks start looking for options to sell these stuff off to be able to buy the next in the line devices. So if there’s no urgency at your end right now..I would suggest that keep making new melodies and recording them using your present setup…gather money side-by-sie..and then go for a Shure SM58 Dynamic Mic + MAudio Audio-Interface Keyboard and a decent Mic-Stand. That should be it for you to explore your music further! Do read there tech-specs first to match with your existing setup. Some devices may connect to the computer via a FireWire400 or 800 port. Though most modern upgrades now come with a USB option. But..before buying a firewire device..do chk if you have a free firewire 400 or 800 port on your laptop.
I hope could answer your questions.
Best wishes for all your efforts.
I can’t express how much your reply is helping me. I am still exploring in the direction you gave. It seems I should indeed wait and save money instead of buying random stuff in a hurry. Makes sense.
Thanks a lot.
I was wondering if I know the use of a MIDI controller keystudio well. I used to think “since I play the guitar, I will not be using a keyboard to play chords or backing melodies etc.” But now I think slightly differently. Now the meaning of a MIDI keyboard for me is that I can create backing instrument tracks without the complexities of making it on the software. And then I can also use the keyboard as the audio interface for my acoustic and vocal recordings. And having that keystudio 491 will add value to my songs in the form of – saving time, more freedom to use different instruments, more intuitive playing and recording tracks.
Am I thinking correctly here?
Thanks again. Sorry for the added questions. I hope to meet you soon sometime.
Well, here’s a bit of theory on controllers and MIDI..may help you in re-orienting your thinking:
See..a controller keyboard is a kind if gesture-recognition interface between a human and a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Different keyboards have different capabilities to recognize more and more human gestures…depending upon the prices ofcourse. Whenever you press a note..typically a controller senses which key you pressed.. how hard you hit it.. for how long it remained pressed..any finger movement while the key was pressed (vibrato – after touch etc.) ..how and when did you move to the next key.. and a million other parameters. Accordingly it enables you to even play slides, bends, tremolos etc on string instruments..even with fingernoise (sliding) sound. Unlike simple “keyboards or home synthesizers”, Keystudio49 (and also other MIDI controllers of any brand) are capable of identifying all these human gestures.
MIDI is a way of recording all this information in the form of very simple text files onto your computer. These files are editable at any moment.. you can even correct a wrong note that you played…or lengthen/shorten its duration in case you played wrongly… and even suppose you play a part on a piano..and want the same tune on a flute as well..you can simply invoke a flute onto a new channel in FL studio and copy the piano MIDI part here..and you won’t need to play it again !
So these are just a few use-cases that get enabled with a MIDI Controller in picture.
Sound/Sampler libraries inside any DAW are designed to be used with a MIDI controller … e.g. your FL Studio Acoustic Guitar instrument must be having the sounds of finger-slides and capabilities to support bend..tremolos..hammering etc..but those you can use only if you have an apt controller. Otherwise even to play a simple bend note…you’ll have to do tedious editing with your mouse!…which breaks the flow of music.
In simple words..with my experience I would say that ..you MUST have a MIDI controller. It’s a necessity..and not a luxury.
Hope that helps.