Abbey Road in your bedroom?
Not so long ago, if you wanted to get your music heard, you had to go into a professional recording studio. That meant paying a lot of money to hire the studio and recording engineer/producer. Depending on the size of the studio this could cost anything from £30 to £80 for every hour you spent. It could easily cost £1000 to record just one song. Out of reach for most people so artists had to try and get a recording contract with a record label. As Steve Knightley of Show of Hands remembers, a band would play a gig for an audience of several hunderd people but only one person mattered – the A&R guy (the talent scout for the record label) at the back of the room.
Things started to change with the arrival of the four-track recording studio – machines by companies such as Tascam with their 244 machine and Fostex with the Fostex 250. The term Portastudio became the generic term for these machines.
These worked by using readily available cassette tapes which had four tracks. A normal cassette had four tracks but normally used two going one way and then the tape was turned over to play the other “side”. The portastudios utilised all four tracks by reading the entire width of the tape but only going in one direction. Bruce Springsteen famously used one of these to record an album but their main use was to produce “demo” tapes as the quality, especially when three tracks were “bounced” down (amalgamated) onto one track to enable more than four instruments etc to fit onto the quarter inch tape, was not as good as commercial studios running much larger tape machines with more tracks and huge mixing desks and top quality outboard effects such as reverbs, chorus etc.
Then came digital recording and everything changed. Rather than recording to tape, with a finite (up to 16 but at the very most 32) number of tracks there was the possibility of (in theory) as many tracks as your computer processor could handle. The first real “Industry Standard” recording software or DAW – (Digital Audio Workstation) was ProTools and this is still the software of choice in many top studios today. Nowadays there are many others to choose from but I´ll be reviewing the one I know best – Presonus Studio One.
The recording software – Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs)
When Pro Tools first came out it was expensive (and is still one of the priciest DAWs) but prices have been falling fast and it is now possible, as long as you have a computer, to have a complete recording studio with the sort of capabilities in terms of track numbers, effects etc that the Beatles could only have dreamed of when they recorded at Abbey Road. You can start with a complete package containing everything you need for well under £200. Indeed, I made an EP and a CD with just such a package (the Presonus Audiobox 96 Studio – seen in the picture at the top of the page) and the music I recorded with it has been played on radio stations from New York to Australia and been downloaded and streamed in over 40 countries. So what do you get for that sort of money?
First you need what is known as an Analogue/Digital interface. This little box of tricks takes the signals from a microphone or instrument and converts them to digital signals that your computer can understand. Computers take time to process information so this box also enables you to play along with tracks you already recorded without there being a noticeable lag as the sound goes from your microphone to the computer and back to your ears. The soundcard in your computer is not designed to do this. You can, of course, just buy this item separately but it saves money to buy an integrated package. Hence my recommendation for the Presonus Audiobox 96 Studio package. So the first item out of the box is:-
1 – AudioBox 96 USB Audio Interface
The Audiobox 96 is a professional-grade audio interface boasting a sample rate ranging up to 24-bit/96kHz (don´t worry about the figures – it just means it is very good quality). The result is high-quality audio performance, capturing every nuance from your source inputs. The built-in +48V Phantom Power also allows you to use condenser microphones for studio-grade recordings. The two front-panel combination inputs allow you to capture both vocal and instrument recordings with immense detail. (You can plug 1/4″ jack plugs or professional mic plugs into it and two inputs mean you can record voice and guitar at the same time) It’s highly portable design is bus-powered, eliminating the need for a power supply. The interface also features high-quality microphone preamps, designed to capture every nuance from your vocal/instrument recordings. It also includes MIDI connectivity as well as a high-level headphone output for private monitoring. Next up is the microphone:-
2 –M7 Microphone
This is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone. The wide frequency range and high-quality capsule ensure you capture every nuance from your source audio for studio-grade recordings. The premium-grade components allows you to capture vocal performances and music in extreme detail, retaining the natural harmonics that get lost with dynamic microphones. The result is a warm yet airy sound that is ideal for vocal recordings.
You´ll need something to listen with and headphones are essential when adding vocals while listening to the instrument tracks so next up is:-
3 – HD7 Headphones
These high-definition studio headphones feature a semi-open design, delivering a punchy bass response with a balanced sound. The extremely accurate midrange and extended treble response, allows you to hear all the subtle overtones when it comes to mixing your music. The lightweight design and comfortable ear-pads minimise listening fatigue and the tough construction ensures optimal durability.
But the most important item in the box is the software that will turn your computer into a fully fledged recording studio and that is the Studio One (Artist) DAW that comes with this package.
Studio One 4 Artist
You can, of course, buy these bits separately but buying a package means you get a solution that a) works straight out of the box and b) costs less than buying the individual items. The most important part of all this is the software for your studio. This is what will give you unlimited tracks, let you add instruments, enable you to sing harmonies with yourself, turn one voice into a choir, process your tracks to add reverb and delay to your vocals or add a little chorus to your guitar and, should the fancy take you, add string sections, drums – whatever your heart desires. Click here to read all about it