Music Recording Software Considerations
Which digital workstation is the best? If ever there was a subject that could cause a heated debate this would be crowned victorious as the winner.
The truth, in my opinion is that they all basically do the same thing. If this is the case then it will be the subtle nuances of each system that will matter most to you as an individual.
Personally I have only worked with 2 systems myself and so I am not truly qualified to elaborate on the nuances of every DAW out there.
However, I do not believe it is necessary to know the ins and outs of every digital workstation on the market to state a case for which direction one should go. Since they all basically do the same thing, as I had previously stated, the main factors in your choice will probably be the following.
FULL VERSION OR BUDGET VERSION, What is the top choice.
I am a Cubase user so I will make the case for which version based on this system.
As of the time of this writing, there are 3 versions of Cubase you can buy. Cubase Pro, Cubase Artist, and Cubase Elements. Pro is $559 USD, Artist is $339 and Elements is $99. If you are simply going to be tracking one instrument and vocals then, by all means, save your money and buy the least expensive level of whatever DAW you are going to go with. You are going to have ample tracks and processing power with even the most modest version of a DAW to get this job done.
If, however, you are like me and have a real penchant for production and creation the choice between the mid-priced DAW and the full version is a no-brainer. Go with the full version. In the long run, you are going to spend thousands of dollars on your setup so a few hundred dollars is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things.
This is not a sales pitch for Cubase so understand that I am just using this as an example.
Which DAW you choose is up to you. Really strong criteria you may want to consider when deciding on which workstation may be this. Do you have a friend who is already using a system currently? If so, you may want to consider going with whatever station they are using for several reasons.
In the beginning, I found the whole digital recording world a real tough go. I literally had to hire someone at $60 an hour for 10 hours to come in and fast-track my learning so I didn’t want to just throw in the towel and give up.
Being the type of person I am, and wanting desperately to make these grand musical creations right out of the gate it was a real attack on my patience to go through the initial learning curve. I am a bit short on patience, to begin with, so don’t let this little rant deter you from moving forward.
If I had to do it again I would have gone with Protools because I had a friend who was pretty serious Protools guy who I could have taken advantage of by just sitting in on some of his sessions to get the ball rolling sooner.
Case in point. I have a musician friend who I played in several bands with over the years who has recently gotten into self-recording at home. My friend has an additional limitation that hampers his learning ability. He is blind! For a long time, he did not even think that digital recording was even a possibility for him for obvious reasons. However, with the speech function that modern computers have onboard and a little help from his friends he has been able to become surprisingly functional on Protools. If he had have consulted me before starting, I would have steered him towards Cubase for the reasons I have already stated. I am far more proficient with the Cubase interface and could be a lot more help to my friend if he had have decided to use Cubase.
Oh well. I do the best I can to help and in the interim, I hooked him up with my other buddy that is a wiz a Protools, at a very affordable hourly rate when my blind friend really needs Protools specific assistance.
The main point stands. It is going to be a lot easier learning the ins and outs of your DAW of choice if you have someone close at hand when the inevitable snags show up. Little things like how to export a track vs how to export a batch of track or lust one single track can be a real hard thing to sort out when you are confronted with this task for the first time. There is always the owners manual, of course, but have you looked at how thick that thing is yet? Pretty intimidating!
Another thing to consider when choosing your first DAW is whether or not you are going to be doing collaborations with other musicians that are working out of professional studios. I know this is probably a remote possibility but just in case your answer is yes, and if it is a yes then I am going to suggest you buy Protools.
Protools is still the industry standard in the big leagues and so for ease of collaboration it makes sense in this situation. If you are using the same platform as the studios you are going to be frequenting then it affords the option of simply exporting your session at home in its entirety onto a USB stick and then opening that session up at the remote studio exactly as it was formatted at your studio. Plugins, EQ, volume setting and all just the way you left it at home. This can be a very convenient way to function and in some cases an absolute necessity.
If you are really on a shoestring budget but you still want a DAW that is full featured you can get a copy of Reaper. There is a 60-day free trial and then a basic license is $60 and even the full version is only $225. This way if you are starting out on a super low budget you can get full features and scale up as you get a bit more money.
I have never worked with Reaper but from the feedback, I have listened to on forums the users of it are content that it is every bit as functional as any other system out there.
Let’s go through a list of what is available in terms of DAW options on the market.
- Logic Pro X
- Pro Tools
- Studio One
- Ableton Live
- Cubase Pro
- Cakewalk Sonar
- Propellerhead Reason
- FL Studio
- Cockos Reaper
- Bitwig Studio
- MOTU Digital Performer
- Mixcraft Pro Studio
You can already see a couple of the systems I have previously mentioned previously so I won’t elaborate on them. Just the rest.
1) Logic Pro X
If you are a Mac computer user there is reason to believe that Logic is a real solid performer since it was custom created for Mac by Apple. I have not used Logic but rumor has it that the performance of the stock plugins that come bundled with the platform are second to none. It is also claimed by many users that the track count and ability to handle large projects on a Mac computer are very impressive compared to other DAW’s on a Mac.
What can one say…..Industry standard. The one complaint I have heard is that Protools does not play well with PC computers. The other complaint is that the system is a bit rigid in terms of its functionality but to be fair there are some good reasons to do with cross-platform compatibility that are necessary in this regard. Hey….you gain something you have to give up something too.
3) Studio One.
Considered to be an all-around performer across all use cases. Smooth workflow and good support.
4) Abelton Live.
A big hit with creators of house, dance and trance music due to some proprietary systems functions and a large library of factory templates to fast-track the creative process.
5) Cubase Pro.
I am too biased to elaborate on Cubase but I will say that It has a really good built-in vocal editing suite with all the functions of Melodyne and also has some fantastic upgrade software, particularly in the software synthesizer department.
This is a Windows-only software so Mac users move on. This system has been around for 25 years so it has stood the test of time.
Again, Reaper is great for those on a budget yet it does not fall down on features when placed side by side with the more expensive competition
Again, I reiterate. If you have a friend who is already using a particular DAW and if it makes no difference to you I would go with the same system as your buddy. Could save you a lot of wasted time and frustration. Digital recording has come so far that anyone still standing in the marketplace would have to have something worthwhile to offer.
Happy recording and mixing.
Home Recording Studio Equipment List
If you are just starting out and are confused about what recording gear is most necessary for a home studio, the following info should get you on the right track without putting you in the poor house!
The web is a great source of information but there are an excess of opinions on any given subject to sort through and everyone’s needs and budgets are quite different.
You should not have to go into debt or take out a second mortgage on your house to get enough gear to make a perfectly satisfying recording in your own home.
Plus, you can and should start with the minimum necessary gear and scale up your system as you go.
There are several reasons for this which I will list here and then we will get into a step by step shopping list.
Next, I will talk about what you may want to consider during this phase of your purchase to better prepare for stage 2 of your gear acquisition. There will be a stage 2….trust me on this! In that case, you may as well prepare for stage 2 in stage one so as not to end up trading up your gear at a price loss when you can scale up and avoid trading in current gear at a loss.
Before we start there is one last fact I want to share that will hold you in check during this first buying phase and keep you from getting too out of control.
Here it is! The standard DAW ( digital audio workstation ) has more features and more potential recording power right out of the box than a $10,000,000 Main St. Studio would have had 30 years ago.
Let that sink in for a while and while you’re at it you may want to write that on the back of a business card and glue it to your wallet as a reminder when you inevitably end up sleepwalking down to the local music store with a burning sensation in your back pocket.
It is easy to end up with G.A.S. ( Gear Acquisition Syndrome ) when you start into recording and $3,000 -$10,000 pieces of gear are widely available to the consumer today.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
OK. Now, let’s get to the gear.
- Mixing Room
1)First, and most important piece of gear…………….YOU!
Yep…..YOU! Look, I went to school for audio engineering. But in my day, ( I’m 56 now ) a Studer 24 Track tape machine was $250,000. The idea of a home studio was the domain of the insanely rich. Emphasis on “insane”. Even if you could afford the gear and had the space to use it the average person is not going to be able to make this pig sing. If I won the lottery bought Blackbird Studio tomorrow it does not mean I would be churning out massive big hit sound the next day just because I now have a multi-million dollar microphone collection and a ton of tracks to record on.
It takes a talent that goes beyond the owning of the gear to get those great sounds that we are all striving for. I thought that when computing power got to the point where I could process the number of tracks that the pro’s had at their disposal that I would be able to get pretty close to the quality of audio that the Pro’s were creating to fool the public into believing that I was at least approaching the big leagues.
After all, I at least had a head start with some formal training.
First, and most important piece of gear…………….YOU!
Boy, was I wrong!
I sucked then and I still suck enough 8 years later to warrant not having enough credibility for you to even continue reading this article if it were not for the fact that it could save you from not only going mad, but it may save your marriage at the same time. ( Not kidding)
You are the biggest component in the equation. Your ears and your musical taste and creativity are going to shine through even a mediocre recording and mix at the end of the day. No amount of expensive gear is going to change that as much as you fantasize it.
( Read card glued to wallet one more time)
2) Your computer.
Of course, it really depends on what your goals are when we talked about what the sort of computer you are going to need to get the job done. Most modern computers are going to be satisfactory if all you want to do is record an acoustic guitar a vocal track and a couple of backup vocals and possibly few percussion instruments.
Now……. if your goals are much loftier than that and you want to take on large multitrack recordings and mixes you had better just make up your mind right now that you’re going to buy a fairly substantial computer if you don’t already have one.
Personally, I recommend buying a computer that you are going to use for no other purpose than recording and mixing and possibly surfing the net for musical ideas. I use a 27in iMac. The first thing you will want to do is upgrade the RAM either at the factory or as an are aftermarket upgrade. Ram is reasonably inexpensive today and you will want to go for at least 16 gigs but I really recommend 32 gigs.
Once you start heaping on lots of additional instrument tracks such as keyboards and guitar processors you are going to eat up random access memory really fast. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to get into the groove of a recording or a mix and being shut out by System overloads and crashes constantly. It’s a real joy kill and a real stitch in your creative side when the gear simply won’t obey.
The debate on computers continues as to whether you want to go with a Mac or a PC. Well, it really is up to you but my suggestion is that if you are familiar with one or the other that you stay with that particular system. That being said, there are certain, sort of, hard and fast rules in this domain that are important. Things may have changed now but this was the landscape when I was buying my first round of gear.
RE: Pro Tools, if that ends up being your choice of digital workstation really does work much better and is much more compatible with a Mac computer. Another popular choice, Cubase, was better suited to a PC back in the day. Apparently, it was formatted originally for that platform.
End Side Note;
That being said, I use Cubase on a Mac and it works just fine for me. There are some background preference settings you’re going to need to deal with that I won’t go into at this stage since they are better addressed by watching someone do an over-the-shoulder video walking you through the steps. You may want to look that up online after you have installed your system.
Actually, the best source of this information turned out to be the Steinberg.net forum. Imagine that. Getting good solid advice from a form set up by the very people who make the product. ( Sarcasm ) Anyway, you will get to the goal line in this regard if you do enough searching through various web boards and ask the right questions. There may even be information archived on the subject if you use the search function on the particular web board that you are using.
It’s just not something you want to try to explain to unless and until it becomes an issue.
( Read card glued to wallet one more time)
3) Your Mixing / Recording Room
Ideally, you want to set aside a specific room in your house that you were going to set up as your mix room and or recording room. If this isn’t possible and you have to be shoehorned into the corner of one room or another then you are simply going to have to make do with substandard acoustics. This is unfortunate because this is probably one of the biggest factors in whether or not the recordings you make are going to translate to the outside world or not.
What I mean by translate is that when you record and mix them and you’re at that listening phase and you’re satisfied with the balance in the sound is that going to appear to be relatively similar when played back on various different types of systems later on. This is probably one of the most frustrating things that I went through because, although I was able to set aside a specific room in my house as my mix room, that room was not ideal for the job. The room I had set aside was 11 by 10 by 10 which is almost a perfect Cube. Literally, the worst possible Dimensions you can ask for in a mix and or recording room is a perfect Cube.
There are a number of mathematical reasons to do with frequencies and the Collision of these frequencies and how they cancel and boost each other that comes into play here but I won’t get into a giant acoustical diatribe at this point. You can save that for the Gearslutz “Acoustics” forum which is a great place to start getting some information regarding how to set up your room to get an ideal sound reproduction. This is an area that can really start to add up cost wise when you try to solve those problems that are inevitably going to arise in the rooms that you’re likely going to use in your own home.
I will walk you through my particular situation because I believe it can be instructive and because I believe many of you will run into a similar problem when confronted with what room you’re going to be allowed to use in your own home. It’s a practical consideration really, not many of us have the ideal 20 by 35 room with a 12-foot ceiling set aside so we can just set up a mixing desk and a bunch of gear. If you happen to be that person, I hate you. So let’s get to my situation and why I hate you. As I said I was stuck in a room 11 by 10 by 10 so through my investigation the conclusion that I came to was to deaden the room as much as possible.
There seems to be a great debate about this particular methodology and it’s a very heated one in terms of what should be done in this situation. The conclusion I came to was laid out by one of the more senior acoustic type dudes on the Gearslutz forum who said that a small room needs to be a dead room. It is not the ideal situation for mixing and recording but it’s the only solution when your room is small and cube-shaped. I thought considering the source I’d best go with their advice. There was some subsequent support from a few of the other senior fellows who seem to generally agree with this assertion.
No article on this subject would be complete without somewhat of a recommendation as to how to go about doing this treatment. You could hire me to do it as I have done for others but I’m sure that you’re too far away to afford to fly me to wherever you happen to live to do the job. So you’re probably going to have to go It Alone. Don’t despair, it’s not a massive undertaking.
However, to do it right, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty. There are some quick fix Solutions like Auralex and other similar types out there on the market but they aren’t necessarily going to be ideal and they aren’t going to be any less costly than what I am about to suggest. My suggestion is that you use roxul Rockboard 60 to do the majority of your treatment.
Roxul safe and sound May be used as an alternate and does a pretty decent job and is more widely available and less money then the Rockboard 60 is. I had to order Rockboard 60 from a specialist locally who deals with acoustics. Even the local specialist that didn’t stock it. The only place I could find that stalked it was an hour and a half drive away across Metropolitan Toronto and all its nightmarish traffic to boot.
I opted to have it delivered. I often say to people that ask me to do this job for them since I am suited to it working as a contractor for 30 years. You can solve about 80% of your acoustical problems for about $2,000. To solve the other 20% could cost you $200,000. I prefer to quit while I’m ahead and stop at $2000.
( Read card glued to wallet one more time)
The main enemy in the acoustical War is what we call early reflections. Early reflections are those the emanate from the closest surfaces to the speakers as they spit out the sound. Here is a diagram of what that might look like so that you can get an idea what you’re dealing with here. The main objectives in dealing with this are going to be the placement of 7 panels at a dimension of 2ft by 4ft in strategic locations that are going to mitigate these Reflections coming back to your ear in the listening position.
Where to place these panels is quite straightforward actually. Simply imagine that the speakers are a pool ball in a pool game and that they are going to be fired at the wall from the speaker position and end up hitting you in the ear. You’re going to have to consider all four walls and the ceiling in dealing with these reflections. Depending on what type of setup you have there will also be Reflections off of your desk as well. These are the least of your concern but I have suggested in certain situations that people deal with these Reflections if they have a large desk surface area.
The placement of a couple of small panels matching the pool shot scenario above simply sitting on the desk surface will get the job done. The other consideration, although somewhat secondary is also quite important. This will help deal with the bass frequencies that are going to inevitably be rolling around your room creating that familiar “One Note Bass” type lower frequency sound that you typically get with a home stereo system. Not the ideal situation.
This is where Roxul Safe and Sound insulation can come in handy. You simply cut large triangles out of the insulation batts and stand them up in the corner from floor-to-ceiling and cover them up with your choice of cloth and a couple of thin strips of trim nailed to the wall to hold the bats in the cloth in place. Bass frequencies are omnidirectional and tend to roll around the room like water rolling around in a jar that’s being shaken and swirled. The best way to stop them is in the corners of the room. It’s also the most practical because we don’t spend a lot of time in the corners of our room and so the bass traps tend to stay out of our way in this setup.
For more on acoustic treatment, I go into depth in this post Home Studio Acoustics Guide.
4) Interface ( Digital to analog converter )
The first consideration you are going to want to make when deciding what digital to analog converter or interface you are going to buy is how many tracks am I going to want to record at one time.
People often start out thinking that they are just going to record themselves one track at a time and that’s all that they’re recording efforts will ever amount to. I want you to really think about this before you decide what to buy. Often, as we start to develop in the recording and mixing Realm are goals begin to change and evolve over time.
Give some serious consideration to spending a little more money and getting a multitrack interface instead of just a single or 2 Channel interface. If you are in a band or plan to be in a band and think even remotely that you may want to record, for example, a drum set somewhere down the road, then consider buying a multi-channel interface now.
This will save you having to sell your initial 1 or 2 Channel interface at a loss and Turi upgrade later. Not to mention the inevitable learning curve that’s going to go with setting up drivers for a new interface, all of the bugs and problems that are going to be associated with a new system as well. On the other hand, if you are absolutely sure that you are going to be a solo act recording basic instruments then, by all means, a 2-channel interface is ideal.
If you’re planning on doing large multitrack recordings, but you plan on using digital instruments such as Superior Drummer or possibly a drum machine to do your tracks you are still only going to need a stereo interface for recording live instruments for the most part. A common use for a 2 Channel interface over a one channel interface may be either stereo micing techniques or dual miking techniques that you may want to do for acoustic guitar. You may want to capture an instrument plus the natural room sound at the same time which is also going to require 2 tracks simultaneously.
The one other reason you may want to opt for a multi-channel interface is if you currently have or plan to use in the future any hardware such as a stereo bus compressor. You are going to need the extra channels on your interface for signal routing in and out of the digital domain. Something most people would never consider if they haven’t worked with digital systems before.
Personally, I use the Steinberg MR 816 Interfaces ( no longer made ) because they have integration features that only work with Cubase. They also have built-in preamps so no need for the added cost of external preamps. Again, not a sales pitch. Just something to consider. I haven’t kept up with every piece of gear in the space and so I am sure there are other manufacturers that are creating interfaces with similar integration features with particular DAW’s and so you may want to consider going this route. I found that by having an integrated system it mitigated a whole lot of compatibility issues that I initially had with the first interface I tried.
Most companies are going to make sure their systems play well together before they are trotted out to the public.
Don’t bother. Period!!!!!!!!! ( Get something with them built in like I did and save your damn money)
Not kidding here. To hell with the people on Gearslutz and their high minded talk about the coloration of the signal and all that shit. Yes, it makes a difference if you are a super pro and are looking for that subtle sound coloration and that edge over the high-level competition, but it is way overrated for the money and in my opinion, you get way more sound coloration value out of a mic selection and mic placement.
So let’s talk about microphones.
6) Microphones for Home Studio Use
Microphones are another area where costs can add up really quick. If you’re trying to record primarily vocals and acoustic guitar and can only afford one microphone I recommend a Shure Beta 58.
A regular 58 or a 57 will do just fine if you already happen to have one kicking around but for my money, the beta 58 has just a little bit more Sweetness in the high-end and therefore makes a far better vocal mic and acoustic guitar mic. For this reason, if you can only afford one mic then make it a beta 58. You won’t be disappointed. For example, I do the majority of my vocals with a Beta 58 sitting right at my desk with no headphones and the monitors at a relatively low volume.
The off-axis rejection of the cardioid microphone is good enough to keep bleed from the monitors, when used at a moderate level of course, at a very minimum as to not affect the track in the Final Mix. In case you are not convinced regarding the Beta 58 keep in mind that the singer Bono from U2 uses this mic exclusively for his Studio recordings. The fact of the matter is that microphone selection is a trial and error situation. There are just some mics that you’re going to sound better on than others and it will take a little bit of experimentation to know this. Another tip is to go and rent some mic’s from your local music store before you take the plunge and spend several hundred dollars only to find out that this mic isn’t a great sounding mic on your voice.
You can rent four or five microphones for the weekend for under a hundred bucks and go home and lay down a bunch of tracks with each so that you can hear the difference in tonality side by side. The human ear has a hard time deciding on what sounds good in isolation so it’s better to do so by comparison and this is one method that will really help you make a decision regarding microphones for voice. I keep emphasizing microphones for voice because this is probably the first microphone you’re going to need as a home recordist so I put my emphasis there. As you’re recording palette develops you are going to branch out and get a number of other microphones including potentially ribbon mics and condenser mics. One more topic I will bring up regarding the Beta 58 is its use in recording acoustic guitar.
I kid you not! A Beta 58 placed directly out from the 15th fret on an acoustic guitar about 1 foot away simply cannot be beaten for optimum tonality. I tested this theory out on a friend of mine who is a fairly serious recordist. He had a very short time frame to lay down an acoustic guitar track and remembered me telling him this mic technique. With inadequate time to do his usual to mic, over-the-shoulder style micing technique he simply threw up a Beta 58 a foot away from the 15th fret and let the track rip. I was talking to him a while later and he said it was utterly amazing the sound and that he didn’t even have to bother EQ being it for the final mix. Enough said on that.
It’s tempting to want to buy a cheap condenser mic but I am going to advise against it. The reason for this advice is that they generally sound very harsh and often have quite an audible distortion on the sibilance. You will get way more use of something like an SM7b if you want a higher and mic than you will out of a similarly priced condenser mic.
Save your money until you can buy a really good condenser if you must have one. They aren’t going to make or break your recordings.
One side note. If you really want a good condenser mic at a reasonable price you can get a cheap condenser modified by one of several mod specialists. I had a $300 Apex 460 modded by Micheal Joly Engineering and let me tell you It is tough to tell the quality difference between it and my $4000 Geffel Microtech. I understand that he doesn’t mod that particular mic anymore but he still has many other options available. He still does a Rode NT1a mod for $399 and I am sure it is very similar. So for a grand total of $700, you end up with a mic that stands toe to toe with a $4000 mic to my ear. There are other mod guys out there but this guy won my respect so check him out.
If you really want something that is going to add some color to a sound a ribbon mic is probably going to give you the most value. Ribbon mics are a very old design and were the standard during the early years of multi-track recording.
You can spend big money on these but there are some decent intermediate priced options. A Royer 121 is a great choice if you have $1200 but for starting out a Cascade Fathead is a pretty decent option at $400 a pair. Ribbons are very dark sound wise and have a very soft high-end that is pleasing to the ear.
Don’t buy the cheapest cables. For the difference in price of a good cable and a cheap one just buy the good ones.
Get a comfortable chair.You are going to be spending a lot of time in it. LOL
The one consideration I will emphasize that is a real sticky point with me regarding chair is the arm-rests. Make sure the chair has either adjustable armrests or forward sloping ones. If the arms are in your way when you are working it is really going to get on your nerves after a while.
If you don’t know what a plug-in is yet you will soon enough.
Plugins can be another black hole for money if you’re not careful. The Waves plug-in collection has a number of bundles that you can purchase for example. The largest bundle is around $7,000 and is absolutely overkill for any beginner and possibly overkill for anyone for that matter. I purchased it a couple years into my mixing career when it went on sale for half price. I didn’t see the light of day for 6 months after that.
It’s tempting to get crazy with plugins and it is a lot of fun mind you. However, if it were me I would start out with the plugins that come bundled with your digital workstation and stick to that for the early part of your learning curve. It’s easy to get overwhelmed twiddling the knobs on plugins.
This can really get in the way of you learning more basic things such as tracking, mic technique, recording levels, playback levels and the like. It’s a total distraction from the basics that I had to learn in the analog world when all we had was microphones a console and a tape machine.
Not that I’m trying to restrict you from exploring and having fun with all of these plug-in options because, after all, they are a whole lot of fun to play with. It’s just that I think that learning the basics of tracking and playback are very important when starting out, and it’s also important not to let peripherals such as plug-ins and get in the way of that learning.
I could list plugins for another 2 hours of reading which would be a real waste of your time and mine. Instead, I will talk about what I think your first after market choices should be and why.
The first plugins I would consider after I had a good handle on the stock DAW plugins would be some sort of distortion plugins. Particularly ones that are suitable for use on the stereo bus. The reason for this as a first choice is because digital recordings are overly clean. It was a real eye-opener for me when I first started laying down tracks and listening to the playback in digital. Having started out recording to tape I was taken back by the subtle lack of fullness that the digital medium produced. It was very hard to describe and even harder to fix as I tinkered madly to try and attempt to render something that sounded llike what my mind’s ear was used to hearing.
After a time, and after some listening to the bacj and forth on a few web forum discussions on the idea there seemed to be a consensus of opinion that digital needed some “dirt” to make it sound “warm”. Whatever the hell that is!
Despite the lack of proper verbiage to describe what it was that was lacking, it was agreed that distortion was the missing element needed to achieve the desired sound.
If you are going to learn how to use on new color creation tool this is the place to start.
Personally, I could not live without the console emulation plugins from Waves Audio. There are three different consoles emulate with this plugin. Neve, SSL, EMI. They are all quite obviously different in their tonality and they make a huge impact on the mix bus as well as on individual instruments.
Another plugin series that is really well priced and invaluable in their usefulness is the Soundtoys bundle. At about $5oo you get 6 main plugins but 2 are truly noteworthy. Decapitator and Echo Boy are absolutely amazing. Decapitator is particularly good for adding punch to drums and is a secret weapon of pro mix engineers for this application.
Actually, one of my favorite distortion plugs is one that comes stock in the Cubase library. It is called Datube. It is a ridiculously simple unit but it gives a unique grit to many types of tracks and is very light on CPU. Like I said initially, the stock plugins will get you 85% of the way to the goal line if you simply take the time to experiment with them. I like Datube on instrument tracks mainly. It’s not really suitable for vocals to my ears and bit abrupt on drums. I am willing to bet that whatever DAW you choose it will have some similar plugins that do the same job if you just take the time to try them out in a number of applications.
I happen to know for a fact that many of the great recording techniques that are held close to the chest by top dogs in the game were the result of accidental mishaps in the studio. A mic stand sags and they end up recording the guitar amp with the mic pinned to the floor and end up with some really interesting tonality that they would never have achieved otherwise. ( Just an example…not a true story) But that is how these accidents often happen.
I know this because I have had some of these pleasant incidents happen to me. They are really cool so please try weird stuff and see what happens. You won’t regret it and whatever comes of it will be your personal signature.
Anyway, the main point with all gear needs to be repeated at this point. Owning a ton of gear at first will not likely help you and is even more likely to stand in the way of progress. You have to grow into each stage of a new tool that you put on your workbench. Start small and grow from there.
First, and most important piece of gear…………….YOU!
( Read card glued to wallet one more time)
10) Virtual Instruments
At the top of my list for virtual instruments is Superior Drummer. I could not live without this one. I have tried many times to record real drums and would love to have a situation where I worked with the same drummer all the timw and had a kit set up ready to record, but it is just way more trouble for my monet thab it is worth. Superior Drummer gets the nod for me. You can get a number of different drume and studio emulations with this V.I. and each one is unique. The stock kit that comes packaged with Superior Drummer is a sample of the old Avatar Studio in New York City. It will get the job done for the majoarity of rock and pop applications.
You may find that if you record Jazz or anything a little more roots based you will probably need an upgrade.
What I like most about SD is the performance packs. You can purshase addons packs that have beats played by real drummers segments into different variations. These have Intro, Verse, Chorus, Fills, and Break sections for each section that you can drag and drop into track lannes in your session and they can be even be further edited if they are not exactly what you are needing for that part of the tune.
If you are concerned that the performances will be robotic and have that 1980’s drum machine quality think again. These beats are plyed by real drummers and are not “loched to the grid” so they retain all the original feel that was played by the artist. Simply amazing. I defy anyone to detect the lack of a real drummer in one of my recordings. Nobody has yet including some of my musician freinds with very good ears.
There are some contenders in the drum V.I. arena such as Slate Digital. I have not used Slate myself but I have worked with people insessions that use ut and it is every bit as capable as Superior Drummer from what I can see so check tham both out for yourself. The owner of the company that produces the instrument, Steven Slate, is a very driven musical entrepenuer and has worked very hard on his vreations so they are going to be well thought out for sure.
For bas tracks there is still nothing that beats Trillian by Spectrasonics. If you want to fire your bass player you can and just might after hearing this virtual instrument. It is a bit of a resource hog on your computer but it is worth the resources for me. You can always print the track and disable the instrument if you find it overloading a session so don’t let that concern you. This is one of the reasons I had mentioned earlier to upgrade your computer if you think you might want to get serious about digital recording. To do it well, especially if you like to write alone as I do, can get expensive fast. I love it though and have no problem paying $300 for a good virtual instrument that does what these first choices do. Well worth the price!
Trillian has samples of just about every stringed and electronic bass that was ever made in the last 50 years. Simply endless choices. And like Superior Drummer, it has all the performance subtlties that you want from a real bass player. It has accent randomness built in so that every note does not sound robotic. Liitle things like string squeaks and fret buzz here and there that are the auditory cues of a real musical performance. Again ……..amazing. I will often forego playing the part if it is not too complicated and just lay down the track with Trillian.
Saves time in many cases and more often than not the tone is better than with a real bass.
Some Other Contenders For Winning Virtual Instruments
Omnisphere ( Also by Spectrasonics )
Native Instruments Komplete 11
Steinberg Absolute 2
IK Miroslav Philharmonik Orchestra & Choir ( Another personal favorite I use a lot )
Massive by Native Instruments
There are so many one could list so I will leave some to your own investigation. This is a jungle that you can get lost in pretty fast!
This is a really subjective aspect of the home studio afficionado. Everyone will have a different opinion on what the best monitors are. The main thing to focus on is budget because you can really spend big money on monitors.
My advice….spend more on fixing your room acoustics and less on the monitors!
I would far rather listen to cheap monitors in really good room thatn listen to $50,000 one is a crappy room.
I do not own the following recommendation but I have heard the Yamaha HS series many times and for the money I think they cannot be beaten. I have Adam AX7’s and to be honest, they are a bit hard to get used to because they are a bit Hi Fidelity and for that reason they tend to hide the “warts” in the mix and make it tougher to spot problems in a mix. They are OK once you get used to how to interpret them but I find the Yamahas are a bit more revealing of midrange issues and will help you sort out these problems faster.
After all, the mids are where most of the competition for space in a mix is going to come from so you need to be able to hear these issues readily. Yamaha has a history of success in studio monitors since I can remember. The Yamaha NS 10 was the industry standard as a near-field monitor and still is if you go to any big console downtown studio or a good lower level studio for that matter. I hate the sound of NS 10’s but I am told if you can get a mix to sound good on them it will sound good everywhere.
They have probably been used to mix more music than any other single monitor on the market so who am I to judge.
I am a big fan of Beyerdynamic 990 Pro’s and this is another area that people will debate endlessly so I will say this. You will have a very hard time getting a mix to translate well from headphones anyway so don’t get to hung up on which headphones are the best. Just get something that is pleasing to your ear and save your decision making time for better things than obsessing over headphones.
13) Mic Stands
Just buy good quality stands. You probably aren’t going to need a whole slew of them anyway so don’t cheap out. The cheap ones absolutely stink and wear out very fast.
14) Monitor Stands
If you are handy with tools, build your own like I did. You can make them out of 3/4 inch spruce plywood, fill them with sand to add weight and this will help to avoid then tranfering low frequencies through the floor and messing up your sense of balance in the low end of the mix.
You can also just use the ones that come with any commercial mixing desk and avoid getting fanatical. I just like making stuff so I built my own.
15) Power Conditioner
Not an absolute necessity but it will help balance out voltage irregularities with your gear and acts as a system to get more outlets to plug gear into. You will need lots of those for sure so it makes sense at some point to get a few of these units. They are overly expensive so you won’t go broke with this investment.
16) Mic Preamps
Save your money and avoid in my opinion. As I previously stated….mic choice will have more impact than a mic pre and the prices of mic pres are out to lunch for the benefit they bring to a recording IMHO. Just my 2 cents!
17) Monitor Management /Switching System
Not your first priority. Something you may want down the road if you decide you might want some small computer speakers as a 2nd reference listening system. It can be a real benefit to listen to your mix on several speakers because, after all, that is what the real world is going to do. They are going to hear your song on every concievable speaker you can think of so it pays to try your sound out on a variety if you can.
Having a monitor management system will help you make quick switching between speakers less of a chore than if you have to actually unplug and plug in a different set of speakers constantly. That gets old fast.
I bought my system used for $150 buck so you don’t have to get ridiculous with the budget. My Presonus cheapy woks just fine for 3 sets of speakers.
18) Midi Controller
If you are a keyboard player you may want to spend a bit more money than the average person on a midi keyboard for obvious reasons, like having the key range to play like ytouwould a real piano or bsynth. For the rest of you….a couple hundred bucks will get you a decent controller and if you want to save money you can easily get by without one for a long time. Don’;t stress over which one if you are just using it to play a few chords or hit some drum pads on Superior Drummer. Any midi board will do that for you.