Recording vocals at home: Outfitting your own studio

Recording vocals at home

In the first of our two-part series on creating a home studio, SARAH JONES explains where to start and what you need in terms of computer, audio interface and microphones

It’s a great time to be a recording vocalist. Not long ago, studio technology was essentially out of the reach for anyone interested in recording at home; musicians either had to shell out top dollar for recording gear or book sessions in a professional studio. But these days, you can build a home studio and produce great-sounding tracks for as little as a few hundred pounds.

When it comes to gear choices, you’re spoilt for choice. There’s no single right answer; an ideal setup depends entirely on the kind of music you make and how you like to work. In other words, “perfect” is personal. It’s all about your recording needs, your space, your budget and most importantly, your music.

Where to begin

We’ve all seen pictures of big studios tricked out like airplane cockpits and crammed to the gills with racks of equipment. But in reality, you can start recording with just the basics. In simplest terms, you’ll need a way to capture sound, manipulate that sound, listen to the project and ultimately get the audio back out of your system. This translates to five essentials: microphone, audio interface, computer, production software, headphones and studio monitors.

Researching gear is daunting, but sometimes less is more when you’re starting from scratch. It’s tempting to stretch every penny to amass as many features as possible, but it’s better (and easier) to prioritise a solid, simple set-up over cheap bells and whistles. You’ll quickly outgrow those and ultimately spend more in the long run by upgrading inferior-quality equipment. Let’s walk through ways to get the most out of the basics.

Your computer

This is the studio’s central nervous system where you’ll arrange, edit, process and record sound. Ideally, you’d have a computer dedicated to music production, but most computers purchased in the past five years or so will work for basic production. However, audio production eats up a lot of processing resources and storage; while you might not encounter issues recording guitar and vocals, producing elaborate multitrack projects might slow your processor down. A couple tricks: beef up your RAM and consider an external drive to store your audio files.

In general, all digital audio workstations (DAW) perform the same essential functions: recording, editing and mixing. They differ in their user interfaces and workflow, track count, number and quality of effects, etc. Explore your options, as many DAWs offer demo or trial versions, and free programs exist for both Mac and PC.

Recording vocals at home

Audio interface

Putting external audio into your computer and getting it back out is where an interface comes into play.

Interfaces are available in endless configurations for connecting various audio sources, so first, think about what you want to record: the more tracks you record simultaneously, the more inputs you’ll need. For vocals and guitar, a two-channel interface should suffice, but tracking a live band could require eight channels or more. Soundcraft Notepad Series entry-level mixers are great options as they are compatible with Mac and PC, come in five, eight or 12-channel versions and can also be used for smaller gigs if you want to take your music live.

It’s important to note that an interface’s total number of individual inputs is not the same as the total number of each kind of input; microphone, instrument and recording-gear signals are all different, so check I/O configuration to make sure your connections are covered.  

Other considerations include digital I/O and high-speed computer connectivity. Some interfaces have mixers and built-in effects, offering extra functionality for your money. Think about ergonomics: the more closely its layout matches your production style, the easier your workflow will be.

Microphones

With so many styles and models, picking just one microphone can be difficult. But when you’re starting out, you’ll probably only need one, so choose a versatile model that will capture gorgeous vocals and other sources.

In a nutshell, mics fall into a three broad categories: condenser, dynamic and ribbon. Condenser microphones are sensitive to sonic nuances, making them an especially great choice for vocals. If you can only afford one mic, a multi-pattern condenser, which lets you adjust its directivity, is a versatile workhorse. Consider AKG’s Perception microphones — P120, P220 and P420 — which deliver pristine vocal recordings at an affordable price point.

Dynamic microphones are rugged, simple designs and they’re not very sensitive to high frequencies and high sound pressure levels. But they’re perfect for sound reinforcement or recording loud sources such as electric guitar. For this application, consider the D40 professional instrument microphone also from AKG.

Ribbon mics have a reputation for imparting a “warm” or “rich” sound. While prized for their unique sonic characteristics, they are fragile by design and tend to be too specialised (and expensive) for a first microphone.

Website: uk.akg.com

Content created in conjunction with Harman AKG

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