Audio Production 101
In the past, people had to record music or audio at a professional recording studio, which can be very expensive. With what we have now, recording has become affordable and can be done in the comfort of your own home, regardless of what space you have. Most modern computers can handle audio recording just fine. I was able to record a full album and an EP in a garage. I am also able to do editing, mixing, and mastering in the comfort of my own home, which is nice since we are in a middle of a global pandemic during this time of this article being posted. I will be giving you a guide on how to go about it in this most affordable way possible.
- Audio Interface
When you are starting, the most you need are one or two inputs to record and just layer over those tracks if needed. Unfortunately for me, since I play drums, I would need more inputs and microphones, so I would need at least six or more. A budget interface you guys can get would be the Audient EVO 4. It is a two-channel interface with a Direct-In (DI) input. It is a USB Interface, so it will work for most computers. It cost $129. If you own a keyboard, you may also plug into your computer via USB, find an interface that supports MIDI, order a MIDI to USB dongle.
The headphones you currently own may work if you have a ¼ inch cord or adapter to plug into the audio interface. If you do not own headphones, I suggest the Sennheiser HD 280. These headphones will get you by when you start off as they are $79.95. When you do start mixing your material, I suggest referencing songs that are similar to what the final mix you want to sound like.
For microphones, there are two great budget microphones that you can use, whether you are singing, doing a podcast, recording a guitar, or just to have a better microphone for your Zoom calls. The two microphones are the Shure SM57 and the Rode PodMic. They are both priced at $99. The Shure SM57 is used in almost every recording studio out there since the 1960s. I happen to own three of them as they are affordable and do the job. The Rode PodMic is new to the game and has a lot of positive reviews. For microphone stands and cables, those will range from $20 to $200 depending on quality, length, and warranty policy, as some may have a lifetime warranty.
- Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
Since we are students of CSUF, we get Adobe Audition for free. If you own a Mac, you most likely have GarageBand. Let’s say you don’t have either of those. Take advantage of student/education discounts. Most recording studios will have Pro Tools as it is the industry standard. As a student, you can get Pro Tools for $74.25 for a year subscription or $299.99 to own with a year update. You may also get a DAW called REAPER. It cost $60 to own a license currently. There are several DAWs out there, such as Cubase, Logic, PreSonus Studio One, Ableton, FL Studios, and more.
The plugins that come along with your DAW will do the job, whether you are using a virtual instrument, guitar/bass amp simulators, equalizers, compression, effects, and more. I suggest learning how to use those before paying for better ones. You may even find free plugins online also. If it sounds good to you, download it and test it out. In this day and age, we do not need the fancy hardware that recording studios use as most of them are now emulated into a plugin. There are subscription-based plugins and some that may also require a dongle, such as the iLok, which is $45.95. It is used for security purposes. Plugin prices can range from being free to $500. Plugin companies may have an education discount, so take advantage of that when you can.
When recording your own material, you want to make sure that you are recording at an appropriate level. For me, I record at around -12 dB for music and -6 dB for dialogue/Podcast. You do not want to record it too low due to the noise floor that you bring up in post and you do not want to record it too loud to where it is clipping or distorted as it will bring unwanted artifacts into the signal. Along with that, you want to try to get the best source tone possible, so test out different microphone positions, put new strings on your guitar, and practice how to properly sing into a microphone. Experiment with different layerings. The only limit you have is your imagination. There is no such thing as too many tracks in a session as long as you feel if the song needs it.
Mixing music is very subjective. As I stated earlier, I suggested that you should reference songs that you want the final mix to sound like. There are several free and paid mixing tutorials out there. Check out Recording Revolution or Produce Like a Pro for free mixing content. You can find mixing tutorials for specific genres on YouTube also. I suggest learning how to balance the tracks without any plugins running, aside from guitar/bass amp simulators. After that, learn how an equalizer (EQ) works because frequencies will clash with each other. Think of it as a smart volume fader. Compression will be tricky to figure out. Start with a slow attack and fast release and adjust the threshold to taste, then adjust the attack and release from there.
Mastering is a topic that most people will get confused about so I will not go indepth with this topic. Consider it as a finishing touch to your music. It is best to have someone else master your material since it will be a different set of ears that can help correct problems, but do not rely on mastering to correct everything. Mix your material to the best of your ability before getting it mastered. Export the track as a .wav file at the samplerate you are recording at, which is usually either 44.1khz or 48khz. There is only a subtle quality difference between the two samplerates. For a final test, hear it in your car. Those speakers will never lie to you. Once you feel that it it is ready to go, you may try to master your own material or send it to someone else.
I hope you guys liked this blog article as audio production is a job I love doing. If you do end up deciding to record your material or start a Podcast, feel free to contact me if you need any assistance. Here are some stuff that I have done.