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The Recording Process - Part 2
By Leon & Sheryl Olguin - 04/25/2002 - 11:18 PM EDT

In our previous column we talked about finding a good studio for your recording projects. Every now and then we are asked, “Can I build my own studio?”

The home recording, or “project studio” revolution has truly changed the way many recordings are made. You only need to glance through an issue of Keyboard, Performing Songwriter, or Billboard, to find out about an album that was recorded “at home,” in the artist’s personal studio.

There is huge range of equipment options available to the home recording musician today. Much of this gear is the same as that used by the bigger commercial studios. It is now possible to set up a first-class recording rig for a fraction of what it used to cost, and produce truly professional sounding recordings.

This has led more than one artist to think, “Why should I spend a bunch of money at a commercial recording studio, when I could take that same money and build by own studio? Would this be a good thing to do?

Our answer? It could be, but there are some things to consider:

1. Cost – Even though it costs far less these days to build a project studio, some musicians have still ended up sinking thousands of dollars into equipment purchases. There is so much to choose from out there: synths, sound modules, mixing boards, computers and software, cables, monitors, CD burners, tape decks, DAT machines, multi-track recorders, sound processors, microphones, stands, etc. It’s easy to spend far too much, and end up with a bunch of equipment that isn’t really needed.

2. Time – Once you’ve got some new equipment, you have to learn how to set it all up, and how to make it all work together. Most musicians are not trained engineers, and so must take the time to learn how to use every piece of recording gear in his or her project studio. If you’re not a technically oriented person, this could take up some serious chunks of time, and you may get frustrated trying to make everything work.

3. Divided attention- The more time you spend working with recording gear, the less time you have to do what you really love, writing and singing your songs.

Now, we’re not saying that you as a musician should not learn anything about recording. Every musician can benefit from a basic knowledge of how the various machines in a recording studio work. But our experience has shown us that it’s very difficult to be an artist and an engineer. Each one of these disciplines can take up all your time.

So, here you are, a performing songwriter, and you want to record good, clean demos of your songs, without having to constantly watch the clock in an expensive commercial studio. What can you do?

Our suggestion: Put together a small set up for producing demos of your songs as you write them. Much of the equipment needed is affordable, and of such high quality that your home-recorded vocals and other tracks can often be used in a bigger studio for the actual recording for eventual release.

So, what pieces of equipment do you need for your home set-up? If we were to try and recommend any specific gear, this column would be out-of-date almost the minute it was published! But we can give some more generic recommendations. Basically you will need:

1. Something to make musical sound. That would be your guitar or keyboard, or even your xylophone or your autoharp.

2. Something to capture the sound. That would be a microphone. Here we can make specific recommendations: the Shure SM57, or SM58, are good all purpose mics. They work well for vocals, guitars, and guitar amps.

3. Something to get the sound from the mic to the recorder. You need a mixer. For a songwriters demo set-up, it doesn’t have to be very big. It just needs to have mic and instrument preamps, equalization, level and pan controls, and a few other things. (Don’t worry of you’re not familiar with all these terms. These basic things are not too hard to learn.)

4. Something to store the audio. A multitrack recorder. We recommend a stand-alone digital audio workstation (DAW). The most popular kind is the Roland V series. These units contain a mixer, onboard signal processing, and a multitrack recorder, all in one place.

5. A way to hear the audio. Speakers and headphones. You can use passive speakers powered by an amp, or self-powered monitor speakers that have their own built-in amp.

6. A place to hold your final mix. You can mix down to a tape deck, a CD recorder, or a DAT machine.

7. Odds and ends. Cables, mic stand, surge protector, backup power supply device.

A few final words of advice as you look to build your own recording set up:

1. Don’t go overboard with the gear! We’ve given you the basics. Start with the bare minimum and learn each piece of gear them well. Keep your set-up simple.

2. Get some help. Maybe you know someone who has a full-fledged project studio. Ask them to help you set up your songwriting demo rig. More than likely, they would be happy to help, because then you would be likely to come to their studio to finish your projects!

3. Keep your recordings simple. You don’t have to make your demos into full-blown productions. Sometimes just guitar or keyboard and vocals are enough. (We’ll be covering “full blown” production of your songs in upcoming columns.)

4. Have fun! It’s exciting to create something of meaning and beauty out of nothing. That’s why you write songs! Having the ability to get those songs down on tape or CD so that you can share them with others more easily just makes it that much better.

If you’re a songwriter and you use a small recording set up, drop us an email and tell us what you use. What are your recommendations? With your permission, we’ll publish them in a future column.

Here are some recommended resources to help you research and locate good recording gear, and figure out how to make it all work:
· Shure ( For microphones.
· Mackie ( For mixers.
· Roland ( For DAWs.
· Electronic Musician (
· EQ (
· Home Recording (
· Keyboard (
· Mix (
· Performing Songwriter (
· Harmony Central ( Third party product reviews.

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