We open with an amusing guide to starting a band, you can enter here.

This is probably one good reason why we have chosen to go alone using the homestudio format. We will cover the various equipment needed, however the choice of instruments will be in your hands and budget.

Basic furniture.

Advantages of producing music in the home studio way, other than being the only person to argue with, is that you will not need much space. A computor desk with overhead shelf and slide out keyboard shelf is sufficient. A decent keyboard stand and swivel chair. If your budget entitles you to more keyboards, then a rack to store them on. There is no way that you can play the keyboards correctly with the arms up in the air, or even standing. Electic guitars and bass are best played standing and accoustic guitar seated on a stool. A little space either side of the computor stand is required for the monitor speakers. Thats about it. Unfortunately as the one man producer, you will be playing the computor more than anything else.

Digital music hardware

There are three basic PC`s for music.
  • A music server is a set of equipment for downloading, storing and streaming digital audio files.
  • A music client is a set of equipment designed to accept an audio stream from a server, get it to the desired location and turn it into analog signals so that audio system (e.g. amplifier and speakers) can deliver it to your ears.
  • A DAW will record live music input and multitrack it. There after you will be able to edit, premaster and mixdown to stereo what has been recorded.
Obviously for the home musician, the expense of another PC to perform the workstation tasks is hardly necesary. as long as there is sufficient storage space for many 24 bit wav files, and a couple of gig of RAM, then most run of the mill home PC`s will suffice. Rather spend the money on a good DAC (soundcard), and a better keyboard or instrument.

The Digital audio workstation (DAW).

Consists of three components: a computor, an audio interface (sound card), and audio editor software.

We have covered the PC - by replacing the multitrack tape recorder with a computor, we will now need to convert the analoge signal to a digital one. The components that do this are known as DAC`s (digital/audio converters) which is either a add on circuit board known as a sound card, or in an external box known as an external audio interface collectively called Digital Analoge Convertors, DAC. A soundcard is fitted to a PCI slot in your computor, and is the tidiest way to upgrade the recording quality. The external DAC has to be connected to the computor, there are two main methods, either through a cable with a USB connector, or a firewire connecter.

A fine soundcard - the ESOjuli@.A typical external soundcard.

Terminology.

There are hundreds of confusing terms and much technospeak in this field - these are most of the ones that you will encounter that help to know.
  • Panning; Whether the sound from a sound wave is heard more in the left or right channel of a stereo recording.
  • EQ; Equalisation is basically the amount of frequency added to or removed from a soundwave. This can be edited to help a track stand out from others, or to remove unwanted frequencies. A vital part of sound editing.
  • Compression; Another important stage in sound editing and premastering when a sound file is compressed so that its loudest and softest sections are brought closer together. This makes it easier to listen to.
  • Mix; A mix is short for mixdown, when several sound tracks are blended to mono or stereo - normally done by editing software.
  • Monitor; Speakers that are specifically made for mixing and mastering of music. usually they have a very flat frequency output and are active (self amplified).
  • Mixdown; The result of blending several recorded and edited tracks to mono or stereo. The mixdown is then listened to through monitor speakers and pre-mastered, the sound is customised for its best possible balance.
  • Buffering; When recording, the higher the buffering level, the less stress there is on the computors processor, lessening the chance of it being over worked and affecting the editing softwares performance.
  • Bit resolution; The standard CD bit resolution is 16 bits. The higher the bit rate, the more information is stored on a soundwave and the better the sound quality.
  • Channel; either left or right in stereo, or multichannel.
  • Track; One section of a multitrack recording carrying one soundwave made from one recording. Each track has independent settings for volume, pan, EQ, effects, and input and output.
  • Clips; Sections of sound.
  • Clipping; When a sound wave exceeds 0 decibles. This tends to cause sound distortion.
  • Reverb; The reverberant sound produced by an acoustic space, such as a room or concert hall. Reverb consists of dense, discrete echoes that arrive at the ear so rapidly that the ear can't separate them. A very important effect in music editing.
  • Waveform; the pattern or curve of a sound wave as it appears in a track.
  • Effects; Ranging from editing effects such as compression and reverb, to custom effects that change the sound of a waveform.
  • Equalization (EQ); The process of increasing or decreasing the amplitude of specific audio frequencies relative to the amplitude of other audio frequencies.
  • Flanger; Like a phaser an effect that enhances the stereo effect to the extent where a spacial whoosing effect is created. Popular effect with the Hammond organ (Leslie) sound
  • Frequency; Measured in Hertz (Hz), cycles per second, frequency describes the rate at which a sound wave vibrates, and thus how high or low its sound is to our hearing.
  • FX; An abbreviation for effects.
  • Limiter; A signal processor that limits input signals that exceed a specified threshold level. Above the threshold, the output level remains constant even if the input increases in volume. Not a recommended method of controling the premaster output level.
  • Loop; An audio file that contains tempo and pitch information, allowing it to match the tempo and pitch of other loops in a multitrack session. You can repeat a loop-enabled clip infinitely.
  • MIDI; Musical Instrument Digital Interface, another way of communicating performance information to transmit MIDI information to and from your computer and external devices such as MIDI keyboards. More in the first section.
  • Normalize; To adjust the highest peak of a waveform to a certain percentage relative to the digital maximum, 0 dBFS, thereby raising or lowering all other peaks accordingly. Typically, audio is normalized to 100% to achieve maximum volume. Not a recommended method of controling the premaster output level.
  • Phase; If two channels of a stereo waveform are exactly opposite in phase, they will cancel each other out. More common, however, are slightly out-of-phase waves, which have misaligned peaks and troughs, resulting in duller sound. Dont worry about it.
  • Destructive and non-destructive editing; A confusing term that means when you cut copy and paste bits if a wave file in a track, it is either permenantly changed or not changed...
  • Real time; In computer-based audio, real time refers to functions that react immediately to user input and transform audio nondestructively.
  • Resample; To convert a sound file to a different sample rate.
  • Sample rate; The number of digital samples of a waveform taken per second. Higher sample rates produce increased frequency response and sound quality, but require more disk space.
  • S/N ratio; Signal-to-noise ratio describes the difference between the highest signal level before distortion and the average level of the noise floor.
  • Wave file; Any audio file format that contains primarily sound wave data. Wave files can be in formats such as WAV, AU, AIF, or mp3.

Correct order of proceedure.

The logical proceedure of producing music will go as follows -
  1. song - ideas
  2. recording
  3. editing
  4. mixdown
  5. premastering
  6. mastering
  7. testing
  8. making the audio cd
  9. publishing.
We have covered recording, basicaly getting to know your multitrack recorder, recording the tracks, and now each track is going to be fine tuned before the mixdown stage - this we call editing.
There is plenty on either type of DAC on the net, what helped my decision (@julie) was the ease of settup and use, and even then being a more technical product than the average PC user is used to, it takes some getting used to. The aim anyhow is to be able to record and mixdown in 24 bit 96khz wav format. From this stereo mixdown a premaster can be made in a standard cd audio file using the necesary software.

Recording hardware.

It is unlikely that as a fresh one man music producer that you will be looking to record more than one instrument at a time. however if you are recording instruments other than a keyboard, mics and preamps will be necesary. Microphones in particular are a complex subject. Do the research, and then the purchase. a stand will be worthwhile.

This is specialized stuff and deals mainly with recording vocals, guitars, and drum kits. A summery of mic`s for different circumstances is as follows – Vocals - You'll want a large-diaphragm condenser microphone if you have power; if not, you might want to consider a large-diaphragm dynamic microphone. Acoustic Guitar - A good small-diaphragm condenser microphone. Drums - Here, you'll want a combination of dynamic and condenser microphones. You need a dynamic mic on the drums themselves. Then for overheads on cymbals, you'll want small diaphragm condenser microphones, since they give you the best frequency and transient response. I`m not for filling a page with links, however here are a few interesting paragraphs on recording vocals and piano with microphones.

  1. I cant say that I agree with the synth recording idea though!
  2. Live piano recording.
  3. More on live piano recording.

Digital recording software.

We`ve got the sound signal into the box, see previous (link) now we need the program that lets us paint our musical concept into a pre finished piece of digital music. For this purpose we require software that will enable multiple track recording, with each track having editing options. It must also be able to mixdown all of our recorded tracks into a single stereo wav file (audio) once the recording and editing is complete. The desktop computer multitrack recorder is doing what a multi-thousand dollar mixer and tape recorder used to do. These are the recording studio reference software programs -
  • Cakewalk
  • Sonar,
  • Steinberg
  • Cubase,
  • Nuendo,
  • Apple Logic,
  • Ableton Live,
  • FL Studio.
Mostly they are very detailed, require months of daily use to utilize productively, and are professional in efficiency and price.

In the middle ranges are n- track and several other more modest multitrack software programs that are usually available through downloading and paying over the internet. By putting `multitrack recording software’ into the net search, many others will stand forth. We are essentially musicians, not recording engineers, but also we don’t want to struggle with a program that has glitches and that has poor backup resources.

The software - Recording software; n track studio.

n-Track is very familiar to me, and currently costs approximately $64.00 from the net (17mB). It has a very good reputation for also being very efficient at what it is designed to do in a much more manageable way than the larger programs listed , and for a more reasonable price.

A few references -

  • `n-Track Studio by FASoft (Flavio Antonioli) is a multitrack audio editing, digital audio workstation (DAW) program for Microsoft Windows. Since its initial release in the late 1990s, many audio professionals have considered n-Track Studio to be one of the best cost-vs-performance values in the industry.
  • n-Track Studio's professional-grade capabilities include unlimited audio and MIDI tracks, up to 192Khz 24-bit high-definition (HD DVD, Blu-ray, etc.) audio recording, extensive plug-in support, and DVD-Video surround mixing up to 7.1 channel. Plus, it is one of the few available audio applications with native support for 64-bit CPU architecture computer systems.
  • Priced at well under $100.00 US, n-Track Studio continues to have virtually no competition within its price range on the Windows platform’.
For anyone who has regular use of a computer and is familiar with its operation, downloading and setting up n-Track can be done within half an hour. The managing of the recorded tracks leaves little to desire, you can cut copy move re-align, clone and add many effects to each. There are a few minor frustrating issues with the software, especially in the version 6, which is what you will need to enable 24 bit recording. However they are being worked on continuously, and there is good back up on the n-track website.

Premastering software.

Most multitrack recording programs include a program which enables you to tweak, or premaster, the mixed down recording. The overall sound balance, stereo panning, compresion and volume can be set before formating to a conventional wav file (44.100 khz sampling rate). For this I use Adobe Audition. Most music workstation programs however include this.

Todays music producing software will allow the home musician to produce work that would have been only a dream a few years ago. However there are many higher level facilities available that in my opinion take the making of music away and bring more technicalities into the production, in fact these are the things that a recording engineer fiddles with and are not necessary for the home musician to concern himself with. A more simple, less feature bound program will leave your creativity free to do justice to the music.

MIDI.

Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is an alternative way of transmitting sound from a keyboard to a computor or to another keyboard. However the sound and information about the note such as length strength etc is carried in a digital message rather than sound as we hear it. A hardware MIDI interface enables electronic musical instruments such as keyboard controllers, computers, and other electronic equipment to communicate, control, and synchronize with each other. MIDI allows computers, synthesizers, MIDI controllers, sound cards, samplers and drum machines to control one another, and to exchange system data. Because the music is simply data rather than recorded audio waveforms, the data size of the files is quite small by comparison. however, it may be a disadvantage in that the information is not able to guarantee an accurate waveform throughout all MIDI equipment. All MIDI compatible instruments have a built-in MIDI interface. Some computers' sound cards have a built-in MIDI Interface, whereas others require an external MIDI Interface which is connected to the computer via the newer D-subminiature DA-15 game port, a USB connector or by FireWire.

How it should be done.

We will assume that you have set up your home studio and attained a capable level of effeciency on whatever instrument / s you have choosen, and move on. Here is some solid advice from one musician - bloodthirsty
  1. The first things you need are enough GOOD songs that you're comfortable with other people hearing them. You need to remember that your reputation is on the line and people will want to listen to your music before they buy it.
  2. If you are reading this, than I'm assuming that you don't have enough money to pay for studio time. That's okay, because neither do I. Personally, I record my music onto Sony Acid Pro 6.0. This is a good program for only a few hundred dollars. there are cheaper programs out there, but I haven't been able to find one that can help me produce the quality product that Sony Acid has helped me create. Save your money and start with a quality program. If your music started out bad, than it will still be bad no matter what program you use, but at least you will have the tools to improve and evolve into the musician you want to be.
  3. Don't be discouraged by a few songs not coming out the way you wanted them to sound. I have that problem almost every time I record a song. The best advice I can give anyone is to focus on your strengths until you improve your weaknesses. For example, if you can't play guitar cleanly and fast at the same time, than keep it slow and creative. If you can't sing high notes, than focus on the lows. As you evolve into a more creative musician; you will learn what you need to work on and how to work around your flaws.
  4. Now that you have the program; it's time to record. I like to start with a drum track, then layer a couple of guitar tracks, some bass or keyboard, and record the vocals last. Sometimes I change the order of this, but this formula is what I'm most comfortable with.
  5. Now that you've recorded your song, you need to listen for ways to improve it and make all necessary adjustments.
  6. I suggest writing many extra songs and model the album after your best songs. I recorded over 100 songs and I kept 23 of them. These weren't all my best songs, but they fit well together when played in succession. I started out by eliminating all the bad songs. Out of 124 songs, I only thought 61 of them were good enough to put my reputation on. My favorite songs in this CD are 'Necromancy', S#!T Kickin', and 'Hooray for Genocide'. I had to make sure that these three songs were on the album and I chose the rest of the songs by how smooth I could transition the album and still include a few stand out tracks.
  7. Now that your CD is recorded, fine tune it until you think it is perfect, but you do need to know when to stop. It will never be 100% perfect in your mind and you can edit a song to death, but there must be a time when you decide that you've worked hard enough and you are satisfied with the end result(otherwise your music will never see the light of day).
  8. After you finish recording, send it off to a professional mastering engineer. I used on online company called 'Channel Fuse Media' and they did a great job for only $99.
  9. While your music is being looked at by a mastering engineer, you need to develop some artwork. You can hire someone to do this or you can try it yourself. I'm not a great artist, but I still, somehow, came up with an eye grabbing logo to put on my cover. Look all around you for inspiration and if you aren't an artist, at anything other than music, than keep it simple. I got the idea for my logo by watching a vicious dog bark. I pulled out my camera phone and kept snapping pictures until I got a good view of it's teeth. I uploaded the picture onto my computer and I traced the teeth and drew some blood. I looked for the most appropriate font I could find and I placed it in the most appropriate manner that I could imagine. I didn't want to make things to complicated, since I was out of my element, so I put my drawing on a black background. I messed around with my artwork until I got it right.
  10. Now that your artwork is complete and you received your music back from the mastering engineer, listen to the reference CD supplied by the mastering engineer and make sure they did the job right. If they didn't, than have them redo their mistakes. If it sounds good, than send it off to have your CD manufactured.