As I stated previously in my posts, I want this to be a resource for local musicians in more than one aspect. So, here goes.
We all know there’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to home recording and guitar amplification. So, as promised, I’d like to post up what I’m currently using for my own purposes and get some feedback on what all of you are up to in that area.
It’s taken me years to even begin to understand what it takes to make a decent recording. I’m sure quite a few of us have gone through the CoolEdit Pro phase or the Garage Band phase, and those programs are good for what they are, if not somewhat limited. After the initial period of about 4 years tinkering around with microphones and basically no facilities in respect to an adequate sound room or vocal booth, I decided to go completely digital for practicality.
Let’s talk hardware. If one is on a budget, a computer with a single core processor of at least 2.5 Ghz and 2GB of RAM ought to do the trick, but a setup like that WILL get bogged down quickly when you move past 5 tracks of audio and 1 synth/MIDI, as was my last PC. Currently, I’ve got a quad-core 2Ghz machine with 8Gb of RAM running Windows 7 64-bit operating system. Thus far, I’ve had no problems with Sonar slowing down, and I have very little to no latency (bounce back time) when recording.
Rather than spending millions of dollars on the best Genelec studio monitors on the planet (boy, those would be nice), I am currently using M-Audio Bx5a powered monitors for the whole shabang. These cost me the hefty price of $120. I would recommend these to anyone looking to start their own home recording project. The woofer and the tweeter combined are about 75w for one speaker. They’re not the best in the world, but they’re clear enough to let me know when I’ve made a mistake. The bass response is pretty low, which is typical for monitors with 5 inch woofers, so I added an old computer speaker system with a subwoofer to the lot and slaved out from the headphone jack on my interface.
In 2008, I aquired an M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB interface used from eBay for about $125. A device like this replaces your sound card installed on your computer and gives you inputs and outputs for various formats. This little box has been a lifesaver when it comes to real-time recording and monitoring. It has multiple inputs, most importantly, the dual XLR/ 1/4” jacks on the front. These can be used to plug an instrument or microphone directly into the interface and press the big red button and get an accurate representation of the signal being fed through it. For flexibility, I’m also using a 24 channel mixer in front of the interface. The main left and right outputs of the mixer are being fed directly into the XLR inputs of the interface. So, I can mix a vocal mic, stereo guitar input, bass, and even a drum kit simultaneously, if necessary. But as with most tracking processes, I almost always do things one instrument at a time. Mostly, the mixer makes the whole thing go quicker when I’m switching between instruments, so I recommend using one in front of your digital interface for the computer. Time is money. Well, maybe not in this line of work. HA.
For software at this particular point in time, I’m currently using Sonar Cakewalk X1 Producer Edition for all my recordings from tracking to mastering. I had been introduced to Sonar 6 a couple of years ago, and after spending countless hours learning, I figured the logical next step would be to stay in the same brand for DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation). This new program, X1, is very similar to Apple’s Logic, only it’s designed for PCs, and is, in my opinion, much more configurable, flexible, and logical. I could get into the intricacies of what this program can do, but that is a whole other post. In short, I can add “big studio” quality effects to anything I’ve recorded, there are vast libraries of synthesizers and high-quality acoustic instrument samples.
For tracking drums, I’m using Addictive Drums by XLN Audio. This is a plugin. Basically, a library of pre-recorded sounds fed through a program that interprets and mixes them to your liking. One can produce sounds by drawing in notes or “events” into a grid of MIDI. Yes, the drums are ALL DIGITAL. No drum room, no drums, no drummer, no mics. This one takes quite a bit of time to explain, so I’ll cover that later.
Of course, none of this would be of much use to me if I didn’t have guitars! I’ve got an LTD EC-1000 6 string guitar (vintage black) with active EMG 81/85 pickups, neck-thru construction (no bolt ons) and locking tuners, which are very important to keep a stable tune, especially when bouncing around the stage. Also, to track bass, I’m using a black wood-finish 5 string Warwick Corvette Rockbass.
I’ve gone through 5 different amp setups (that I can remember) since 2004. I’ve tried the solid state, the 100w tube heads, the 50w tube heads, the rack setup (preamp, poweramp, etc), pedals, rack effects, blah blah blah. All of these have their uses and strong points, but for the type of music I am into, none of them ever seemed to cut it.
Finally, I made the investment and did the research to determine what I needed. As of right now, I’m using a rack setup with a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx Standard processor as a preamp for all my guitar and bass sounds. This is a completely digital unit that accurately recreates the sound of any tube amplifier or effect you can dream up. I can’t even begin to explain to you how versatile and perfect all the sounds emanating from this unit can be, if set up correctly. I’ll cover this unit in another post. I have no other pedals or units (besides my Shure SLX wireless system) for processing my guitar input. From there, it’s off to the mixer board for direct input to the computer, or to my Mesa 2:50 poweramp for amplification through my Orange 2×12 cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. These speakers are very standard in heavy music these days because they have a tight bass response, detailed mids, and the highs (especially on distortion) are not ear-piercing, but still pronounced. Anyway, most of the time, I do not use the cab for recording, because direct-in sounds just as good or better than using a complicated microphone setup which need extra compressors, gates, EQs, etc to make them sound decent. Not to mention, I have no sound room. Remember, this setup is ideal for a basement/closet studio application.
It is my intention to build a vocal booth in the adjacent room of my basement in order to get the most out of the AKG Perception 200 condenser microphone. For demo purposes, having a mic in the middle of the room is just fine, but for a finished product, one definitely needs the isolation of a sound-proofed vocal booth in order to get the most out of post-production digital effects through your DAW.
So, there’s the setup. Actually learning and using these things is a whole other story. My next blog will most likely be concerning my tracking process and various ways to avoid creating digital music hell with all this wonderful technology at your disposal.
Thanks for getting geeky with me, and feel free to share your setup or ask any questions you have! Thanks!