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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ireland

Introduction to Home Recording

pop filter, microphone, and headphones on a microphone stand

Audio recording and engineering is as much an art as the music it seeks to capture. I’ve been recording my own music for years with varying degrees of success. There are tracks I’m proud of and many more that I’m glad never got released. But every time I press that record button I’m learning something new and improving my skills. If you’re looking to record for the first time it may seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, your local library has quite a few resources to help guide you on your way. Check out the book list at the end of this post for a good jumping-off point.

High-quality recording and sound production are easier and more accessible than ever before. Home computers have enabled the amateur to achieve results indistinguishable from paid commercial studios, provided that the person behind the board knows what they’re doing. The hardware and software may appear to many beginners as overly complex, convoluted, or hopelessly elaborate. However, with the proper resources, anyone can start recording or arranging their own musical ideas.

desktop recording set up - two monitors, a laptop, pop filter and microphone on a desktop

Why record yourself? Cost, convenience, and time are major factors to consider. Investing in equipment may seem extravagant initially but quickly pays for itself when compared to the cost of studio time. Furthermore, you’re not bound to a schedule. When you have the means to complete your project on your own you can afford to do as many takes, edits, or mix adjustments as you see fit. Additionally, this creates space for collaboration because parts from other performers can be recorded at any time, even remotely!

Beyond the obvious advantages of cost and convenience, there are further reasons to pursue home recording. The ability to record parts, elements, or ideas for songs without needing to complete the arrangement means you can piece together projects and engage with your ideas over time. In this way, recording is treated as part of the creative process where segments can be stored and arranged in a dynamic manner, rather than as a means of capturing a final product or performance.

Sometimes good enough will do. Before diving into the deep end of audio recording and engineering, it’s important to know your goals. If you're primarily looking to keep track of your ideas or to make simple demos of songs, your equipment needs and knowledge base are going to look a lot different than someone wanting a full studio environment. Many artists use their personal recording equipment to outline and demonstrate their ideas before doing final recordings in a professional studio. You don’t need a top of the line microphone or a 16 channel interface for a rough draft.

cover of The Mixing Engineer's Handbook

Finally, before we get to the reading list I’d like to note that these resources will deal primarily with digital recording into a PC. Obviously, this is not the only means of capturing sound, but because of its flexibility, power, and cost it has become the dominant method and industry standard. These resources will outline the necessary hardware as well as many of the most popular Digital Audio Workstations, or DAWs that can run on your PC. I would encourage beginners to become familiar with this method prior to exploring older analog systems.

Comprehensive but not too technical. Provides a strong introduction to many of the key concepts behind both recording and mixing. A well-balanced guide.

Covers audio mixing from beginning to end with helpful sections on DAWs, digital interfaces, monitors, and headphones. Does not cover the actual recording process in depth.

cover of Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies

Less focus on the technical aspects but filled with good background information and practical explanations of the songwriting and recording process. A great book for those that want an overview of professional production. Comes with a DVD!

The most concise and straightforward book on this list. Gives a good overview of both recording and mixing but doesn’t exhaust any area in particular. If you want a quick and dirty guide to get started this is a good selection.

An excellent reference source for most skill levels. I wouldn’t recommend this as an instruction book for absolute beginners but as a supplement to other resources. ~~~

Did you find this introduction to home recording useful and did any of the listed reading help you get started? Please leave me a comment about your experience, questions you may have, or suggestions for related topics. Future posts on this subject will address more specific aspects of the process.

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