Make Money with Music – The Tools Of The Trade Part 2
Recording at Home
Following on from Part 1 of the series – You’re on your way to playing gigs for clients, and you’ve got a line on getting into paid session work at local studios. But what are you doing at home, besides answering emails and keeping limber? Could you be potentially cutting out a whole portion of your career in music by not recording at home?
In Part 1 of this series , we went over the ‘playing’ aspect of your career. We thought about a wider array of instruments, and additions to your live set-up, to make you a versatile asset to any client or project. In this instalment, we’ll be switching our focus to the ‘producing’ aspect of your career – whether it’s one-take song demos or fully fledged film scores. Do you record at home? Do you have a home studio setup? And if the answer is yes, is it adequate? Let’s find out.
As with our previous instalment, this isn’t necessarily a list of must-buys. It’s simply a series of questions, designed to get you thinking about the tools of your trade and how you can improve your chances of success in the music industry.
We’ve come a long way from the days of the reel-to-reel tape-recorder. Dedicated software programs, known as Digital Audio Workstations (or DAWs) are your one-stop shop for recording at home, whether it’s jotting down riffs, recording fully-arranged demos, or even just to listen to your own practice sessions. If you have designs on a career in music beyond session work, tutelage and gigs, you might have reason to consider a higher-powered DAW than the free ones on your computer. There are different kinds of flavours of DAW for your niche, whether its soundtracks or royalty-free music – and even a few that might revolutionise your live performance!
In a nutshell, there are 3 highly-regarded mainstream DAWs that are used the world over. While all can accomplish the same thing, they each have their strong points. Pro Tools is especially good for tracking instruments, while Mac-only Logic is great for programming virtual instruments. Ableton Live is perfect for electronic music and live work, with dedicated tools for looping, sampling and swapping out instruments and effects.
The three of these are likely to set you back a fair bit though, so if you don’t have the budget just yet, consider Reaper – a budget all-rounder DAW with a small digital footprint and a free evaluation period. Which one would work best in your home studio?
There are a large number of USB audio interfaces on the market, that are excellent for freelancing musicians thanks to their ease of use and portability. Again, there are different interfaces that have different specialities, so it very much depends on what you’d be spending most of your time working on, but nonetheless there are common denominators with all that you’ll find. Generally speaking, if you’re primarily recording classical instruments, you’ll want something with excellent mic pre-amps. Otherwise, a budget interface with both instrument and mic inputs and a decent headphone out will suffice, such as the Focusrite 2i2 or Alesis 4-Track.
You’ll need some microphones to go with that. There are some excellent options out there, across the spectrum of build-quality and price tag, but the one that no musician recording at home can go without is the Shure SM57. A dynamic microphone that works great on vocals, amplifiers and just about everything else, come to think of it!
A large-diaphragm condenser mic would also be a wise purchase; they’re powered, and naturally more responsive than passive dynamic mics . This makes them perfect for vocals, and a good choice for picking up a whole room. If you want to demo drums without needing 12 channels, this is your best bet. A great budget one for your home studio would be the SE Electronics sE2000.
Lastly, you might want to consider a midi controller. For the uninitiated, MIDI stands for “Music Instrument Digital Interface”, and is the technical standard for communication and manipulation of sound between digital sources. Earlier, we talked about downloading instruments and effects to your DAW. This is the tool you’ll need to get the most out of those plug-ins. The Akai MPK Series is an excellent budget choice for a home studio, and has enough variations to suit your individual needs – trigger pads for drum samples, keyboards for keys plugins, and knobs for effect manipulation.
The last piece of the puzzle is how you’re going to listen to it all. A mid-range pair of Audio Technica closed-back headphones with suit the demo-tracking musician, while someone with more riding on their finished piece might want a pair of monitor speakers for flatter response and the ability to hear your sound in your home studio. Rokit 6s are generally easy to find, but they emphasise low end, which might already be a problem for you if you’re in an untreated room. Yamaha NS10s are perfect for the task, and easily-come-across 2nd hand.
And there we have it! The building blocks for a functioning home studio, with a few luxuries thrown in for good measure. By no means a complete list, this will nonetheless cover your bases when you start out working on whatever it is you specialise in. Stay tuned for some more in-depth exploration of recording at home, and other tips that’ll lead you to success in the music industry!