Guest Post by Ben Jacklin
There was a time, not so long ago at all, where home recordings weren’t really an option for most of us. To get any sort of a decent recording you needed a huge amount of hardware and equipment.
Technology never sits still for long, and home recordings have become a real possibility for musicians, and recordings made in your bedroom can work their way into professional quality pieces of music or demos to send to bandmates, but only if you know what you are doing.
I’ve made it sound so easy, and although it has become a lot simpler, it is important to have an understanding of the basics of recording audio. The following tips are designed to transform your crackly, distant sounding piano recordings into clear, crisp audio.
Before we even think about the equipment needed, it is important to think about the acoustics of the room you are recording in. If you are in a big hall, the long reverbs might sound great, but it can leave us without any control. Once reverb and echoes are on your initial recording, they can’t be taken off, but if you record it ‘dry’ (without reverb) then you have control to add effects later.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in a replica of Abbey Road studios, it is best to try and ‘soak up’ all of the echo and reverb in the room, which can be done with acoustic treatments and panels if you have money to spend, or alternatively packing a room with duvets and cushions can make a world of difference.
Choose the Right Microphone
The microphone selection is important, and there are a couple of ways to go about it when recording at home.
- If you buy an audio interface for your computer or laptop, you can use the standard studio and live microphones, and the signal will be amplified enough to potentially provide a clear recording.
- It was once true that USB microphones weren’t really up to the job, but the best USB mics nowadays are superb for home recording purposes, with a lot of recordings virtually indistinguishable from those made in studios with hugely expensive equipment.
The benefits of USB microphones include the ‘plug and go’ functionality, meaning that most of them will work as soon as they’re plugged into your computer, with no need for installing drivers or other software. Position your microphone according to one of Shure’s exceptional guides, make sure the signal is coming through clearly and listen to the magic happen.
MIDI is Your Friend
MIDI is a technology which divides musicians, especially those who play a beautiful acoustic instrument such as piano.
MIDI records the actions of hitting piano keys (how hard they are hit and when) as opposed to the audio itself, and you can allocate ‘virtual instruments’ to the sound. Some of the sampled virtual instrument pianos are very good, but the main benefit of MIDI is how malleable and flexible it is. Hit a bum note? Just delete it. Want to speed up the tempo? No problem (and no pitch bending or audio warping required).
I recommend recording MIDI outputs at all times if you are recording on an electric piano, but there is no reason you can’t record both the audio and MIDI, and choose the best afterwards. Sometimes even a blend of the two could be the best option.
Recording technology is no longer ring-fenced within expensive studios. You don’t need somebody to pay for weeks of studio use to make an album, and the flexibility we have once we start to learn to record at home is freeing for musicians of all types, whether you just want to record demos, collaborate with someone on the other side of the world or write a whole album.
Ben is a musician, studio engineer and blogger from the UK who as well as working in recording studios and producing his own music, has written for many publications about music technology, production, recording. More recently he has launched his own website subreel.com, focusing on music equipment and how-to guides.