Home computer music recording has become extremely popular, both as a hobby and as a legitimate means of live recording and mixing. For the serious musician or recording technician, the computer/software combination offers ease of use and lower cost, and it requires less space than traditional methods of recording.
Recording might be accomplished by using a “mixing board” to pre-mix multiple signals with their corresponding analog effects (if desired) before sending them to the computer, or each “plain” signal might be recorded independently to its own track through a computer audio interface, software effects applied, and the individual tracks then mixed together.
Using a mixer and analog effects, one could conceivably record without the benefit of multiple tracks, resulting in the need for less expensive, more simplistic software. For much greater control and a more polished sound, a quality multitrack software with effects is preferred.
Although more difficult to learn and use, multitrack software provides many more options for the user. The cost for quality multitrack recording software can range from $40 to several hundred dollars. Don’t let the low prices fool you though, many a good recording has been made with shareware recording software.
If you aren’t experienced in multitrack recording, purchasing at the low end of the spectrum makes sense. It’s best to choose a product that will accept plug-ins, though. Plug-ins are small pieces of software that provide various functions (typically effects) that might be installed into the multitrack software, providing greater flexibility to the sound engineer. Several companies produce audio software plug-ins of the vst or directx variety that will work with even low cost software. A number of the plug-ins are actually offered free of charge.
For the more serious enthusiast, the computer (pc) should contain at least a Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 processor, 200gb, 7200 rpm IDE or Serial ATA hard drive, 1 gigabyte of dram, a good video card, and a high quality sound card. Any on-board video should be disabled in the cmos setup and a quality graphics card with at least 64mb ram installed.
A flat panel monitor with a 19″ screen is preferred over a crt. Also with the large viewing area, the video resolution might be set at 1280 x 1024, enabling more of the audio recording software to be viewed on the screen at one time.
On-board audio (if available) should also be disabled and a high quality sound card installed into the computer. Also, invest in a pair of quality, amplified, near-field monitors. These speakers are designed specifically for music recording. Remember, if you’re serious about your recordings, you’ll need the music to be reproduced as realistically as possible.
A computer audio interface of some sort is a real necessity. It should have 1/4″ inputs for instruments such as electric guitars or keyboards, as well as XLR inputs for microphones. 48v phantom power should be avaiable for condensor mics, as well. A mixer could even be plugged into the audio interface if more flexibility is needed.
More and more, musicians are realizing the high quality and low cost of producing their own recordings, although those interested in the technical side of recording can see the benefits of digital recording, mixing and mastering.