Behind the scenesLearn

Pulling together an affordable recording setup

By February 13, 2020No Comments

You can record anywhere! And for a relatively low cost, you can put together a setup for a recording that will sound great for demo recordings, or even maybe the final thing.

What do you need?

Audio interfaces

The first thing you need is an audio interface. This is what takes all of your inputs such as microphones, guitars, keyboards and brings them into the computer. This process is called ‘Analog to Digital conversion’. These devices often have mic preamps built-in which means they can take signal from a microphone. The quality of these preamps is very important to the sound of the microphones, so it is important to buy a quality interface. I’ll run through the options and price points on audio interfaces.

Option 1: A digital sound desk

If you aren’t quite ready yet to invest in a recording setup which is only for recording, or if you need a lot of tracks, you can buy a quality digital sound desk. Many these days now have Multi-track recording. This means you can record individual tracks into a DAW (digital audio work station, we’ll talk more about this later). This is very useful because it means you have individual control over each instrument, the volume, panning, effects and all of that. You can also remove an instrument if it doesn’t record properly or sounds bad, and then rerecord after the original recording happens. These are really great for a live setting and they can also double as a sounds desk for your regular Sunday service which means you might be able to squeeze it into your budget for Sunday music. Anything which can be used for both purposes is a win for anyone who is making a budget, so pitch it as being a good buy for that reason.

We use the Allen and Heath QU-pack. This thing is brilliant for recording. We added an extender which allowed us to record 38 individual tracks simultaneously. This was very important because we had two drum kits, we used every single track. The recording quality is really very good, plus the ability to setup foldbacks is amazing. We set everyone up with an app so they could control their in-ear foldback, and the various sound engineers involved had control over their aspect of the recording using iPads.

*Bonus*

If you want to have in-ear foldbacks as we did, you need a headphone amp. Beringer makes a great one called the HA8000. I highly recommend it for the price It is a very helpful device for in-ears, especially if you want to use a click (which you should).

Option 2: A purpose-built audio interface

The next option does not double as a sound desk. Audio interface devices are purpose-built for recording audio and so they tend to do the job a little better in terms of quality, over sound desks. Generally, the less a device does and the more expensive it is, the better quality it is. We use the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8. This thing does a brilliant job, there are tons of brands that make a similar thing and most around the same price point are pretty good. This device has four mic inputs and four line ins. This is great for a non-live scenario and you don’t need any special headphone amps. You can control foldback completely from your computer. The preamps on this device are quite good, but you can always buy external preamps in the future and use them in conjunction with this device. This is a great buy for anyone wanting to get into recording.

The next step up

The next step is probably heading into a recording studio. Maybe you know someone who can do it, or can hook you up with a sweet deal. There are tons of Christians who work in recording who may be passionate about what you are passionate about. They may be willing to help you, so if you know anyone like that, make sure they know what you are keen to do.

Microphones and Line ins

Microphones

There are so many microphones, so which ones should you buy? It partially depends on what you want to record. The best purchase you can make, in my opinion, is the Shure SM7b. It is a great vocal mic, among other things. It is directional like the very common SM-58, but it captures more bass and sounds a lot better. It is a little on the expensive side (but it is cheap in the world of microphone prices). You really want your vocal to come across well and this makes it a worthwhile investment. If you are looking to record acoustic the is the SM-81, or the Neumann 102 would be great for recording really any other acoustic source like potentially a piano, violins, cellos or other. There are so many other mics that would be useful to have but I can hardly go through them all. Shure makes a drum kit recording setup which is cheap and useful. It’s always great to have spare SM-58s and SM-57s around. If you are buying vocal microphones for Sundays, try buying the Beta 58A, it is a little more expensive but it can be a great microphone for recording BVs. If you lack microphones, don’t worry, you can always record one instrument at a time using the same microphone again and again. Be careful with this though because particular microphones emphasise certain frequencies so if you overdo it, you can end up with an oddly skewed sound. Summing up though, microphones can be broken down into two main groups, Dynamic and condenser, dynamic tends to be used in a live context and condensers in a recording context, and they tend to be of a higher quality. You have to get what you need, for your context and I can’t tell you exactly what that is, but there are heaps of websites that give suggestions of microphones to purchase for specific applications. You can always borrow microphones from people you know, or hire them from a hire service, or buy them second hand. I prefer to buy when possible because it means we will always have what we need in the future.

Line ins

Lucky for us, many things do not require a microphone. In fact, guitars can normally be plugged straight in, along with basses and keyboards. You need to have DIs (Direct input boxes) for this, which change the signal to the correct level for the device that receives it. DIs always add something (good or bad), so it is good to have ones that are quality. Many devices have DIs built into them, but they tend not to be the best option.

Cables

You will need so many. Get ones that are expensive as you can afford because bad cables ruin recordings if they break during a recording, which happens because they tend to break while in use, not while they are just sitting there. Dodgy cables suck as well because they don’t roll up properly. Everything in your signal chain matters, so make sure there is no weakest link.

A Space

Any will do, smaller is better, you can add reverb later. You can make a space deader by adding wavy soundproofing foam. It is super cheap and effective. Adding objects that have a dull reflection can help as well, like couches and books shelves with books in them. Rooms with parallel walls are the worst, rooms that are odd shapes are the best. But if you don’t have the ideal space, it doesn’t matter, use what you have and don’t let that stop you.

Microphone stands

You probably already have these for music on Sunday, which is great, use those and buy more as well. We always end up needing so many of them. Buy Hercules brand if you can, most of the other ones are terrible and it isn’t fun to watch a microphone stand slowly tip over as the mechanism for holding it up fails.

A computer

You must have a computer of some kind. We use a mac, which is important because we use a software called Logic Pro X which is only available for the mac. But you can use whatever kind of computer you want, but you’ll have to use software that is available for that computer.

A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

For mixing

The Daw is a program which you use on your computer. It is the place that you click record, where you have all of your tracks lined up. You must have this, so it is necessary to buy one. We use Logic, it is a fantastically intuitive program, even for a complete beginner and there are a ton of resources online for free for people who want to learn how to use it. Other options are Pro Tools, Abelton, and Reaper . This software is where you choose your volume levels, add compression, EQ and all that good stuff.

For mastering

You can get it done locally by a studio who does it, or you can do it yourself. I advocate for professionals to do it, but if you want to do it DIY, Ozone is a great program for such a thing, and it comes with built-in presets that do all the work for you.

In conclusion

This is pretty well everything you need except for talent, songs, knowhow, determination and so on. But I hope it is helpful to you if you are looking to get started. Again, I’m not selling anything, just letting you know what we use. There are tons of other options out there, so get researching and see what you find. Also, get on Facebook Market Place and Gumtree, and find this stuff for cheap.