Introduction to Home Recording

About this project:

In 2008 I completed my first recording studio, back home in Romania. I’ve worked in different recording studios since 2002 (when I was about 15 to 16) and one of my dreams was owing one. Remember now, in 2002 it was very difficult to record because all the tools and gears that you can order now from the internet and have them the next day were not accessible.

In 2011 I started a home recording community and focus more on the home/accessible side of the business. It was a success. In 2013 I pursued other ventures. In 2017 I came to Canada and purchase the domain homerecordingstudio.ca and translated the eBook that I already had. For different reasons, I never actually launched the site.

Up until October 2020. I’m pursuing other things now (SEO and digital marketing) but I still believe there’s valuable information in this eBook that covers most of the things someone is looking into learning about audio and recording. I also decided to leave it here on the home page, as a power page instead of separate blogposts. Feel free to leave comments and let me know your thoughts. Also subscribe to the newsletter and follow this project on social media.

Enjoy!

Logo of Home Recording Studio and a studio microphone image

Introduction to Home Recording

Disclaimer
The author of this book and collaborators from the HOMERECORDINGSTUDIO.CA community do not consider themselves authorities in the field of recordings. Many do not have specialized studies and all they share is the result of their own experience, acquired over the years. We were all beginners at some point, but the beginning for some of us is lost in the darkness of time… of the time when few were privileged in this mysterious art.

Although now, in the 21st century, recording technology has reached an unimaginable level, a level that 15 years ago seemed impossible (recording a song at home that will play on the radio); but people still hit walls imposed only by their own conscience. As humans, we tend to crave the approval of those around us, although most of the time, those around us are not able to have an opinion.

It’s also valid in the field of recording/music business.

Author’s note
2019 Notes

The first edition of this eBook was published in 2012 in Romania, my origin country from East Europe. It was (and I believe it still is) the first book to cover the basics of home recording. Some things have changed since – millions of people have dwelled into this world, from amateurs to award winning producers, mixers, composers, artists, engineers and so on. The industry has evolved a lot.

But the basics still remain the same.

I am still a recording studio guy; I believe the recording studio is the artists’ church. A temple where he needs to be in order to receive enlightenment and collaborate with other professionals in his area in order to be at his best.

But you can achieve great things working from your bedroom, on your own, and this book is here to help you do that. Especially if you’re a beginner in the field.

But at the end of the day, remember, it’s all about the music.

We use the tools and software to best capture a performance; part of your job is to ensure the artist (or yourself) performs at its best.

Original 2011 notes:

Thank you for taking the time to read this book. Its main purpose is to help those who are at the beginning of the road.

I hope you enjoy reading this book at least as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Follow our site.

There you will find the information you need to improve your records. Over time, I want the site to be more than a source of information. To be a center, a reference education institution. With time it can happen.

About the author

Full name Petrescu S. Emanuel Alexandru.

DJ Em.

Previously, I used the nickname “technicianu”. It was from an SF book by Isaac Asimov – The End of Eternity. Born and raised in Bucharest (since the year of Salvation 1986). With roots from the Prahova and Valcea areas.

Proud of my heritage.

However, I spent quite a long time and through our wonderful country – Timișoara, Piatra-Neamt, Rm.Vâlcea, Vălenii de Munte, Constanta. I also spend some time in Europe as well. I’ve met people from different places.

In 2017 I came to Toronto, Canada, where I live.

I am passionate about creation. I started with music in 2002. DJ since 2004. From 2006 was the owner of an independent record label. In 2008 I made my recording studio. I have toured my country as a supporting DJ for more than 250 concerts, performing in front of 15000 people at the most, but also in front of 10.

The first experience I had with a recording studio was sometime around 2001. I had been to a few radios and TV studios before, but actually in a studio where only music is recorded and worked on, never.

My goal was to record my first song into a “professional” studio so I called around and found 2 guys who were managing one. I do not dispute their knowledge in the field. But I question their ability to work with people, and especially children (I was 15).

The first track sounded like any other “first track:”. But it could have been better if the attitude of the studio guys had been different.

Unfortunately, I noticed this attitude everywhere I went (and later on in life, in most fields). That’s why I decided to make my own recording studio and help young artists have some of the best conditions for creating great material.

I can’t beat the big studios with millions of dollars invested, but I can create a special environment where you can enjoy working.

By writing this book I wanted to share my experiences in the field of audio recording, experiences that I have acquired during those 10 years of sitting behind a recording console. I’m not consider myself an authority in the field and all I can say is that I still have a lot to learn.

I have been helped by various people over the years and I would like to thank them in this way for the patience they have shown me. I know I can be annoying when trying to express myself without knowing the professional slang. They showed extraordinary professionalism.

The original 2011 eBook cover

I also sought to obtain the necessary information. The internet has been a tremendous help to me. Unfortunately, without the English knowledge I acquired from the television (Cartoon Network generation here – in East Europe, an entire generation – myself included – learned English from TV) I couldn’t have learned much.

Information for a beginner was practically non-existent when I started this project back home. Those who write generally write very advanced articles in the field, in a language difficult to access to those who are at the beginning of the road. Hopefully, this short book changes that.

Outline

  • Preface
  • The computer
  • DAW
  • VSTs and Plugins
  • Sound Card
  • Microphones
  • Studio Monitors
  • Headphones
  • Acoustic Treatment

Subscribe to get the latest news

* indicates required

Preface to Introduction to Home Recording

First of all, thank you for reading this. I hope you have subscribed to our community. Follow the site and our presence on social media for updates, tips and tutorials. I will try to create a community of reference around the website and will work together to develop this culture and take your recordings to the next level level.

The site is designed to help people who record from home, to help them direct their time and money to what is really important: to create music.

There are probably many people who have experience in the field and will arrive sooner or later on the site/blog. Those people tend to be a little wiser. They have a background in the industry, an experience gained in a time when things were not as accessible as they are now.

Also, many have formed certain opinions about the way they work, the programs and the equipment they use.

If you’re one of those people, please think at that moment when you realize how much you want to do this and how many things you would have done to get in the possession of one microphone for example, a model which now you look at it with skepticism.

This site tries to communicate in an accessible language. I noticed many good articles written uses terms that are far too difficult to understand for a beginner. Often this will push people away, especially in the beginning.

I hope to be as explicit and understood as possible.

We live in wonderful times. Technology and communication have reached unexpected thresholds. This may be more true for the music industry.

Computers have changed a lot, and the internet has created a global economy that has forced equipment and software manufacturers to drop prices so much that many devices that were only for those with huge budgets.

Also, the concept of DAW (digital audio workspace) has changed things completely. With a computer and certain software programs you can record in your own home what for, not so long ago, you had to pay (sometimes hundreds of thousands) for recording in a studio.

VST (virtual studio instruments) and plugins (hardware effects software emulators) have also come to the aid of artists, composers, producers, and sound engineers.

If you are listed among them, it means that you have a set of advantages over your predecessors. You have many tools that were previously available only to the “privileged”, from the equipment to the distribution.

It is very important to understand that, on one hand, recording and composing music has not changed – there are audio techniques that are de facto and will not change under any form or influence of technology.

And on the other hand, be aware that the rules of the music industry have changed and that many things that were once considered good, today are no longer valid or accessible to all.

You no longer need a record label and different radios to reach people. A Facebook account is enough to let fans know through a single link the latest song released.

You now have control over your music.

This website has been designed just to slightly filter the options on the market and clarify certain aspects.

This community wants to help people in the audio recording industry, both beginners and advanced. And yet the most important element is you, the reader, because it will depend on you in the end, how the music made by you, will sound.

Passion, determination, time invested and hard work are the elements of a success.

Similar to this site, there are others on the Internet. Follow them and try to know as many opinions as you can to form your own. But be careful not to fall into the trap or go down any rabbit hole and forget about why you do all this: because you like music.

I personally worked with software like Acid Pro, Fruity Loops, Vegas, Sonar, Cubase, Cool Edit Pro (current Audition), Nuendo, Pro Tools, Logic, Reaper. Both PC and Mac.

Some software are more popular in certain areas of the world. Cubase is more popular in Romania (and Europe).

Pro Tools used to be popular in North America (because the software came for free with certain hardware consoles – especially for Television).

Logic is available for Mac users only.

For productions, it seems that Fruity Loops is preferred by more than half of the young producers. Those producers, giving time, will transfer to other software.

Although there are different discussions, overall, all DAW software does the same thing. And at the end, when a song is ready nobody will say: A … it’s done in Pro Tools, or the master’s in Sound Forge. No, it’s a good or bad track. All software has the same functions. You just have to learn them. Once discovered, it will be easy for you to use, regardless of the interface.

Some time ago, the notion of “home recording” was somehow derided. Over time, however, there have been so many accessible software and hardware that are seriously competing for appliances in “big” studios that this notion is being taken more and more seriously.

There are a lot of “great” artists who make their music inside their home, the finished result being recorded and mixed right there, without resorting to studio services. A powerful computer, a midi controller (keyboard), an audio interface (sound card), a preamp and a microphone (two, three), a guitar, a pair of headphones, a pair of monitors (audio speakers) and the acoustic treatment of the room (probably the most important link in the whole home setup) is all you need to produce, compose, record, mix, master and distribute a song at the highest standards.

And on the internet you find a lot of sites willing to help you (like this one -the one you just subscribed to). Also, YouTube has become a very close friend of musicians, because there, people post tutorials on how they work and solve the problems they encounter (be sure to subscribe to our official HomeRecordingCanada YouTube channel).

Before going into the chapters any further, we need to establish some rules. In Home – recording there is one: there are no rules. Yes, you read that right. There are no rules. During the mix stage, composing or recording. This does not mean that you do not have to know certain notions quite important.

Yes, it is not ok if you put the microphone somewhere where there is an echo or reverb.

Unless you wanted to sound like this :).

I know, it’s hard, and it’s hard for me to get used to this idea, too. I tend to apply all kinds of patterns. After all, it is important to hear, to listen. The finished product. And in time you will get to perfect yourself (although you will be very excited at first, your mixes will not be the best and you will probably laugh at them after a while; but of course, we all have to start somewhere).

Also, suppose you want to do a home recording studio, a basic set-up and you haven’t purchased anything yet, you are now in the documentation stage. I come back to the opinions of experts who, if they will respond to you, will make an endless list for a budget of tens and thousands of dollars.

And if you try at a specialty store, you have a better chance of getting products you don’t need or models that are much more expensive than you need. Yes, it is ok to get a headphone splitter, but you don’t have to take the 400$ one.

The examples can continue. Just invest in what you need, as if your life would depend on it. Yes, it is a bit exaggerated but this will help you see things more clearly, make a more complete picture.

Don’t buy the cheapest stuff on the market either. Just do your research first.

A circulating theory goes like this: your studio is just as good as the worst part of it. According to this algorithm (logical syllogism), you can have the most compelling SSL Mixing Console and the most expensive Brauner microphone, acoustic treatment, monitors, etc. Your studio is as good as the headphone jack bought from the neighborhood corner store.

1. The computer for your home recording studio

Perhaps the most important element, because without it, we would not have arrived here. The bottom line is you should get a computer as powerful as your budget allows you to. I originally wrote this sometimes between 2011 and 2012; we have come a great deal since.

I am a Mac user for computers for more than 10 years but for the past 2 I’ve been working on a PC laptop and this environment has evolved tremendously as well. 

So, what would it be? A Mac or a PC?

In Romania most computer users use the PC. However, I noticed that most “music” people started working on Macs or Hack-intoshs (hybrids between PC and Mac). Of course, Apple, the Mac’s production company, makes extraordinary products, both in terms of design and performance (and also the iPod – the device that has revolutionized the music industry and iTunes Apple Music – the biggest music store online, iPhone – the phone everyone wants and newer iPad – that thing you want though it doesn’t even have a USB and without a wireless connection is somewhat useless – and Apple Watch).

It also comes with its own, more stable operating system and a suite of “on board” tools with which you can do extraordinary things – there are people who have recorded, mixed and mastered entire albums in Garage Band – the DAW (we will get to what DAW stands for later) that comes with the operating system.

However, all these come at a rather high price, not accessible to all, but justified by performance and software.

I personally use both Mac and PC.

The PC is much more accessible and easier to handle. Both software and hardware. It is much easier to create a computer according to your preferences. There are a lot of component manufacturers that are fighting with the best offers.

Ideally, it should be as quiet as possible. You may not have a separate room (usually the recording booth) to record your voice. And you don’t want the only thing heard to be the creepy processor cooler.

Also, a lot of powerful laptops have appeared today. You should not shy away from working on a laptop. In the end it has its disadvantages but under no circumstances will it hold you back to create that extraordinary music (a lot of emphasis will be placed on this topic).

The idea is to work on what makes you feel ok.

Regardless of which option you choose, you should ultimately aim to make it as strong as possible. My suggestion is to try to get as much RAM as you can. Also the storage space (the hard drive) should be generous. An SSD goes without saying.

What I would take a closer look is the power source of the computer. I found to be the cause of 75% of what can go wrong with a desktop computer so I would spend the extra 50$ on a decent source, with protection, if possible.

A UPS (the plug socket on battery) were a thing but I haven’t seen people using them that much anymore – they’re expensive and the battery runs out after 1 year or so. But having some protection of the wiring is mandatory. 

The above text is the original one, written in 2011. So much has changed since then. For the past 6 months I wend back to a desktop computer on Windows 10 and my MacBook sits quietly in one of my drawers. I’ve reinstalled it’s operating system, thinking of selling it. Now I can’t remember the password :). October 2020

2. DAW – Digital Audio Workspace

Well, so far we have clarified what we need – a computer as powerful as you can get.

We have the operating system, Windows or Apple. And what we do?

We need specialized software to provide us with the tools we need. And these are called DAWs (D.A.W. is the correct acronym). People use different software but at the end of the day, they all do the same thing. My suggestion is to start with one and master it.

There is a learning curve for each tool, especially for a audio recording software. An especially if you are already used to one (I recently have this issues ALOT when switching from Adobe Products to Presonus Studio One).

There is no standard software anymore, all of the out there are quite popular and make a decent living out of it. But let’s dig a little into history:
In Europe, 10 to 15 years ago, people with “home recordings” were using Sony Vegas, a video editing software that was very user friendly – and crack-able.

Slowly, Cubase has been the favorite.

In North America, Pro Tools is more popular, mostly because it came for free for some video and audio hardware equipment when purchased, usually by radio and TV stations (remember, sound recording was – and still is – a science, and a couple of years prior, sound engineers were dressed in white robes like any other scientist you can imagine).

Logic was and still is popular, but it’s available for Mac only. There was this legend going on saying that Logic was superior somehow 🙂

It’s not, but it’s not accessible for Windows users, hence the aura of superiority.

There’s also a decent amount of free software that people are using. The thing in 2020 is that most of the are quite affordable and they also come in some sort of Freemium version. Take for example Presonus Studio One (one of the new players in town) – they have a free version that fulfills any beginners’ requirement. It’s intuitive and build on drag on drop.

Garage Band, Reaper and Audacity (the latest seems to be popular among podcasters) go into this category of free software as well.

  • I have put together a list of the most popular software people used throughout time (some of them might be obsolete by the time you’re reading this):
  • Cakewalk Sonar
  • Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo
  • Reaper
  • Garage Band
  • Logic
  • Presonus Studio One
  • Pro Tools
  • Ableton
  • Fruity Loops – mostly for production
  • PropellerHead Reason
  • Audition (previously named Cool Edit Pro – purchased by Adobe and integrated with their suite of software – take this into consideration, for a monthly fee you have access to all the Adobe software – Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere and After Effects, etc).
  • Acid, Vegas, SoundForge (for production, audio and video editing – originally developed by Sony, now produced by Magix )

We need to make a small distinction for the software used to record and the ones used for producing. Fruity Loops, Reason, Acid and Ableton (a lot of people will argue about the last one) are great tools for music production, but it’s unlikely someone will use them for recording, mixing and mastering (although they do have this capabilities).

Vice versa, you can use the rest of the software for producing as well – but this is something for another chapter, perhaps in another book. If there’s one thing you need to remember, is that the software doesn’t make you sound better or worse just by itself.

Subscribe to get the latest news

* indicates required

3. VSTs and Plugins 

A VST stands for Virtual Studio Technology. They are basically virtual instruments, that emulates the sound (sometimes remarkably alike) of real life instruments, voices, choirs, drums, etc. It’s the core of the music production, and if you plan to go this route, after a while, your ear gets trained to easily recognize what VST-s the producers used on that song that’s playing on the radio. 

Plugins are sets of software that work on top of your DAW and emulates hardware compressors, eq-s, reverbs, echoes and the list could go on. These are used during the mix of a song. People like to use plugins while recording; although is not recommended, if you’re recording the same artist and the template works, that’s something you can experiment with. 

Most of the major DAW have their built in sets of VST and plugins; usually, they are not enough to take a song to the next level. I’m not saying it can’t be achieved, you’re just limited by the opportunities that comes natively, and you’ll need to look for what’s out there; and there are plenty of plugin bundles and VSTs (Terabits of sounds). Again, I suggest starting small. 

4. Sound card

After we have clarified with the computer and operating system + the software tools,  we will move on to a very important aspect: the sound card. Most computers come with an “on board” sound card where you can listen to music and watch movies, but it is not the best choice for recording (not at all). 

The fact that most software works with all sound cards, gives us a list of almost endless choices. But, let’s limit ourselves to what we need: most likely, a sound card with 2 channels. The biggest mistake people make is hurrying, throwing on an expensive sound card (which they couldn’t use to their full potential anyway).

However, it is good to be on the lookout for certain offers. Many manufacturers team up with a software company, and when purchasing a component, they offer as a gift a software. In general it is the lite version of the software – ei it has certain restrictions (limited number of channels, you cannot record etc.). It’s still cheaper to upgrade from a software lite than to buy the original, so this might save you some money.

There are many options out there and most likely you will start with something small, a 2 channel sound card that connects to your computer via USB port. The technology has advanced so much that you can get a high-quality audio recording via a USB interface, that has an input for your microfone and your instrument (guitar, keyboard, etc) and and output for the speakers and a headphone monitoring. That’s it. The DAW does the rest. 

For a starter, a preamp may not be as necessary, but it must be one of the accessories you should have on the shopping list. The preamp gives you the extra warmth and depth that you need for a smooth voice recording. 

In the past I opted for a mixer with a sound card incorporated that connected with my computer via Fire-Wire. I could control the faders and tweak the channels from the hardware inside the software. This is not something you need at the beginning, but once you add more instruments to your live recording sessions, it becomes a must. 

Since I wrote the original version of this eBook, most of the recording sound cards were available to be purchased only at dedicated music stores. But we have come a long way and now you can easily get a recording sound card from computer stores and even Walmart. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content