I want to record my own music, where do I start?

Source: Ask Metafilter  (for informational purposes only)

IS THIS YOU?  I want to record my own music. I have no idea where to start. What would be a fairly inexpensive and good beginner's setup hardware and software-wise? My friends and I cover all sorts of genres of music, and as of now our only instruments are a guitar and djembe drum. We just recently had a couple jam sessions and realized we'd like to start recording our music in the near future.

You might consider a Shure SM-57 mic, as it can be used to record both your accoustic and the drum, and is at times used for both in pro studios. But I'm sure others will have many other mic suggestions.

You're going to need a good soundcard or external sound interface. It is absolutely imperative that it supports ASIO, so that you can minimize latency issues. If you don't know anything about latency, read up on it because it's pretty much the number one issue in audio recording on computers. I would suggest you look at products from M-Audio, like the Audiophile line. Which one to get depends mostly on how many inputs you need (how many instruments you need to record at once). You may want to consider getting a combined keyboard and audio interface. I use the M-Audio Ozone, which is a USB audio interface with two octaves of keyboard and several knobs from which you can control things in software programs like FL Studio or Reason or whatever else.

If you have the money, I'd also recommend Native Instruments' Guitar Rig (v2 is either out now or coming soon, so maybe you could get v1 cheaper) for your electric guitar. It's a pedal thingie that sits between your guitar and computer with a software interface you can load into FL Studio or other VST hosts. The software simulates any effect pedal/amp/mic combo you can imagine, and does it quite well. A less good but still viable alternative is the Line 6 Guitar Pod, and a couple of other manufacturers are coming out with similar things these days.

Oh, you should also get a decent sample editor like Adobe Audition. This will let you accurately edit whatever you record in easier and more versatile ways than what can be achieved within a sequencer like FL Studio. But honestly, you can download Cool Edit 96 (yes, it's from 1996) for free and it will do everything you need. There are other good shareware/freeware alternatives as well, I think Audacity is one (?), though I haven't used it. I would not bother using all 3 PCs and interlinking them and jamming that way, I am suggesting you build your studio around one computer. It's cheaper and will cause far fewer headaches. 

Your reward for the appreciable initial investment is the most versatile tool on the market: you build your own synths, filters, samplers, sequencers, anything & everything, all by virtually wiring together parts on a scale from full machines down to circuit-board level simple switches. It's standalone and also VST, meaning you can plug it in to other programs like the aforementioned FL Studio to combine powers and summon captain planet. There's a demo on the above link and I think it lets you use a lot of functionality but not save, iirc, ymmv. Also, seconding old Cool Edit, that shit is bananas. A second on the M-Audio ADCs, they're good. However, you probably want to put some money into high quality microphones and sound damping material for the room you're recording in, that will make more difference to the quality than just upgrading from a cheap stereo 44100/16 sound card. I guess I kind of glossed over the "inexpensive" part of the question, sorry, but the price of Reaktor is not at all out of line in the realm of music production software, and the awesomeness per dollar (or APD, in many respects a more important number) is considerable. Or you can buy a $70 cassette-based four-track recorder (think the first couple of Iron and Wine records) and a Shure SM-57 microphone ($100 new and $40-70) used. The big advantage of this system is that it's dead simple and allows one to worry about playing music rather than dicking with audio gear.

The fundamentals of recording remain the same (mic placement and good ears) regardless of how complicated the system is and, if you end up the next P. Diddy, I guarantee you'll look back to things you learned on the four-track. posted by stet at 11:07 PM PST on October 14 *deep breath* First, the software. The software to do recording is called a DAW, or "Digital Audio Workstation." These include Logic, Digital Performer, Cubase and others. They let you record MIDI and audio tracks, move audio elements around, set the volumes on the tracks, patch in external software ("plugins") to perform effects on the tracks, etc. On the PC Cakewalk is the clear leader for DAW software. They make a professional-level product called SONAR but they also offer several slightly hobbled consumer-level versions at various price points and levels of hobbling, Cakewalk Home Studio being the most popular for, if I recall, around $100.

As to hardware, let's start with the mics. There are three major types of mics: dynamics, small diaphragm condensers and large diaphragm condensers. Dynamic mics are fairly cheap type that are relatively insensitive to sound and fairly coloring (meaning they lend their own sound to the source, as opposed to transparent); usually the type for noisy situations (live vocals) or certain loud sources, or to reinforce another mic. The Shure SM57 is the archetypical mic for this, and the most popular mic in the world. You can use it on every instrument in a rock group live and it's almost impossible to break. There are many dynamic mics which can be argued to be better than the 57, but virtually no one thinks it's bad. It's the standard first thing to try for micing an electric guitar amp, and almost as standard for drums. There's also the SM58 which is the vocals version - the same thing but with that round pop filter, but you can buy your own anyway. (Wow, lot to explain here - a pop filter is some type of foam or other insulator placed around or in front of a mic to prevent "p" and "b" noises from being deafening, as they produce a lot of air. It also helps with sibilance, which are the overemphasized "s" sounds). The 57 goes for around $90. Condenser mics use a different operating principle and are much more sensitive and expensive. Small-diaphragm condensers are precise and unforgiving, and are therefore often used in a stereo pair to get a realistic stereo image of a sound and hence are often sold in pairs. There's no clear leader in this type, though for instance the Oktava MK012/MC012 (it's been marketed as both) is a popular hobbyist-level one. It's about $100; the quality control is rough so you have to test them in Guitar Center (the exclusive American distributor) to avoid a dud, or get a pre-matched pair from The Sound Room. (Every mic is a bit different, and if you want to pair up mics for stereo recording that don't come pre-matched, when buying you test to make sure you get two that are at very close volumes so you don't have to compensate in the mix). Large-diaphragm condensers are the main thing for recording acoustic instruments and voice, as they tend to smooth out and color the sound in different ways. The most popular large diaphragm condenser and probably the most popular studio mic period besides the 57 in the Neumann U87. Its sound is legendary (very transparent, but sculpts the tone in the tiniest of utterly pleasing ways) but it's $3000 and up until recently there were no decent offerings in the home studio market for LDCs. Many have come out in the past three or four years, the most noteworthy being the Studio Projects C1 which despite being $200 and made in China is considered to sound nearly as good as that at the top end and is the clear leader. Another similarly excellent and cheap mic is the Rode NT1000 for $300. I recommend the C1; the tone really is comparable to the vastly more expensive U87, though it's a little harsher on the treble. It and an SM57 is all I currently own, though I'm going to buy a small-diaphragm condenser pair one of these days.

As to getting that sound into your computer, you probably want a sound interface (external sound card) with preamps. Preamps are used to boost the signal of a device with low output like a mic or electric guitar. The favored tool for this is probably the M-Audio Firewire 410 for $300, but that only has two preamps. That may not be enough if you're ever going to record with more than two mics at once. I favor the tricked-out MOTU Traveler for a four-preamp option, though that's a big jump up in price ($850). M-Audio also make cheaper USB products, but if you do go with them you're going to want one of their Firewire options because those use better-quality preamps.

You're going to want a relatively un-echoey room - carpeted and as un-square as possible are a big help. Most rooms have one or two sweet spots that have the least echo. Hanging up blankets on all the walls helps. There's actually acoustic foam (Auralex bing the most popular) which gives the ideal diffuse reflection but it costs like $200 a square yard or some other crazy amount. Echo is a big issue - Mike Skinner (The Streets) did his first album rapping into a wardrobe with clothes in it. So the setup I'd recommend is Cakewalk Home Studio, an SM57, a Studio Projects C1, and an M-Audio Firewire 410 or MOTU Traveler.

 It is absolutely amazing how good a $100 electric keyboard sounds today, and how many things you can do with it. I like the Yamaha's "portable digital grand" sound, and the 200 or 300 voices (from cheezy to realistic to outrageous) and the old-school synth simulations and such. Plus, hundreds of drum and percussion choices, all kinds of styles, etc. You'll use it even when you don't want to. 4. A Roland Micro Cube amp. Great trashy sound, tiny amp, worth the $75, use it for everything ... put the keyboard through it, put percussion through it, mic your vocals, etc. 5. Any old guitar is fine. I keep a cheap pawn-shop electric and my decent acoustic nearby, and use them with a mic or thorugh the amp or straight to the board, use the acoustic as a bass, etc. 6. About $50 worth of cords and mic stands from an online music retailer. 7. Some kind of mixing software for your computer. Everybody has a favorite. I like whatever's cheap, because they are mostly the same in terms of interface and what they do. I used to have a free 8-track version of Pro Tools and that was fine. The Sony / Sound Forge stuff was nice, too. Cool Edit is a good choice. While we're at it, I get most of my wisdom from Sound on Sound, EQ, Recording, and Mojo Pie. Tape Op is also an excellent source of advice on home recording (they don't offer much on-line content, but you can get a free subscription from their website). One thing first-timers always get wrong is they spend a whole bunch of money on microphones, but almost none on pre-amps. In fact, given the inexpensive but ludicrously high-quality options available in the rest of the soundchain, primarily the computer interface and microphones, you're almost certainly going to find your pre-amps are overmatched. If you're trying to do it on the cheap, I second the M-Audio recommendations, which contains pre-amps that are at least on par with anything you can pick up in the same price range. Even at the $100 per channel level, you're going to find almost nothing but pre-amps which are known primarily for their hum. In digital recording, it becomes extremely important to keep the noise down. The other mistake people make is thinking condenser mics are naturally superior to dynamic mics. This has resulted in a flood of cheap condenser mics which sound like crap. If you're in the lowest price range of quality microphones, which is near $75, head straight to the SM57 and don't look back. They really do use this microphone on a daily basis in the highest of the high-end studios. Once you've got these basics, you're to the hard part where technology helps only incrementally, and you're going to find your recordings are helped most by better arranging and performing. The rec.audio.pro group is a fantastic information source, but not much of a place to ask questions unless you like getting blasted. Also, learn the handful of basic stereo record techniques and record everything but vocals in stereo, then pan the stereo image just like you would have panned the mono; this trick works wonders.

How to Copyright, Publish, and Record a Song (for informational purposes only)

This article is based on a lecture given at Oberlin College by John Bassette. Singer-songwriter, actor and all-around Good Guy, John has appeared at Carnegie Hall in the New Songwriters Concert, with Sammy Davis in the London production of Golden Boy and at hundreds of college concerts throughout the coun try. He has just signed a recording contract with United Artists. Watch (Please!-John Bassette) for the album. First gang, let me say that writing one – or even a hundred – songs doesn't make you a songwriter any more than painting one or even a thousand canvases makes you a real painter. Songwriting is an art. However, let us assume you have written at least one song you feel is good enough to sing for someone other than a few captive friends; one tune good enough to be recorded. Now what? Well, you've heard stories about songs being stolen. Believe me, some of those stories are true and it is most important that you protect your work from any unscrupulous "bad guys". So, before you do another thing, COPYRIGHT your song.

Copyrighting is the best proof of ownership. With a copyright, you will be sure that no one can steal your work . . . without your permission. Copyrighting a song is fairly simple. Just write the United States Bureau of Copyright, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20504. Ask for a FORM E for each of your compositions. Fill out a separate form for each song. Return the completed forms and one manuscript copy of each composition. Remember: Tapes are not accepted, so get busy on the manuscripts. You must also – in addition to the Form E and manuscript copy – send the Bureau of Copyright a fee of six dollars ($6) for each song. When I copyrighted my first composition around 1965, I think I paid only four dollars. The price may change but, if you believe in your material, six dollars is cheap insurance against a possible hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now this is important, so dig it. The copy you send to Washington will not be returned. Please don't send your one and only. Keep an exact duplicate for yourself. Also, once a song has been filed with the United States Bureau of Copyright, there can be no changes, additions, or corrections. So do it right the first time.

In return for your song, the completed Form E, and your six dollars the copyright office will send you a certificate with an "Eu" copyright number. "E" is for Form E, and "u" for unpublished work. When you receive this certificate your song will be duly copyrighted and will join the files of over 24 million copyrighted songs dating back to 1870. Your composition will be protected for a period of 28 years. At the end of this time you can file a FORM R for a renewal period of 28 more years. Fifty-six years is the maximum length of time a song can be protected under present laws, although a bill now pending in congress would extend that protection to the life of the author plus 50 years. If, God forbid, you've passed on to that great recording studio in the sky before the end of the first 28 years and the song is still copyrighted in your name, then your widow or your children or the executor of the estate (right!) may file for renewal.

The forms issued by the United States Bureau of Copyright that may be of interest to you are: FORM E For single compositions published and unpublished and composed by U.S. citizens or any composition being pub lished in the U.S. for the first time. FOREIGN For any foreign work first published in the U.S. FORM A Song books, work books, etc. Text with music. FORM D For dramatico-musical works such as operas, musicals, ballets, etc. FORM R Renewal of copyright. FORM U After a FORM E has been filed, the owner of the copyright fills out this form and sends it in when anyone has recorded his song. On each copy of your song, once it is copyrighted, you must include a notice of copyright. That is to say, on each copy the word "copyright"; or the symbol " © "; or the abbreviation "copr.". Also the date and the name or names of the author or authors must appear on the first page. It should look like this: Copyright 1970 Henry Jones or ©1970 Henry Jones. If you don't use one of the three, your song w or Copr. 1970 Henry Jones, it will be deemed dedicated to the public.

There is no limit on the amount of time that may lapse between the completion of a composition and the time you choose to copyright it. In other words, you can copyright a song this year that you wrote 5 years ago!!! It is necessary to mention another very important point. You can only copyright a complete work. You cannot copyright a raw idea; a story outline; half a verse, or half a song: Only a complete work can be copyrighted. Therefore, anyone can write a song using an idea you have used IF they do not use your melody or your words. And you have the same privilege. Some of you may not write music or be able to transcribe a melody to the written page. "What do I do?", you might ask. Well, find someone that can do it for you, Baby! Find someone like the local high school music teacher (or another upstanding member of the community) and enlist their aid in writing a "lead sheet". Better still, learn to do it yourself!!! It's not hard . . . they say.

A "lead sheet" is the words and melody with the letter name for the chord used. A "lead sheet" is all you need to copyright. You may have heard of other methods of protecting your song such as sending it to yourself by registered mail and not opening it except in the presence of a Notary Public or in a court of law; putting your songs on tape and putting the tape in a safe deposit box; etc. For many more reasons than we have space to explain, please do it the right way with the United States Bureau of Copyright. It saves a lot of time and trouble in the long run.

Now let me blow your mind. The moment you finish a song it is automatically covered by a COMMON LAW COPYRIGHT! Got that? Just because you wrote it, your composition is copyrighted. "Then why go through all those changes with the Bureau of Copyright?" OK. Here are just a few reasons:

(1) Once a song has been published you loose your common law copyright.

(2) It costs money (court cost, lawyers fees, etc.) if it becomes necessary to prove ownership of a song by right of common law copyright.

(3) If there is an enfringement on your song before you can take it to court, you must first file a FORM E anyway and THEN start proceedings!!!

That's right Baby! So why not do it first?

Let us suppose that after you do the thing with the United States Bureau of Copyright some S.O.B. steals your song. What do you do? Find a good MUSIC – not a real estate or a criminal – but a MUSIC LAWYER and see if you have a case. Now here's a heavy point: Because a song is copyrighted does not mean that the song is published; because a song is performed publicly does not mean it is published; distribution of "professional" copies to publishers, groups, and others does not constitute publication. "What then is a published song??" When a song is placed on sale or has been sold or distributed publicly for public use, it is said to be published. So then it stands to reason that a publisher is one who sells, places on sale or publicly distributes songs for public use. "It also stands to reason that I can publish my own songs," you might say. You are correct. In fact, you are granted the right by that great American document, the Constitution: "Freedom of the Press", you know. "If this is so, why do writers need publishers then?" Well, it's like this:

(1) Usually writers need money (at six a song, copyrighting can get pretty expensive) and publishers usually have money.

(2) The writer needs contact with groups, people who sing and advertising agencies that do commercials (if you want to get into that). The writer also needs contact with people in movies, T.V., etc. The publisher has these contacts.

(3) The writer needs lead sheets and demonstration records to enable other artists to see and hear his music. The publisher has access to facilities for making these.

(4) Publishers have to collect broadcast and other performance fees through ASCAP and BMI. To collect these, a publisher must belong to BMI and/or ASCAP. There are also foreign performance fees to collect and mechanical rights and recording licenses to grant. To do all this, publishers must have a promotional staff, research staff, lawyers, administrative staff and other personnel: People to handle the paper work connected with the music business and people to push your songs.

For the contacts, advances, facilities, marketing and collecting of fees, a publisher will ask 50% of all monies received. That is, under the law he must give you at least 50%. Sometimes you can get more. So, unless you know the publishing business and have enough capital to set up your own company, it would seem best to get a good publisher to handle your songs. "What is a good publisher?" Obviously a good publisher is one that is first and foremost interested in your material, and second, a good publisher must have the aforementioned facilities. "How do I find a good publisher?" (It's amazing the way you keep asking those questions just before each of my answers!) After your song/songs are copyrighted, I suggest you talk to a few established songwriters and get some ideas as to what publishing companies to seek out. If you don't happen to know John Lennon, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Tom Paxton, Simon or Garfunkle . . . look on record labels for the names of companies that handle the material of writers you admire. Then contact those companies. Their addresses are often on the record jackets. If they aren't, you can check them out in a directory of manufacturers at almost any library or in trade publications such as CASHBOX, 1780 Broadway, New York, N Y. Once you find a company that is interested in your material, find out what they have to offer you in both finances and facilities. And remember: Facilities can be even more important than in-front finances. After all, if a company offers you a lot of bread, and can't get your song recorded then that's no good, because your song sets on the shelf for 28 years. On the other hand if a company offers you little or no bread but that company has A-1 facilities to reach all media by which your song can be used, you should think twice before turning them down.

Publishing companies offer many types of deals or agreements. Three of the most basic are

(1) one song, or song-by-song agreement: The publisher takes one or several of your songs and you sign a deal for that one or that group of songs and nothing else,

(2) Exclusive writer agreement: This arrangement between you and the publishing company states that everything you write for a given time – say, three years – is published by said publisher.

(3) Staff writer agreement: Usually a 9-to-5. You work for the company on a regular basis and you are paid a salary.

(4) Co-publisher agreement: With this arrangement, the writer forms his own publishing company and enters into an agreement with a larger publisher.

The writer's company gets a percentage of the publisher's royalties. Don't Panic: Dig it! With this deal you collect your 50% as a writer AND a percentage of the publisher's half. It's easy to see why this is the most desirable agreement for you. It's also easy to see why this arrangement is usually made only with successful writers, although – in today's market – many young, unknown writers are also seeking and getting this deal too. There is a fifth writer-publisher arrangement known as the "outright sale" in which a writer sells all future rights to his song. Most writers prefer not to sell their songs outright for the simple and obvious reason that you can sell a song for $500.00 and, two years later, that song (YOUR song) can become a small hit with the writer's royalties of about $70,000 going to someone else. Man, that's the original "Bummer". Ask Chuck Berry.

In your search for a publisher, you may come upon an ad in a magazine offering to "get your song recorded". In most cases, these companies leave much to be desired. To say more or to be more specific might invite suit. Most important of all, if you are offered a deal concerning any of your compositions, no matter how small or lucrative it may appear, get a lawyer – a good MUSIC LAWYER – to look the deal over first. The Bar Association of any major city will give you the names of several lawyers who specialize in music law. If the company can't wait until a lawyer of your choice can look at the contract, you simply do not want to do business with that company!!

If you have any more of those little questions (and, if you really want to break into songwriting, you will because I've just hit the high spots) you should get a copy of THIS BUSINESS OF MUSIC by Sidney Shemel and M. William Krasilovsky, edited by Paul Ackerman and MORE ABOUT THIS BUSINESS OF MUSIC by the same team. The books are expensive ($12.50 for the first and $6.95 for the second) but they're the best I've found and –if you read them – you'll know more than most professionals about the business. The books are from Billboard Publishing Co., 165 West 46th St., New York, N.Y. 10036. You can buy them from MOTHER. Well, good luck. Enjoy your life and your music. PEACE



How To Copyright, Publish & Record