My tool kit
Listen to the following mp3 of Reethi. The first one minute will do.
That song has vocal groups, string arrangement, 3 pads, drums and percussion tracks, bass track, flute, piano…
That was recorded and mixed with the following
- room – small bedroom, acoustic treatment – none
- laptop – 1 GB RAM, 1.73 GHz Dual Core processor.
- sound card – Motu 828 mkII
- mic – SM58
- headphones – AKG K271
- monitor speakers – Rubicon R8a monitor speakers
What do I need to start recording vocals at home?
Let me explain how you can also make your music, record vocals and put out your album or recording with minimal equipment.
Bedroom as recording room
My bedroom doubles as my vocal recording room and mixing room. It is a small cubical room with cloth curtains on the windows, cardboard boxes, other general furniture and junk to scatter the sound and prevent it from bouncing around unobstructed. Small cuboid rooms are more trouble acoustically than a bigger hall. A cuboid room with height width and length all the same is the worst because each dimension reinforces the same frequencies making it a big distortion.
When we use SM 58 for vocals, if you record it close, the surrounding sound is picked up to a minimum. Also when mixing, one has to be careful about judgements, listening to commercial cds through your headphone and speakers and knowing how they sound through you system, in your room.
Ethan Winer's resources on room acoustic do it yourself, is very useful if you are interested.
Laptop or desktop
Many basic laptops these days have a configuration at least as good or better. For most of our purposes we won't notice any processor or RAM shortage. Desktops come even more powerful and cheaper than laptops – in which case there is lower chance of any trouble.
"This is best drum sound we've achieved till date. The mikes used are shure PG s and beta 52s. Call it mind over matter. It's a great effort on the engineers part to make results like these." – John, drummer of Motherjane said so after our first recording sessions in his practice room. And the recording was done with the same laptop, and Motu sound card, monitored through AKG headphone.
To record your vocals all you need is one mic input - usually the XLR input.
Most sound cards start with two xlr inputs minimum. Get a sound card with 2 XLRs, plugin your mic to one of the XLRs and you are ready.
Focusrite, MOTU and MAudio have affordable sound cards. Focusrite makes among the best sound cards. Focusrite has a two preamp model (can be used to connect two mics) for less than $162 (around Rs.7250) at the time of writing, which probably has gone further down now. Of course you can find good soundcards for much lesser price, used. These days, good sound equipment has become so affordable that it is no more a threshold to starting to record your own song.
Here are two Focusrites to start with
1) two mics and one more mic or line in – vocals maybe guitar – Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface – ideal for singer guitar players
2) vocals, guitar, and two more analog inputs – maybe keyboard stereo in, or guitar processor in – Focusrite Saffire Pro 14
note : It was mentioned that John Mclaughlin finds his mac sound card good enough for most cases. Mac users could try using the inbuilt sound card without buying a new one, though a dedicated sound card has its advantages.
Shure SM58LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone - probably the most popular mic – widely used for onstage performances. The recording you hear was sung using SM58. Affordable with the most basic budgets (less than Rs.5000 new). To make a SM58 vocal recording to sound like the above, Eqing, compression, reverb, delay and panning techniques are used.
Upgrading to a condenser mic is always good. Condensers are superior to dynamic mics for their sensitivity, especially high frequencies. Recordings through a condenser mic represent the original sound very well with the need for EQing kept at a minimum.
I have a Rode NTK which is a large diaphragm condenser mic – the kind you would use for vocal recordings. It cost me Rs.17000 when i bought it, and has used it successfully for recording vocalists. Audio Technica has some good affordable large diaphragm condenser mics too.
Headphones and Speakers
I have used Rs.2000 headphones, Creative Computer Speakers. Later i bought AKG271k headphone (Rs.7000) and Rubicon R8a speakers (Rs.42,000 a pair). In the book I will give you exact details and tips on how to make your monitoring and mixing best with whatever equipment is available.
You can start with computer speakers and a decent headphone. And if you get more serious you can invest on a better headphones and slowly on monitor speakers. Headphones are necessary to hear details and glitches which may go unnoticed on big speakers, especially in out monitoring environment. The main purpose of listening through speakers is to a) judge the bass frequencies and b) check the stereo field which could be different in the headphones.
Using headphones has a big advantage of not letting the sound onto the surroundings and others. Personally i feel more focus and intention when using the headphones, the feeling of being within, surrounding noises and distractions to a minimum. After all in some productivity courses they suggest that you use a pair of headphones (noise cancellation or normal) even if you are not listening to music – to avoid the distraction and to reduce others disturbing you.
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The Vocal Book is a proven step by step guide to making vocal recording and mixing with minimal resources – to get best results. More details here.
If there is anything you would like to mail me about, contact me.