Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps

These days, a lot of audio interfaces and MIDI controllers come with a free edition of Bitwig, but what is Bitwig exactly? Bitwig is a pretty young DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) that manages to mix together all of the best bits of other well-known recording software like ProTools, Cubase and Ableton before throwing in a few new and unique functions of its own. Here, we take a tour through the software to see what’s what.

What is Bitwig?

The basic layout of Bitwig is no different from any other DAW. The controls are clear and easy to understand and work with, which is why this software is such a popular choice among beginner producers and home-recording musicians, which might leave you wondering if Bitwig can actually go that far. Is this even a serious piece of recording software? In fact: it can and it is. This software is so serious that it’s a go-to for a lot of big-name electronic music and hip-hop producers.

With Bitwig, alongside the linear timeline that you get with the interface of any DAW, you also get a Clip Launcher – much like the one you see in Ableton. Sound designers are also given more than enough to play with thanks to expansive routing options, while the included pack of softsynths, including Polymer, can be unfolded into fully modular synthesizers: use the modulators to control every parameter you can think of with an LFO, envelope follower or X/Y path. And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

First: The Boring Bit!

#1. Installing Bitwig

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps

  • First, make an account on the Bitwig Website.
  • Then, click on ‘Try’ and download the version of Bitwig that’s compatible with the operating system of your computer.
  • Once downloaded, open the installer and follow the instructions to install Bitwig.
  • At the end of the process, log into your Bitwig account.
  • If you got your copy of Bitwig free with gear like an audio interface, then a card printed with a registration code will have come included. Input the code when prompted on the Bitwig site.
  • If you don’t have a registration code, then just use the demo version. You get to use it for free for thirty days so you can try out everything that Bitwig has to offer.

#2. Setting Up an Audio Interface & MIDI Controller

Setting Up an Audio Interface

If you want to make recordings using an audio interface, like the Devine Centro 2i2o, then you need to do the following:

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps

  • In Bitwig, go to the File menu and open the Settings. Click on the ‘Audio’ tab found in the list on the left.
  • Driver Model: here, ‘Core Audio’ (in the case of Mac computers) or ‘ASIO’ (if you have a Windows computer) will probably be pre-selected already. If you’re using the Devine Centro 2i2o interface, then you’ll need a separate driver. Once you’ve installed the driver, select ‘U22_XT USB Audio Driver’ as your driver model.
  • Input Device and Output Device: here, you need to simply select your audio interface.
  • Sample Rate: this is the resolution in which you want to record. 44.1kHz is CD quality, which is more than enough for most work. A higher sample rate will result in larger files and will cost a lot more computing power.
  • Block Size: this sets the buffer that your computer uses to perform all calculations. If you’re using a MIDI controller, then you can use a low buffer rate so you have no problems with latency (a delay between playing the sound and the sound being registered by the software). If you’re mixing, editing or programming, then go for a higher buffer rate. Believe it or not, latency isn’t an issue when you’re doing this kind of work.
  • Recording Offset: leave this at ‘0’.
  • Input Busses: here, you can select the inputs you want to use to record. The Centro 2i2o, for example, has two inputs, so a stereo bus is already created with two inputs. This is useful when you want to record stereo sources, like a keyboard or a stereo microphone configuration. But if you’re recording mono sound sources like vocals or a guitar, then some mono busses will be useful. Simply click on ‘Add Mono’ and type in a name for the mono bus, like ‘Input 1’ – just to keep things clear – then select the number ‘1’ next to the bus name. Repeat the process to add your second mono input.
  • Output Busses: with a more modest audio interface like the Centro 2i2o, the output bus configuration is pretty obvious. Usually, a stereo bus called ‘speakers’ with ‘1-2’ as the outputs will already be filled in. In which case, you don’t need to do anything. If you’re using a bigger interface with more outputs, then you can make extra busses for things like split monitors mixes or for hardware-based effect units.

Setting Up a MIDI Controller

Bitwig comes with an arsenal of virtual instruments that can be controlled with a MIDI keyboard like the Devine EZ-Creator or EZ-Creator Plus or other kinds of MIDI controllers, including models that are designed for playing drum beats, like the EZ-Creator Pad. There are also MIDI controllers that function like a kind of control desk of your software, like theEZ-Creator Fade.

Before you can use a MIDI controller to record to an instrument track in Bitwig, you’ll need to add it to the Bitwig controller list. Here’s how it’s done:

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps

  • Go to the File menu then Settings and select the Controllers tab from the list on the left.
  • Click on ‘+Add Controller’.
  • In the dropdown menu under ‘Hardware Vendor’ select the brand of your MIDI controller. Under ‘Product’, select the name of your model. Note: Bitwig will recognise a lot of models, but not all of them.
  • It’s also possible that Bitwig has already recognised your controller automatically, as soon as you plug it into a USB port.

Why do you need to select the make and model?

When you add a new controller, this is set to ‘Generic’ as standard. From there, you can select a few things to make sure that the controls that come with almost any controller, like keyboard keys, pitch and modulation wheels and level controls match up with the right functions in your DAW or the plugins you’re using. However, a lot of MIDI controllers come with even more controls. By selecting the specific make and model of your controller from the list, Bitwig is able to recognise all of the bells and whistles of your model and seamlessly match them up with the functions and controls of the software and plugins.

#3. Starting a Project

Now the fun starts! Wait, we need to make a project and save it first!

  • Open Bitwig.
  • Registration and account steps completed?
  • Then you’ll see a menu within which you can start a New Project, or open an existing project (Recent Projects).
  • Here, we’ll click on New Project.
  • Bitwig will now open a new arrangement window and has even been kind enough to already fill it in with one instrument track and one audio track for you.
  • But, before you reach for an instrument or your microphone, you need to save your new project:
    • Go to: File > Save As
    • Give your project a name
    • Select the hard drive location where you want to save your project

Another thing that’s smart to sort out straight away is the tempo and time signature of your project. In Bitwig, the tempo is set of 110 BPM (beats per minute) and the time signature is set to 4/4 as standard, but this can easily be changed at the top of the screen whenever you want.

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps
An extensive Bitwig project with both audio and MIDI tracks

#4. Recording Audio

Before we can record any audio, we’ll need to make an audio track. So we don’t skip any steps, we’ll just pretend that Bitwig didn’t supply us with two ready-made tracks when we first opened our project. So, to make an audio track, all you have to do is:

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps

Make a Track and ‘Arm’ it

  • Right click your mouse in the arrangement window, select ‘Add Audio Track’ from the menu and see your first Bitwig audio track appear!
  • Say we’re going to record with a microphone. Select the audio track you’ve just created in Bitwig.
  • In the column on the left of your screen, you’ll see all of the settings for the selected audio track. Beneath the column, you can select the input that your microphone is plugged into.
  • Get the track ready to record (Arm For Record) by clicking on the button with the red record dot on it, just to the left of the ‘S’ (Solo) and ‘M’ (Mute) buttons.

Recording with a Microphone

  • Don’t plug in your microphone just yet.
  • Turn the ‘Gain’ of your audio interface all the way down and turn off the phantom power.
  • Now plug your microphone into one of the microphone inputs of your audio interface.
  • If you’re using a condenser microphone, you can switch the phantom power back on. This feeds condenser microphones the power they need to work. The phantom power might be labelled ‘phantom’ or ‘+48V’.
  • Turn the gain of the microphone input you’re using up a little bit while testing your microphone. Just speak or sing into the microphone at the volume you’re likely to record at, making sure that the level of the audio meter in Bitwig isn’t going any higher than the -12dB mark. Remember: the motto of digital recording is ‘better too quiet than too loud!’
  • Finally, click on the record button at the top of the screen and then hit the spacebar of your keyboard. Now, every track that’s ‘Armed for Record’ will start recording!

Recording an Electric Guitar or Other Instruments

To record other sound sources, like an electric guitar or keyboard, the steps are pretty much the same, but you will be plugging into a different input on your audio interface and need to keep the phantom power switched off. With a lot of audio interface models, you can set the audio source you want to record with – usually via a switch. ‘Mic’ obviously stands for microphone and ‘Line’ is intended for recording gear like keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines. The ‘Hi-Z’ setting means ‘high-impedance’, so when it’s selected, the input of your audio interface is prepared for passive instruments with a high impedance, like electric guitars and bass guitars.

Bitwig for Beginners - Audio & MIDI Recording in 5 Steps
An advanced synthesizer in Bitwig

#5. Recording Virtual Instruments (MIDI)

Now, we’re not going to record something that’s not exactly audio, but MIDI. MIDI isn’t actually sound, but information that’s sent to your computer from your MIDI controller. This information can then be used to control virtual instruments.

Recording with a MIDI Controller

  • Plug your MIDI controller into your computer.
  • Switch it on.
  • Make an instrument track by right clicking your mouse in the arrangement window and selecting ‘Instrument Track’ instead of ‘Audio Track’.
  • In the same menu, you can also select a virtual instrument. The instrument you choose doesn’t really matter that much right now, because you can always change it later. Long live MIDI!
  • Now, click on ‘Arm for Record’, to the left of the ‘S’ and ‘M’ buttons. All going well, you’ll be able to hear the virtual instrument you selected when you play your MIDI keyboard or controller.

What is Audio?

When we’re making an audio recording, we’re trying to capture the sound of an instrument or other equipment with as much accuracy as possible. When recording audio, the signal of a microphone or the line out of a keyboard is converted into a digital signal. The computer does this by measuring the amplitude of the signal – 44,100 times per second – and then recording it.

What is MIDI?

MIDI enables different pieces of music to communicate with each other. So, MIDI really isn’t sound in itself. If, for example, you hit one of the keys of your MIDI keyboard, then all the data – the information involved in that note – is sent to your recording software: so, the specific key you hit, when it was hit, how long it was held for and how hard you hit it. In your DAW, maybe you have a virtual piano plugin installed. This is a piece of software that emulates the sound of a piano. The DAW will take all of that MIDI information and feed it to the plugin, which will use it to hit the same key of the virtual piano for as hard as, and for as long as you hit the key on your MIDI keyboard. The great thing about MIDI is that all of these parameters can be changed after you’ve recorded them. So if you play a note slightly off the beat, you can shift it so it’s on the beat. If you hit the wrong note, you can shift it to the right note, and so on. You can even change the virtual instrument from a piano to a guitar, a bass, a synth or anything you want, later on.

Delayed Sound? Direct Monitoring

You may have already noticed that, while you’re recording, there’s a little delay between the sound and your playing. This is because your computer needs time to process the sound. This delay is referred to as ‘latency’ and can be corrected by lowering Block Size of Bitwig. However, a low Block Size setting means that your computer suddenly has to work harder and might even crash. This is why most audio interfaces include a ‘Direct Monitoring’ function. Via this function, the sound of your microphone, guitar or keyboard is now sent directly to your headphones and/or speakers without going through your computer first, removing any delay. The sound is then, of course, sent to your computer, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to record. While recording using direct monitoring, make sure you’ve muted the track you’re recording to, otherwise you’ll hear everything with an echo.

Note: The Direct Monitoring function doesn’t work for virtual instruments, only for sound that comes from an external sound source, like your audio interface. The sound of a virtual instrument is generated by your computer.

See also…

» Bitwig Upgrades
» MIDI Controllers
» MIDI Keyboards
» Instrument Plugins
» Effect Plugins
» All Studio & Recording Gear

» How to Make a Beat
» Phantom Power: This is What You Need to Know
» FL Studio for Beginners: How To Use This Popular DAW
» Should You Mix with Headphones?
» Balanced and Unbalanced Connections (Finally) Explained
» How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?
» The Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones
» Mixing Flawless Vocals in 5 Steps
» DAW Plugins: What Are They & What Can They Do?

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