If you’ve written a few songs with your band and you want to share them with the rest of the world, you’ll need to record them. Thanks to the latest technology, this no longer means an expensive trip to the nearest recording studio. All you need is a computer and a few other bits and pieces of equipment. Read on to find out more about how to make your very own demo!

How to record a great-sounding demo

Recording with one input

To record properly on a computer, you’ll need appropriate software and an audio interface or a USB microphone. An audio interface preamplifies an analogue signal and converts it into a digital one and back again. With just one input you can do a lot. Connect a condenser microphone with an XLR cable and you’ll be able to record vocals, an acoustic guitar and perhaps some percussion. If your audio interface has a Hi-Z input, you’ll be able to plug in an electric guitar or bass too. For tweaking the sound, you can make use of an amp simulator plugin. If your audio interface doesn’t have Hi-Z, you can place a dynamic microphone in front of an amplifier and record the instrument that way instead.

DAW software

DAW software (digital audio workstation) allows you to record, arrange, mix and master audio on your computer. It also allows you to easily add virtual instruments to compositions which is great for those who aren’t in a position to record instruments like piano and drums. Many virtual instruments are samples of real instruments that were recorded in professional studios. In the DAW, you can put sampled notes together to create your own parts. You can do this using an editor in the DAW itself, but using a MIDI keyboard is a much faster method. MIDI is a protocol that allows compatible equipment to communicate. In the past, MIDI worked with a 5-pin DIN connector, but these days most MIDI keyboards have a USB MIDI connector.

The biggest challenge

Recording drums is without doubt the biggest challenge. If you have room in your home studio, there are roughly two options. The first one is a lo-fi setup with one to four microphones. You’ll need an audio interface with the appropriate number of inputs too. With this sort of setup you should be able to record sympathetic, unpolished-sounding drums that are perfect for singer/songwriters as well as styles like jazz and even garage rock. If, on the other hand, you want drums that sound bigger than life itself, you might want to consider using drum software. You can also play virtual drums with a MIDI keyboard, but for a more realistic feel you could use an electronic drum kit or a drum pad.

Mixing and Mastering

Every DAW comes with the basic tools you need to make a mix. By using effects like an equalizer and a compressor, you can ensure that the sound and dynamic of each instrument finds its own place in the track. Adding reverb, delay and chorus effects to recordings helps to add width and depth. Additional effects can always be added to your DAW with separate plugins. A good set of studio monitors are essential in order to create the best possible mix as every decision you make will be based upon what you hear. Unlike hi-fi speakers, studio monitors aren’t designed to make music sound good. They’re designed to give an honest reproduction of the way the music sounds. If something is not right in your mix, listening to it on a good set of studio monitors will reveal it. Mixing and mastering using headphones only is not recommended. This is because you won’t experience any acoustics and because the left and right channels are completely separated, you don’t get a realistic image of what the mix sounds like as a whole. A mix made using speakers normally sounds good on headphones too, but that’s not always the case the other way round.

Also see

» What do you need to produce music?

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