If you love making music and you’d like to record your sound on a budget that doesn’t allow for a top-notch audio interface, high-quality microphone and other professional bits of gear, I’ve got great news for you: making recordings doesn’t have to cost beginners a small fortune. In this blog, you can learn how to record audio to your computer, smartphone or tablet on the cheap!

How to Record Audio on a Budget

Computer, Smartphone or Tablet?

  • Recording to a desktop computer or laptop is preferred because it easily gives you the most choice when it comes to compatible microphones, audio interfaces and software. As such, most of the tips in this blog are aimed at recording using a computer.
  • If you’d prefer to use a smartphone or tablet, check out our Android and iOS microphones. While the cheaper models aren’t flawless, the audio quality should be a step-up compared to the built-in mic of your device. Don’t forget to thoroughly check if any desired microphone is compatible with your device.

How to Record Audio on a Budget

The Audio Source

As you’d expect, some things depend on the audio source that’s to be recorded. There are different rules for vocals than there are for recording electric guitars. Below, you’ll find a rundown of the most popularly used instruments and an affordable way to record each one.

Recording Vocals, Acoustic Guitars and More

For speech and vocals, it’s advisable to go with a decent (usually large-diaphragm) studio condenser microphone. That sounds expensive, and is often is, especially because it requires an audio interfaces as well. That’s why it’s cheaper and easier to invest a USB microphone. These can be plugged directly into your laptop or computer, usually without the need to install any drivers, and don’t require an audio interface. The same goes for recording an acoustic guitar or any other relatively low-volume instrument. To get the warmest, most natural and detailed sound, it’s recommended to pick up a USB condenser microphone. To do the actual recording, you can use free software like Audacity, or a basic or more extensive version of DAW software, depending on many tracks you want to record to and how advanced the functionality should be.

  • The downside of condenser mics, especially the large-diaphragm models, when compared to dynamic mics is that they sometimes capture too much sound; from contact noise (don’t hold the mic) to ambient noise (reverb, computer humming, dogs barking in the distance).

Recording Electric Guitars

There are various options for recording an electric guitar:

With an Amplifier

If you have a guitar amplifier, you could invest in:

  • An entry-level dynamic microphone
  • combined with a budget-friendly audio interface with a mic input
  • and an XLR cable (unless already included with the microphone). Please note that both the microphone and the audio interface need to have an XLR connection. This is usually the case, otherwise you’ll need a different type of cable.
  • You can use free recording software like Audacity or fully-fledged DAW software (may be included with an audio interface).

Without an Amplifier

The second option involves guitar plug-ins: guitar-based software that can be opened using DAW software with your guitar plugged directly into an interface. There’s a huge range of guitar amplifier simulation software available, so instead of investing in a microphone or amplifier, you can alternatively get:

Guitar software offers ultra-realistic emulations of iconic amplifiers and is perfect for mobile recording. Since this combines excellent results with a compact and portable set-up, it’s a recording method that’s quickly becoming more popular.

Recording Drums

Bear in mind that you’ll have to correct a few phase problems once all microphones are connected. While you can’t escape this, at least the internet is full of practical tips you can use to solve these issues during or after the recording. Alternatively, electronic drum kits can be fairly cheap and can be plugged straight into an audio interface and easily recorded.

How to Record Audio on a Budget

Making EDM

This is really simple, since EDM tracks can be effortlessly created using sample libraries, DAW software and optionally, a MIDI controller or keyboard. The samples in most libraries are usually categorized: beats, synths, drops, bass, et cetera. Depending on the DAW, libraries can be included in the software, but can also be bought separately, and none of this actually requires an audio interface or microphone. Of course, you can always expand your set-up with an audio interface in the future to improve the quality of any audio reproduced by your speakers or headphones, but you certainly don’t need one to get off to a solid start.

How to Record Audio on a Budget

The Possibilities of DAW Software

So we’ve mentioned DAW software a couple of times now since it’s something that’s needed to record the sound of instruments to a computer (usually saved as .wav files). DAW stands for digital audio workstation, and the software is used to edit recordings into a complete track (cut, copy, paste, change duration, mix, master, etc). Most DAWs come in various versions, from basic and cheap to highly advanced and expensive. Less features doesn’t have to mean less audio quality though, and it’s certainly recommended to start with basic recordings if you’re still a novice, even more so because extensive DAW editions can feel quite overwhelming. Also, don’t worry about the developer too much, all DAWs basically offer the same functionality: recording and editing audio signals, possibly across multiple tracks. If you happen to be a student or a teacher, you might even be able to get your hands on a nicely discounted educational edition (the requirements differ per software pack).

Do you have any money-saving tips when it comes to audio recording? Feel free to leave a comment!

See Also

» Balanced and Unbalanced Connections (Finally) Explained
» How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?
» The Difference Between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones
» How to Record a Great-Sounding Demo
» What You Need to Produce Music at Home
» Help! My MIDI Keyboard Isn’t Making Any Sound!

» Studio & Recording Gear

» How do I Choose the Right MIDI Studio Controller?
» What’s the Best Studio Microphone for Me?

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