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How I did it:
I just finished putting together a recording studio in my basement fully equipped to record a live drum set. It didn't occur to me when I began that recording drums (or not) is the fundamental question when deciding what gear to buy and how to build a home recording studio. For example:
Not recording drums? You'll need:
- recording software
- 1 to 3 microphones
- 1 preamp & AtoD converter
- cables, monitors, mic stands, odd 'n ends
The no-live-drums option gets even easier if you're composing without live instruments, in which case you'll only need one microphone and preamp for vocals (if you plan on vocals at all).
Recording drums? You'll need:
- recording software
- 5 to 10 microphones
- 5 to 10 preamps
- cables, monitors, mic stand, odd 'n ends
- a room large enough to facilitate a drum set
The microphones and preamps will drive up the cost and complexity of your studio as will the need for a live room that can handle a drum set. In my case I built a rehearsal space in my basement a few years back so building a drum room wasn't the issue. Here's my studio gear list.
In the end any software will work (Logic, ProTools, Cubase, Digital Performer, the list goes on). But by choosing to record drums you definitely go down a more complex road. One where mic choice, mic placement, enough preamps with AtoD converters, cables and mic stands are required.
Okay, so once you decide on the drums vs. no drums issue you're well on your way. There are plenty of decisions about which mics to buy, but I'll leave that up to your research. You can see what I ended up using and check out this article. I ended up soldering my own mic cables to custom lengths - this saves a couple hundred bucks and you end up with better quality cables in the size you need.
The big issues I encountered were related to gear choice. I'm going to make a few modern assumptions and layout what I think is a decent solution for someone who wants to have fun or for the purpose of releasing music to the world. There can be a lot of professional hand-waving about what you can and cannont do in a home studio but the reality is that computers have shrunk the studio to the point that you can record "professional" sounding tracks in your basement. Seriously. My assumptions:
- You'll use computer software to record (ProTools, Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer, etc.)
- You'll choose a firewire preamp/AtoD (analog-to-digital) converter
1 is somewhat obvious nowadays. Analog is cute, but who can afford to go down that road? 2 can be a bit of a culture war, but although better sounding by some ears, analog preamps are expensive! If you get a decent firewire box you'll save tons of money and the technology is only getting better. In my case I'm currently using a Mackie Onyx 1200F. I'm marginally satisfied with this specific device, but totally sold on concept of using a firewire device for plugging mic cables into with a preamp in place and an Analog to Digital converter for translating the sound into 1s and 0s for your computer to chew on.
When I started putting together the studio I understood the need for microphones to transmit the sound and the computer software to capture and edit the sound. I did not understand why preamps are required and what an Analog to Digital converter meant. Basically, you need as many preamps and AtoD converters as you'll be recording live tracks simultaneously. Many firewire devices include these together - that is, for every preamp there is an AtoD converter. In my case, I'm recording 8 tracks of drums and one guitar all live at the same time and the Mackie box has 12 preamps and AtoD converters so my 9 live tracks are covered. However, there are lots of 8 channel firewire boxes that may only include 4 preamps or no AtoD converters, and that can't handle my 9 simultaneous inputs. Let me back up, you need to plug every mic into a preamp to give it volume and a decent sound ... and you need that sound converted to a digital signal. That's where the AtoD converter is comes into play.
Now, some pictures of the studio:
the back of my portable studio that I can roll around the room (and even outside the room for overdubs):
a junction box for plugging all the drum mic cables - this snake then goes to the back of my firewire box (see the picture above)
the drums all mic'd up (this picture doesn't reflect my new AT 4047 overhead mics):
Lessons & tips:
- Carefully consider whether recording live drums is important enough to justify the cost and hassle
- Talk to as many people with professional and home studios as possible. I learned 80% of what I needed to know by interviewing 4 studio owners (from home studio to big professional studio owners). Their opinions and solutions differed drastically and I was forced to learn by way of their disagreement.
- consider using an audio snake to reduce the clutter of long cables from instruments (in my case the drums) to the DAW (digital audio workstation). I never understood the benefit of using a snake until a friend gave me one and then I was like, "ohhhhh ... how convenient to not have a bunch of long mic cables strung across the room!"
Here's how to properly solder cables -- it's call tinning. This was another "aha!" moment when someone showed me how tinning made for easy, awesome soldering.
Here's a helpful wikipedia article on DAW (Digital Audio Workstations).