I'll bet the fancy picture of all the expensive gear made you click on this. Well, sorry to disappoint, but this article is not about which Pultec EQ serial number you should be looking for, or which version of the LA-2A to get. This article is about affordable gear that gets the job done well.
Whether it's to record practices, make writing easier for long-distance members, or send demos off to a producer, every band should be recording themselves. Not only does it improve the writing process, but it also helps prepare the band for the actual recording. In this article, we'll walk through exactly how to do that with the basic gear that you need.
An audio interface is the heart of your studio. It's your mic inputs, headphone/monitor outputs, and (if you buy a new interface) often comes with recording software known as a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). The interface I recommend will greatly differ depending on how many inputs you need and what you need out of a DAW. Here are my two recommendations:
Focusrite's Scarlett Range is probably the most well-known across the world. The Scarlett range is in it's 3rd generation (pictured above). They have the highest quality preamps/converters and more functionality than any Scarlett has ever seen. This is at the top of this recommendation list because of the affordability, sound quality and the great software package included. Every Scarlett range interface includes Pro Tools|First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Red 2 & Red 3 plugins, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, 3-month Splice Sounds subscription, choice of 1 of 4 Addictive Keys virtual instruments and the Focusrite Plugin Collective for a free plugin every month. There is no doubt that you can easily great make recordings with what's included in these packages. The Scarlett range starts at $109.
Quick note: Pro Tools|First can only record 4 tracks simultaneously and up to 16 mono tracks total.
PreSonus' AudioBox line has been around for a long time. The preamps are detailed, the chassis is literally tested by running it over with a truck and the software package is extremely generous. Every single PreSonus interface includes a full copy of Studio One Artist Version with a license that can be used on up to 5 different computers. Studio One has become quite popular among producers and sound designers for its intuitive workflow and toolset. There is a professional version that is easy to upgrade to when the need arrives. That said, the Artist version is still very powerful and will be more than enough for most producers.
Both of these interfaces have bundle options that include a microphone and headphones that can be found here and here.
So you've got the interface. Now you need a mic to pickup the sound you want to record. For most bands getting a demo together, a vocal mic is typically the only one they need. Drums can be programmed in all of the DAW's included with the interfaces above. Guitars and bass can be plugged in directly to be used with amp sims. Vocals are a different story. There are a few mics I would recommend for a beginner.
If you have a fairly treated or dead sounding space, using a condenser microphone is a great option because it really captures lots of detail. So many good condenser mics can be found for very low prices as well.
The best vocal condenser mic for under $100 that you can get is the MXL CR20. I say that not only because it's a very clear and usable mic, but it has a "Tube" switch that emulates the circuitry of high-end tube mics giving you two different tones to work with. If you buy this mic, you get the sound of two and can use what fits the song best.
If you don't have a treated room, a condenser would not be the best choice because it would pick up all of the reflections. A clean and clear vocal sound would turn into a reverberated mess.
If this is your situation, look toward a dynamic mic. My recommendation for an affordable dynamic mic in the studio is actually something you can use on stage as well.
This is a mic I have used outside in the elements and in a controlled studio environment and it sounded great everywhere. It's great on vocals, guitars, snare drums, and various other percussion. For less than $100, you will not find a better, fuller sounding, sturdier dynamic microphone than this one.
Quick Tip: Dynamic microphones typically sound more dull than condensers, so you'll need to add much more high end to them in the mix stage.
When you are ready to upgrade microphones, check out this article.
Headphones can be kind of tricky because there are so many and you can't go on Youtube to listen to a shootout. I've tried dozens of headphones and I can tell you with confidence that the absolute best value is the Audio-Technica ATH-M20x. For $49, you get a great sounding set of closed-back headphones allow great isolation and don't let the click bleed through into the mic.
After you have these things in place, you can start recording! Click here to find out 10 Overlooked Studio Upgrades.
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