Recording your guitar playing is a great way to improve your playing and songwriting skills, but what do we actually need for a small recording setup?
Here´s a short overview of what you need to get started:
Recording audio is very demanding for your computer, so a recent model with a good amount of RAM (I would not go below 8 GB) would be great. If you only have an older computer, use what you have for now and test how your computer handles the task.
The best scenario would be a computer that is only used for that purpose, because each time you install new updates for the operating system, the programs and drivers, there´s a chance that your entire system might stop working due to compatibility issues.
Because each small update can potentially render your recording system useless, it´s mandatory to always automatically backup your system.
- Stable operating system
Operating systems have become more fancy over the years, but from my experience they have also become more unstable and cluttered with lots of stuff constantly running in the background, taking up valuable system resources. Educate yourself about how to streamline your system and make it as uncluttered and stable for audio recording as it can be. Once your system works you should not upgrade or update anything, until you made sure that your audio software, audio interface and drivers are 100% compatible with the upgrade. Again even if all elements should work together in theory – always back up your system before changing anything, so you can always revert to the state before the update, if it does not work as planned.
- Audio Interface
To get the sound of your guitar in and out of your computer, you will need an audio interface. An audio interface is connected to your computer via USB or Thunderbolt and will bypass the computer´s internal soundcard. The soundcard´s cheap components in your computer are not built for recording high quality audio and will give you less desirable results. Get a cheap audio interface like an Avid M-Box, connect it to your computer and plug in your guitar and/or microphone to start making your own recordings.
- External Hard Drive (do NOT record to the system drive!!!)
Do not record to the system drive, because this is where the computer is running the operating system from. You don´t want it to run the operating system and read and write audio data at the same time from the same drive, because this can cause a lot of problems. Simply get an external hard-drive to record your audio to. A SSD drive would be the best scenario in this case. Don´t use 5400 RPM drives for this – they are too slow and you will get constant error messages during recording.
Next, you will need a pair of headphones to hear what you play during the recording process. It would be ideal if you could try them on in the store, to check if they fit well and don´t feel uncomfortable.
- Active Monitors
If you want to not just listen to your finished recordings over headphones and if you want to also try your hand at mixing your songs, you will need active monitor speakers which you will connect to the outputs of your audio interface. KRK sells quite inexpensive active monitors which are quite good to start out. The term “active” means that the speakers already contain an inbuilt amplifier, so you don´t have to get an external amplifier to power the speakers.
- MIDI Keyboard to play Software Instruments
If you want to play other instruments as well, you will need a MIDI Keyboard to connect to your computer via USB. By doing this, you can now play drums, piano and many other so called “software instruments” on that keyboard and even create full orchestral arrangements all by yourself!
If you want to record vocals or live instruments, you will need a microphone that gets connected to your audio interfaces’ mic input. If you want to record your guitar amp, get a dynamic microphone, such as the Sure SM57. If you want to record acoustic instruments and vocals, get a condenser mic.
- Pop Filter for the Mic
When you get a mic to record vocals – do yourself a favour and get a pop filter along with the mic. This filter will be attached to the mic stand and placed in front of the mic to absorb various blasting noises that are created when you sing certain words.
- DAW Software to record
Finally you will need a DAW. This acronym stands for Digital Audio Workstation and simply means the program you record with. There are various DAWs out there. The most common ones are:
- Pro Tools
- Ableton Live
When you do some research on the internet and look for the best DAW – stop right now and save your time. There is no best DAW. It´s very likely that you will get sucked into endless forum discussions why X is better than Y or technical debates about the best bit depth. You want to avoid that. You want to get a simple working setup, get creative and get ideas recorded as fast as possible. I have used all programs out there over the years and Pro Tools turned out to be my favourite, but that is just my personal preference. Any DAW will do the job just fine.
About the author:
Derk Stiepelmann teaches guitar at Songwriter´s Shed in Dortmund, Germany and helps his students progress fast and get results. If you are looking for a guitar teacher in Dortmund, contact him by clicking the linked text.