Home Recording on a Budget

(or, So You Wanna Make a Record)

I've noticed a (surprising) lack of information here about recording music (oops, see note at bottom, although I've still got tons to say). I know that lots of noders are musical: many play instruments, or sing, or what have you, and I'm sure that someone, sometime has thought about making a record. So this mini-project is dedicated to them, in the hopes that one of them will lay down some wicked cool tracks and brighten the world a little.

Let's start this off, though, with a healthy disclaimer: I am not a professional. I don't even play one on TV. I'm just some guy who decided one day that he should finally put aural pen to musical paper (how's that for weak?). What I'm about to present is an easy path to a demo you won't be ashamed to show your friends and, actually, might sound pretty good when you cruise down the strip with the windows down whistling at the fine honeys. But if you've got the dough to spend and are really serious about making a sweet-sounding record, you'll probably want to take it into a studio and let someone who really knows his craft take control.

I'll also say that this tutorial is primarily targeted at rock music, for two reasons. First, it's what I know; I record my own rock music, so I understand the pitfalls and caveats. And second, because it's easy. The instrumentation is simple enough to capture and work with easily with only a few tracks, which is helpful if you're working on an 8-track recorder or (in this case) have limited CPU resources.

That's right; you're reading this node, I'll assume you have a computer, and I'll (further) assume that this computer has a sound card and (finally) that you are running Windows. If you're not, don't despair; most of the techniques I'll discuss apply to recordings made on 4-track and 8-track recorders as well (or multitrack recorders on platforms other than Windows). You'll just miss out on some of the neat-o plugins that are available. More on choosing a recorder in the Getting Started section.


1. Getting Started: choosing equipment, setting up, and plugging in.
2. We Got the Beat: percussion and rhythm tracks.
3. Wall of Guitars: guitars. And pretty ponies.
4. Make Me Scream: singing, screaming, and other things you do with your mouth.
5. Mixology: the fine art of mixing. If you can do this right, you can conquer the world.
6. Masters of the Universe: mastering. Give your tracks that little something extra they need to sound polished.

You might also want to look at Creating Music on your Home Computer for a primer on hard disk recording. (thanks, Orpheum!)

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