Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies®, 3rd Edition

Table of Contents


About This Book

Not-So-Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Home Recording Studio Basics

Part II: Recording 101

Part III: Getting Ready to Record

Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record

Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Home Recording Studio Basics

Chapter 1: Understanding Home Recording

Examining the Anatomy of a Home Studio

Exploring the recording essentials

Checking out recording system types

Getting a Glimpse into the Recording Process

Setting up a song

Getting a great sound



Making Sense of Mixing

Cleaning up tracks, using editing

Equalizing your tracks

Processing your signal

Blending your tracks

Adding the Final Touches

Mastering your mixes

Putting your music on CD

Promoting your music

Chapter 2: Getting the Right Gear

Determining Your Home Studio Needs

Detailing Your Digital Options

Computer-Based DAW Systems

Finding the right computer setup

Getting the sound in and out

Choosing the right software

Studio-in-a-Box Systems

Taking a look at the benefits

Examining some popular SIAB systems

Stand-alone Recorders

Analyzing Analog

Open-reel multitracks

Analog goodies

Exploring Sample Setups

Live and MIDI studio

MIDI-intensive studio

Live studio

Chapter 3: Get ting Connected: Set ting Up Your Studio

Understanding Analog Connections

The 1/4-inch analog plug



Delving into Digital Connections




ADAT Lightpipe




Sampling Some Studio Setups

Audio with some MIDI

MIDI-intensive setup

Live audio

Working Efficiently

Taming heat and dust

Monitoring your monitors

Optimizing Your Room

Isolating sound

Controlling sound

Part II: Recording 101

Chapter 4: Meet the Mixer

Meeting the Many Mixers

Analog mixer

Digital mixer

Software mixer

Computer control surface

Understanding Mixer Basics

Examining Inputs


Trim control

Checking Out the Channel Strip

Viewing the channel strip layout

Following the flow of the signal

Recognizing Mixer Routing

Master bus

Sub (submix) bus

Auxiliary (aux) bus

Opting for Outputs

Master Out jack

Phones jack

Monitors jack

Chapter 5: MIDI and Electronic Instruments

Meeting MIDI

Perusing MIDI ports

Understanding MIDI channels

Appreciating MIDI messages

Managing modes

Taking a look at General MIDI

Gearing Up for MIDI

Sound generators

Sound card

MIDI controller


MIDI interface

Chapter 6: Understanding Microphones

Meeting the Many Microphone Types

Construction types

Polarity patterns

Assessing Your Microphone Needs

Deciding How Many Microphones and What Kind

Getting started

Movin’ on

Going all out

Finding the Right Mic for the Situation

Partnering Mics with Preamps


Vacuum tube


Considering Compressors

Analyzing Some Microphone Accessories

Microphone cords

Microphone stands

Pop filters

Caring for Your Microphones

Daily care


Part III: Getting Ready to Record

Chapter 7: Getting a Great Source Sound

Making Sense of the Signal Chain

Setting Optimal Signal Levels

Understanding Pre and Post Levels

Interpreting the various levels

Looking at some examples

Getting a Great Guitar Sound

Creating a Killer Keyboard Sound

Making the Most of Microphones

Placing mics properly

Compressing carefully

Chapter 8: Taking a Look at Microphone Techniques

Singling Out Spot Miking

Detailing Distant Miking

Assessing Ambient Miking

Selecting Stereo Miking

X-Y pairs

Blumlein technique

Spaced pairs

Stereo microphones

Creating Miking Combinations

Chapter 9: Miking Your Instruments

Getting a Great Lead Vocal Sound

Making the most of the room

Choosing the best mic

Getting Good Backup Vocals

Examining Electric Guitar Miking

Using the room

Getting the most out of the mics

Exploring Electric Bass Miking

Managing the room

Getting the most from the mic

Miking Acoustic Guitars and Similar Instruments

Making the most of the room

Using your mics

Getting a Handle on Miking Horns

Understanding the role of the room

Making the most of the mics

Placing Mics for a Piano

Harnessing the sound of the room

Managing the mics

Setting Up Mics for Strings

Making the most of the room

Making sense of the mics

Digging into Drum-Set Miking

First things first: Tuning your drums

Using the room to your benefit

Picking up the kick (bass) drum

Setting up the snare drum

Tackling the tom-toms

Handling the hi-hats

Creating the best cymbal sound

Miking the whole kit

Getting Your Hands on Hand Drums

Perfecting Percussion Miking

Exploring the impact of the room

Choosing and using the mics

Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record

Chapter 10: Multitrack Recording

Understanding Multitracking

Getting Ready to Record

Setting up a song

Selecting a sound source

Setting levels

Getting the sound you want

Choosing a monitoring source

Saving Your Work

Sharing Files with Others

Chapter 11: Recording Audio

Performing Your First Take

Punching In and Out

Manual punching

Punching with a foot switch

Automatic punching

Repeated punching (looping)

Exploring Overdubbing



Keeping Track of Your Tracks

Chapter 12: Recording and Editing MIDI Data

Synchronizing Your Devices

Synchronizing two (or more) synthesizers

Synchronizing a computer sequencer and a synthesizer

Synchronizing a sequencer and an audio recorder

Using the transport function from one device to control another


Recording MIDI data


Editing your data



Saving Your Data

Transferring Data Using MIDI

Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song

Chapter 13: Editing Your Per formance

Understanding Digital Editing








Finding the Section You Want to Edit

Editing aurally

Editing visually

Editing to Improve the Sound of a Performance

Replacing a bad note

Evening out a performance

Getting rid of distortion

Getting rid of noise

Correcting pitch problems

Creating a Performance That Never Happened

Creating loops

Assembling a song

Making composites of your tracks

Discovering Other Ways to Use Editing

Making adjustments to the length of a performance

Reversing a phrase

Chapter 14: Mixing Your Music

Understanding Mixing

Getting Started Mixing Your Song

Exploring Equalization


High- and low-shelf

High- and low-pass filters


Equalizing Your Tracks

Dialing in EQ

General guidelines








Using the Stereo Field

Left or right

Front or back

Adjusting Levels: Enhancing the Emotion of the Song


The arrangement

Automation, or Riding the Faders

Real-time automation

Snapshot automation

Tuning Your Ears

Listening critically

Choosing reference CDs

Dealing with ear fatigue

Making several versions

Chapter 15: Dialing In Signal Processors

Connecting Effects



Dynamics Processors

Introducing compressors/limiters

Multiband compression

Getting started using compression

Sampling some compression settings

Introducing gates

Getting started using gates

Introducing expanders

Getting started using an expander

Effects Processors

Introducing reverb

Getting started using reverb

Introducing delay

Getting started using delay

Introducing pitch shifting


Getting started chorusing

Simulating Effects

Microphone simulator

Amp simulator

Chapter 16: Mastering Your Music

Demystifying Mastering




Getting Ready to Master

Paying a Pro or Doing It Yourself

Hiring a Professional Mastering Engineer

Mastering Your Music Yourself

Optimizing dynamics

Perfecting tonal balance

Sequencing your songs

Balancing levels

Preparing for CD

Getting into CD Burning

Purchasing CD-Rs

Recording Your Music to CD-R

Using different CD recorders

Burning for mass production

Protecting your rights

Making Multiple Copies

Doing it yourself

Having someone else do it

Chapter 17: Getting Your Music Out to Listeners

Promoting Your Music

Exploiting the Internet

Understanding MP3


Bit rate


Creating MP3 Files

Choosing encoding software

Encoding your music

Hosting Your Music

Choosing a host site

Setting up your own site

Providing Your Music Online

Offering downloads

Streaming audio


Selling Your CDs

Making the Most of the Web

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten Home Recording Resources

E-Mail Newsletters


Internet User Groups

Internet Forums

Local Commercial Studios

Local Music and Pro Audio Stores


Online Articles

Other People’s Music

Recording Schools

Chapter 19: Ten Invaluable Recording Tips

Using an Analog Tape Deck

Layering Your Drum Beats

Decorating Your Room

Setting a Tempo Map

Listening to Your Mix in Mono

Doubling and Tripling Your Tracks

Tapping the Input of Your Mixer

Overdubbing Live Drums

Pressing Record, Even During a Rehearsal

Leaving the Humanity in Your Tracks

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies®

by Jeff Strong


About the Author

Jeff Strong is the author of seven books including Pro Tools All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies and PC Recording Studios For Dummies. Jeff is also the Director of the REI Institute (, a MusicMedicine research organization and therapy provider. Jeff graduated from the Percussion Institute of Technology at the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles in 1983 and has either worked in or owned a recording studio since 1985. Every week, he records dozens of custom client CDs using the equipment and techniques found in the pages of this book. He has also released over two dozen commercially available CDs, including the recently released Brain Shift Collection: Ambient Rhythmic Entrainment 8-CD set on the Sounds True label ( and the best-selling Calming Rhythms which is used in tens of thousands of schools and institutions worldwide. You can find more of his CDs at


I owe a hearty thanks to Senior Acquisitions Editor Steve Hayes and my agent Carol Susan Roth for getting behind the first edition of this book and making this third edition possible. Also my gratitude goes out to project editor Christopher Morris and copy editor John Edwards, who helped make an already great book even better. Thanks, as well, goes to technical editor Ryan Williams for keeping me on track and up-to-date on the many technical aspects of this subject.

As always, I’m grateful to my family (Beth and Tovah) and my many friends (you know who you are) who indulge me in my obsession with recording and recording gear.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Christopher Morris

Acquisitions Editor: Steve Hayes

Copy Editor: John Edwards

Technical Editor: Ryan Williams

Editorial Manager: Kevin Kirschner

Editorial Assistant: Amanda Foxworth

Sr. Editorial Assistant: Cherie Case

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Patrick Redmond

Layout and Graphics: Stacie Brooks, Reuben W. Davis, Christin Swinford, Christine Williams

Proofreader: Catie Kelly, Nancy L. Reinhardt, Amanda Steiner

Indexer: Potomac Indexing, LLC

Publishing and Editorial for Technology Dummies

Richard Swadley, Vice President and Executive Group Publisher

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher

Mary Bednarek, Executive Acquisitions Director

Mary C. Corder, Editorial Director

Publishing for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services


If you’re like most musicians, you’ve been noodling around on your instrument for a while and have finally decided to take the plunge and get serious about recording your ideas. You may just want to throw a few ideas down onto tape (or hard drive) or capture those magic moments that you have with your band. Or you may want to compose, record, produce, and release the next great platinum album. Either way, you’ll find that having a home studio can give you hours of satisfaction.

Well, you’ve chosen a great time to get involved in audio recording. Not long ago, you needed to go to a commercial recording studio and spend thousands of dollars if you wanted to make a decent-sounding recording. Now you can set up a first-class recording studio in your garage or spare bedroom and create CDs that can sound as good as those coming out of top-notch studios (that is, if you know how to use the gear).

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, 3rd Edition, is a great place to start exploring the gear and techniques you need to create great CDs (if I do say so myself). This book introduces you to home recording and helps you to get your creative ideas out into the world.

About This Book

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies not only introduces you to the technology of home recording but also presents basic multitrack recording techniques. In the pages to follow, you find out about the many types of digital recording systems that are available, including computer-based systems, all-in-one recorder/mixer systems (called studio-in-a-box systems), and stand-alone recorders that require separate mixers and effects processors.

You get acquainted with the basic skills that you need to make high-quality recordings. These skills can save you countless hours of experimenting and searching through owner’s manuals. Some of these skills are as follows:

You discover the ins and outs of using the various pieces of equipment in your studio.

You explore tried-and-true engineering techniques, such as microphone choice and placement.

You discover the concepts of multitracking, mixing, and mastering.

You find out how to turn all your music into complete songs and discover how to assemble and release an album.

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies puts you on the fast track toward creating great-sounding CDs because it concentrates on showing you skills that you can use right away and doesn’t bother you with tons of technical jargon or useless facts.

Not-So-Foolish Assumptions

I have to admit that when I wrote this book, I made a couple of assumptions about you, the reader (and you know what happens when you ASSume anything). First, I assume that you’re interested in recording your music (or someone else’s) in your home and not interested in reading about underwater basket weaving (a fascinating subject, I’m sure, but not appropriate for a book entitled Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies).

I assume that you’ll most likely record your music using a digital hard-drive recording system because these are the most common types of systems available. I also assume that you’re relatively new to the recording game and not a seasoned professional. (Although if you were, you would find that this book is a great reference for many audio engineering fundamentals.) Oh, and I assume that you play a musical instrument or are at least familiar with how instruments function and how sound is produced.

Other than these things, I don’t assume that you play a certain type of music or that you ever intend to try to “make it” in the music business (or even that you want to treat it as a business at all).

How This Book Is Organized

Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies is organized so that you can find the information that you want quickly and easily. Each section contains chapters that cover a specific part of the home recording process. In Part I, you discover the tools of your auditory craft and get them up and running, while Part II introduces you to general recording practices. Part III helps you get the best sound that you can from your instruments, and Part IV digs into the multitrack recording process. Part V shows you how to turn it all into music and helps you share your music with others, and Part VI gives you tips and resources to keep your music growing.

Part I: Home Recording Studio Basics

Part I introduces you to the basics of home recording. Chapter 1 introduces you to the process of home recording and explains the basic gear that you need to get started. Chapter 2 opens a huge can of worms and explores the many types of digital recording systems available to help you find the best system for your needs. This part ends with Chapter 3, which shows you how to set up a system so that it is easy to work with and sounds good. You also find out how to get your room to work well for you.

Part II: Recording 101

Part II gets into more gear talk — this time giving you a hands-on experience. Chapter 4 acquaints you with the role of signal flow in audio recording and shows you how this flow works in a variety of different systems. Chapter 5 demystifies MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and gives you practical advice on how to use this powerful communication tool to enhance your music. Chapter 6 allows you to get inside the world of microphones. You find out what kinds of mics are available, how they work, and which ones work best for different situations.

Part III: Getting Ready to Record

Part III helps you dot your Ts and cross your Is (er, you know what I mean) when getting your instrument’s sound into your system. Chapter 7 shows you how to set the best levels for all your instruments, whether they are plugged directly into your system or miked. Chapter 8 introduces you to the art of microphone placement and how it relates to the sound you get from your instrument, and Chapter 9 gets down and dirty with some suggestions for miking a bunch of common instruments.

Part IV: Laying Track: Starting to Record

Part IV gets into the meat of recording music. Chapter 10 explains the purpose of multitrack recording and shows you how to do it to get the best sound possible. Chapter 11 helps you start recording audio tracks. This chapter gives you the specifics on every aspect of recording, including doing overdubs and replacing missed-notes (or musical) sections using a punch procedure. Chapter 12 takes you into the world of MIDI sequencing, where you can record MIDI performance data and tweak the sound (and the performance later). It also guides you through the process of editing data — moving, fixing, deleting, and so on. This process can be done in two ways (visually or aurally), and you explore both in this chapter.

Part V: Turning Your Tracks into a Finished Song

Part V helps you to take all your individual tracks and blend them together to create a finished song. Chapter 13 helps you clean up your tracks with editing. Both audio and MIDI editing are covered in detail. Chapter 14 shows you how to get your tracks to fit and sound good as a unit through the process of mixing. Chapter 15 explores how you can use effects, not only to make your music sound as natural as possible but also to help you create special effects that can add interest for your listeners. Chapter 16 demystifies the mastering process. You discover what mastering is and how to use it to make your music sound like the CDs at the music store. Chapter 17 helps you break out of your cocoon so that you can share your finished music with others by showing you how to make copies of your CD, format your music for Internet distribution, and promote your music to gain listeners.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

A staple of every For Dummies book, this Part of Tens contains some information that you can use every day. From ten great home recording resources (Chapter 18) to invaluable home recording tips (Chapter 19), this Part of Tens has it all (well, almost).

Icons Used in This Book

As with all For Dummies books, I use a few icons to help you along your way. These icons are as follows.

Remember.eps Certain techniques are very important and bear repeating. This icon gives you those gentle nudges to keep you on track.

TechnicalStuff.eps Throughout the book, I include some technical background on a subject. This icon shows up in those instances so that you know to brace yourself for some dense information.

Tip.eps This icon highlights expert advice and ideas that can help you to produce better recordings.

Warning(bomb).eps This icon lets you know about those instances when you could damage your equipment, your ears, or your song.

Where to Go from Here

This book is set up so that you can read it from cover to cover and progressively build on your knowledge or you can jump around and read only those parts that interest you at the time. For instance, if you are getting ready to record your band and need some ideas on how to get the best sound out of your microphones, go straight to Chapter 8. If you’re new to this whole home recording thing and want to know what kind of gear to buy, check out Chapters 1 and 2.

For the most part, starting at Chapter 1 gets you up to speed on my way of thinking and can help you understand some of what I discuss in later chapters.

Part I

Home Recording Studio Basics


In this part . . .

Part I covers the basics of home recording and helps you get your studio up and running. Chapter 1 offers an overview of what you need to build your studio and how the home recording process works. Chapter 2 introduces you to the many types of digital recording systems and helps you choose the best system for your needs and goals. Chapter 3 guides you through the process of setting up your studio so that it both sounds good and is easy to work in.

Chapter 1

Understanding Home Recording

In This Chapter

Exploring the components of a home studio

Peering into the process of recording

Making sense of mixing and mastering

Finishing up your project

Audio recording is a fun and exciting activity. Being able to put down your musical ideas and craft them into an album is nearly every musician’s dream. The only problem is the learning curve that comes with being able to record your music at home; most musicians would rather spend their time and energy making music.

In this chapter, I help you get a handle on the basics of home recording and show you what’s involved in the process. You discover the basic components of a recording studio and get some ideas about the gear you need to get first. In addition, you explore the multitracking process and find out what’s involved in mixing your tracks. You move on to exploring mastering and finding out ways to get your music to your listeners.

Examining the Anatomy of a Home Studio

Whether it’s a $100 porta-studio or a million-dollar commercial facility, all recording studios contain the same basic components. This is an area where many people get lost and one about which I receive the most e-mails. As you glimpse the recording world, you’ll inevitably think that this will cost way too much and be way too complicated. Well, it can be. But it can also be pretty simple and cost efficient. In the following sections, I present a list of the essentials of audio recording and offer some insight into cost-saving and efficient systems that you can find in the market.

Exploring the recording essentials

To take the mystery out of recording gear, here are the essentials that you need to know:

Sound source: The sound source is your voice, your guitar, your ukulele, or any other of the many sound makers that are out there. As a musician, you probably have at least one of these at your disposal right now.

Input device: Input devices are what you use to convert your sound into an electrical impulse that can then be recorded. Here are the three basic types of input devices:

Instruments: Your electric guitar, bass, synthesizer, and drum machines are typical instruments that you plug into the mixer. These instruments constitute most of the input devices that you use in your studio. The synthesizer and drum machine can plug directly into your mixer or recorder, whereas your electric guitar and bass need a direct box (or its equivalent, such as a Hi-Z input in your mixer) to plug into first. A direct box is an intermediary device that allows you to plug your guitar directly into the mixer. Chapter 7 explores instruments and their connections to your system.

Microphone: A microphone (mic) enables you to record the sound of a voice or an acoustic instrument that you can’t plug directly into the recorder. A microphone converts sound waves into electrical energy that can be understood by the recorder. I detail several types of microphones in Chapter 6.

Sound module: Sound modules are special kinds of synthesizers and/or drum machines. What makes a sound module different from a regular synthesizer or drum machine is that a sound module contains no triggers or keys that you can play. Instead, sound modules are controlled externally by another synthesizer’s keyboard or by a Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controller (a specialized box designed to control MIDI instruments). Sound modules — with the exception of soft-synths — have MIDI ports (MIDI jacks) that enable you to connect them to other equipment. (Soft-synths are software programs that don’t need hardware MIDI connections because the sound modules are stored on your computer’s hard drive.) Chapter 5 digs into the details about sound modules.

Remember.eps Depending on what your sound source is, it may also be an input device. For example, an electric guitar has pickups that allow you to plug it directly into a mixer input without having to use a microphone. On the other hand, your voice can’t accept a cord, so you need to use a mic to turn your singing into an electrical impulse that can be picked up by your mixer or equivalent device. You can find out more about input devices in Chapter 7.

Mixer: A mixer is used to get your input device into your recorder and to route signals in a variety of ways. Traditionally, a mixer serves the following two purposes:

To route your signals into your recorder: This allows you to set the proper level for each input device so that it’s recorded with the best possible sound. Chapter 4 explores the different mixer-type devices for this purpose.

To blend (mix) your individual tracks into a stereo pair (the left and right tracks of your stereo mix): This role of the mixer is where your vision as a music producer takes center stage and where you can turn raw tracks into a polished piece of music. Chapter 14 explores this use of a mixer.

Recorder: The recorder is where your audio data is stored. For most home recordists, this is a digital recorder. You can find out more about the different types of recorders in the next section of this chapter.

Signal processors: Most of the time, you have to tweak your recorded tracks. Signal processors give you the power to do this. Signal processors can be divided into the following three basic categories:

Equalizers: Equalizers let you adjust the frequency balance of your tracks. This is important for making your instruments sound as clear as possible and for getting all your tracks to blend well.

Dynamics processors: Dynamics processors are used to control the balance between the softest and loudest parts of your tracks. They have many uses in the studio to help you make your tracks sit well together and to keep from overloading your system. Chapters 7, 15, and 16 explore ways to use dynamics processors in your music.

Effects processors: Effects processors allow you to change your tracks in a variety of ways, to create either a more realistic sound or unusual effects. Typical effects processors include reverb, delay, chorus, and pitch shifting. You can find out more about these processors in Chapter 15.

Monitors: It’s impossible to know the quality of your recording and mixing without proper monitors, such as quality headphones or speakers. Monitors come in two basic designs:

Passive: Passive monitors are like your stereo speakers in that you also need some sort of amplifier to run them. A ton of options are available with prices from around $100. Just remember that if you go this route, you need to budget in money for an amp. This can run a few hundred or more dollars.

Active: Active monitors have an integrated amplifier in each speaker cabinet. Having a built-in amp has its advantages, including just the right amount of power for the speakers and short runs of wire from the amp itself to the speakers (this is kind of a tweaky area that some people claim produces a better sound). You can find quite a few active monitors on the market starting at just a couple hundred dollars.

Checking out recording system types

With the long list of equipment that I present in the previous section, you may think that you need to spend a ton of money to get everything you need. Fortunately, a lot of home-recording systems are available that contain many of the components you need without having to buy everything separately. I go into detail about these systems in Chapter 2, but here’s a basic overview:

Studio-in-a-box (SIAB) systems: These are all-in-one units that have everything in them except for the sound source, input device, and monitors. For very little money (starting well under $1,000), you get almost everything you need to get started recording. These types of systems are also easy to get started with and are great for musicians that don’t want to spend a ton of energy tweaking their setup.

Computer-based systems: These systems use the processing power of your computer to record, mix, and process your music. Computer-based systems, like the studio-in-a-box system, perform many of the typical recording functions at once. When you have one of these systems, you only need your sound source, your input devices, and your monitors.

Stand-alone systems: These systems are reminiscent of traditional recording studios in that all the pieces of gear are separate. The downside is that you have to buy all your components separately, which can cost you more than buying one of the more inclusive systems (for example, the SIAB and computer-based systems). For people who already have a bunch of gear, such as a mixer and signal processors, this can be a decent option because you’re buying only what you need at the time.

Getting a Glimpse into the Recording Process

It’s easy to focus on all the gear that’s used in audio recording and think that the process must be pretty complicated. Well, it can be if you want it to, but it doesn’t need to be. The heart of recording over the last 30 years or so has been an approach called multitracking. At its core, multitracking involves recording all the instruments on separate tracks so that you can mix them later almost any way you want. You can multitrack by recording everything — or at least most of the instruments — at one time, just like a live performance, or you can go to the other extreme and record each instrument separately. Either way, you need a bunch of tracks to be able to record to, and you need to understand how to get all these separate pieces to blend into something musical.

Setting up a song

The first step in recording your music is to set up your system to record. Because you’re probably using some sort of digital system, you need to configure your song. This usually involves setting the file type, bit depth, and sample rate. This process is one that you’ll get very good at in no time. To get the lowdown on setting up songs in various systems, check out Chapter 10.

Getting a great sound

Getting your sound source to sound great in your system is the most important aspect of recording quality music (well, aside from the song and the performances). This is also an area where you’ll constantly be growing and learning. I’ve been recording professionally for over 20 years, but I still discover something new every time I set up a mic or plug in an electronic instrument. The great thing here is that any time you spend tweaking your mic placement or recording chain setup (configuration and levels) is time well spent and is often rewarded with added clarity or at least a more interesting sound. To help you get up to speed on all the intricacies of getting high-quality source sounds, check out Part III of this book.


After you have everything set up, the actual process of recording your music properly is pretty straightforward: You enable your track and press the Record button. This is easier said than done when the clock is ticking and you know that every mistake that you make is being documented. Luckily, digital recording makes it easy to redo a track without costing you anything in audio fidelity. (It will cost you time though, but because you record at home, you may have more time to get it right). Check out Chapter 11 for the specifics on recording using a variety of digital systems.


With one track recorded, you’re ready to dig into one of the most invigorating parts of the multitracking process: overdubbing. Overdubbing is the process of adding new tracks to your existing ones. This feature allows you to be the one-man band or to bring in other musicians to spice up your music. Overdubbing is easily done with digital multitrack recorders, and to get you going quickly, I cover the details in Chapter 11.

Making Sense of Mixing

For most recordists, the process of mixing is what turns their mish-mash of musical tracks into a song. Mixing involves the following steps:

Cleaning up your tracks by getting rid of unwanted noise and performance glitches

Equalizing each track so that it blends well with all the others

Adding signal processing to enhance each track

Setting levels for each track to tell the story you want to tell with your song

The following sections offer an overview of these steps.

Cleaning up tracks, using editing

When you record, you want the best possible sound and performance for each instrument that you can get, but try as you might, sometimes you run into problems. These can include picking up unwanted sounds, such as chair squeaks, coughs, or other instruments, and can include (and often does) mistakes on the part of the musician that need to be cut out. In the olden days of tape recording, this editing process took time and skill to physically cut out the bad parts of the tape with a razor blade. Today, you can do the necessary editing by using the editing functions that are available in digital systems. This is nice, but it can also tempt you into doing more editing than is necessary to your tracks and, as a result, can suck the life out of them. To help you understand what you can do with digital recording systems and to help keep you on track with your editing, check out Chapter 13.

Equalizing your tracks

When you start mixing a bunch of instruments, you often need to adjust the frequencies present in each instrument so that they all blend without creating mush (a highly technical term). By adjusting the frequencies of each instrument in the mix, you can make sure that each can be heard. This process is simple, but it can be time consuming. To make it easier for you, I cover equalization in detail in Chapter 14.

Processing your signal

In the world of multitracking and small, acoustically untreated recording rooms (most home recordists use a spare bedroom or basement to record in and don’t have a ton of money to make the room sound great), it is almost essential to process the sound with effects or dynamics processors. Doing so is usually intended to add some of the live feel of a concert to the recording, although many people also use signal processing to create interesting effects. Because the possibilities for processing your track using a digital system are almost limitless, this is an area where most beginners overdo it. Because this ability to alter your tracks can be used and abused, I cover some of the basics of processing in Chapter 15 to help you keep the abuse to a minimum.

Blending your tracks

This is also a process in which most new recordists run into problems. Properly mixing your tracks means keeping levels from getting out of hand, placing things where you want them in the sound field (left to right and front to back), adjusting EQ to blend all your instruments in a pleasing way, and using signal processors, such as compression and reverb, to make the most of each track. This process is a circular one and takes some skill and patience to get right. Cutting corners always results in an end product that falls short of its potential. To help you make this process easier, I cover mixing in detail in Chapters 14 and 15.

Adding the Final Touches

After your songs are recorded and mixed, all that’s left to do is add the finishing touches. These include mastering your songs, putting them all on CD, and getting them out into the world through promotion.

Mastering your mixes

Mastering is an often-misunderstood (and even unknown to many) part of the music production process that can make or break a CD (well, not literally). Mastering consists of several important steps that are intended to polish your songs so that they make up a complete collection on a CD, commonly referred to as an album. Here are the steps for mastering your songs:

1. Optimize the dynamics.

The goal here is to get the dynamic levels within and between each song to their best. It also means making your music smooth (no sharp edge to the music) or punchy (a pronounced attack) — or something in between. Unfortunately, most people are only concerned with getting their CD as loud as possible when performing this part of mastering. This isn’t a good idea, as you find out in Chapter 14.

2. Adjust the overall tonal balance.

The point of this part of the mastering process is to create some tonal continuity among all the songs on your CD. Because you probably recorded and mixed all your tunes over a period of months, they each can have slightly different tonal characteristics. This part of mastering is where you make all your songs consistent so that they sound like part of an album and not a bunch of disjointed tunes thrown together haphazardly.

3. Match the song-to-song volume.

When your listeners play your CD, you don’t want them to have to adjust the volume of each song as it plays (unless they absolutely love a particular tune and want to turn it up, of course). The goal with this part of mastering is to get the volume of all the songs on a CD at pretty much the same level. This keeps one song from barely being heard while another threatens to blow the speakers.

4. Set the song sequence.

How your songs are arranged on your CD helps tell your story. To make the most compelling musical statement, give some serious thought to the order of each song on your album. This part of the mastering process involves not only deciding what order everything should be in but also the steps you take to make it happen.

Putting your music on CD

Recording your finished and mastered songs to a CD for distribution and sales is one of the most exciting parts of the recording process. At last you have a product, a complete musical statement that you can share with (or sell to) others. Like at lot of audio recording and production, the act of making CDs is more involved than simply clicking the Burn button in your CD recording program (at least if you want to make more than one copy). You can either duplicate or replicate your CDs to make copies to give or sell to your fans. Here’s a quick rundown on the differences between these two approaches (Chapter 16 explains them in detail):

Duplication: Duplication consists of burning multiple CD-Rs from an audio file. Duplication requires very little setup, so it doesn’t cost much to make smaller quantities, such as 50–200 CDs.

Replication: The replication process starts with producing a glass master from your finished CD-R. This master CD is then used to create CDs using special CD presses, just like the major-label releases. Replication costs a bit more for setup, but the cost to create larger quantities of CDs is lower than that for duplication. This is good choice for quantities of 500 or more.

Promoting your music

The final and most grueling step of recording and putting out a CD is the promotion process. This is where you either make it or break it as an independent artist. To help you along, I offer some ideas and insights in Chapter 17.