I am currently creating a series of free ebooks for my pupils (and anyone who's interested!) that I will be giving away over the coming weeks and months. Click here to grab the first - The 3 Free Apps Every Music Student Needs!
I'm going to be recommending a different app every week which I've found helpful in my life as an instrumental teacher, producer and/or musician in general.
I'd like to start with the very obvious choice of GarageBand. GarageBand comes preloaded for free with a newly shipped iPad, although you must pay the fee of £3.99 to have access to most of the features.
Essentially, GarageBand is a portable recording studio, enabling the user to record via the inbuilt microphone and sequence together their own music using a variety of "smart instruments" such as piano, drums, guitars, basses and strings, as well as pre-existing "apple loops" of various styles. You can even plug a guitar directly into your iPad via a USB camera connection kit and use virtual guitar amplifiers to emulate the experience of a genuine recording session.
Although it could never be an alternative for real instrument performance, it is a useful way of jotting down musical ideas, encouraging creative composition for a beginner, and getting young people enthused about and engaged with music-making.
Download GarageBand here
It is becoming increasingly affordable and realistic for budding songwriters, bands and artists to create great sounding recordings at home. I often both record and mix the same project for clients but it's also common for people these days to record everything at home themselves and simply send the files to me for the mixing. See here for more information on the recording and mixing services I offer.
Whatever your situation, I'd like to offer some simple advice and tips on gear to buy for a beginner wishing to create a modern recording and mixing solution at home on a budget.
The good news is that you may already own what the majority of your budget will be allocated to - the central hub of your "studio", which is a laptop! Most people already own a laptop of some description but there are a few things to consider if you're going to be recording and editing audio regularly.
Firstly, you need the "spec" of your machine to be of a certain standard. A minimum of 2GB (preferably 4GB) RAM is recommended and at least 1.6GHz processor. Any new Windows or Mac laptop will easily cater for this. The more memory and processor power you have, the better.
Then you need Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, within which you will do all the recording and mixing of your music. If you have a MacBook Pro, the good news is you already have software which will be up to the job called GarageBand. This comes free with a newly shipped MacBook. But then you will still need an additional audio interface. If you are working on a Windows machine you have several other low-cost options.
The option which makes the most financial sense for a beginner to music production is to use the software which comes free with your audio interface. An audio interface is simply a piece of gear which connects to your laptop via USB and allows you to plug audio cables such as a guitar lead or microphone into your laptop in order to record the results. As most bedroom studio owners will be making recordings of maybe 2 inputs; guitar/keyboard and vocals for instance and then overdubbing further instruments later, the audio interface only needs a couple of inputs.
Let's look at some options. The first only has 1 mic input, the rest have 2.
1. Focusrite Scarlett Solo (comes with Ableton Live Lite DAW software bundled) £64 RRP
2. Alesis i02 Express (comes with Steinberg Cubase LE DAW software bundled) £69 RRP
3. M-Audio M-Track (comes with Ableton Live Lite and Waves plugins bundled) £69 RRP
4. Presonus Audiobox (c0mes with Studio One Artist DAW software bundled) £78.99 RRP
Obviously if you are wishing to record more sources at the same time (such as drum kit for example which requires the capture of several microphones), you can upgrade to an interface with 4 or 8 microphone inputs.
Now you have the laptop, software and interface to capture your recordings. All you need now to get going is a few more essential accessories. Presuming you are already equipped with a musical instrument such as a guitar or keyboard that can be plugged straight in, you will now need a microphone.
There are different types of microphones for different applications and many different manufacturers. A versatile microphone for recording vocals and acoustic instruments is the large-diaphragm "condenser", also known as a "capacitor". These start at around £40 and go up to well over £2000! Luckily you can get satisfactory results on the cheaper end of the spectrum. There are too many microphones under £100 on the market to list in detail but I would personally recommend:
Audio Technica AT2020 Condenser Microphone £76 RRP
This microphone is versatile and sturdy and has a cardioid pick-up pattern - this means it reduces what is around the sides and back of the microphone for a focussed recording of the source. Once you have purchased your microphone you will also need an XLR to XLR microphone cable - these aren't usually bundled with the microphone.
You will then need a pair of studio headphones in order to hear the finer details of your recordings and also minimise annoyance from neighbours or family members! You will also need these for when/if you overdub any further instruments on your recordings. Similar to microphones, the price range is wide but as a starting point here is a very popular pair of budget headphones from Sennheiser who are one of the leading brands.
Sennheiser HD-201 Closed Back Studio Headphones - £16.99 RRP
You now have the bulk of what you need to make a great recording at home. I would also recommend investing in a boom microphone stand (around £15) to mount your new microphone - a boom is the type where you can adjust the angle of the stand rather than a straight stand which can't be adjusted.
If you are recording vocals it is a very good idea to invest in a "pop shield" to minimise the poppings of "b" and "p" sounds in a recording. When you make these sounds you expel a sudden blast of air in the direction of the microphone, which isn't ideal for a professional sounding recording. These are around £10 to £20.
As you can see, these days it's possible to get a home recording setup for around £200 if you already have a laptop. Welcome to the world of music production!
For more information about the music production services I offer please visit this page.
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