Festival Recording Studios History
BUILDING A COMPUTER FOR RECORDING
Festival Recording Studios
In the last year or so I have noticed most people recording at home have moved away from recording using stand alone recorders such as ADAT, Roland VS1680 and other gear and are starting to use computers. Computers can be a better way to record multitrack audio as long as the proper gear and techniques are used. In this article, I will give you some basic information that will help you understand the differences between computer recording set ups so you can determine what will be best for your recording needs.
When building a recording system, it is advisable to follow in order these simple principles. I'm talking about the proper software, CPU's and audio cards.
First, you must decide what software you will be using. Determine what features you need i.e. multi-track recording, sequencing, loop based audio generation, editing or 2 track mastering. If you need a simple setup for recording multitrack only which works easily right out of the box, you should choose Protools LE with the Digi 001 or 002. Protools is probably the most widely used multitrack recording software in the U.S. It runs on PC or Mac and comes with the hardware and works. But be sure to check the website for compatibility issues with some PC's. It has problems with AMD and other non Pentium PC chips. You might want to look beyond Protools as there are other programs offering more features depending on your software /CPU /recording experience. You might want to consider Cubase, Logic, Sonar or Digital Performer. They all offer multitrack audio recording and midi recording and have more features than Protools LE. A word of warning however! Be ready to learn and to do a lot of reading and experiments before practical use. But this is good as it is important you know the capabilities of any software program before you can use it to it's fullest potential. You probably know too that Fruity Loops and Acid are two widely used programs for generating Rap and R+B style beats. These are good programs as well and come with built in sounds. All you have to do is put sequences together. You may also want a 2- track mastering/editing software program like Sound Forge, Wavelab or Bias Peak. These programs allow you to take the finished multitrack mix and further edit and change the sound in ways that are much easier than multitrack format. Remember: The software you use determines your hardware requirements.
The Right Computer
Next, decide on your CPU. Two computer platforms that are used are Mac and PC. I have used both and I prefer the PC. The PC can be purchased for less money, they upgrade for less money and there is more software available. Now, your needs will depend on how many audio tracks you want to record at once and how many tracks you want to playback at the same time. A good rule of thumb is a 500Mhz PC with 512 MB RAM plus 5400 rpm drive yields about 24 tracks and is good for most homespun rap or R&B tunes.
Now that you've decided on software and CPU, you need to think about the audio card. Determine the type of audio interface you need by deciding how many tracks you want to record at the same time. If you are recording just vocals to put on a beat, then choose a card with 2 balanced microphone inputs, 2 line inputs and 2 line outputs. The 2 mic inputs will allow you to record 2 different signals at the same time such as 2 vocals or 1 vocal and 1 bass. Now this doesn't mean you can only record 2 vocals because you can stack (overdub) as many as you like. The other 2 line inputs will allow you to record from a keyboard, mixer or other device and the 2 outs will allow you to listen through your speakers, send the signal to a mixer, DAT or cassette or to some other media. Make sure all the different recording software you are working with can be supported by the audio hardware and MIDI hardware you are considering. This can be done by looking at the software company website for a list of supporting hardware. There are 3 levels of quality when you buy sound cards:
Low quality is an audio card that plugs in a PCI slot on your CPU and has jacks on the card or wires with audio jacks connected directly to the card.
Acceptable quality is an audio card utilizing a PCI or USB port then has a cable connection to a stand-alone box outside the CPU. The stand-alone box contains the audio converters and therefore the audio is not in close proximity to the CPU causing too high of a noise level. The box will have ¼" unbalanced jacks or RCA type jacks and mic ports.
Excellent quality is the same as acceptable quality but all inputs and outputs are balanced.
The hard part of all of this is making it work. If you choose Protools LE, you can only use their hardware that came with the system. That is why it is so easy but it is limited by what you get when you buy the system. No flexibility or very little upgrading is possible. With other systems you have a wide choice of hardware and changes are relatively easy.
With a PC based system, you must install the hardware first and then install the drivers for that hardware and then the software. This will make sure that the software sees the hardware. If you are going to use MIDI, you would also need to install the MIDI hardware and drivers.
Does this sound like a lot of work? Sure it does, but the payoff is that these systems will provide you with a solid platform to present a professional quality product. And now that you got it all together, what's next? Start making hit records, of course!
-Rick Naiser is the Master Engineer and owner of Festival Recording Studios in Kenner, LA. Included in his discography are Cash Money Records, 54th Platoon, FUBU Records, 504 Records, and more. http://www.festivalstudios.com