I record a lot of demos in my little studio/rehearsal room. There’s a big difference between recording music intended for release and recording demos, and my set up is all about capturing ideas e.g. recording demos. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about recording quality but at the same time I’m not interested in investing the time and necessary money to bring my recordings up to the next level.
If you write original music, you need a way to get your ideas down without the equipment getting in the way. The recording quality shouldn’t detract from the music but it shouldn’t play too much of a role either, not in the early stages.
The products below will help you get the job done quickly and efficiently without breaking the bank.
I’m constantly coming up with ideas at the most inconvenient times. This used to be a problem but a few years ago I started using my phone, to quickly capture an idea if I was away from the guitar or don’t want to spend time setting up to record.
I’ve tested a few different apps over the years, and these are some of the better ones.
The Dolby On app applies Dolby’s noise reduction technology along with compression, enhancing the quality of recorded audio even further. Under the accessibility settings on iPhone, noise cancellation can also be selected.
MTSR Pro: Simple to use and free. This is essentially a 4 track that you can fit in your pocket. Great if you have a more developed idea and want to layer additional tracks.
Voice Memos: This is a native app on iPhone that essentially works like a dictaphone to record notes and ideas. It’s very simple to use and is my go-to app if I have an idea and want to quickly hum a few bars or make some notes.
FL Studio: A little more expensive than most apps but FL Studio allows for song creation quickly and easily.
Guitar Tuna: Just a good, reliable guitar tuner. The paid version allows for open tunings (very handy) and a range of stringed instruments.
Steinberg UR22: The first thing you are going to need if you plan on recording demos at home is an audio interface. While the sound card in your computer is technically an audio interface it’s not going to cut it if you want to record at home. Get a decent interface that will work with your DAW and studio monitors, provides XLR input for your mics, a decent preamp, and handles latency.
The Steinberg UR22 is one such product that I use regularly and have never experienced an issue with.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
Acid Pro: In the spirit of not letting the production get in the way of the idea I keep it simple when it comes to software. I’ve been using Acid Pro for over ten years, back then it was owned by Sonic Foundry until bought out by Sony and is now currently owned by Magix and is on version 11.
I’ve tested a lot of DAW’s over the years, including Protools lite, Cubase, Fruity Loops (now FL Studio), Studio 1 and Reaper and been around professional ProTools setups when fortunate enough to find myself in a studio. I’ve always just liked using Sony Acid, it really suits what I’m trying to do.
Featuring an intuitive interface and simple to use tools e.g. it’s a piece of cake to work with EZ Drummer, Addictive Drums etc. it’s fast, rarely crashes, handles a bunch of tracks and just makes the entire process of producing a good sounding demo very easy.
I’ve since switched to Mac and now use Logic Pro. I honestly would’ve stuck solid with Acid Pro as it’s a great, intuitive recording app but it’s unavailable on Mac. In any case, Logic Pro is slick, intuitive, and very simple to transition to from other recording software.
Studio Monitors and Headphones
Presonus powered studio monitors and headphones: The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to monitors and headphones for that matter. There’s a bunch of options out there all with different strengths and weaknesses (and costs).
I use Presonus powered studio monitors and headphones. They perform well and are relatively inexpensive. They can be bought separately or packaged along with audio interface, DAW and dynamic microphone.
Rode S1: I tend to use my Rode S1 on pretty much all my vocals. Doing so allows me to keep one mic always set up which allows me to get ideas down fast, and for my purposes, it captures acoustic guitar and vocals really well.
I’ve used this in so many different circumstances from playing live to recording demos to music that’s been released commercially and it’s always got the job done. If you are going to try to save money on your home recording setup, don’t scrimp on your mic. Just get one ‘good’ mic and learn how to work with it to capture the best-sounding guitar tones and vocals possible.
Rode NT5: Ideal for recording acoustic guitars, the Rode NT5 is a small-diaphragm cardioid condenser, intended for acoustic instruments.
Neweer Vocal Isolation Shield/Booth: I’ve been using one of these for the last couple of years and would recommend them for anyone recording through a microphone to cut down on sound wave reflection. Connecting to your microphone stand, there’s really not a lot to using one and they definitely make a difference especially if you record in a room with less absorbent surfaces.
Speaking of reducing sound wave reflections. One simple and inexpensive tip I can provide that will improve the quality of your recordings without taking too much effort is to consider hanging blank canvases or similar on your walls, to cut down on sound wave reflections as they tend to bounce around the room itself and reduce the clarity of your recordings.
Tips for Home Recording
Be realistic about the quality you can produce from home and don’t get too caught up on production if your main focus is capturing musical ideas. For the majority of us, when recording acoustic guitar or vocals the room itself is going to be the biggest detractor and short of spending time and money on sound treatment it’s best to focus on your creativity.
For years, I’ve used the relatively inexpensive equipment listed above to quickly capture quality-sounding demos that I then take to bandmates or further refine myself.
When it comes time to professionally record your own music, you are going to be far better off disassociating with the production and focusing on your performance and creativity. Be the artist and let someone else handle the production. It’s the song that ultimately matters.