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What Goes Where? Setting Up A Recording Studio

Your first attempt at recording a song or even just vocals at home will likely include the built in microphone and soundcard of your computer or even a webcam.  It’s a confusing task to even understand what all pieces of studio gear are required, let alone how they must be connected to operate properly.  Newcomers become intimidated almost immediately, but think of these factoids…

Bands Record in the Strangest Places

You’ve heard about bands like Linkin Park that will record large portions of their next album while they are in the bus on tour for the previous one.  If they can do it in a moving bus, surely you can do it at home!  Rappers all over the country have microphones set up in their closets and will allow their clothes to act as acoustic treatment.  So it can’t be that bad, can it?

Thinking Through the Signal Path

The truth is is that it isn’t difficult at all if you can grasp one simple concept, and that is the signal path.  It’s the sound moving from your mouth or instrument and into the mic and down the cables into the computer.  Depending on what equipment you’ve purchased determines what other steps are in between.  For instance, if you’re using a USB powered microphone, it’s going to have a built in preamplifier.  You may not get killer results, but you are skipping a step.  A high quality microphone, especially a tube condenser, is going to need phantom power and a preamplifier to supply it as well as boost the signal from mic-level to line-level without introducing noise.

So that tells you that you need a microphone and a preamp to record any non-digital sounds.  If you’re starting with an electric guitar or synthesizer, you’ll be skipping both of those steps!  So that’s your first clue, whether or not you’re starting analog or digital.  

The next question is whether or not you’re going to use an external equalizer or compressor.  If you are, they are up next.  If you’re going to do it digitally then you can skip these steps.  Simple!  Assume you’re going to skip these as a newcomer or hobbyist.

All you need now is to remember that analog signals have to be converted into a digital signal, and that’s what the A/D converters do.  These will be in your recording interface.  As a matter of fact, it will have at least one preamplifier and a direct-in jack, so you can record with a mic or a digital instrument like a keyboard.  You will, undoubtedly, buy an interface.  So now we’re talking just a microphone to an interface, or a MIDI instrument straight to the interface.  That’s it!  It will convert your signal and move it into the computer.

Now all that is left is for you to press record in your digital audio workstation, such as Logic Pro, Pro Tools, or Fruity Loops.  It’s a very simple process once you think about what has to happen.  Once you’re able to work out that logic, you can hook up any level of complexity in your studio.  Thinking about how to setup a recording studio for 16 microphones is the same as for one, just doing it 16 times!  But as a one-man musician, you’ll rarely be hooking up more than one signal chain at a time.  So don’t be scared!  Use your brain, understand the components that your signal must flow through, and find out what piece of equipment solves your problem (in this place, an audio interface!).

Now get to recording!  This is about art, not engineering!

What Goes Where? Setting up a Recording Studio

Reader Comments (1)

Love the site! Keep up the good work - btw, I found you by searching 'home studio' in the news app on iPhone. anyway - thanks! looks great! Looking forward to more!


October 3 | Registered CommenterJoseph Felts

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