Record It Yourself





Introduction: Record It Yourself

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By Theo Kogan & Sean Pierce • Photo by Ryan Pfluger
Courtesy of Venus Zine

Former Lunachicks front woman Theo Kogan — who’s now the current leading lady of Theo and the Skyscrapers — explains how you can turn your pad into a recording studio. Skyscrapers guitarist Sean Pierce (formerly of the Toiletboys) lends support.

There is no reason in this day and age that you should have to wait for a big budget to make a record. Self-recording is an awesome perk of the modern age. When our band recorded our new self-titled album, we decided to do it ourselves because we didn't have a large budget for recording, and between ourselves and our friends, we had the equipment. You may only live once, but you can make a lot of records. Here’s Sean’s and my recipe for doing it yourself.

Step 1: Step 1

Self-recording isn't free. There are still things you will need to spend some dough on to get started. To raise the money, you could play a benefit or have band mates chip in. Use your imagination and chutzpah to make it happen. You’re gonna need to buy a couple essential things to make your record. First, you’ll need a computer that has enough RAM and power to run the following recording programs: Pro Tools, Logic, or Garageband. You’ll need at least one of these programs to record. Next, buy a good microphone. Here is where you should spend a little money. A good mic is going to help warm up your sound. If you can't get a really good one, a Shure SM58 microphone — which is the basic mic that is used at most clubs — will do. I suppose you could steal one, but we never told you to! We run our bad-ass Blue mic through a simple little Mbox, a separate component that forms an interface between your mic or instrument and your computer (a $300 investment). You’ll also need a space to do your recording. I did all my vocals in my living room and just had to deal with discouraging my cats from yowling along.

Step 2: Step 2

At this point, you're pretty much ready to go, especially if you have a friend who has Roland TD 20 electronic drums hooked up to Pro Tools at his or her apartment — that’s how we did the drums for our record. You can also just get a few more mics and set them up around your drum set. Many classic-rock records were recorded with just three mics on the drums: one about five feet away from the kick drum, and two about five feet away from the snare.

Step 3: Step 3

Once you get your drum tracks down, you can start building the song, track by track. Lay down the bass directly into Pro Tools, followed by guitar, keyboards, vocals, back-up vocals, glasses filled with water, a vacuum cleaner, butterfly wings, keys jingling — you name it. Here's a tip from our experience: Don't worry if your tracks “red-line” a little bit. This is supposed to be a big digital no-no, but we suggest just using your ears. If you hear crackling, adjust your levels.

Step 4: Step 4

Once your tracks are down and you feel good about them, it's time to go into mix mode. We used the plug-ins (effects like compressors, reverb, etc.) that came with our Pro Tools — nothing fancy. When you are mixing, most importantly, make it sound good to you. We recommend "low listening” during the mixing process. This is when you turn the track down to a super-low volume, checking that all the tracks are still audible. If it sounds good really low, chances are it will sound good really loud. We also recommend listening to the mixes in different systems (car, home, boom box, stereo, iPod, etc.), as this will ensure that your sonic vision is translating to various devices.

Step 5: Step 5

Once your mix is completed, we recommend spending some money to “hit” your mixes to tape. Your local recording studio will know how to do this. It will warm up your mixes and add “tape compression” to them. We also recommend spending some money to get your mixes "mastered." This is the final process, and if you get the right mastering person, your mixes will rip and rock and sizzle as hard as any of your favorite bands with big, fat record execs. Oops, we meant to say big, fat recording budgets. Good luck!



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    14 Discussions

    Don't forget MINIDISCS - they're always excellent for sound recording.

    Rather than spending TONS of money on a computer, RAM, a processor, and messing around with all that digital silliness you could just get a good old fashioned analog recorder. they are still being produced (you can get an older one on Ebay) and are much cheaper than any sort of digital things. try to find a good cassette based multitrack with XLR inputs and such. the Tascam 424 Mk III is a good machine, but there are lots to choose from. you can spend between $40 and several hundred dollars, but either way youre going ot save money just not having to buy pro-tools, among other things. There is nothing wrong with analog recording. just think, all the recordings untill recently were analog, and many were made on similar multi-track machines. for the musician on a budget, analog multitrack is a much cheaper and easier way to get quality recordings.

    7 replies

    hal 9000 the problem with your line of thinking is that by buying an analog recorder is that is all you are going to be able to do with it. you are not going to be able to write a book or collect your photos or even edit movies in final cut pro. in reading your profile i noticed that you took the time to be negative here but never posted a "ible about analog recording, which makes your comments kind of useless, not that i can really talk i have been here a while and haven't posted an intractable yet. still it kind peeves me when people like you show up and start dissing someone's hard work and not have the balls to do one yourself. plus by buying a computer with os leopard you get garageband included or at least on mine it came included. i am just learning to use garageband and as soon as i get a song put together i am going to use it on a slideshow of some of my photographs. can you do that on your analog recorder? yeah i dint think so. the choice of a computer versus analog recorder, at least in my book, is one of usability and priorities. the computer i have now can do so much more than just record. plus i am not a musician so buying something like an analog recorder is (even if it is cheap) is kind of a waste of money.

    oh, i'm sorry, i didn't realize that i was being negative. i was merely suggesting an alternative to what was said in the instructable. i dot think i ever said that analog is BETTER than computers, as you pointed out computers have many advantages over an analog recorder.

    in the instructable it says specifically that you need this and that and the other to record on a computer, which could add up to quite a bit, which i believe was what i was talking about. if you already have the capabilities on your computer, great, go with that. otherwise you could think about going analog.

    also, i don't see how my comments are useless just because i haven't made an instructable on analog recording. whether or not i have made one analog is still an alternative. i know it's not superior, but it is an alternative.

    and no i have never tried to edit photos with it, i have a darkroom for that. i have never tried to write a book with it or send an email or call a friend. it's because it cant do any of those things that it is cheap.

    So to sum up: recording yourself on an analog machine could be cheaper, might sound better and you may think pressing buttons and turning knobs is more fun than recording with a computer.

    your mileage may vary

    I second HALs opinion. If your just getting started recording there are much less expensive and complicated options. Multitrack cassette is a good way to go. And if the digital realm is your thing there are several good opensource and freeware multitrack programs you can play with that require less PC resource$ than protools or garageband. There are way to many questions that need to be ask that this instructable won't answer for most people,. not that i think its a bad instructable per say,. it just seems kind of .. narrow. I'd hate to see somebody waste money trying to replicate this instrucable without at least doing more homework first. The internet has many wonderful resources for not only professional level ,. but also extreme budget level home recording minded people. For more info just google home recording,. there is no shortage of opinions and advice out there.

    I am just getting started in recording and I have a 4-track yamaha, Shure SM57 and a Mic preamp. altogether this setup would cost you around $200, and i could have saved a bit of money by not buying a $100 microphone. To date I have made a couple of great sounding recordings, and the only drawback i have found is that there is a little bit of hiss, but you can eliminate pretty easily in a digital conversion. Just goes to show you that one can get into recording for very very cheap. Plus it's way more fun to twist knobs and push big buttons!!

    Hals setup is an exceptional example of a startup rig. It usually wake people a while to come to the understanding of the good that comes from the little extras like a mic preamp. This type of rig allows you to do recordings not only of yourself, but the whole band. To keep it quality though, all instruments and vocals need to recorded on seperate tracks,. which means you would be limited to 4 with this machine before having to mixdown and then you can record additional tracks over that. Also having only 1 mic limits things as well,. if you can't afford multiple high dollar mics its ok to go to cheaper ones , but i recommend trying to stay with the same manufacturer. There are a lot of good $50 and less mics out there as long as your not buying from the shack you should be fine,.lol. One of Shures big selling points is thier ruggedness and quality control of specs. They are known for being very compatible with other Shure mics onstage in terms of feedback, which means the sound guys love them,. and know how to work them very well, which means that working bands love them because ,. well ,. you get the point. These concepts don't apply as much to home recording because your not generally working with a PA system and monitors that would cause this kind of feedback. In the studio your going to want to stick to some nice $20+ dollar over the ear headphones for most all monitoring. Let your ears be your guide when it comes to picking out mics that fit your budget. That being said,. if you end up investing 200 bucks on half a dozen non shure mics,. go ahead and buy a little PA as well,. then you'll be ready to go on the road and do all those coffee house gigs you've been dreaming about.

    I've also got an Audio Technica AT2020 microphone and Yamaha RH5MA monitor headphones on the way. The mic was backordered. All of what I record is acoustic solo things, so one mic has been enough, as long as you figure out where to place it to get good vocal/guitar balance. I don't have much interest yet in live playing for the time being. Indeed, there are many budget mics available. The local music store here has a box of used mics for $25 each. This is what i would have gotten if I hadnt botten my mics and preamp as christmas gifts. If you just want to start recording with your band these are a great option, and also ask around to your music friends, they may have some equipment you can try out before you buy. Don't forget to do your homework before you buy, I spent hours reviews and comparing reviews before i bought my recorder. The more you know about what you're getting, the less disappointed you will be.


    11 years ago

    ....stfu jed, if you're not happy of this instructable, well go away....all people dont like stupid commercial music like you, and most of you probably never started a band, there's no place for such projet in your closed-brainwashed lil mind, i think those info are great, its a nice way to make things, thanks

    another vain attempt at getting ones pile of shite band noticed. The name of the site is Instructables not Hogwash for the masses!!

    1 reply

    Jed, I've been reading your posts lately and all I can say must make the black hole that is your miserable life feel a little bit sunnier to be such a jerk. Be constructive or shut it. Do you have any idea who Theo is? She certainly doesn't need Instructables to plug her band.


    12 years ago

    How about no long, weird intros and have pictures relevant to the topic?

    this last bit is DAMNED good advice, too many of my friends just record and listen to it on their crappy computer setup, think it sounds good and let it out. and it doesn't sound so hot when you put it on a nice system. but they never listen to me, god no, i just have ears, and play a banjo with friction pegs FRICTION PEGS!! constantly tuning....yeah...anyways, listen to your music on alot of differant setups, kids. stay in drugs, off school and whatnot. the more you know...