Getting Started With the Sound Booth

Introduction: Getting Started With the Sound Booth

From writers recording audiobooks to actors redoing a movie take, from podcasters getting together to vocalists laying down some lyrics, the sound booth at the Johnson County Library Black & Veatch MakerSpace is one of our most popular tools - it was only a matter of time until we would give it its own "Getting Started" guide!

This guide will be a little special: diving into the world of sound recording means learning a lot of new vocabulary and some must-know techniques to make the most of this special room in the library, but you will be up and running in no time!

In this guide, you will learn:

  • what each piece of equipment in the sound booth is and what it does
  • how to set up the sound booth equipment for yourself,
  • how to record the best possible sound
Tips to know: While this tutorial applies specifically to our sound booth, we did our best to give you the basics to most of any small-size recording studio - even if you're recording from your bedroom or your closet!
Let's get started!

Step 1: Your Audio Interface

The audio interface in the sound booth is the Scarlett Focusrite Solo, and its job is to connect our analog world and things that happen there - like singing, or the sound of an instrument like a guitar or a drum - with the digital world of computers and electronics.

On the Scarlett Focusrite Solo, the inputs are:

  • your microphone plug;
  • your guitar plug.

The outputs are:

  • the plug for your direct monitor headphones;
  • the plug for your monitors.

Then there's the buttons...

  • 48V: Your microphone won't work without power! If the 48V button is not lit up, push it now to be able to record.
  • AIR: changes the frequencies of the microphone to imitate some older Focusrite equipment. You probably won't need it just yet but it's good to know what it does!
  • INST: same as AIR, you might not need it just yet but it doesn't hurt to know what it does: activate it if you're connecting a keyboard, a synthesizer or an instrument into the audio interface with something other than a regular, 3-pole jack plug;

But wait, there's more - with trims, to adjust sound levels!

  • Direct Monitor: this feeds sound directly from the microphone to the headphones for faster monitoring;
  • GAIN trim for the microphone and guitar inputs: these trims let you adjust the input levels for the microphone and your instrument
  • MONITOR trim: this trim lets can adjust the levels for the monitor speakers. Adjust here first, then fine tune the sound level directly on the monitors for a clean sound (we'll talk more about the monitors in the next step).

That about covers all you need to know to get started with your audio interface!

Step 2: Your Microphone

There is not much you need to know about your microphone to get the best recording out of it. Just remember the following:

  • Sing or speak in front of your microphone, not on top of it. this is where the actual direction it is "listening" from.
  • Don't tilt your microphone if it's too high or too low; instead, adjust the height of your microphone stand so that your microphone is straight in front of your mouth.
  • Place yourself between the shield and the soundproofing tiles on the wall: this will absorb as much echo as possible and give you a really clean sound.

That's it! Now let's take a look at your headphones and monitors.

Step 3: Your Monitors and Headphones

What are monitors? They look like speakers, but they actually have a slightly different job: let you listen to all the little details in your recording so you can decide to keep them or not. They are designed to give you a rich sound, not a loud sound.

The speakers we use as monitors in the sound booth are M1 Active 320 USB by Alesis, and they only have the one trim control:

  • turn the trim all the way to the left to turn the monitors off, or
  • turn the trim to the right to turn on and left or right to adjust levels.

The monitors are positioned on each side of the computer screen so you can listen to what you have recorded more accurately.

Tips to know: This is going to sound strange but...edit and mix at low volumes! Listening to really loud monitors distorts your sound a lot, and makes it harder to tell if you need to re-record something. And of course, it will protect your hearing - which is very important for a recording artist, a recording engineer or a music producer! For a first-hand account of hearing loss in the career of a music professional, check out this video by music producer Andrew Huang.

If you already have a few tracks in your project as you record singing or music, whatever is playing on your computer is also playing on the monitors. It's a good idea to turn the monitors off while you record - or just plug a pair of headphones into it so that the sound from the monitors doesn't bleed into your recording or create feedback.

Step 4: Checking Your Microphone and Levels

Recording something is easy. Recording something with a nice clean sound you can edit into an amazing song is easy too...If you follow these steps!

  1. push the 48V button on your audio interface to power your microphone;
  2. turn the microphone where you can see the audio interface and GAIN trim for your microphone;
  3. sing into the microphone!
Tips to know: It's always a better idea to adjust your levels directly from your Scarlett Audio Interface and not from your recording software. It will give you cleaner recordings for editing by yourself or with a producer. And just like for the monitors, even if it's counter intuitive, louder just doesn't make things better!

If the LED around the microphone GAIN trim only lights up green for short periods of time, great! You can start recording.

If the LED around the microphone GAIN trim lights up orange or red for longer periods of time, it's not great! Adjust the GAIN trim down and try again until the trim only lights up green!

Tips to know: Once you've tested your microphone levels, move the microphone back to the corner of the sound studio with your back to the foam tiles, and put the microphone and shield in front of you: this will absorb as sound as possible from the room, and help record that clean sound you're looking for.

Now that our levels are set, we are ready to start a project in the recording software of your choice! In the next steps we'll show you how to use both Audacity and GarageBand for recording.

Step 5: Your Digital Audio Workstation

When it comes to sound recording, you don't just call a computer a computer. Instead, we will call it a Digital Audio Workstation - or DAW for short.

The two most popular programs to record audio on DAW are:

  • Audacity - this audio editor for PC and Mac is free to download and use, even at home. It's been used in the MakerSpace by singers, musicians, podcast recorders and even actors, and is kind of like a Swiss-army knife of audio recording: it does a few things really simply, really well!
  • GarageBand - this Mac-only audio editor lets you record and edit audio, as well as software instruments with using your MIDI keyboard.

We have more software on the Mac computer in the sound booth: you can find a complete list at https://www.jocolibrary.org/makerspace/audiovisual.

And now that you know everything you need to know on the hardware side, check the next steps to learn to record using Audacity or GarageBand!

Step 6: Starting Projects in Audacity

You can download Audacity for free from the Audacity website. It's a great tool to use if you have a PC at home and you want to keep working on your projects when you're not at the MakerSpace. Using it, you can:

  • record audio (singing or musical instruments);
  • edit the placement and volume of your tracks;
  • add music or extra tracks;
  • add effects to your tracks.

You can Record by clicking the red button at the top of your Audacity screen, and Stop recording by clicking the Stop button in the same area. All other controls - Play, Forward and Back work the same you would expect on any music player app!

If you have background music or extra vocals to use, you can import your own files into Audacity:

  • just browse to your file and drag and drop it into Audacity; or
  • go to File > Import in Audacity, then browse to your file and click Import.

Either way, your music track will pop up on a separate track, ready to use! If you click Play, you should hear your music track as well as whatever audio you already recorded over the monitors and in the headphones.

When you are done, you can just click on File > Save As to save your whole Audacity project - if you want to edit it on your own computer - or File > Export to save your project as a music file to share and play.

Tips to know: it's always a good idea to save your project as you get started! Make sure to save it on the Sound Booth Mac's Thawspace folder so it doesn't get deleted in between recording sessions. You can always take the last 15 minutes of your reservation to move your project to a flash drive, if you need to work on it at home.

Audacity is a rabbit hole of its own: you can learn more about it with the official Audacity tutorials, or with our list of sound booth resources!

Step 7: Starting Projects in GarageBand

GarageBand is only available for Mac computers, and you can get it as a free download from the Apple App Store. It's a great tool to use if you have a Mac computer at home and you want to keep working on your projects when you're not at the MakerSpace. Using it, you can:

  • record audio (singing or musical instruments);
  • edit the placement and volume of your tracks;
  • add music or extra tracks;
  • add effects to your tracks.

After going to File > New Project and clicking on the type of project you need, you can Record by clicking the red button at the top of your GarageBand screen, and Stop recording by clicking the Stop button in the same area. All other controls - Play, Forward and Back work the same you would expect on any music player app!

If you have background music or extra vocals to use, you can import your own files into GarageBand:

  • just browse to your file and drag and drop it into GarageBand; or
  • go to File > Import in GarageBand, then browse to your file and click Import.

Either way, your music track will pop up on a separate track, ready to use! If you click Play, you should hear your music track as well as whatever audio you recorded already over the monitors and in the headphones.

When you are done, you can just click on File > Save As to save your whole Audacity project - if you want to edit it on your own computer - or File > Share As... to save your project as a music file to share and play.

It's always a good idea to save your project as you get started! Make sure to save it on the Sound Booth Mac's Thawspace folder so it doesn't get deleted in between recording sessions. You can always take the last 15 minutes of your reservation to move your project to a flash drive, if you need to work on it at home.

Like Audacity, GarageBand is a rabbit hole of its own: you can learn more about it with the official GarageBand tutorials, or with our list of sound booth resources!

Step 8: What's Next?

Congratulations! You know everything there is to know to get started with the sound booth - but that's just the beginning of the journey!

Whether you want to focus on your singing or your instrument skills or you're looking to become a producer for other artists, there are plenty of reasons to dive deep into the world of audio recording. So if you're curious to learn more...You're in luck! Here are a few books you can pick from the library shelves to continue your adventure:

  • If you just want to explore recording in general, check The Complete Idiot's Guide to Home Recording or Home Recording for Musicians for Dummies: both are great books to learn the basics of recording, vocabulary and the technical side.
  • After recording, Basic Mixing Techniques will show you how to get the best sound out of your recording and make it shine.
  • If you are really into the technical side of things, grab The Recording Engineer's Handbook: it covers the finer points of everything, both hardware and software, and will teach you how to record specific instruments. It also features interviews with professionals in the recording field!

You can find these books (and more!) in "Getting started with the sound booth" reading list. Enjoy!

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    Comments

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    jessyratfink
    jessyratfink

    1 year ago

    How awesome! Y'all have a great setup :)