Written by Gary and David Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Making a demo recording of your songs is an important step to making it in the professional songwriting world. A low-quality recording will peg you as an amateur who doesn’t have a vision, so it is absolutely crucial to spare no expense to get a high-quality recording out there. The good news is that you don’t need to remortgage the house to do it. Here’s some basic advice.
The real challenge is adding “real” instruments to your recording. It’s hard for the home musician to get the quality they need. And in most cases, (especially if you’re doing an audition recording for a college program) it might be best to rent a studio and get a professional to help you. But if you are in a pinch for either time or money, here are some suggestions for doing a quick home recording with acceptable quality:
- Use a good microphone, plugged into an audio interface, plugged into the soundcard input, or USB port, of the computer. You can rent microphones from most music supply stores relatively cheaply.
- For a good transparent sound for string and/or wind instruments, use a condenser mic rather than a dynamic.
- 3 common condenser mic models: Oktava MC012, RODE NT1, and AKG C414B. There are of course many, but this is a good start.
- If you can’t get a condenser mic, a good “workhorse” dynamic model is the Shure SM57, or SM58
- A typical small USB audio interface is something like the TASCAM US-122mkII. There are many similar manufacturers and models. Look for any interface that allows you to plug in an XLR microphone cable (XLR is the standard 3-pin mic cable connector).
- Free recording software: “Audacity”, available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/
If you’re recording real instruments, such as flute, violin, trumpet, or other such instruments, here are some general guidelines:
- Smaller rooms can have problems sounding “boxy” and hollow because of parallel walls close together. If you must record in a small room, place random “stuff” in it to absorb sound reflections. Randomly placed boxes, books, blankets, flags, curtains, etc.
- Larger rooms like livingrooms will be better.
- The closer you are to the mic, the less the room figures in to the sound. Pro: ugly sounding rooms are diminished. Con: Close sounds don’t always work well with strings and winds. Do test recordings and listen for the difference.
- In a large livingroom, try a mic about 3 to 5 ft. away, then 1 foot, and see which one sounds better, and make your mic placement decisions based on this.
- If you are using two mics to get stereo, place them close to each other, a few feet away, in an X or V pattern, to get a bit of a stereo effect.
- If you are using more than one mic, do not use close/far placement because phase issues (and issues beyond the scope of this article) can make your recording sound strange.
Whether you’re creating a demo of your songs, or getting ready to audition for a college instrumental program, most people will judge you based on the quality of that recording. If you’re not sure what you’re doing, it’s always worth it to spend a bit of money and get it done right.