Home Studio……Why and What…

6StringLogo.gifHome Studio Recording

Browse some of my home studio projects under the “Music” category / folder to be found here:

http://bobmorgan.smugmug.com/

Although I’ve accumulated a fairly serious amount of equipment over the years, and its quality ranges from good (recording) to high (instruments) it’s about my only vice.  I stay out of the bars.  A person could spend millions on this gear, so I place myself somewhere on the entry professional level when it comes to the recording gear I possess and the professional level when it comes to my instruments.

About my current project:  A few years ago a friend who knew me back in the old days of my guitar playing asked that I record a song on the computer and send it along.  After resisting for almost a year, I sat down one day and plugged a microphone into the computer, pulled out my guitar and played and sang into it.

It sucked.  I decided to get a cheap mixer and some budget software for recording and at least send along a semi presentable project.  Well, you know how that goes.  One piece of equipment leads to another, and then well….you just “gotta” have this, and then…

An idea for a personal, fun, and meaningful project came to me.  My own grandparents and great grand parents have little left of connections to them.  A few faded pictures, old letters maybe, some jewelry, and spoken memories of those that remembered them.  This is the digital age.  Nothing really decays, it can only be thrown away or lost.  I decided to produce my own cover songs of about 20 different tunes that have meant something to me personally during my life in terms of things I’ve experienced, people I’ve known, etc, and other songs that paint a picture of the times I’ve lived through, reflected through particular artists or songs.  While recording these songs, I’m slowly bringing family members into the project having them either sing or play an instrument, or if they do neither, do some other form of accompaniment.  So far I’ve managed to involve my wife Susan, my daughter April, my brother David,  my grand-daughter Lindsea, my sister Laura, and my lifelong friend Gil with more to come.

Someday when all of this is finished  I will combine this music with a family genealogy, pictures, text, voices, video, etc and burn it to enough DVD’s or whatever the best media at the time to use in order to distribute to family members who may pass it on down the line.  And someday, digital being digital, 500 years from now, my descendants will view and listen and have perhaps a huge chuckle at my expense, but I doubt I’ll care at that point. In any event, they’ll have a record of their own heritage,  and that will be a much more comprehensive record than I have of my own.

Regardless, I’m certainly having fun, and learning as I go.  At this point I’ve come a long way in learning about the recording process, and I’m now delving into the art of learning how to make a quality mix and master that will hopefully someday rival the product that comes out of those sites on the internet that provide these kinds of services can offer.

My Instruments & Equipment

    • Martin D28 6 String Acoustic
      This is my “baby”.  The crown jewel of my guitars.  Bought new in 1969 in El Paso Texas.  One of the last produced with genuine Brazilian Rosewood, this instrument still sounds and looks incredible.
    • Martin D12-20 12 String Acoustic
      This instrument is actually a year older than the D28, and is also in pristine condition.   It plays beautifully when a 12 string is called for.
    • Gibson Songwriter 6 String Acoustic / Electric
      I purchased this guitar in December 2008 after eyeing it and playing it at Guitar Center for almost 2 years.  It’s a beautifully playable instrument with a sound to match, and it’s a compliment to the Martin D-28.  The electronics are top notch and not cut out of the wood of the instrument, rather the plug to the amplifier is part of what the strap hook would normally be.  The whole thing is a class act.
    • Gibson ES-335 Electric Hollow Body
      I bought this on Ebay years ago.  It’s wine colored, and in top notch shape.  It’s pedigree says that it was made by Gibson in 1982 in Bozeman.  For an all around beautiful sounding electric that leans to the Bluesy side, the ES-335 is the choice of many pros such as BB King, Eric Clapton, Justin Hayward and many others.
    • Roland Fantom X6 Workstation Keyboard
      This workstation has allowed me to do many things to augment my tracks by providing instruments I neither own, nor play.  I’d never used keyboards before and this has been a fun learning experience.
    • Ibanez Nylon String Acoustic / Electric
      The Ibanez is a fairly inexpensive addition (A-20) to my guitars and comes in handy for the times I want the flavor of nylon sound, plus it can be plugged directly into my audio capture device and that’s handy too.
    • Yamaha Electric Bass
      This bass is just a cheap electric bass that does the job I bought it for, and that is adding a decent bass line to my songs when needed.
    • Hofner “Paul McCartney” violin style base.  This base has a completely different tone from a solid body bass and even though this is the “cheap” model of the Hofner that McCartney plays, the lighter gauge strings give it a completely different tone from the Yamaha.
    • Hola! Concert Ukelele                                                                          Just for fun.
    • Fender Twin Reverb Amp – Early ’70’s Tube Version
      The soft analog sound produced by this amp before everything went computerized in them makes this a collector’s item in the amp world.  The Twin is still made and sold after 40 some odd years, so that speaks to it’s quality.
    • Behringer Eurorack UB-1204 FX-PRO Mixer
      This is a neat little mixer I bought when I first started out, but because of the way I’m doing things now versus what I thought I’d be doing when I started out,  I hardly have much use for it, although live performances through a P.A. system would probably be very cool using this.
    • Alesis SR18 Professional Drum Machine
      This is a newer addition to my equipment, and I’ve been VERY pleased with my results so far, although I’m still in the learning process.  It looks extremely promising.  I am not a drummer, and even if I were, having a set of drums in my small room is an impossibility, and I’m sure my neighbors might agree.  I’m looking for good things with this in terms of adding drum tracks to my projects

*A note of thanks here to my brother Dave whose professional input and knowledge of A/V equipment was “instrumental” in helping me get off the ground in the world of the home studio, and whose initial guidance helped me to make the right buying decisions for my level of pocketbook and expertise.  Much appreciated!

Recording Setup 

First, let it be said that depending on the depth you want to dive to in your home studio,  aside from your instruments, your PC or Mac (both of which it would be assumed that you already own)  and dedicated studio monitors, you can get into home recording with software, microphones and a decent audio card for well under $500.  I started there, but I’ve obviously cranked it up a bit.  🙂  (Keeps me out of the bars, and the wife is happy)  So the price varies from $500 to millions of dollars, and since I’ve settled on home studio recording and photography as my “vices”, I’ve found my own sweet spot in all of this.

In addition, let me say this:  The internet is filled with people who are dedicated to their way being the “only” way if you are ever to produce anything of quality.  PC people.  Mac people.  A dozen different DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) competing for being the “best”, or “more professional”.  It is my opinion that depending on what you want to do, what you want to put into the learning curve and how comfortable you are working with what you have, you can find equivalent platforms on all sides of the equation.    Your mileage may vary, and I’m certain with some people that it does.  I’m happy with my choices that I’ve learned and grown into along the way.  If The Beatles could produce their entire catalog of genius on nothing more than 8 tracks, I’m sure that serves to point out that it’s “the boys, not the toys”.

  • Reaper DAW (Digital Audio Workstation):  Although I started out years ago using Cakewalk’s Sonar Producer, the company sold and I was not happy with the direction that BandLab took the product so I started searching around.  After evaluating a few other quality products, I landed finally with Reaper.  I’m extremely satisfied with this DAW and excited to learn more about it as I go along.  It was a learning curve but the customization abilities and the contributions / updates from the open source community make this the go-to for me.  Not to mention the price!  Proof positive that quality doesn’t have to carry a heavy price tag.   It sets new standards and abilities with very frequent updates.  Two thumbs up!
  • Microphones:  I have two Rode NT 2-A’s for most vocals. and the industry standard Shure SM-58 for the rest.  The Rode NT 2-A is a beautiful, warm microphone with outstanding sound.  In addition, for acoustic guitar recording I have two Shure SM-81 industry standard instrument microphones, and a Shure SM-57B for miking the Fender Amp and other instruments.
  • Audio Capture Devices:  Once again, after evaluating several different mid price range capture devices, I currently own two.  For the home studio use with my PC,  I have gone with the Roland OctaCapture USB interface and for portable use with my laptop, its little brother the Roland Rubic 22.
  • PC:   HP Envy 850, Windows 10 latest build 64-Bit, 32 GB DDR High speed SDRAM, dual TB SATA 3 drives, one being dedicated almost exclusively to Reaper and music production for I/O purposes along with a beautiful Dell Touch Screen 27″ monitor.  It’s a beautiful system but with Reaper you actually can get by on much less horse power than what I originally needed, and that….is one of the most appealing features of Reaper.  It’s small footprint and drain on resources.
  • Mixing Speakers:  Make no mistake.  You NEED a pair of reference monitors to run your recordings through.  Home speakers simply will not do.  Over the years, I’ve had a few different sets of mixing monitors, but I’ve now settled on a beautiful pair of Adam Audio A7X Studio monitors, and they are astounding.  The Pro’s on these speakers far and away outweigh what I consider to be the only Con, and that would be that they are a bit pricey.  So far however, I’ve gotten what I paid for.   That said, there are lots of monitors out there that will help you along.

And that’s it!  But I’m certain there’s more to come in the future as I learn and grow and dedicate even more time to this wonderful world of Home Studio music production.