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Beginner's question about recording multiple tracks into a computer?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Unregistered, Feb 7, 2011.

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  1. Unregistered

    Unregistered Guest

    Hi all! I have a question about recording multiple tracks that I'm hoping somebody might be able to help me with - I am 99.9% new to home recording, so please bear with my n00bness. We (the band I'm in) would like to start recording music.

    Inputs:
    Keys
    Guitar
    Bass
    Drum kit
    2 Vocal Mics

    We currently see 2 options for recording music. Either record multiple times, each time recording a single track (different instrument) into a computer. Or record everybody into the computer at once.

    I imagine that most songs are laid down track-by-track, recording each instrument as you dub over the previous instrument's recording. But for our purposes, we think we might want to avoid that and go with an "all-at-once" approach to recording the songs. Given the nature of our band, it seems that that approach would probably produce the best performance quality. And we could use the track-by-track method at a later time, if we want to really fine-tune the songs.

    We have the following equipment:

    Crate PX900 9-channel amplifier/mixer
    Dell Precision M6300 laptop with a (standard) SigmaTel STAC9205X audio card
    OSP 7-piece drum mic kit
    3 OSP instrument mics (knock-off of the Shure SM57)
    Necessary cables
    Berhinger 8-channel headphone amp.

    The Crate Amp can mix up to 9 channels, but the output is always mixed down to a single track. We think that might work for mixing the drums together and sending them as one channel to another (purchased or manufactured) multi channel device, then to the (upgraded) sound card of the (possibly different?) computer.

    Currently, we're running the keys, bass, guitar, vocals, and an "area mic" through the Crate amp. Then from "Tape out" on the amp, the signal goes to "Mic/Line in" on the computer, and then is recorded using Guitar Tracks Pro software (Also have Soundbooth and Audacity, but we don't know them as well). We record in a small basement room. The room isn't sound-proof or sound-conditioned, although we are considering doing that. Something permanent is not an option.

    To master the final product using the "all-at-once" method, it would nice to have each instrument on it's own track. So my questions are: How do we do this? Can we even do this? What hardware (multi-channel input device) can we get that will send at least 6 individual tracks to the computer?

    Should we instead stick with the method we're using now? Maybe make sound panels for the walls and gobos for the drums?
    How to make stackable Gobos
    DIY Sound Absorbing Panels

    Or is there another option or options that we're completely neglecting?

    Our questions are many, as you can see. We appreciate any advice anyone out there can spare.

    Thanks for you help.
     
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Given your list of equipment, you already have indicated your current concept of workflow. All of which you speak of is doable but not exactly on a professional level. Your onboard sound card is barely adequate and only the line input should be utilized. The Microphone input is not designed for any kind of professional microphone input. It's strictly designed for a communications microphone.

    I'm not sure what part of the world you are in? This could be a factor in what might be available to you? What you really need here is something like a Presonus multitrack computer interface. This device can be had in a variety of models starting around $500 US. This also includes some mighty fine multitrack software. This device has 8 premium professional microphone inputs. No other mixers are necessary. Your current Crate device can still be used however as a sub mixer to, as you surmised, being able to except numerous additional inputs that would be routed to a single track through the multitrack interface, single input. This would still allow for 7 or 6 additional isolated microphones. This is give you a full recording studio complement of capabilities. It's what you need to get. Other companies make similar devices and it's generally also bundled with wonderful, powerful, multitrack software. If the above devices too costly, one can also utilize much less-expensive external USB audio devices. Some offer up to 4 simultaneous inputs but mostly only 2. Some are line level only devices, others have 2 professional microphone inputs. You can use multiple external USB audio devices. So, 1 will get you 2, 2 will get you 4, 3 will get you 6, 4 will get you 8 & with 5 you get egg roll. Or is that 6?

    If you should choose to use multiple external USB audio devices, you must know, that you'll only be able to playback from 1, effectively. Otherwise you will not be able to create a listenable monitor mix for headphone use. However, your Crate could be utilized also has a rudimentary monitor mixer to the headphone amplifier. But from what you indicated, you'd be restricted to 6 inputs on that device. Of course not everything has to be monitored in stereo, which you can get away with during the recording process. In this application, you could take the separate channel outputs from the USB devices, separately & independently. Basically this gives you a world more versatility of a much higher professional level.

    To your recording technique, many of us, for popular music trios, quartets, quintets, rock 'n roll, track the band all at once. Recording in an acoustically uncertain environment requires creative improvisation. The creative improvisation I'm speaking of is not a musical one but one of set up. I specialize in on location live recording and in doing this, with this thought process in mind, you're not making a studio recording but a live recording in the studio. The acoustic musical interaction between instruments and understanding how to utilize it instead of trying to avoid it can yield more aesthetically pleasing results. Trying to create separation is largely best left to divorce lawyers. Instead of divorce lawyers, I recommend, couches, bookshelves, old doorway is placed edgewise with a couple of 2 x 4 feet. One side of the door can be reflective then, the other side can be full of duct tape pillows or blankets, egg cartons. Nothing need be designed in a permanent way. That's not an option. It must also, all be put away neatly when done. So, you don't want to make things look too goofy with crazy gobbledygook on the walls. It helps to have diffusion of some sort or another between parallel walls. So coat racks, bookshelves, pictures on the walls can help to create diffusion. This can help to alleviate resonant problems in the room. One thing that none of this does is protect your neighbors or anybody else in your household for that matter, from the noise that will be generated in your studio. The outside noise, cars, kids, dogs, gunshots, explosions, IED's will be unavoidable obstacles to contend with. So generally, recording should start at approximately 2 AM when everybody else is asleep and quiet. This will work well if you like to record lullabies a lot. Otherwise, you'll make no friends & may face eviction, conviction and then be itchin' to do it all over again. If you find your acoustic situation to be sonically stubborn, embrace it. Accentuate it. Make it bigger. Make it a part of the recording. Use it, shape it, mold it. Well, if it's too moldy, don't use it. However the more you understand how to use it the better your results will become. The more you try to disenfranchise that from the equation, the more difficult the math becomes. Since I'm lousy with math, I'm a live recording engineer/broadcast engineer. And since I have no other skills, I've been doing this for over 40 years. That includes over 20 years of live live recordings and all sorts of venues, good and bad. Some are really downright awful but can still yield great sounding recordings because in pop music, acoustics are something of a misnomer. It doesn't have to be right to be right. And even if it's designed to be right, it can be wrong. Dead is dead and acoustics require space. Space is limited acoustics are always compromised. So don't fret about your frets. Don't get moody about your bloomy. Cut cut cut and they'll be no problems. Only the bass needs bass. You want the low cut most everything else to some degree or another...

    Now you're on the right track or the left or 2, 3, 4...

    Now, once you've gotten that far, then you can start your individual overdubs should you decide numerous other accoutrements are necessary. Even scratch vocals, when recorded with SM58's frequently become the final vocal tracks. Or, not. But when you get that magic cohesive take, that's what you want to go for. That's a performance. This has nothing really to do with the computer's talents. You'll utilize that once you get everything ITB. And you need the above to do that properly. There are lots of books and other good information available for free online as you've found here. Opinions will be many as well as the variations. Everybody is right & everybody is wrong. Less is more & keep it simple stupid is the name of the game. You are not ready to dazzle anybody with your engineering brilliance. That will come as your experience progresses. You can't expect to come out of the box sounding like Michael Jackson your first time out. That generally doesn't happen. But I can tell you that cheap microphones like the SM58 and its pop filled brother the 57 to be the only microphones necessary to make it making familiar sounding rock 'n roll recordings. It's a classic sound. Condenser microphones are not a mandatory item. They're just another tool that can actually cause more issues than their audible superior quality would have you believe. In fact it can be quite inappropriate in bad acoustic environments. Less sensitive dynamic microphones like the 57/58 offer greater rejection of inappropriate acoustic aberrations. So you get more of what you want and less of what you don't. Condensers will give you more of everything including what you don't want. Sure, you can put a couple over top of the drum set. Sure, you can record the vocalist later with one. A 57 & a 58 can do anything and do it better than most.

    That's sound advice
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  3. DrGonz

    DrGonz Active Member

    I read that you are mixing the keys, bass, guitar, vocals and an "area mic" through a crate PA or something. Is this "area mic" a "room mic"? Is this to capture the drums? To me it seems that this might get you an okay demo for recording a practice, but it will be far from anything professional. Anyway, you say to master the final product using the "all-at-once" method. Well that is just terms of burning a CD I would assume. When you "master" anything it's typically a stereo track that is all the music/band playing as one. In mixing you will have different tracks separated and then adjusted to blend the mix. To be able to record multiple tracks at once then you will need a sound card that accepts the inputs routed into the computer system and tracked through your software of choice. You then mix the song all together when they are separated. The type of recording that you are talking about is a live recording in a basement. If you can get the bassist to record w/ the drummer and get through the song then you can have the bass & drums on one track. Then record the guitar or the keys at different times, and then add vocals. The best bet in your case might be to just record all the music and spend time tracking vocals over top of the music. But I would definitely look into a new sound card and read read read.
     
  4. mdb

    mdb Active Member

    There's a pile of interfaces that can multi-track record. Firewire is best and what you choose defpends on your budget. I have a Motu 2408 mk2 and it has 8 inputs and 8 outputs, but it doesn't have any preamps so I had to purchase one separately. Do a google search for audio interfaces.

    This is a useful read: Tweakheadz.com
     
  5. EricIndecisive

    EricIndecisive Active Member

    A few questions you might want to answer so more people will chime in:

    What are your goals? A demo or a full, eventually mastered LP?
    What type of music do you play?

    Is there latency with your current setup? Most things I've heard with sound cards have quite a bit of lag and makes it difficult to record. That amp mixing things down to a single track sounds like a problem.

    You don't need to upgrade the sound card. You won't be using it at all for recording. For what you want (sending multiple tracks to separate channels) a firewire interface is probably your best bet. I doubt the laptop has a 1344 port on it, but you could get a firewire PCI card (I think a decent one is around $30, but I still hate them). Then you need a firewire interface. I have only used one, but use it all the time. The Presonus Firepod has 8 channels which you could send to all separate tracks. Audacity is a good free program. Adobe Audition is very cheap now too and very user friendly, it's the one that I started on. The thing is if you're using all 8 channels I'm not sure how well your laptop would handle it.

    Anyways, I recommend the firewire interface, mainly because I use it and love it. Also remember that your skills at this stage will be more limiting than the hardware. There are truly a million ways to do it.
     
  6. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Unless you want to have a cd that'll let hear that cool riff or drum fill, ya know the one where your like "man, i wish i recorded that", your likely going to want to record each instrument into it's own track. This is known as 'multi-tracking'. Your built in sound card likely has a 'mic' in, which is a mono input, and will leave no flexibility when you go to mix your song. What i'd do is set your levels so they sound balanced and record a few seconds w/ everyone, then play with the mix until it sounds the best. if your looking to catch your practices a mic in the middle of the room from your tape out feed will be fine and not cost you more money.
    If you want to have more control after the perfomance, you'll need a 'multi channel' interface. think of it as a sound card with a bunch of those 'mic' inputs like on yours'. On an interface the 'mic' inputs will use xlr connections, and 'line' inputs will use 1/4" jacks, like a guitar cable. Stereo keyboard out's use these, among there digital counterparts.
    Since i don't know how many instruments are in the band, or where you want to delagte the channels, i'll just give an example of what i think is a good starting point for a band's live recording.
    okay, 2 'mic' inputs ands mics, one for the snare, one for the kick (the 57 is used on snare's professionally). 1 guitar 'mic in', mic per guitarist, say one. 1 mic/mic in for each vocalist, say two, lead + backup. then is the bass, you should take the D.I from his amp into a 'line input' of the interface. if there isn't one, you'll need a D.I box. This will give you the cleanest bass sound, and allow you to keep the amp volume much lower volume while tracking. Your keyboardist will need two more 'line ins' on the interface to accomodate his stereo sound.
    so we're up to 5 mic inputs, and 3 line inputs. this allows you to to record your band 'live' or all at once, as you put it, and maintain a manageble level of control in the mix. This also keeps you within the realm of most entry level interfaces, where 8 channels is pretty common.
    You will notice that there are a ton of them, they all sound decent, and your 5 mic input requirement will narrow your choices considerably. Something like the m-audio profire, seems like what you want for that. The focusrite saffire 10 will give you room to grow, and some dsp effects, digital inputs. it all depends on where you want these recordings to go, and where you want your recording skills to grow.
    If you want to overdub each instrument at a time you can get away with a four channel interface that has two mic inputs. this will allow you to record drums, bass, and guitar scratch at once, or any combination of for channels you'd like.
    I will say, your certainly on the right track w/ gobos/room treatment! A $20,000 mic, plus a $15,000 pre, (insert expensive gear here), in a shoddy room could result in a questionable recording. So keep balance of room/technology in mind when investing.
     
  7. Unregistered

    Unregistered Guest

    Thanks!

    Thanks to all of you who have provided advice, especially to RemyRad for the very helpful, albeit entertaining, words of advice.

    DrGonz: Yes, the "area mic" is a "room mic" and it is meant to capture the drums.

    sarNz: Our goal is to play live at a few locations around town, and also to record a full length album. If I had to put a label on it, I'd say we play indie rock.

    The PreSonus FireStudio Project is exactly what I had in mind. However, it sounds like what I must do first is sound condition the room somehow if I'm going to use it. I think putting some sound absorbing material around the room might be the first step.
     
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Personally, I would first try to make a recording. Get to know how the room sounds and how it sounds in different places. You'll shift equipment around plenty and experiment with microphone placement. After you've done a recording, then you can evaluate what your room might need better. I've made a lot of awesome recordings in some really acoustically bad places. If you think you need some deadening, grab the blankets & the quilts. Drape them over some chairs and surround the item and voilĂ . Then if you think you need some stuff on the walls then stuff the walls with boughs of holly, fal la la la, lahhh la la la laaaahhhh... And fade.

    It's like Christmas in July! I've never been there because I don't have a passport.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
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