Recording software for hobbyist

Discussion in 'Mixing & Editing' started by Tin-ear, Oct 24, 2006.

  1. Tin-ear

    Tin-ear Guest

    I'm am dipping my toe into the wolrd of digital audion recording and am looking for some advice on recording softare. My equipement is as follows:

    HP desk top computer
    3.0 GHz Pentium 4 processor
    2 gigs RAM
    250 Gig internal hard drive
    300 Gig external USB hard drive
    Line6 TonePort UX2 USB audio interface
    Fender Strat and Fender G-DEC amp
    Basic 2.1 computer speaker system
    Currently recording with Abelton Live demo version that came bundled with the Toneport unit.

    Since I'm absolutely new to all of this, I've taken a few weeks to play with the Abelton Live software and the TonePort and its associated guitar amp modeling software (Gearbox).

    I've been able to get some nice results from these products however, since the Abelton software is a "demo" version, I'm considering purchasing some full-up recording software as an upgrade. The Abelton stuff is way out of my price range, so I'm considering either Cakewalk Guitar Tracks 3 or their Sonar 4 product.

    My intrest is in using the software to do the following:
    1. Record my guitar
    2. Add backing tracks (drums, synth, bass, whatever else is available in recording software in the $100 or so price range).
    3. It would be nice if the software came with some kind of programable drum machine.
    4. Edit/mixing capability (I'm sure any recoring software has this capability)
    4. Export or convert to wav or MP3 format

    Some of the things I like about the Abelton software is:
    1. Ease of use (I was able to get this stuff up and running qucikly)
    2. Drag and drop backing tracks (synth, drum tracks)
    3. Nice visual interface

    Since I'm kind of new to this, I'm need a laymen's explanation of the features of the Cakewalk products (Guitar Tracks and Sonar 4) and opinions of their strengths and weakness'. Any other software suggestions are wlecome.

    Thank you
  2. sheet

    sheet Well-Known Member

    May 28, 2003
    Kansas City, KS
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  3. GregP

    GregP Guest

    For the price, you absolutely cannot beat Reaper. There's even a free 0.9x version for you to get your feet wet before deciding to upgrade for the latest bugfixes and features.

    I'm a Tracktion user. If you're a shrewd consumer, you can get it bundled with some kick-butt yet still "within reach" gear like the Onyx Satellite, or in some budget gear like the Stealthplug. I can see that you're a guitarist, so the Stealthplug (for example) gives you an alternative (small) set of amps to complement the TonePort, as well as giving you a more portable interface than the TonePort. Plus, you get Tracktion 2. :D

  4. Tin-ear

    Tin-ear Guest

    Thanks for the reply Greg. I checked out both products, but being so new to this, I'm not sure what the capabilities of each one are.

    In Tracktion or Reaper, can you?:

    1. Create drum tracks (like using a drum machine)
    2. Creat synthesized instrument backing tracks (bass, keyboard)
    3. Do I need another external hardware interface to create those backing tracks (midi keyboard) or can I make them using my computer keyboard and mouse

    In Ableton's demo software, I could select from various instrument samples (synthesizer, bass, drums, rythm guitar), drag them into the various tracks, stretch them out to what ever length I wanted, and assemble a song that way. I could then play guitar into another track over the top of that arrangement. The limitation with the demo software is that I can only save 4 tracks, and I don't have the full set of samples to work from. Another limitation is that the samples are just that, fixed samples. I couldn't figure out a way to change the key for example, only the tempo.

    How do these other recording software solutions (Tracktion or Reaper) work compaired to the Ableton stuff I described?

    I read alot about "plug-ins" being available for these various products but I'm not completely sure what a plug-in does.

    A breif explanation would be appreciated.

    Thank you for your help.
  5. GregP

    GregP Guest

    1. Yes. Both use standard MIDI "piano roll", which is a grid on which you can place notes which correspond to each of your drum components. There are also free and commercial drum machines that use a more "drum-machine-looking" interface if that makes you more comfortable. Myself, I like the piano roll.

    2. Yes, absolutely.

    3. You do not need additional hardware. Your mouse and computer keyboard will still allow you to create those backing tracks with programmed MIDI. Keyboards or drum triggers allow you to capture a MIDI performance more efficiently and realistically, but they are by no means "required."

    Plug-ins add new functionality to your recording program. They're like mini (sometimes not-so-mini!) programs that are run from within your main program. For a guitar player, the simplest way to think of them is: they are like stomp-boxes that you can add to your signal chain. And many are available for free, which is helpful to beginners in particular. Not all plug-ins are simple effects like flangers and distortion (though there are plenty of those, too!). Some plug-ins will do things like automatically correct off-pitch vocals (Antares Autotune, GVST Gsnap) and others will provide sophisticated EQ and reverb. There are many full-blown amp simulators that come in plug-in form (eg. Guitar Rig 2, Amplitube 2).

    The nice thing about plug-ins is that they can be swapped around at will. Let's say for example, that you are recording your vocals. You add a reverb plug-in to the track being recorded, and sure enough (if your interface and software are configured correctly) you hear reverb! You record your vocal track. But "behind the scenes" you are actually recording only your voice, not the reverb. That's where the stomp-box comparison ends. If you record your guitar through a stomp-box, the effect is always going to be there. But if you record using a plug-in, the effect is non-destructive. So you might decide that the reverb was too heavy, or the wrong reverb altogether. You can modify its settings, or swap it out for a whole different reverb.

    Hope that helps a bit.
  6. Tin-ear

    Tin-ear Guest


    Thanks for the reply. It was very helpful. I'll spend some time playing with the Reaper software to see if it works well for me. I'm also looking at Tracktion. Looking at their demo video got my attention. It looks like a terrific interface that's easy to use yet with good capabilities.

    One aspect of using this software I don't quite understand it using plugins. I've been able to call them up in Reaper, but I haven't been able to get them to work for me. I'll keep working on it and doing more research, but I may ask you a few more questions if i can't figure it out on my own.

    I'll be in touch!

    Thanks again.
  7. GregP

    GregP Guest

    You're quite welcome!

    I'm not that familiar with Reaper, but it might be as simple as the fact that you haven't solved your signal path yet. If Reaper works like I think it does, you'll have to arm your recording device on the track in order to hear the effect processing it in realtime.

    Everything should be pretty much on a per-track basis. And if you have not told a particular track that you're playing your guitar through it, then the plug-ins on that track will also not have your guitar go through them.

    Part of the reason I liked Tracktion from the beginning is that everything is easy to visualize the way it's presented. It doesn't assume that you are familiar with hardware concepts like insert and send fx, even though at the end of the day, that functionality is in there. It's just not approached like hardware+mixer, it takes a "this is software, we're going to use that to our advantage" approach.

    Now, as a TonePort user, your effects are already in the Gearbox software. It adds an extra layer of abstraction to the equation-- you won't be using amp sim plug-ins because your amp sim is being done outside of your recording software; ie. in TonePort/Gearbox.

    If Reaper is at all interesting to you, I recommend signing up at their forum-- many many helpful people, including the developer himself who is intimately involved in customer support.

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