We get questions on this topic pretty frequently. Some of them are specific to particular instruments, but I thought I'd post some general thoughts I have on the subject that I didn't want distracting other threads.
1. Audition CDs can have several different purposes with different aims. School auditions should show your level of technique and musicality. The question is what the school can offer you. A competition or orchestra CD has to show your tone as well. The question is what you can offer them. For a school audition my opinion is that DIY recordings (done well) are fine. The music professors I know will swear up and down that they are not swayed by the quality of the recording (within reason) and frankly I wouldn't pay good money to have my kid educated by someone who could be easily influenced by the quality of microphones and preamps used in an audition recording. For an audition for a professional orchestra you need to present yourself as a professional and that means a "professional quality" recording. Good home recordings qualify, but it takes some equipment and it takes time to learn how to use it. If you have the interest and resources, fine. If not....
2. Consider having this done by a professional. This is an obvious choice for someone trying to present themselves as a pro, but it should also be considered by someone doing a school audition. The competition between studios is fierce and this is an easy job for even the smallest (good) studio. It may cost a lot less than you think. Talk to a few people and compare prices. It will almost certainly be less than buying even the most rudimentary recording equipment. While (as I said above) I don't think that a professionally done recording should be a big help in a school audition, it shouldn't hurt. It's a lot less hassle and will probably give you a sense of security.
3. Buy a self-contained flash recorder. The [[url=http://[/URL]="http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/H4N/"]Zoom H4n[/]="http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/H4N/"]Zoom H4n[/] is getting the best reviews at the time I'm writing this. I got another unit five years ago, and the prices keep coming down and they keep adding features. These are very handy units for an avid musician. You can use it to record practice sessions, lessons, concerts. I think you are pretty certain to find it useful even if you go another route for recording audition tapes. The units include microphones, preamps, everything you need to make a digital recording. They use SD flash media for memory. You transfer the files to a computer and edit them with any digital audio editing software and burn the file to a CD. (They usually come with editing software.) If you grew up in the era of cassette decks and the like, the quality of the recordings you are able to produce is astonishingly high. You need to take some time to learn to position the device for the best sound, but this is the same process you go through in learning to position any microphone pair.
4. Going beyond a flash recorder is a question specific to your situation, but a basic recording setup capable of producing something better than the flash recorder requires (a) microphones (b) stands and cables (c) an "audio interface" that includes preamps for the microphones and "converters" will convert the analog signal from the microphones into a digital signal for the computer. USB microphones or any setup involving a computer soundcard that I know of will sound worse than a flash recorder.
5. Editing any recording (including the flash) will be greatly improved by (at least) high quality headphones or (preferably) studio monitors. If you edit using stereo speakers, you will be doing a lot of trial and error playing your recordings on different stereo systems looking for a sound that translates to any playback system.
Maybe Dave or Remy or Chris could sticky this one.
I would like to maybe give an addendum or two.
The room you record in especially as a beginner is very important as it will be picked up by the microphones most especially in acoustic/classical music. Churches and local colleges often offer free or nearly free usage of their facilities and it behooves one to go and listen to the space. A beginner does not a space that is too reverberant but s/he also doesn't want a space that is a vacuum. Generally any quiet space can be made to work but a little extra effort goes a long way on the actually recording end of the production. In small town America, Sunday afternoon is the quietest time for airplanes and street noise bleed.
If this audition recording is for anything remotely professional, spend the money to have the piano tuned. I don't care if someone swears they can hear past things like that, it will subconsciously affect the overall impression if it sounds like a honky tonk piano accompanying Symphonie Espagnole or the Devil's Trill.
Where am I supposed to lick? I spilled some beer which seems to do the job? But I think that's for a local application only? I'm stuck trying to figure out the sticky? You'd think with all my wisdom I would know how to do this? I don't. Sorry. But it's good. It's all good. I just actually also believe that one can make great sounding recordings in the worst acoustical environments. So I have no problems recording really nice additions in most anybody's living room. It's your technique in use that makes the real acoustic difference. Crappy early reflections, flutter echoes, standing waves can easily be dealt with with additional digitally created room simulation i.e. reverbs and such. And without the use of too much compression which only serves to over accentuate what's already bad. But there's nothing wrong with limiting because it's useful and effective and perfect for electronic reproduction of sound. Electronic reproduction of full dynamic range is generally rather uncomfortable to listen to with electronic reproductive systems. Electronic reproduction is just an electronic representation of what we think sound is supposed to sound like electronically. There's nothing natural about the recording or playing back process. It's wholly, totally unnatural. Sure, I appreciate some lovely orchestral & operatic recordings without any electronic dynamic modifications. But even then, I still prefer some that has it. I mean you also never hear an FM broadcast without a brick wall limiter on it. And we all grew up listening to that sound. We grew up listening to Fairchild & CBS compressors & limiters. So why not utilize those techniques in audition recordings as well? We are not making these to wow anybody with our electronic prowess. We are making the use to make people sound like they are already seasoned professionals. And it takes a seasoned professional to make them sound that way utilizing all of the goodies we have wasted our money upon to do so. For instance, back in the early 1980s, I actually installed an EMT plate in the basement of my rented house. That's because there were no common reverbs systems utilizing springs that were appropriate for an operatic demo. Well maybe the AKG BX 20 but that still cost as much as a plate and the plate was slightly more universal in its usage. Unfortunately, neither is actually portable in spite of the fact that the BX 20 had handles. It was never designed to be portable according to the factory. The plate simply had eyelets for 2 broom handles so that four guys could put it into position, permanently. And that requires a whole lot of beer. Well maybe just 1/2 keg? And you still had to have room for a decent grand piano as an upright really just doesn't cut the mustard. Having it well tuned it is mandatory, prerequisite. And that should be done before any significant sessions, religiously. Funny coming from an atheist isn't it? And a hack broadcast engineer to boot. So I always loved going down to churches where they didn't follow the same religious practices for their pianos, LMAO. And that happen too many times to me.
Rock 'n roll is a whole 'nother thing. It doesn't require any decent acoustics. Drums when handled correctly can still sound huge, incredible in a bad acoustic environment. You just have to be adept enough to work it. Bleed, separation, I don't generally go there. It's all part of the sound as it should be. And you work that also. Being in a nice large acoustic environment, you may want some " treatment " to make it slightly better sounding. But even that's not a necessity but a luxury. And luxury costs money. Better one should spend it on their equipment that some lousy foam or other ineffective treatments to create no acoustics. No acoustics are easily created by all of the stuff lying around your house already. Oh? But everybody wants it to look like a studio. I see. We look at all those cool pictures of those extremely expensive studios and that's what ours is supposed to look like at home, right? I'd rather my home look and feel like a home where I can live and/or record. So some of these discussions while accurate in theory are impractical in practice. I mean how many folks here actually have a large studio space? Most of the studios are in bedrooms and basements. But to get business, you need to have the pretty accoutrements that say " This is a recording studio ". Well bully, bully. So you like your decor in your living room and/or basement, bedroom to look like a studio. I can understand that. It creates a certain state of mind both for the owner & prospective clients. That way they might take you more seriously while also trying to tell you how to engineer them. LOL.
By Jove I've got it!
Mx. Remy Ann David
I didn't say a person couldn't use a mediocre room. In fact most churches and colleges don't have ideal rooms either. And Remy, you could make a good recording with two tin cans and a taut string so that's not really fair now is it ;-) .
But this is intended for pretty a complete noob that needs some guidance to go with their gumption on a quest to get into a music school or audition situation. Why shoot a noob in the head before they even get started?
Yes, well, one of my foibles is asking operatic hopefuls who their favorite singers are. Once they tell me, I generally know what that singer was recorded on. So I set out to reproduce that sound they have in their head. So for one of the operatic demos I did, about 20 years ago, was asked this tenor who was his favorite. I know my voice recognition won't quite spell this correctly and neither could I but it was Yousee Burling (at least that's phonetically correct). Knowing those recordings came from the 1950s, it was certainly easy for me to reproduce that style. I also have equipment from that era that made the job so much easier. So Paul Austin Kelly went on to have a nice career and to this day. He came to me a second time for an additional audition tape but this time asked me to make him sound like, well, him. Which I gratefully did. And he was overjoyed with that too. Right for my simple living room studio which was really just a living room with a grand piano. Even though I made him sound like he was on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. And at that time, I only had my plate reverb which I still dearly miss. I actually dream about the sound of that thing since there aren't no real digital reverbs that can really match that density. Some come close but they still sound electronic to me. Nothing like a piece of sheet metal with which to cut your wrists on.
Maybe I should call my studio the Opera Hole?
Mx. Remy Ann David