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help with basic recording/online streaming

Hey guys, this is a great site and my first post so please forgive my ignorance. I have been playing jazz for a long time now, but have been reluctent to dive into the digital realm until recently. I have a laptop (Toshiba Satellite) and would like to use it for BASIC recording. I learned a long time ago that I should leave the mixing and mastering to people that have the ear for it and I don't mind paying somebody for the time they have spent to aquire their skills, but I would like to be able to lay down some guitar/bass tracks for reference and practise. I assume most programs have built in drum machines now as well. I don't need anything expensive, but I am VERY confused about how to get my instrument into my computer. I have an 1/8" plug for a mic on the front of computer and I guess I could just a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter? Maybe I need to run it through one of those cheap Beringher mini euro-racks or even some line 6 ux2 or......oh heck I obviously have no clue and there are so many products.
I bought this computer because my friend was telling me about Second Life. I would love to sit at home in my underwear, play a few gigs and make some extra money but I have no idea about streaming live music like that. Anyway, whatever gets my guitar into my computer must be quick enough to stream. For all I know they all are! Again I know there are a lot of products out there, but my needs are simple and my budget small until this Second Life proves it's worth. Thanks a lot guys and please keep advice in english! I don't speak digital yet.
Dale Bryan


Boswell Fri, 08/17/2007 - 08:00

The 1/8" inputs and outputs on your computer are attached to the built-in sound card. These are universally not of very high quality. Fortunately, you can buy relatively cheaply an external box that replicates the functions of the sound card but with much higher quality and with the ability to take an input directly from a good quality microphone.

These external boxes can be connected to the computer via either a USB connection or (if your Toshiba is fitted with one) a FireWire connection. For recording more than a couple of channels, FireWire is to be preferred as it is faster, less prone to having drop-outs in the music and the better external boxes use it as a standard. For the purposes you state, though, USB is quite adequate, and manufacturers such as M-Audio make several low-cost boxes that would serve you well.

You will need two different sorts of software to achieve your goal: the low-level software that talks to the external box, and the user software that can record, replay and edit the sound files. Whichever external box you choose should come with the first sort. Some may even come with the second sort as well, but if not, there are free programs such as Audacity that are perfectly usable for your stated intentions.

I deliberately haven't given a long list of what to go out and buy, because I think you ought to do a bit of reading in these forums and elsewhere about the process of recording and replaying sound using a computer. Come back if you decide to go this route with a rough budget, and we can make specific purchasing suggestions.