Audio Recording Software – Home Studios

25 Feb

I’m at the point where I want to start putting more demos together of songs that have been accumulating in the back of my mind, as well as record a couple things of decent quality. In the past, I’ve looked at professional studio recording as the most desirable route, and always saw my home recordings as a stepping stone for final studio versions to come down the road.

Home Studio Sounds vs. Never-Good-Enough Pro Studios
In retrospect, however, some of my favorite recordings are the ones I’ve done myself over the years, in various semi-isolated basements and apartment bedrooms, etc. The recordings were solo efforts with relatively simple orchestrations, and perhaps because of that they have a real naked personality and warmth to them. With my pro studio efforts, good is never good enough. If I’m paying a ton of money for something, I want it to be perfect, but it never is. No matter how much I spend, it’s just not going to sound as good as the major label releases I hear. And that pisses me off. There are analog instruments like the drums, for example, that I’m convinced you need huge studio budgets to get top quality recording sounds.

So instead of spending more money I don’t have on pro studio recordings that I will find fault with, I’m going to focus on bare-bones home demos for a while. It’s really just a few songs that I want to focus on, but I love the intimate nature of hearing the full voice, a guitar, some nice subtle effects and maybe another instrument or two. And given my limited technical knowledge, that’s about all I can successfully capture in my home studio. I also want to venture into electronic instruments, which by their nature don’t require nearly the same level of expense to get good sounds.

Audio Recording Software: Which to Choose?
I’ve been researching again the possibilities for home studio audio recording software, so I may post some reviews of what I look at. In the past I’ve used Digital Performer with great success, but my Mac is old and barely running. Unfortunately it looks like my options are limited to PC platforms for now. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I’m considering: Cakewalk, Cubase, Audacity (free open source software for really basic recording), and a few others.

6 Responses to “Audio Recording Software – Home Studios”

  1. Jeff Shattuck 25. Feb, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

    HI,

    I’ve had the same debate, but I still go Pro for the final stuff. At home, though, I’ve had Pro Tools LE for years and it’s great. I suppose there are DAWs out there that cost less, but PT’s mature build quality, feature set and support make it the best bet, in my opinion.

    Jeff

  2. brian 25. Feb, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    I’ve never really checked out Pro Tools because I always assumed I needed some really expensive hardware to run it, but it looks like some of their M-box interfaces aren’t too expensive. I’ve already got a MOTU 828 old school interface that still works (last I checked anyways) so I’m probably just going to use that to avoid the added expense. I’d love to eventually get a Pro Tools setup though. My experiences with it in real studios have always been great.

  3. Paul Grenier 26. Feb, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    Hey (insert mystery name here),

    My debut album Human was all done at home. I agree that in some instances it would have been desirable to use a commercial studio simply for the multiple selections of gear, but unless you’re producing yourself or engineering yourself, it will be very difficult for an outsider to read your mind and capture YOUR sound the way YOU want it. I use Sonar 8 and have been using Sonar for quite a few years. It’s the best I’ve used to date. I hate PT because of it’s limited Midi functions and editing. Not mention that Cakewalk was the pioneer of midi! PT has only recently started bringing that part of it up to snuff.

    But truthfully, if you’re going to do a lot of recording at home, it’s worth it because what you save in commercial studio use essentially pays for some great gear of your own that you can use anytime you like without having to watch the clock. The key to getting your tracks really solid are the key elements that you should invest in. A great mic (which you can get for under $2000), premium cabling ie Mogami, A high end preamp, which again you can get for under $1500, and a great compressor. But the most important link in the chain will definitely be your converter! Try out something like an Apogee and you’ll be blown away with how much better your sound will be even if you use a cheap mic and pre. The converters in soundcards and mixers or interfaces are decent, but in no way come close to the velvety detail of something like an Apogee A/D converter. Build a strong professional signal chain and you’ll never look back or regret it. Plus a lot of pro gear retains good value down the road.
    I built a tracking booth as well in my basement studio that’s soundproof, has a LCD wall mounted monitor inside as well as all the connections I could possibly need and a cordless mouse. So I shut the door and can operate Sonar from within while tracking. The window also lets me see the metering on my gear so I know that everything is flowing as it should.
    Setting up a great home studio can cost a few bucks, but can also be built one piece at a time as your budget permits. You’ll never regret it. The amount of use you will get out of it anytime you want will basically make it pay for itself in saved comercial studio fees. I’ve learned my lesson in the past about buying “cheap” gear too, so if you can, invest in the best possible quality you can afford and build the personal studio of your dreams that will last a loooong time. The only thing you really need a commercial facility for might be to track your drums if you’re using a live kit. Take those tracks home and then produce and mix your songs and you can take as much time as you want doing it. I usually save up and buy one piece of new gear every year. It might be a $2000 mono compressor, but the magic it will impart on your tracks will make it well worth it I can assure you.
    So those are my suggestions anyway. Happy tracking!! And good luck! Hope I was able to help a bit.

    One last thing!!! Try to use Windows Xp professional if you can. It’s an excellent OS for a pro DAW and you can feed it 4 gigs of RAM. Regular XP only recognizes 1G. Vista can be a nightmare. XP has stood the test of time.

    Paul

  4. brian 27. Feb, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    Hey Paul, thanks for the thoughtful comments on your home recording experiences. I like your suggestions of slowly building a high quality signal chain piece by piece, and with digital technology these days I think a great sound can be achieved at home the way you describe it.

    I actually downloaded Sonar’s free trial the other night to play around with it. So far so good. I haven’t heard too many people talk about it, but from my first glance it looks like a good system. I’m going to try messing around with it this weekend and see how it goes…

  5. Bruce 19. May, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Hey (insert mystery name here),

    My debut album Human was all done at home. I agree that in some instances it would have been desirable to use a commercial studio simply for the multiple selections of gear, but unless you’re producing yourself or engineering yourself, it will be very difficult for an outsider to read your mind and capture YOUR sound the way YOU want it. I use Sonar 8 and have been using Sonar for quite a few years. It’s the best I’ve used to date. I hate PT because of it’s limited Midi functions and editing. Not mention that Cakewalk was the pioneer of midi! PT has only recently started bringing that part of it up to snuff.

    But truthfully, if you’re going to do a lot of recording at home, it’s worth it because what you save in commercial studio use essentially pays for some great gear of your own that you can use anytime you like without having to watch the clock. The key to getting your tracks really solid are the key elements that you should invest in. A great mic (which you can get for under $2000), premium cabling ie Mogami, A high end preamp, which again you can get for under $1500, and a great compressor. But the most important link in the chain will definitely be your converter! Try out something like an Apogee and you’ll be blown away with how much better your sound will be even if you use a cheap mic and pre. The converters in soundcards and mixers or interfaces are decent, but in no way come close to the velvety detail of something like an Apogee A/D converter. Build a strong professional signal chain and you’ll never look back or regret it. Plus a lot of pro gear retains good value down the road.
    I built a tracking booth as well in my basement studio that’s soundproof, has a LCD wall mounted monitor inside as well as all the connections I could possibly need and a cordless mouse. So I shut the door and can operate Sonar from within while tracking. The window also lets me see the metering on my gear so I know that everything is flowing as it should.
    Setting up a great home studio can cost a few bucks, but can also be built one piece at a time as your budget permits. You’ll never regret it. The amount of use you will get out of it anytime you want will basically make it pay for itself in saved comercial studio fees. I’ve learned my lesson in the past about buying “cheap” gear too, so if you can, invest in the best possible quality you can afford and build the personal studio of your dreams that will last a loooong time. The only thing you really need a commercial facility for might be to track your drums if you’re using a live kit. Take those tracks home and then produce and mix your songs and you can take as much time as you want doing it. I usually save up and buy one piece of new gear every year. It might be a $2000 mono compressor, but the magic it will impart on your tracks will make it well worth it I can assure you.
    So those are my suggestions anyway. Happy tracking!! And good luck! Hope I was able to help a bit.

    One last thing!!! Try to use Windows Xp professional if you can. It’s an excellent OS for a pro DAW and you can feed it 4 gigs of RAM. Regular XP only recognizes 1G. Vista can be a nightmare. XP has stood the test of time.

    Paul

  6. Dave MH 22. Sep, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    Hi Brian,

    It’s been a while since you posted this, so maybe you’ve settled on a good DAW by now. For basic demo recording, I think Cockos Reaper (http://www.reaper.fm/) is tough to beat, especially when you consider the bang for your buck. My friends in the band Good Old Neon turned me on to it a few years ago. It’s cross-platform, doesn’t use a ton of RAM and it gets updated frequently. Uncrippled shareware. $60 if you make less than $20,000 from music annually. My go-to app for everyday recording. The way it loads VST instruments is a little quirky compared to other DAWs I’ve used. but once you figure it out you don’t even think about it.

    If you’re into film scoring or writing to any sort of picture, it’s not so great though. The video handling aspect of the software has a long way to go.

    Thoughts on Audacity: I’m definitely way into open source (Ubuntu Studio is my OS of choice for pretty much everything), but if you’re used to mastering software like SoundForge or Peak, it’s tough to make that switch. I was hoping Audacity would be to SoundForge what GIMP is to Photoshop, but not so much. The UI is a bit frustrating to me.

    And when I’m on Windows I’m also using XP rather than Vista or 7.

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