An Introduction to Audio Recording Your Piano Recitals Yourself



I wanted to start briefly with a very short history on audio recording to express the incredible journey we have already taken, and explain how we can move forward dramatically.

As many of you know, around the 80's, if you wanted to record audio to your computer, or even tape, you needed a microphone, or two, (still do), and they in turn, had to be connected to a mixing console, which in turn required tape machines typically of the open reel type, if you were serious. The reason for the open reel machines was that for any editing to take place after the fact, you had to actually move, or jog the tape across the heads of the reel to reel recorder, and know how to precisely mark the point on the tape that needed to be cut, as well as then putting the machine into play mode, while the unwanted tape segment spooled off the reel, and onto the floor, till you then found the out point, to cut the tape again.

Some of you may be thinking back to those glorious days of audio editing with some fondness, but believe me, it was time consuming, and certainly not for the every day person. The machines cost a substantial amount, and you needed to really be into the whole idea of editing, and what can be done in a matter of minutes today, by a seasoned operator, could take a good few hours back then.

I felt it important to raise this issue of history, to appreciate the tremendous strides that have taken place in audio recording today. I understand that for a new person to the recording scene, it may all still seem a little complicated, but it is relative. Unlike back then, which required the best part of a good few thousand dollars, and then some, you can be set up today for under one thousand dollars, and sometimes, much less, depending on what you already have.

So, that begs the question- what do you actually need to set off on this journey?

I would like to say at this point, that there are any number of combinations of equipment that you could use. Apart from the essentials, (again, open to variation) of a computer, microphone, mic stand and USB cable, there rest are truly options, for the more serious minded. Audio is, and always will be a possible area for sinking large amounts of cash, if you want to always be getting the next best thing. However, please remember I am talking about setting up a basic studio here, and will discuss the optional extras in future articles, as I know that some of you are interested in processing equipment, like sound finalisers, reverberation equipment, compressors, and let's face it, the list can be endless, or at least as long as your budget!

Having addressed that caveat, I would like to advise that as I understand that for many people, the budget is a big factor, many home recording enthusiasts, or artists wanting to record their work, for that matter, can start off small, and add more equipment as their success grows. However, please do not fall for the sales line that you absolutely must have product x or y, or your recording will be terrible. It simply is not true.

In fact, the audio purist line goes in favour of the least possible amount of electronics in the line, for maximum fidelity. Just a thought there for everyone.

Having said this, laptops can be purchased relatively cheaply these days, and whilst disk size is nice to have, an average laptop will really do quite well. If you need to splurge on your laptop, the best area is on greater amounts of RAM, or memory, as this will enhance the performance of your machine. In addition, there are two software packages that I recommend, one is free, being Audacity, as well as the Sony Audio Studio, that I still very reasonably priced, but if funds are tight, Audacity is fine for a start.

I mentioned the use of a mic stand, as this will make it easier to suspend over the centre of the piano, or to place with resect to any other instrument you may be playing. Please ensure that your mic is a large diaphragm type, so that you can capture the rich bass of the natural sound. The primary difference between a consumer mic and a professional or 'pro-sumer' (the mic that is above a consumer, but on the budget end of professional), is the size of the diaphragm, or part that captures the sound waves, and converts them to the digital signal. This si where the USB mic comes in, in as much as it is a plug and play arrangement, where your laptop, if running windows, or Mac software, will typically recognise and self install the drivers for the microphone to work in a matter of a minute or two.

If you were not interested in anything else, this point will get you going, albeit with less than you can actually do. I mean that the software is quite powerful, but if this is the limit of your technical interest, this much will get you started. All you need to do now is experiment with your microphone placement, for the best sound quality. Regardless of the software you are using, you need to ensure you set the recording levels to a little below the peak area on the metering.

In digital audio, unlike with analogue, you can record at quite high levels, but if you go just a little bit higher, where you over load the input, you will get a terrible distortion, as the sound wave is actually cut off in this case, whereas with analogue, the distortion is gradual, and not so immediate. Hence, look after your levels, where you are about ten decibels below total overload peak. However, please play around to test this for yourself. The technical term for the above is leaving some head room, or 'safe level' area before you clip the sound, and distort it. Digital systems allow a high recording level, but do not clip it.







Are you able to store your piano performances for future listening? Have you been having trouble recording your piano performances, for the long term? Not only can you record your performances, but also gain an enhanced comfort from your playing. To learn more, see the Piano Magic Touch.  

I am Interested in Recording My Piano Recitals. How Can I Go About This?


I wanted to break this otherwise, potentially complex subject into small nuggets of information for you, to make it useful, as well as easy to implement. I am not expecting you to become a professional sound engineer over night, and fortunately, It is not a requirement to achieve great recordings nowadays from your home. The most important ingredient is a basic laptop computer, with software that ranges from the free Audacity program to the more complex, and still well priced Sony Audio Studio Software.

The main difference between the two packages is that the Sony Audio Studio software has more detailed editing functions, preferences for settings and also has the built in function to save audio recordings as an MP3 file, without needing a plugin program. Whilst it could take a few days to learn the Sound Studio software, compared to the easier Audacity program, the features may well make it a viable option for you.

However, the sound quality of both programs is identical, with no degradation either way. The biggest factor here, will be the microphone that you choose.

It is certainly no secret that there are more and more good quality USB microphones that are becoming available, but I have found a particular model, the Audio Technica microphone USB 2020 to be very versatile, for both speech, as well as music (instrument) recording. This way, you can get away with only one model of microphone. As a side note, I am aware you can use multiple mics for the same recording, to get different angles, and tonal qualities of sound, but please note that this is intended for someone starting out, and who just wants a good quality result, without the bells and whistles.

If you want to record both a speech introduction, or conclusion for your recording, I recommend doing several takes, if you only have the one or at best, two mics for a stereo recording, as this way, you can optimally place the mic for each recording type. This means the microphone can be optimally placed above the piano's open top, above the strings, around the middle C area, which is one way, or on each side of the strings area, when using two mics. If you are using a stereo mic model, where the two mic heads are in one enclosure, mount the mic above the centre of the piano. It is best to remove the piano cover, in most cases, for an even distribution of sound.

The mic should be about 20 centimetres away from your mouth, when doing your voice recording, and is at all possible, a pop filter should be fitted to the mic, which is essentially a gauze or 'stocking type' material, that will prevent the rush of air across the mic head, that can cause popping noises, when we say a 'P' or 'D' word. Try this for yourself, and see the result. Say “I am popping a pee shooter at the mic'. If you do not have a pop filter, the 'P's will sound distorted.

I recommend also having your laptop computer as far away from your piano or other instrument as possible, determined by your USB cable length, to reduce the possibility of the computer fan noise getting into the recording. Most laptop computer fans turn on and off automatically, depending on the temperature inside the computer case.

Once you have completed your recording, it is worth tidying up the recording, by editing or removing the bits of 'silent track' before you start playing and after as well.

You can also eliminate any coughing or other erroneous noises the same way. Once you have completed your editing, and are happy with the result, you can then relatively easily save the file as a WAV file or MP3 file, and record that onto a CD. I recommend using the WAV file option, as this is a slightly better quality than an MP3 file, and record that to CD. You then have your completed CD recording of your performance, ready to go.

Are you able to store your piano performances for future listening? Have you been having trouble recording your piano performances, for the long term? Not only can you record your performances, but also gain an enhanced comfort from your playing. To learn more, see the Piano Magic Touch.