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.
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