Now that you have polished your songs and decided what you want them to sound like, it’s time to start recording. The recording process will be partly dependent on the software and interface you have chosen, but there are some aspects that will be universal.
Digital audio has made the recording and editing process much easier. In the old days, engineers needed to splice bits of tape together to do edits; now, you can simply cut and paste elements that you want repeated, or highlight sections of the wave that you want eliminated.
Without going into a treatise on digital sound, a Red Book audio CD is recorded at 44.1 kHz, with a sample depth of 16 bits (16/44). However, modern digital audio offers much greater sample rates to the engineer. While the end product may be a 16/44 product, it is beneficial to record at 24 bits and 96 kHz (24/96). Recording at 24/96 gives the sound more headroom and a better sense of space in the recording. It is a better digital representation of the original analog sound, because the samples are taken more frequently.
Your DAW software will give you the option to choose your sample rate. If you have an external digital soundcard or digital mixing console that is converting the analog sound to digital before it hits the software, you will also need to set the sample rate on it to match the sample rate selected in the software.
Whether you are recording live or recording each instrument individually, your DAW software will allow you the option to assign inputs to different instruments. This will help you when you do your final mix. Open up each track and name it whatever instrument it is. For instance, in Sonar, if you click the track number, you can change the name from Track to whatever you wish.
Some home recording engineers use a soundcard that has multiple inputs to record the audio and use the DAW software as the mixing console; others have invested in a mixing console with which to do the recording. Regardless of which path you have, let’s look at levels.
When digital audio levels hit zero, it is called clipping, and this clipping is actually distortion. If you are recording live in one take (and, as often is the case, you are wearing two hats as both one of the performers and the engineer), you need to set the levels so that they don’t clip. Before starting the recording, test the levels of each instrument by having the musician play as loud as they will during the song, and adjust the levels of your mixing console or software so it peaks around -5 dB. Finally, test it by having the whole band play together and watch where the levels hit. Again, you should strive for around -5 dB, which will give you a little headroom in case someone gets over enthusiastic during the actually playing of the song.
Another thing to consider with respect to recording is how you are going to convert the signals to digital. Generally, it is better to use an external D/A converter than to use on inside a computer, as the computer recording interface can be noisy. Again, having a digital mixing console can help simplify this process, as multi-channel D/A boxes tend to be expensive.
The actual recording process itself is fairly simple; just hit the record button in your software and play. If you are recording one instrument at a time instead of recording the whole band together, have each musician play to a metronome to make sure that the timing is accurate. Once the drums are recorded, it can help each successive instrument to be able to listen to what has already been recorded through a good set of headphones, especially if the player is used to certain cues. For instance, a guitarist might cue one solo off a bass riff and another off a cymbal fill, so hearing those while they are playing is helpful.
Now it is time to mix and master your music.
BY THE WAY… if you find that any of this isn’t going deep enough down the rabbit hole for you, you need to visit my buddy Joe Gilder’s Home Studio Corner. He goes deep and when he’s finished with you, you will be a pro – not kidding (tell him Corey at Musicgoat said hi).