How to Get Your Home Recording Studio

You could bring a whole band into your home recording studio, or you can get the backing band through hardware and software. Here are four functions to creating backing tracks for your songs. Some gear does many things, other gear is more focused:

1. Get your midi keyboard or guitar to midi converter to play the notes.

Ingredients: A device to enable you to record the notes for the backing tracks.

Steps: Decide if you wish to use MIDI instruments. Midi music is basically like a player piano. You put in the notes as raw musical data, and then you can change the actual sounds that will play back. For instance, you happened to have an organ sound on your midi keyboard when you recorded the midi track. When mixing, you realize you want a piano instead. It's an easy fix! All you do is change the sound bank in your software (see the instructions for details).

You may want to record everything acoustically, as they sound at the moment of playing, without any electronically created sounds. No problem. You will just record that track as audio, and connect to your audio interface either with a microphone or a direct cable from the instrument.

Electronically created sounds and samples today can sound amazingly realistic, so for the lone musician who wants a whole band sound, MIDI is the way to go.

Purchase a controller keyboard that outputs MIDI. Keyboards come in very different flavors. Here are the basic options and a brief explanation:

  1. Keyboard Controllers = These are basically very simple keyboards that send MIDI into your computer. They don't have elaborate sounds onboard, rather rely on you having a great virtual instrument collection,  sound  module or sample library.
  2. Keyboard Synthesizers = These guys definitely have great sounds, and allow you to craft and create new sounds. They are high powered instruments, as are...
  3. Keyboard Workstations = In some cases, a workstation is a recording studio wrapped into one. In addition to top quality sounds, they have recording capabilities in both MIDI and audio. The higher end you go, the more you can do, including multitrack recording and editing.
  4. Personal Keyboards = These usually are for the average home user. They have varying qualities of sounds, and often come with accompaniment tracks and some MIDI recording. They can do fine for sending MIDI data into your computer recording studio. Some, called " Arrangers" , have advanced MIDI sequencing onboard, without needing a computer. If you plan on recording audio, though, you'll need the computer or musltitrack recorder.

Alternatively, if you don't play keyboard, there is a way  that let's you use a guitar to input midi data. So you'll need a dedicated  guitar  to  midi  interface.

Purchase the appropriate connections. This includes a midi interface for the computer (many audio interfaces include MIDI, and all you need is the cable to connect), and the midi cable necessary to connect from the keyboard or guitar, as needed.

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2. Get your midi and audio multitrack recording software to capture the musical data..

Ingredients: A program that will take your midi data and record it and replay it and edit it.

Steps: Go with an integrated audio/midi sequencing program such as or the shareware Record both midi and audio tracks (an audio track is an actual sound recording, such as a vocal track or a live instrument). Buy a software with a good amount of tracks, some good effects such as reverb, and a clear, easy to use build.

You may also need synchronization capability if you will also use an external multitrack recording device. This is important if you plan to use a hardware multitracker, because you may wish to augment the multitracker's tracks with tracks from your computer. The program and the multitracker should both use the same type of synchronization code, whether MTC, MMC or SMPTE, so that one can serve as the master to control playback, and the other as slave to play in sync.

More and more sequencers include an automatic accompaniment generation function. This can be awesome or awful, depending on the program and your needs.

These programs will save tons of time by automatically creating backing tracks according to the chords and style you input. You can use them to create the drums, drum fills, bass, pads, whatever you don't want to play yourself and is fairly straightforward. They have many styles, from classical to jazz to hip hop, to choose from.

(See article on to Create Backing Tracks If You Don't Play All the Instruments)

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3. Get your sound modules or software instruments to actually create the orchestra..

Ingredients: The source for the actual electronic sounds you wish to record.

Click here for Sequencers, Sound Banks, Samplers and Synthesizers Explained

Steps: Choose whether you want to use sounds that are inside your computer, or outside it. Inside it, you use what are called samples, or virtual instruments. These are recorded sounds of the chosen instrument on each note of the scale. Play a " C" on your MIDI keyboard, direct it to a trumpet sample and here a trumpet playing " C" . Most sequencing programs support inserting samples into midi tracks to play back. You can purchase samples and create your own library, or a full software synthesizer, and when playing back specify that the midi tracks go to it.

To use sounds outside your computer you would use a sound module or the keyboard's sounds. Connect the midi out of the computer to the midi in of the module or keyboard, make sure your software sends the MIDI to the connected interface, and then your sound module or keyboard will be playing back your music. Your sequencer program should allow you to control which of your exernal sounds will play which tracks.

A quick word about MIDI. Each instrument has its own internal map of sounds, but most also come with a standard set, called General Midi (GM. No need to salute). All programs have the GM map, so you can assign each track to a GM instrument. The more sophisticated the exernal module, you may need to find an appropriate instrument map to know how to assign tracks to the higher quality sounds in your module.

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4. Get your studio monitoring equipment to properly hear.

Ingredients: The way to hear what you're doing, headphones and speakers.

Steps: Get a high quality monitoring system. This should be speakers and headphones. Headphones should not be relied upon for quality mixing. Get good nearfield monitors, if you are in a home space. The headphones have another purpose.

To listen while recording, which you need to do if you are singing to already recorded music (which you need to hear), you will need headphones. Sending the audio back to the audio interface and playing it through the speakers is not recommended, because you will have an unpleasant delay in the sound playing back, called " latency.

Okay, so now you have the stuff for Phase one. Follow all the manufacturer's instructions as you put it together, and you're ready to go. Here's a general sequence of setup events:

  1. Connect keyboard to computer midi interface with a midi cable.

  2. Connect the MIDI out your interface to your sound module (or to your keyboard's in if you are using the keyboard sounds). This step is not needed if you are using computer sounds.

  3. Connect your headphones to your sound module, keyboard or wherever your sounds will come from.

  4. Open the sequencer program and set the input to your external midi interface (it should be on the list of options in the input dialog). Test to make sure the data is being received.

  5. Set the MIDI output of each track to the appropriate port, either your internal software synthesizer or the MIDI external setting. Then you should hear the tracks you have recorded playing back in your phones.

  6. Set the tracks to the instrument you want (either the GM instruments such as honky-tonk piano, etc.. or your device specific instruments, if you have installed the approriate map in your sequencer program).

  7. Start recording your tracks!

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Now we are ready to go forward to

Phase Two of creating a recording studio: Home recording studio equipment for vocals and live instruments.