How do you get into recording?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Thursday November 30, 2006

If you're a beginner, how do you get into recording?

This is a question I am asked so many times in many different ways. But the essence is always the same. I could reword the question like this... "I would like to make professional-sounding recordings of my music, but I find the technology confusing. I don't know how to get started."

One of the problems here is that the technology IS confusing. You only have to look in any of the home recording magazines such as Sound on Sound or EQ to realize that - page after page of equipment, techniques, things you apparently need to buy or know.

What I would like to do today is simplify this, so anyone who is currently confused can see a clear way forward.

So what is the starting point? Where to begin?

Well, one very good starting point is the computer. Modern computers are easily capable of recording music. You could go into a computer store and buy the cheapest model, and it would be able to record music for you. The computer you have right now is probably capable of recording music. All you need is the right software and hardware to go with it.

The next step is to buy software and hardware that will turn your computer into a powerful recording machine.

There is quite a range of choice of software... Cubase, Cakewalk, Logic (Macintosh only), Digital Performer (Macintosh only), Nuendo, Ableton, FL Studio, Reason, Pro Tools and more.

The problem here is that if you are just starting out, you probably don't know enough to compare these softwares. So you have to either take a chance, or get advice.

The problem here is who do you ask? There's no point in going into a music store and asking advice because you will probably be sold the product that makes the store the most profit. Or perhaps they have an end-of-month target to meet on a certain line, and they have to sell just a couple more systems to get a discount from the manufacturer.

You could ask someone who is into recording already. If they are already capable of recording music to a professional standard, you would do well to get a similar system. You have seen proof that the system works, and you have someone close by to ask for help when you need it.

You could read reviews in magazines. No, that won't help. According to the recording magazines EVERYTHING is good! (They have advertisers to keep happy.)

But the best advice comes from recording professionals. If you use the same software as they use, then you really can't go wrong.

Currently, the most popular software by far among professionals is Pro Tools, from Digidesign. If you choose Cubase, for example, instead, then you are going along a route that is different to what most professionals would do.

That's not to say that the other softwares I mentioned are not capable of getting the job done. But, as I said, many people are confused and need a simple and reliable answer. And if you use Pro Tools, like most industry professionals, then you can't go wrong.

If you feel that you need to choose something other than Pro Tools, you should be sure that you have a very good reason, and you understand that reason fully.

If you already have a software other than Pro Tools, then there might not be any need to change. If you can make multitrack recordings that are clean, clear and crisp, and can perform finely detailed edits, then that is enough to get started. Ease of use and reliability are important too.

One further advantage of Pro Tools is that the choice of audio interface is made for you, so it's one less thing to have to think about.

You have to use one of the interfaces from the Digidesign range (or M-Audio, which is owned by the same company). You should choose according to how many instruments you plan on recording at the same time.

If you intend to record just one instrument at a time, then the Mbox interface will be fine - there are three versions at different prices.

If you want to record eight instruments at a time, then you will need the 002 interface. (Actually you will need additional microphone preamplifiers, but I'll talk about that another day.)

One point to bear in mind is compatibility, as with all software. Will the software run on YOUR computer?

Fortunately Digidesign provide detailed compatibility information. You can see an example here...

What you will see here is that some processors are supported by Pro Tools LE software, some are not. If a processor is not listed as being supported, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will not work, but you will be taking a risk.

Other software developers have similar compatibility information. Whichever software you choose, you should make absolutely sure your computer is compatible, or you will be taking a chance of it not working, or not working well or reliably.

I'm going to stop for now. Too much information can be too confusing. But anyone reading this who wants to take the first step knows what to do. One you have your software and audio interface up and running, then the next step on the road to professionalism beckons.

If there are any topics you would like me to cover in the Audio Masterclass Daily, please click on

I can't answer questions individually - I get so many e-mails already that I could be answering them all day. I can however answer frequently-asked questions in this space.

David Mellor

David Mellor is Course Director of Audio Masterclass, where you can learn sound engineering online and qualify to work in the pro sound industry.

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