29 February - 2016
The Singer Songwriter’s Guide to Recording Equipment By: Help For Bands, 0 Comments

Soundbase Megastore is located in the upbeat Northern Quarter of Manchester city centre. It boasts a large open plan showroom set up to demo all the latest Studio, Lighting, DJ and PA Equipment. Simon, the author of recording articles at Soundable Megastore, has over 15 years experience working in commercial recording studios as an engineer / producer. His in depth experience provides Simon with the knowledge of recording equipment and techniques and places him in the perfect position to offer advice on music recording equipment in respect to what the artist is looking to achieve within their budget.

Home Recording Studio’s are becoming increasingly more popular. We will explore the basic essentials for all studios, plus further essentials and desirable attributes for a singer songwriter’s recording studio.

So Where Do You Start with Recording Equipment?

The most popular kind of multi-track for sound recording is currently a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The DAW software you choose should reflect what you want to do and how advanced your production skills are.

After you’ve decided on your computer and DAW software, the next step is to pick the best audio interface. A high percentage of signal path fidelity is in converting your signal from analogue to digital and vice versa. So think carefully about how much you can afford to spend and how many inputs and outputs you’ll need. Also consider whether you require External Word Clock, S/Pdif, Optical and MIDI connections and if so, how many ports are you going to be using.

When buying an audio interface, read forums to see if any users encountered problems while using it. Especially with cheaper PCI soundcards you might find it isn’t compatible with the mother board in your computer.

You also need to think about how to monitor your song during recording, mixing and mastering. What’s best for you, passive or active monitors? What are the acoustics of the room you’re going to be playing and monitoring in like? Will your house-mates be trying to sleep while you’re slaving away on your next big song?

So you’ve got the basic idea of what gear you need to get started. Next we’ll look at what essential and variable peripherals are best for singer songwriters and the different types of equipment available.

Basic Singer-Songwriter Recording Set-up

If building a studio for doing demo recordings or DIY releases of new songs, DAW software such as Pro Tools, Cubase or Logic would be ideal. While this software is advanced it also means you won’t be limited in anyway by its capabilities. These programmes can be as advanced as a modern recording studio or as simplistic as a cassette 4 track. The more you get into recording, the more you’ll want to do with the software. Before long you’ll find yourself wanting to upgrade to a more advanced software package. So its always best to buy a more advanced music programme from the outset.

Audio Interface

For an audio interface for this recording set-up, a simple 2 in, 2 out USB, 24 bit 96kHz interface with XLR inputs is perfect. We recommend buying one with MIDI I/O as there is not much difference in price. Plus its better to have this option, rather than not, especially for you piano players.

When you increase your budget for an audio interface you essentially get better Mic pre amps and ADA converters. This is what gives you clarity and fidelity for your recordings. However, you may find yourself paying for features on the interface that you will never use. There are a number of audio interfaces on the market from as little as £80.

Here are a few recommended audio interfaces suited to budget recording studios:

Next Up, You’re Going to Need a Microphone

The SM58 is a close proximity vocal microphone and has been the industry standard for many years. Although you may want to look into some other options like the SM7. If you only want to use a mic for recording in your home then a condenser microphone would be better suited than a dynamic. Condensers are powered (48v) microphones and often have a larger diaphragm than a dynamic microphone. You get a warmer sound with more clarity as well as the signal to noise ratio being less noisey. For a dynamic microphone, Soundbase reccomend looking at spending £70 plus, and for a condenser £120 plus. Anything less than that and you might as well just flush your cash down the toilet, but do look around at what’s available second hand in the B Stock at Soundbase Megastore.

For a “budget” vocal condenser microphone Soundbase recommend sontronics microphones, they sound amazing for the price.

For the acoustic guitar, you might want to look into buying a second condenser microphone so you can record your guitar in the same performance as your vocals.

While you might enjoy the sound of your guitar plugged straight into the interface, a microphone gives you wider scope for recording. Another benefit is you could simply place the microphone in the room and capture a natural recording. There are no rules as to whether you should use a dynamic or condenser microphone to record your guitar.

Here are a few recommended microphones for recording both vocals and guitars, suited to a range of budgets:

Piano-based Songwriters

There’s a few different options to consider when it comes to how to record your piano parts. The most obvious is simply to place a good condenser microphone on an acoustic piano and hit record. This can be a very complex instrument to capture well, plus if your piano is out of tune then it will also be out of tune on the recording. The second option would be to buy a full size MIDI keyboard with weighted keys and a sustain pedal. You can connect this direct to your interface via MIDI or direct to your computer via USB. The signal from the MIDI keyboard will be recorded to your DAW and you only need a Virtual Piano instrument like the XLN Audio addictive Keys to playback a piano sound. The same MIDI controller keyboard can also be used to add string parts to your song.

All you would need to do this is a virtual string instrument, the same applies for other string instruments. A further option for those of you using a Clavinova or electric piano is to simply connect the line output of your Clavinova to your audio interface. Many Clavinovas also have a MIDI out on them that means they can also be used in the same way as a MIDI controller keyboard.

For a full size budget MIDI Keyboard Soundbase recommend:

Monitoring Your Recording

So you’re all set to record your songs, but you’re also going to need a pair of studio monitors or headphones to listen back to your recordings. While you could simply plug direct into your Hi-Fi from your audio interface it would be more suitable to listen back through flat response, uncoloured studio monitors so you can hear a true representation of what you have just recorded, in terms of both performance and signal clarity.

For a studio of this calibre Soundbase Megastore would recommend active studio monitors as you can simply plug them straight into the output of your audio interface.

Here are a few pairs of active studio monitors for under £250:

Are studio monitors the best option for your studio or would you be better suited for monitoring through studio headphones?

The first major benefit of using headphones is that if you wish to record backing vocals and guitar overdubs, for example, then monitoring the recording through headphones means that your song won’t spill from the monitors into the microphone while you’re recording. The second benefit of using headphones for monitoring and mixing your song is that you don’t have to be concerned with any noise restrictions. You can work on your songs anytime of day, in any place with the peace of mind that you’re not offending anyone.

Recommended Studio Monitor Headphones for under £120:

Complete your Recording Equipment Set Up

Last up you’re going to need to put a little aside in your budget for cables etc. For a recording set-up of this standard Soundbase suggest you put aside £40 – £150 of your studio budget for cables, pop shields and microphones stands etc.

The suggested budget for a recording studio set up for a singer songwriter is between £400 – £1900. If you are looking to buy a complete set-up from Soundbase then don’t hesitate to contact us for a package price, or simply view the following discount packages for everything you need to start recording your songs.

  • Basic Vocal Recording Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £489.00 inc VAT
  • Intermediate Songwriter (guitar) Studio Equipment Package – Click Here – £805.00 inc VAT
  • Intermediate Songwriter Studio Equipment (keys) Package – Click Here – £1025.00 inc VAT
  • Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Keys – Click Here – £1215.00 inc VAT
  • Advanced Studio Equipment Package for Vocals and Acoustic Guitar – Click Here – £1200 inc VAT