Monday, February 20, 2017

Home recording

Call it a New Year's resolution, but I have recently become newly determined to actually use this nice recording setup that I have here at home rather than let it just gather dust.

The first thing I did was ditch the old audio interface I had, which did not work well with Windows 10. (When I visited the manufacturer's website, I discovered they no longer are making pro audio products, the model I had was no longer supported, and the latest drivers (which I already had installed) "might work," but there was going to be no development of a Windows 10-compatible version. I put a few questions out on home recording forums but got no hints of anything I could do to resolve or work around the issue.)

For a few months, I lived with it, but I soon realized that the unreliability of the system being in a functioning state at any given time was acting as a real impediment to me doing anything. So I decided to rip that thing out of there and buy something more modern that actually has Windows 10 support.

I ended up getting a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6. I installed it and bingo, I have a wonderful functioning system again.

I use SONAR Platinum from Cakewalk as my digital audio workstation (DAW) software. I've been using Cakewalk stuff for a very long time, and I've always been pretty comfortable and happy with it.

For recording guitars I have several options. I can plug into one of the instrument inputs on the front of the Scarlett and route it through a software amp in SONAR (I've got the ones that came with SONAR, but my favorite is the Scuffham S-Gear). I have a Line 6 POD HD, which was the last of their kidney-bean-shaped guitar amp modelers, which is connected to the Scarlett via its digital interface. I also have a couple of guitar amps that have direct recording outputs. Finally, there's the good old approach of sticking a microphone in front of an amp.

I also use Band-in-a-Box software from PG Music to throw together quick backing tracks. It is an intelligent automatic accompaniment program – you type in the chords for any song using standard chord symbols (like C, Fm7, or C13b9), choose the style you’d like, and Band-in-a-Box automatically generates a complete arrangement of piano, bass, drums, guitar, and strings or horns in a wide variety of popular styles. It's also a powerful and creative music composition tool for exploring and developing musical ideas with near-instantaneous feedback.

For drums, I really don't have the space to have a real drum kit in the room, and I couldn't play them much even if I did, so I typically use software drum kits that are plugins hosted by SONAR. Recently I added a new plug-in drum program called JamStix by Rayzoon Technologies that can generate drum parts similarly to Band-in-a-Box, but with much more variability – more like human drummers with their own habits, accents and fill characteristics. I'm looking forward to learning how to use it and hopefully it will be inspiring. If I did want to record a real drummer live, I could set up to four separate mics into the four analog inputs of the Scarlett.

For keyboards and such there are also several so-called "soft synths" – software synthesizers that are also plugins available within SONAR. I have a MIDI keyboard controller that I can plug in to record MIDI data, but I'm not much of a keyboardist so I don't do that too often.

For bass, I can use soft synths and MIDI, and I also have a decent bass guitar that I can play a bit, so I can record it just like I do my guitars.

I have a SoundCloud page where I've put up some of the stuff I've recorded here at home. There are also a few older things at Nowhere Radio.