You can have a lot of fun making music, but getting a good recording and arrangement of your song requires some work and knowledge. Last week we set up a home recording studio. This week we’re going to start recording.
Note: This is primarily a video lesson and you’ll get a lot more information from watching the video above. The instructions below are useful for reference.
What You’ll Need
If you participated in last week’s lesson, you should have all the equipment you need to get started. If not, read last week’s post first before proceeding.
- Your computer with the DAW software of your choice installed (we’ll be using Cubase)
- A digital audio interface (with 48V phantom power) hooked up to your computer
- A microphone connected to your digital audio interface, most likely via XLR cable
- An instrument (a guitar, your voice, whatever you’re working with)
- About 20-30 minutes of your time
Once you’ve got everything ready, boot up your DAW software and let’s get started!
Get To Know Your DAW’s Interface.
Interface elements vary between different DAWs, but they embody the same ideas. We’ll use Cubase to demonstrate here, but if you’re using something else you should find things are fairly similar. Let’s take a look at the common parts you’ll need to know about.
The main project window is where you’ll do a lot of your work. This window lets you interact with your instruments and sounds as well as bring up individual channel settings as needed. You can do a lot more, too, but those are the basics.
The mixer (in Cubase, this is the first of three mixers) resembles a hardware mixing board. You can adjust the levels of individual tracks, open their channel settings, monitor the master output, and keep a general eye on what’s going on with your mix as it plays.
The transporter does what you would expect: it transports you around your project. This is where you press record, stop and play, but also where you can toggle the metronome, set time signatures, loop your project, and get information about where you currently are in your project.
The VST instruments panel isn’t something you really need to know about until the next lesson; it’s where you add virtual instruments to your project.
When you click the little “e” button next to an audio track you get its channel settings. You can add input (track-specific) and send (multi-track) effects here, use the built-in EQ, and adjust gain.
Those are the main elements of the interface you need to know about. Read on to learn how to set up your first project.
Set Up Your First Project
You already know how to record audio if you know how to push a button, but digital audio workstation (DAW) software requires some setup before that big red circle will actually capture an audio signal. Although we’ll be using Cubase to set up our project, most DAW software works in similar ways. If you’re not using Cubase, you should be able to follow along just fine but will need to look in slightly different locations for menu items and certain buttons. Here’s what to do:
- To get started, create a new project by selecting New Project in the File menu. Select “Empty” as a project type. Cubase will ask you where to save it, so pick one and wait for everything to load.
- Before you can start recording, you need to make sure Cubase (or whatever DAW you’re using) can find your interface and the mics (or whatever else) you have hooked up to it. Go to the Device menu and choose VST Connections.
- From there, click the Inputs tab and set the first mono input to your first microphone. Repeat this process for any additional microphones or inputs (such as electric guitars).
- Click the Outputs tab and you should see a pair of stereo outputs. Set the first one to your left speaker and the second one to your right speaker.
- Now that your inputs and outputs are properly routed, close VST Connections and go to the Project menu. Choose Add Track -> Audio.
- When the new track window appears, create one track and set its configuration to mono. Because we’re just recording from a single microphone in this lesson, you don’t need a stereo track. In fact, you’ll rarely choose stereo even when recording from two microphones because you’ll probably want to have the channels separated. This provides you with greater control over where they’re placed in the recording (that is, where it sounds like the recorded voice or instrument is) and the character of the sound. When you’re done, click Add Track.
- By default, the new track should have its record enabling toggle button lit up red. You’ll see this beneath the track name. If it isn’t lit, click on it to enable recording on this track.
- Also by default, your track should be set to your first microphone. If not, take a look at the panel on the left side of the main project window and you’ll see input and output settings. The output should be set to Stereo (which is the default name for Cubase’s stereo output) and then input should be set to whatever you named your first microphone (usually Mono In by default, but this can vary). If you see No Bus that means nothing is connected to this audio track, so click on No Bus and change it to the name of your first microphone.
- Using the transporter — which is the thin horizontal window strip with lots of tools and buttons on it — press the record button. You’ll see the recording start. Talk, sing, or play an instrument into the microphone and the waveform of your audio will appear in real time.
- When finished recording, press the stop button on the transporter.
That’s all there is to it! You’ve just recorded your first piece of audio. It probably sounds bad, but that’s likely due to a need for EQ, higher gain (increase in the amplitude of the frequency so it sounds louder), or some other problem. We’re not going to worry about that just yet because you’re still getting used to how your DAW works. We’ll tackle mixing individual audio tracks and the entire mix in a later lesson, though you can get a preview if you watch the video above.
Want to learn more? Join us next week for our next lesson: playing and recording virtual instruments. Don’t forget to bring your MIDI keyboard!