Mark Harris
HOME MUSIC MAKING, September 2006

High tech music making at home
Recording music at home needn’t mean fitting out your house to look like Abbey Road studios, discovers Mark Harris. Follow his top ten steps to a top ten hit....




1. Buy a PC – A decent home computer can help out in dozens of ways, such as recording and editing your music, setting up band websites and e-mailing MP3 tracks to friends or record companies.

2. Choose your instrument – From guitars to grand pianos, a home studio can record just about any instrument you can play. If you have a computer, you can even experiment with ‘virtual’ instruments.

3. Mic up – To record acoustic instruments and voices, you’ll need a high quality microphone (and probably a pre-amp or mixer, too). Don’t stint on this as it can make all the difference to your vocals.

4. Silence is golden – Find a quiet place for your recording. You don’t need to line your living room with egg-boxes, but a sensitive microphone will pick up rumbling lorries and slamming doors.

5. Cards and speakers – To get sound into your computer, a good soundcard is essential. Spend a little more and you could get a dedicated audio interface with easy to find sockets and cables.

6. Software solutions – A computer without software is like a guitar without strings. You’ll need software packages to sequence (arrange) your tunes, and perhaps also to sample snippets of sound to include in your songs.

7. Sounds amazing – You’ll want to listen to your music as it develops. Invest in studio monitor speakers for the best audio quality – or headphones to avoid disturbing the whole house.

8. Disc world – Almost all PCs have CD writers these days, allowing you to make demo CDs at home. And with a DVD burner, you can edit camcorder footage to direct your own music videos.

9. No PC, no problem – People have been recording music at home for decades without a computer. If you’re on a budget, start with a digital tape or MiniDisc recorder, but don’t forget that a good microphone is still crucial.

10. Practice makes perfect – Experiment with your home studio but remember that the most enduring songs are all about great song-writing, singing and playing, not how much was spent on production.

Blue Man rock drumsRock on!
Whether you’re picking out your first tunes or polishing your set for a big gig, today’s technology can help your music shine. Modern home computers are powerful enough to replace banks of audio gear, or invest in portable kit for practicing while on the road.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
Price: £1700
Apple’s new Intel-powered laptops combine blistering speed with elegant looks and simple ease of use – just the job for a virtual music studio. Upgrade the built-in microphone and speakers for serious recording and playback.
Verdict: The easiest route into music production, and flexible enough to deal with office and multimedia tasks too. 4/5

GarageBand 3
Price: £55
Apple’s superb iLife package includes this intuitive tool for recording, sampling and mixing music. You can score digital movies, share tunes online and even create podcasts, all without leaving your keyboard.
Verdict: This is where to start if you’ve never twiddled an amplifier knob or moved a slider in your life. Fun and surprisingly addictive 5/5

Logic Express 7
Price: £200
When it’s time for your band to leave the garage, step up to Apple’s semi-professional music software. This package’s advanced features include multi-channel recording, virtual synthesizers, MIDI editing and thousands of loops and audio effects.
Verdict: Powerful, if pricey, package that’s been designed to run even faster on Apple’s newest computers 3/5

Dell XPS 700 Desktop PC
Price: around £1700
The recipe for a home studio PC is simple – choose fast processors (like the 3.2GHz Dual Core chips on board here) and keep adding memory (RAM) until you run out of money. A decent 19-inch flatscreen ices the cake.
Verdict: Powerful and well-made. Should see you through your demo disc, debut CD and ‘difficult’ second album. 4/5

Magix Music Maker 11 Deluxe
Price: £25
A cheerful package that lets you do cool things (like remixing, harmonising, vocoder effects) without learning any complex technicalities. You can create your own ringtones for mobiles and even full 5.1 surround soundtracks.
Verdict: Unbeatable value for beginners but not the most subtle results. 4/5

Ableton Live 6
Price: £375
A high-end package for waltzing through the entire creative process, from studio to stage, with sound-shaping, mastering and an entire virtual orchestra of instruments at your fingertips.
Verdict: Ear-bending brilliance for pros, but if you’re not sure what a ‘user-definable waveshaper’ is, this isn’t for you. 3/5

Blue Man Group Percussion Tubes
Price: £80
Replicate the sound of the inexplicably popular Blue Man Group at home, with a motion-sensitive percussion deck that lets you play along to your iPod or record your own beats. Shave your head and paint it navy for added authenticity.
Verdict: More of a toy than a real musical instrument. Strictly for kids. 2/5

Korg D4 recorder
£ 225
Who needs an expensive studio lined with egg boxes? Simply plug a guitar or mic in to the D4 and you can be laying down tracks in seconds. Its pocket-sized case hides a USB port and dozens of effects and editing functions.
Verdict: Make music wherever you are, then download tunes to your PC at home. 4/5

Yamaha Disklavier Mark IV
Price: £25,000
The Disklavier is the ultimate grand piano - a digital/acoustic maestro that records and play back note-perfect performances, helps you master the keyboard, accompanies your recitals and simulates hundreds of instruments. It even comes with a remote control.
Verdict: More Space Shuttle than Steinway, this ultra-high tech piano strikes all the right notes. 5/5

Tascam GA-100CD
£ 450
Slip a disc into this combined guitar amp and CD trainer and you can jam with your favourite band, controlling the tempo (without distorting the sound) and adding a full range of effects.
Verdict: The easiest way to play along with Slash or Eric Clapton – but don’t get depressed if you can’t match them lick for lick. 3/5

Roland BOSS SP-505 Groovebox
£ 400
It’s not the newest sampler around, but this DJ workstation has had more dance hits than Simon Cowell and Pete Waterman together. It has tones, patterns and effects galore – plus easy to twiddle controls for novices.
Verdict: A classic from the days when electronic music ruled the charts 4/5

M-Audio Black Box
Price: £100
Turn your guitar into an entire band with this handy device. It can simulate the world’s best guitar amps, add hundreds of drum rhythms or beat effects and tweak vocals via a microphone pre-amp.
Verdict: Ditch your old-fashioned guitar pedals, the digital revolution has arrived. 5/5

Shure SM57 microphone
£ 80
This uni-directional microphone is tough, sensitive and excellent at minimising background noise. Its classic design has even been used on the US President’s podium for the last 30 years.
Verdict: Vocals and instruments only sound as good as the microphone you record through – and this one’s fantastic 5/5


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