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Monday, April 13, 2009

Microphones, Cables and Everything Else in Your Studio

This is the final part of the Makeshift Musician's Comprehensive Guide to Building Your Own Studio

So, you've got your room for your studio, you've set up your computer, hooked up your audio interface and installed your recording software. What's next? Actually, a lot of stuff.

Microphones


Unless you're an all-software kind of musician, you need a microphone or two. Entire books have been written on the subject of microphones and how they are used in different situations; it's a very large field. You can get specialized mics for any instrument you can think of for thousands of dollars and often they are purchased in pairs. If you're like me, though, and I know I am, you don't have those kinds of resources. I'll try to point you to some general-purpose mics instead.

AKG Perception 120 - This is the one I use in my studio. It's a good general purpose mic that has a very crisp sound. It comes in a nice case with a shock mount. It usually goes for around $120.

Shure SM57 - This is a classic mic that has been in use for something like 30 years. It generally goes for $70 to $100. It works great for guitar amps and drum kits, (just don't put it too close to the kick drum; that'll be too much for it) and if you get a decent preamp, it works pretty well for vocals too.

Wait, what is a preamp? What a great question! A good microphone needs power to sound good. Some microphones can work with very little power but they're not very sensitive, i.e. your computer microphone that comes with your webcam. The more power your microphone has, the better your overall recording quality will be. A preamp's job is to provide power to your microphone, which your mixer or audio interface may not be able to do. My M-Audio FireWire 1814 audio interface also acts as a preamp, but I'm thinking about picking up a separate one.

Don't forget to check out my article How Microphones Work.

Cables

You should get cables for each device you have. Don't scrimp here. A cable for each microphone you have, two 1/4 inch cables for each synthesizer or drum machine you have. Also, you may be tempted, as I was, to get shorter cables to save money. This really isn't a good idea. 3-foot cables are almost useless unless your device sits right on top of your audio interface. Get at least 6-foot cables for everything. You might consider getting a particularly long mic cable, as you never know how you might set up a mic and you may need some extra length to accommodate.

Everything Else

There are lots of other items you'll most likely want to round out your studio and make it more usable.

Mic stand - If you have a microphone, you want a mic stand as well. What, are you going to hire someone to hold the mic in front of the guitarist while he plays?

Stools/chairs - A musician needs to sit on something while they play, especially during long recording sessions. Simple, cheap stools or chairs do the trick.

Instrument stands - for putting guitars and such on between records. A rack could work pretty well also.

Vocal booth - If the room for your studio has a closet, this is a great opportunity to turn that into a vocal booth. You often want an intimate sound when recording vocals, and even in a padded studio room a voice can sound echoey in recordings. This is why professionals have separate recording booths. If you don't have a closet, try to find some other way to isolate a singer as best you can. Always experiment!

Mini-fridge/food - Long studio sessions can lead to hunger. Always keep musicians happy and fed.

Couch - for lounging. 'Nuff said.

Now get in there and start making some music. Let me know how it goes!

Go to part 5: What Speakers Should I Get?


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4 comments:

Audio Recording said...

I never recommend getting shorter than 20 foot XLR cables. There is no quality loss by going from 6ft to 20ft. Since most singers are going to be 5-6ft tall, you can chew up all of a 6ft cable just on the mic stand.

The last thing you want is the cable to be taut. This is basically a trip wire that will rip out your audio interface, knock over your mic, etc.

Brandon Drury

Ben said...

Good advice. I have only a single 20-foot cable for my mic stand and 6 footers for my equipment, which all remain near the interface. If only someone would invent a telescoping cable!

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