Published: July 13, 2021
Do you think your music should sound better?
In this tech-talk episode:
As a self-producing musician, what gear do you need?
Purchasing advice you won't hear from the retail store.
The best band-for-the-buck - what you really need (and what you don't!).
Also in this episode:
Which one is better, Mac or PC?
Did you choose the wrong DAW?
Keeping the computer running smoothly
Understanding monitoring when recording (that %^&* latency!)
Signal types, and input types
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Contact the podcast host Yarn at mixartist.com.au
Disclaimer: The Production Talk Podcast is independent of (and not related to) my teaching responsibilities at SAE.
Transcript (auto-generated by a bot - please forgive the occasional error):
Jan 'Yarn' Muths: Welcome to the production talk podcast with me Yon of mix artists.com know you. In this podcast series, we celebrate the modern way of producing music. We want to talk about all things related to songwriting, recording at home and music production. So if you produce your music at home, this is the place to be. Please subscribe and recommend this podcast to all your friends. This is the production talk podcast, Episode Four. Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you for joining me again, it means a lot to me that you're here today. Today, I would like to have a gear special episode where we talk about the things you need, and maybe also about the things you don't need in your home studio. So let's get straight into it. I think it's fair to say that today everybody walks into computer. So the first question is, of course, have you got a computer? Is it up for the job? And if not, which one? Should you buy? As a general rule, think about what's convenient to you? Should it be a mobile computer? Do you need a laptop? Or will you leave the computer in your home studio for most of it, then maybe a desktop computer could be cheaper. So the convenience of carrying it around or not is definitely a big factor. You probably know whether you're a Mac or PC person. Just a little word on this never asked the question online whether you should use a Mac or PC. Every single time somebody does this, the answers will turn into some kind of a religious war. There is nothing to be gained here a max of phenomenal so our PCs, so is Linux if you're into that all of these operating systems are amazing. And the only thing that matters is what is best for you and what are you most comfortable with? Okay, now that we've narrowed it down to either a desktop or a laptop, and then you can narrow down further Mac or PC. Maybe Before we continue, let's first look at what we actually want to walk with. Because on your computer, you will need a digital audio workstation, short door da W. And when it comes to which you should choose Well, they're all fantastic today. Same thing again, if you go online, you will find huge debates on whether protrudes is better than able to know vice versa. And I find all of these discussions. so incredibly boring. For at least the last 10 years, every single door has been phenomenal. And if you start working in one and you've got a good workflow going, just keep going and every door is perfectly capable of producing a number one hit record, so don't worry too much about it. But once you've made your choice, reverse engineer the best computer for your door. So let's say if you just buy an off the shelf PC from a local office supplier, don't expect let's say let me pick Pro Tools here to work perfectly smoothly on this. Many doors have their tested operating systems and tested hardware that they run best with. So definitely before you buy the computer, see if it's a computer that is recommended for the door that you want to use. In some situations, doors are very forgiving. Others are more particular about which hardware they like and which hardware they don't and you don't want to find out after buying a computer that your graphics cards throws your door off that can happen. It has happened. In some rare occasions you will also find that certain doors work only on one operating system. Logic Pro X for example Mac only because it's owned by Apple after they bought it from imagic A long time ago, by the way. Okay, so let's just assume now you've made your choice. You picked your door of choice. You went to the manufacturers website, you found out the specifications which operating systems they like and what hardware and based on this you reverse engineered the computer that's the best match for you. Now you've got your computer and your dog going phenomenon. There's one rule that you No need to follow, actually write it down printed out in big, big letters and pin it up over your computer. For the love of God. Don't update. Once you have a running system, don't update The internet is full of users who saw the latest Mac update notification, they click the button update immediately and realize Obama nothing's working after the update. Chasing the latest and greatest updates is a guaranteed method for pain. Don't do that. Instead be conservative when it comes to updating a software be always a little bit behind, especially with operating systems. With your door, well, I use the little trick every time I update my door, I keep the old software on my computer, I just literally rename the application. So that I have the old one gives me four back or backup your computer like crazy so that by the press of a button, you could easily roll back to the before update state. Depending on your door, this may be a different method, but that doesn't really matter. Be very cautious with updating. Okay, the general rule is once you have a running system, just don't touch it. Okay, this is really important. Look, just a couple of months ago, I went to a phenomenal studio in Queensland, the most amazing selection of gear that I've seen, literally all my life, they actually operate an old computer that's probably 15 years old. And they use Pro Tools eight, haven't seen that old fella in a long while it had all the features are needed, it runs stable, but it's just really old, there's really no need for them to have the latest and the greatest because it's just running so well. Why not use it. Anyway, I'm not suggesting that you should be using ProTools eight. But if you want to, you know what, you can save a lot of money. By buying an older computer speckled with an old operating system, whatever was used at that time, and run it with an older software. That is a good way to use old gear with an older computer. So if you buy yourself, let's say a secondhand FireWire audio interface, chances are on the latest computer, you might not be able to get it up and running. But buy yourself a computer 10 years old, and also spec it up with an operating system and a door have that same error. And you might have a really, really powerful system that still has many years left to go if you want to go second hands. By the way, we're talking audio interface now, which audio interface should you buy? Well, I'm of the belief that in 2021, you can't possibly buy a bad sounding audio interface anymore. They're all really really good in the sense that they all have very good features. Very low noise, very low distortion and are just naturally very clean. And that is definitely a good thing. So things to consider. How many inputs do you need? Think about this for a moment. If you're let's say a singer songwriter, chances are a guitar and a vocal microphone might be all you need. Well, that's really up to you. But I often find that once you start with two inputs in the not too distant future, suddenly you'll come up with a situation where more inputs would be nice to have. So maybe think about having maybe one or two more inputs than you think you need today. Just so that in the future, you are somewhat compatible with whatever life throws your way. In many situations, there are interfaces with two inputs four or eight, and then sometimes more inputs as well. Many of the bigger interfaces have eight inputs, and then additional aided input and output. That way you can hook up a second preamp and connect that for more inputs. That is not a bad choice if you need that many inputs. But if you're a singer songwriter, definitely not if you're an EDM producer, definitely not. But if you're in a rock band, and you need to record drums and guitars and bass and vocals at the same time, you may need 12 maybe 16 inputs, who knows maybe even more. So there are definitely a few options. The number of inputs is very important. How many analog inputs and outputs have you get. Also how many of the analog inputs have a microphone preamps some of them aligned signal only. I reckon we should talk about the difference in a few moments. The next thing you should consider is how does the interface connect to a computer? is it just an old school USB two cable, they're usually compatible. Sometimes it's Thunderbolt, then you need to check especially in a PC you need to check if it's compatible, if you might need a thunderbolt car to make it run. Nowadays, USB C and Thunderbolt seem to blend with USB four standards on the horizon. Well, it's definitely worth checking with your computer's actually compatible with those standards before you buy yourself that interface. Other things to consider. Not every driver is equally well programmed. Some manufacturers have a reputation for producing drivers that are, well, let's say they crashed a lot. I've also heard about manufacturers or developers who have the most rock solid drivers have ever heard of, and everybody's full of praise. This has a great deal to do with your job satisfaction. What's the most amazing Sony converter worth if the driver gives you grief. So let's consider this. In my private opinion. I have heard a lot of good things about RMA. I have never owned RMA. A little disclaimer here. But the talk seems to be that their drivers are rock solid. I've used a moto interface A long time ago. And those drivers were phenomenal. Very simple, nothing fancy about them. But they have served me really well. Not one crash ever recorded on those. I could keep going. But maybe just read some user reviews. And also check what users of your same operating system have to say. Good. So we spoke about the iOS, the connection to the computer and the driver. When it comes to drivers, some manufacturers give you lots and lots of extra features. Some drivers are literally little mixers that allow you to route signal back to monitoring outputs. In some rare occasions, and those are more expensive models, they offer also some processing EQs compressors some analog gear emulation. You ID comes to mind here they are quite expensive and probably not for the home user. Well, unless you've got the extra coin. Of course, Apogee is another of these manufacturers that does that. And antelope, I could keep going there are quite a few. However, they are usually the more expensive ones. And you know what, if you're not an engineer, just leave the processing out to tape processing can be very useful when professionals record. But it's one of these things you know, just because you know how to hold a knife doesn't mean that you're a surgeon. So in some situations, it's better to leave the delicate cuts to a professional here. And there are some things you just don't want to get wrong. Surgery is definitely one of them to tape processing is another one. Good, then let's talk about monitoring for a while. Monitoring is your ability to hear yourself as you record. That can also work for seconds that you recorded previously. But the really critical point is to hear what you're currently recording. And when it comes to monitoring that two options, you can do software monitoring. Let me explain what I mean. The microphone signal will travel via your oriented face to your computer software. Let's pick ProTools. As an example, today, we'll use Ableton and logic next time if you're one of their users, then it goes through my Pro Tools. And out again, back to the Oriental face. And from there to my headphones. That's called a software monitoring. Because the software and my case Pro Tools is providing the monitoring, that can work quite well. But then we need to look into hardware buffer settings because if they are set wrong, you will hear yourself later Later, a little bit delayed late. And that's not fun at all. So you need to know what hardware buffer sizes and if you want to use software monitoring, you need to choose short hardware buffer sizes such as 32 samples 64, maybe 128. But that's about it you can get away with here's the thing, you need a powerful computer that is really well optimized for that. If you don't have your computer well optimized and the computer is the CPU is occupied doing lots of other tasks, it might stop recording halfway through and the door might spit the dummy that can happen. If you want to overcome this, you can set the buffer size up. If you use a high buffer size, the latency becomes very annoying because you hear everything very late and that is absolutely unacceptable. So the way to overcome it is to mute the channel in ProTools. Therefore you hear all the music that plays back out of ProTools but you don't hear yourself anymore. Now we need to provide the monitoring for yourself from the audio interface driver. So effectively we are now using two different mixes to supply sound back to your headphones. The playback signal comes out of ProTools Add your own recording signal, your own microphone comes only via the driver. In other words, the driver is used to forward back the signal directly to your outputs. This is also known as zero latency monitoring in some situations, actually, in order to be zero latency, it would have to be all analog. And in many situations, it's actually digital. But okay, let's let him get away and not be too picky on the terminology here. Either way, it allows you to use large buffer sizes in your door and still hear yourself without audible latency. I should mention, because there's always a little bit of latency. But the problem is when latency becomes annoying, clearly audible as an echo. Good. So your audio interface needs to give you monitoring via the driver. This is really important. In the case of a simple interface, this might be possible for only one or two inputs to one output. In the case of my old motor interface, I was able to mix any input to four different stereo outputs, giving me the option to mix four different stereo headphones in case the drummer wants to hear one way, but the bass player wants to hear it differently. Well, it all depends on what you need here. Good. So let's just sum up the audio interface one more time, how many iOS Do you need, maybe get an interface with a little bit of extra aios. Make sure you have a computer connection, USB, Thunderbolt, USB, C, and so on that works with the operating system and your computer. Make sure your driver provides proper monitoring. If you need to do to type monitoring, it's always good to have extra two type processes like EQs and compressor. Don't worry about this too much. Leave this to the pros. If you have it, take it easy, be very gentle. Good. There's just one more thing that we should probably talk about right now, that is quite important for understanding audio interfaces and how to connect them correctly. What type of signals to be connect to audio interfaces, where commonly we use analog signals, that could be a microphone. But sometimes it could be your synthesizer that is actually different signal type. And every once in a while you want to play your bass guitar directly into the interface. Again, we have a different analog signal type. Let me just explain the differences between those. We have microphone signal, we've got line signal and instrument signal. There's more analog signal types, but just for now, those are the common ones. As the name suggests, microphone sequel comes out of microphones, I would have thought, but actually also passive di boxes, and many active di boxes as well. They also provide microphone signal type at the output. So audio interfaces commonly have microphone inputs, connect those together. Some of them have a line inputs only. And these line inputs cannot be used for microphone, because that line input is different by nature. What's different, it's the amount of voltage that travels through the cable. It's also the electrical impedance, load to source impedance that is not really suitable here. And the same applies again for instruments segments, such as your bass guitar, anything with the pickup could be a violin, they again have different voltages in impedances. And you need to get those right. On some interfaces you have designated line inputs, and the only signal you can feed into those is a line signal source. For example, that could be your synthesizers output, it could be the output of let's say a keyboard. Or if you want to connect an old school CD player, those would be line signals. But you cannot connect a microphone to line input. Because the voltage traveling through a microphone lead is way too low. And also the impedance isn't quite really matched. Guitar signals instrument signals are also known as high z. z is for high impedance, they require an input of particularly high impedance. Therefore on some interfaces you need to toggle a switch setting it to either high Z are instruments sensitivity, which name is used depends on the interface, they use these terms interchangeably. Generally speaking, the impedance is extremely high, sometimes 50 mega ohms or 100 mega ohms. And therefore connecting a guitar to line and put is not a good idea. The level might almost be in the right range, but probably not. The impedance would definitely not be right. Line inputs are often quarter inch shacks. microphone inputs are coming XLR inputs, instrument inputs are almost always quarter inch jacks. Okay? So always think about what you connect, is it a microphone, signal, line signal or instrument signal and make sure to use the appropriate input. Alright. When you record yourself you need to hear yourself. speakers are not the ideal scenario here because the speakers are loud and they will bleed back into the microphone. And the best case that will give you some background spiel on your recording signal in the worst case it will even give you some feedback. None of that is really desirable. So whenever you record, turn your speaker's off, put on headphones and use your headphones instead. Decent set of headphones is definitely worth their money many times over. Think about open or closed ones. Listen to the recommendations of your friends and fellow musicians. But always make sure to put them on yourself and ask yourself are they comfortable? Am I happy to work with them for eight hours straight. For example, many years ago, the Sennheiser HD 25 was very popular, just doesn't fit my head well and was just really uncomfortable on my ears. I like the sound of them. And not phenomena but definitely good enough. However, I could not possibly work with them for half an hour. Because of the shape of my ears they just don't fit. I own an open pair and also closed pair. The closed pair shuts out the room a little bit more. The closed pair is often necessary when recording or a monitor and loud environments. The open one is often the one I need for mixing. They sound a little bit better to my ears, and they're more comfortable because they don't apply as much pressure to the head. It's definitely worth checking this out for yourselves. If you don't have headphones yet, get a decent pair. You don't need to spend 1000s of dollars however, you know good good pair start at 100 150 $200 upwards, you can get some decent ones there. If you want to listen on speakers, that's often just nicer especially if you record guitars and bass it's often nice to dust yourself with speakers and something a little bit bigger. You don't need to invest 1000s of dollars into high end recording speakers. Budget speakers will often be all you need for home recording situations. There are definitely a couple of brands that come to my mind. The good old rockets they are definitely very popular so are the Yamaha's but I don't really want to advertise them. They're just very popular on the market. They give you a decent sound for the bug. But there are definitely other options. I recommend don't spend 1000s of dollars here because chances are you will place them in your home recording environment and a speaker is only as good as the acoustic environment it's placed in and chances are your home studio is not acoustically treated like a high end studio. So putting high end speakers into this room is a little bit like buying a Ferrari just to go to the shops to buy yourself a six pack. Not really worth doing other things would do equally well. If you speakers, I definitely recommend to make sure that you can adjust the headphone volume of the speaker of volume separately. In many situations This is done from your audio interface. So make sure the audio interface has the ability builder. Then what's left for you to buy. Get yourself a USB keyboard. If you want to use MIDI for songwriting or for performing, you need a little microphone connection let me just refer you back to the microphone locker episode. A couple of leads. You can solo your owns if you have the time and leisure, but you might be just better off buying leads off the shelf. Just make sure you get the right connectors. Alright, let's sum it up one more time. For typical home studio, you need your computer which you would spec according to the tool that you want to work with. Mac PC, Linux doesn't matter. They're all amazing, your audio interface, think about the BIOS, the drivers, the connections, monitoring, and so on. When you connect things, think about line or instrument signals. Think about the headphones you need open or closed have at least one decent pair sometimes it's nice to have a splitter box and to headphones. Think about whether you need speakers at all. If you get speakers, go for the budget once and make sure you treat a room and place them okay. USB keyboards are handy to have and a couple of microphones are lates Off you go. This is the gear episode. In conclusion, you don't need to spend 1000s and 1000s for it. Even the Facebook marketplace secondhand gear will often get you over the line. This eBay there's What's it called Craigslist and Gumtree so many places to post secondhand gear. So always think about whether you can save a little bit of money here and you know, maybe get yourself a nice a piece of secondhand gear. Alright, I'm starting to waffle. So Bob, maybe it's time to wrap this episode up. Hope you enjoyed yourself. We will talk more about how to use all the scheme in later episodes. Big thanks to neron of alchemy audio for helping with the editing of this episode. And just before we finish, I have just one more quick favor to ask. I am considering to change the podcast frequency from fortnightly to weekly because of all the great feedback I've received. But I'd like to know what your opinion is about that. So I embedded a tiny little survey into my website. And I would like to ask you to please head over to mix artists.com.au to just fill out the survey that you'll find just on the landing page. It's literally just a tick box which says weekly or fortnightly. I would like to know what you think in the survey won't be there for long just Until the next episode is out. And hopefully we'll get enough responses to make a good decision there. I'm looking forward to hearing from you and I'll speak to you soon. Thank you so much.