Help me record some music please.

June 8, 2010 9:48 PM

I'm slowly getting confident enough to put together some simple recordings, perhaps with the current challenge as a starting point. My #1 song is a simple relatively-pleasant one (the 70s were like that, it seems). My problem is I have no idea how to do it; please help.

I play several instruments (with varying success), and what I'd like to be able to do for this tune is start by recording something like a simple walking bass line on guitar, and then add other instruments, one at a time. It seems like an obvious way to do that would be to play back (into earphones maybe?) what I have recorded so far, play along to that with the new instrument (or sing), and then have some software mash the new track into the existing ones. Aside from setting levels so everything can be heard, I don't really care to do any effects or modification to the results (or at least that's what I think before hearing it anyway).

I see people talking about using Garage Band software. Google tells me that's Mac software, but my complicating factor is that I don't have (and don't really want to buy) any Mac or Windows machines. All computers easily available to me are running Ubuntu Linux (various versions).

If any of you use Linux and successfully record like this, would you point me in the right direction? I see Audacity can mix tracks together but I don't see that it can play existing tracks and record a new track at the same time. Am I just thinking about this wrong? Does it take two computers maybe, or do you play to a metronome instead of the existing tracks?

Also, as I have no recording equipment at all (just computers with basic sound cards), what do I need to buy in the way of microphones/pickups or other hardware to get started? I hope to be able to record at least voice, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and banjo.
posted by fritley (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

one word: Audacity. It's free, it's cross platform, and it's versatile. As far as recording and playing existing tracks at the same time, it's under the transport menu, as "overdub." Just avoid "software playthrough" unless you have a particularly beefy machine, as it will play back what's being recorded (usually with about a 1 second delay) as it goes, too. It's not good eats. I do all my personal recording, and all my mixing in Audacity, and I'm almost always pleased with how it turns out (when I'm not, it's usually my own damn fault). The only real shortcoming with Audacity is that it can only record two channels (one stereo or two mono) at a time. However, the overdub process you've mentioned will work totally fine in Audacity.

I highly recommend it, and you can't beat the price.

I suppose they could pay you to use it...
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 10:45 PM on June 8, 2010

You're also going to want a USB audio interface and at least one decent mic to record with. Condenser mics are very popular for recording, if you go that way make sure the USB interface has phantom power to power the mic. A dynamic mic like an SM58 doesn't need this.

I'm not familiar with Audacity, but overdub sounds like you'd be adding new music to an existing track. You'll be better off to record each instrument to its own track, it will give you more flexibility when you mix down.
posted by InfidelZombie at 8:34 AM on June 9, 2010

I've really enjoyed playing around with my BOSS Micro BR four-track... Fits in a pocket, can hook in a microphone or pick-up, and makes it (pretty) easy to do all of the basic layering and editing stuff.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:24 AM on June 9, 2010

Overdub is just what it's called; you're actually recording a new track, while it plays back the other, already recorded tracks.
posted by askmeaboutLOOM at 3:32 PM on June 9, 2010

Audacity looks so simple to use and seems just like what I want. Thanks amaL!

I believe the mic input on my thinkpad R50p is mono and does not provide "phantom power". So I am trying to figure out what USB interface to buy, which does provide this power and will work with Ubuntu Linux.

If someone could point me to a specific sound interface and/or a specific microphone that would be great. I see some mics for about $3 and some for $100-$150 (I'm looking on newegg). There must be a big difference.

Thanks for your help everyone!
posted by fritley at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2010

When in doubt, a basic M-Audio USB interface (like the MobilePre) and a Shure SM57 mic (under $100) will go a long way. Even if later on you need to get nicer mics (like a Rode M3 or an AT2020, which are both under $150 and sound great) you will always find uses for the SM57, such as micing guitar amps or other stuff. These should all work great with Audacity and Linux (doublecheck on the M-Audio MobilePre interface though).
posted by chimaera at 11:11 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah – a question I think I can answer. Groovy!

Okay, so you're on Ubuntu. I am, too, and I recently started recording a few things here and there.

My first bit of advice: update everything to Lucid Lynx. Earlier versions of Ubuntu might work for this, but they are much more likely to give you much pain and sorrow – take it from me. Lucid is a big leap forward in that, for the first time, the sound server is centralized and intuitive, and full driver support is pretty much built-in. (Lucid Lynx is actually one of the reasons I'm recording stuff now; before, I really couldn't, not in any sane way.)

As far as USB interfaces go, chimaera is correct; I have an M-Audio Fast Track USB that seems to work just dandy. I've had it for a long time now, though; but I was never able to get it to work with any version of Ubuntu prior to Lucid Lynx. Now, it's virtually plug and play; there are some minor settings you have to configure (ie select mic as input, turn up mic volume) but they're simple enough that it's quite easy. It gets a pretty good sound, too.

Audacity is wired into the sound server pretty well, so it picks things up nicely. Also, above, you were wondering if you can overdub whilst listening to the last track you laid down; yes, this is easy with Audacity.

If you ever want to step beyond Audacity, the Linux pro audio solution is an awesome workstation program called Ardour. However, it is more complex, particularly to set up, so you should probably just dive into Audacity, which has plenty of quality for you to make pretty nice sounding songs and have a lot of fun.

Oh, and you didn't mention this, but: if you're interested in doing any electronic sounds (drumbeats, synths, etc) a great way to do this in Ubuntu is to install Wine via the Software Center and then download and install Psycle, a really great little tracker which can do that stuff. It's a lot of fun to play around with if you're into that; it is a Windows program, but it runs perfectly through Wine in Ubuntu, and I've spent countless hours having fun messing around with it and making beats and stuff.

If you have any particular questions, especially when you're setting up, let me know. I've spent a long time trying to figure out the sound innards in Ubuntu, so I'd love to help.
posted by koeselitz at 3:54 PM on June 10, 2010

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