Music recording can be as simple as pressing the “record” button on your phone, or as crazy as these:
What if you just want to record the music like recording the moment, with a presentable, clean sound quality that doesn’t have much noise?
If you sing or play acoustic instruments such as piano, guitar, flute, saxophone, etc, and want to record some pieces for memories or sharing, AND you:
- Want the audio quality to be better than iPhone
- Don’t wish to turn your home into a music studio
- Don’t want to spend too much money and invest in professional audio equipments yet
Then you should read on 👇
For reference, this is a piece I recorded using the setup. No audio postprocessing was made in this video.
The cost of this setup was:
- Vocal mic: $250
- Piano mic: $79
- Software: Garage Band (free)
- Audio interface: None
If you’re interested in learning how to record music better than an amateur, then keep reading on! The rest of the material assumes that you don’t want to bother with anything more than a microphone and laptop.
TL;DR: choose a dynamic microphone with USB connectivity.
Choosing a great microphone is essential to recording your music. Good microphones can go VERY, VERY expensive, so you need to learn how to choose the one that’s best for you!
How to Choose a Mic
There are two types of microphones in the market: condensers, and dynamic microphone. In a nutshell:
- Condensers are generally higher quality than dynamic microphones.
- Condensers are generally more expensive.
- Condensers generally capture more details in the voice.
- Condensers tend to capture environment noises, and so it’s usually best used in a studio / quiet environment
So, I recommend choosing a condenser if you:
- record by yourself, or if you are in a band, record one-by-one
- live in a quiet area, no cars horning in the street in front of you, no kids running around, no person working and typing the keyboard like crazy
Otherwise, choose a dynamic mic, especially if you want to collaborate with friends live!
Before we move on, one thing to note is about the connector: the majority of the microphones on the market are XLR microphones, meaning that an audio interface is required for it to be connected to your computer. If you want the least troubles, you should choose a USB microphone. In a nutshell:
- XLR microphones have a much wider selection range than USB microphones
- XLR microphones usually have better sound quality
- XLR microphones require an audio interface
- USB microphones are easy to use, plug-and-play
The one I ended up choosing for vocal is the Shure MV7 Microphone. It is a relatively new microphone that came out in 2020. It has comparable performance to the industry standard Shure SM7B microphone, which many celebrities and artists have used: Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Metallica, just to name a few. The Shure MV7 supports both USB and XLR connectivities, which makes it really handy if in the future you decide to invest in an audio interface.
The one I used for piano was gifted by my friend, so I actually didn’t do much research about it. It is a UMIK-1 miniDSP USB calibrated measurement microphone. I found the quality much better than my iPhone, so I haven’t had the plan yet to upgrade until I want to do something more professional.
How Many Mics?
Even though omnidirectional mics are available on the market, I still recommend using at least one mic for each instrument, and never use one mic for capturing all sounds in the room. The reasons are:
- It’ll be much easier to do any sort of post-processing if each instrument has a independent track (e.g., if you want to raise an instrument’s volume)
- The combined sound will be much cleaner than using one mic for all
If you are playing in a band setting, it will be more obvious to use one mic for each instrument, because when you all start playing, sometimes you’ll find that you can barely hear yourself! In that case, you will need monitoring (explained in a later section), which requires other instruments to have their own tracks (mics).
For bigger instruments like a piano, typically people use two mics for upright pianos, and 2-3 for grand pianos.
The software I’m using is just Garage Band. If you are only recording one instrument at a time, then you can skip all the following sections, as no setup is needed and you can just go plug and play! Have fun 👋🏻
Step-by-step Computer Setup
If you are using multiple mics (e.g., in a live setting), then you need to do some setup work.
Step 1. If you’re on Mac, then go to the “Audio MIDI Setup” app, and create “Aggregate Device”:
Then, you will select the devices you’d like to record with:
In this example above, I have two devices: Umik-1 (shown in blue) and Shure MV7 (shown in green). My input channels for Umik-1 will be 1+2, and the input channels for my Shure MV7 will be 3. Choose one of the mics to be your primary one, and tick “Drift Correction” for all the rest of the microphones so that they will be in sync.
Step 2. Now, go to Garage Band. In Preferences, click on “Output Device”:
Then, select your aggregated device created from previous step:
Step 3. Create your new audio tracks. In the Inputs section, choose the input channels from previous steps. For example, if this track is going to be coming from my Umik microphone, then I would choose “Input 1+2” in this case. If this track is going to be coming from my Shure microphone, then I would choose “input 3”.
Create one track for each of your recording instrument.
Step 3. Once you’ve finished adding all the audio tracks, right click on any of them, and choose “Configure Track Header…”
Then choose “Record Enable”
You should be able to see this red dot appearing beside each track, blinking at the same time. This means that all your tracks are ready and in sync!
If more than one instrument is playing, you will need to be able to hear yourself clearly. In settings where each instrument is equally loud, you might be able to get away from doing all these “extra work”. However, in settings where one instrument is significantly louder than others, such as piano + vocal, piano + flute, etc, then you’ll need to be able to hear both yourself clearly AND the other instruments clearly. There are many ways, but in today’s theme of doing “just a little better than amateur”, I recommend only the person with much smaller sound wears a headphone. You’ll be monitoring your own voice in the headphone in a magnified volume, and you will be hearing other instruments from their instruments (not from your headphone). In this case, you should wear headphones that will allow you to hear surrounding sounds. So no noise cancelling. The one we used is just the Apple earpods that came with the iPhone.
Voila! You’ve come to the end of this tutorial. Have fun playing and recording! If you want to learn more about how to record music more professionally, leave a comment and let me know! 🙂