Home Setup Essentials

Buying gear for your setup can be confusing but exciting, and you want to get the best equipment you can for your money. There are so many options out there including different brands, gear for different purposes, and of course, prices.

My home setup is quite simple but it works for me. The equipment that you should buy really depends on what you want to do. I mostly use my gear for writing and production, and since most of my music is synth based, I don’t need a lot of recording equipment. If I record anything, it’s vocals – and this is why my setup is simply my laptop, AKG headphones, a Scarlett 2i2 interface and an SM58 microphone.

The most expensive part of many beginner setups is the computerApple has a couple of software programmes that are exclusive to them (Logic and Garageband), as mentioned in a previous post, meaning that you may need a Mac – however if you aren’t using either of these softwares then you could use a Windows computer instead. You can work on a laptop and many people do, however when you start recording more instruments or having bigger sessions, you may find that a laptop doesn’t have enough processing power to keep up and you may want to invest in a computer – however choosing a computer comes down to personal preference, your personal specification requirements, and what you’re used to.

If you are solely producing or writing using software instruments then you may not need a lot more than the computer and software, although you might find it useful to have a MIDI controller. This is an external (piano style) keyboard that you use to play the software instruments on your DAW which is much more practical than using musical typing or writing in every individual note with your mouse. You can get them in different sizes and with different functions such as pitch glide.

If you want to record physical instruments such as guitar or vocals, you will need a few things. Firstly an interface which is the bridge between your instrument and your DAW, you can plug your guitar/instrument directly into the interface with your instrument cable (if it has a pickup). The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a good starting point, it’s easy to use and reasonably priced. A good low cost option if you don’t need more than a couple of inputs is the Behringer UMC22 USB Audio Interface.

If you are recording something that doesn’t have a pickup or you require a different sound then you will need to buy a microphone to pick up the sound. There are some quite cheap options that are really good for recording many different instruments and are used even in larger commercial studios. Some of the most popular are the Shure SM57 or SM58, the AKG 414, the Neumann TLM-104. The Shure microphones are fairly low-cost and are very robust, the other 2 I mentioned are a little more expensive but are extremely versatile in what you can use them to record. There are plenty of good options for a home setup.

You will also need an XLR cable to record through a microphone (unless you have a wireless one, but the sound quality tends to not be as good with these), these cables have a male end and a female end, the female end goes into the microphone and the male end goes into your interface.

The final essential item for your home setup is something to listen to your work on. Some people prefer headphones, others prefer monitors – many people have both to get an idea of how their music will sound from different perspectives. It is a good idea to invest in monitoring sources that have a flatter frequency response (meaning that the headphones or monitors don’t add any of their own frequencies and make your mix sound different), especially if you are mixing, however this may not be as important to you if you are writing or creating demos. Audio-Technica are a very popular headphone manufacturer, alongside AKG, Beyerdynamic, and Sennheiser. However if you’re looking for monitors, KRK, Genelec, M-Audio, Adam, and Focal have enough options between them that you will find something that suits you. My advice for choosing monitors is to go to a store that sells them and have a listen before buying.

I hope this blog post has helped if you are looking for any gear – feel free to email me at rebekah@amplifindr.co.uk if you have any questions. Check out our first blog post to find out more about what we do.

All About DAWs

If you’ve read any of our previous blog posts, you may have seen that we’ve mentioned DAWs several times. If you aren’t familiar, DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation In this post I will talk about a few different ones which may help you decide which one is best for you.

The first DAW that many people encounter is Garageband. This is an Apple exclusive software that can be downloaded for free on Macs. It comes with some different instrument sounds and sample loops that are royalty-free (pre-recorded audio, usually 4 bars long, such as beats or chords) that you can use to inspire your writing. There is a musical typing function which basically means that you can play and record an instrument using your computer keyboard rather than having to hook up an external piano keyboard or pad. You can record audio into it such as vocals or guitar, however this does require some equipment such as a microphone and interface. It does not have as many features as most other DAWs however it is a great place to start if you are a songwriter or looking to get into production.

Logic Pro is a more advanced version of Garageband and is another software that is exclusive to Apple. Logic is not free and will set you back around £200 (students can get a discount). This DAW is widely used among many professional producers and songwriters – again it comes with different instrument sound packs and Apple Loops, more than Garageband. The musical typing function also exists in Logic for playing MIDI instruments without an external keyboard. Again, audio recording can be done and is a similar process to that of Garageband. Editing takes is easy since you can record multiple takes of the same part over each other and it will then automatically create a playlist for you where you can decide which part of each take you want to use. You can also adjust the timing of your audio to fit the tempo of your track using Flex Time which can be an invaluable tool if you want your music to sound tight and together – however if you move the audio too much, it may add some odd noises (artefacts) to your audio.

Some people also use Logic to mix their tracks. This is the stage where the volume levels of different instruments are balanced so that you can hear everything in the amounts that you would like to, effects such as echo are also added and the song ends up sounding close to something that you would hear on a streaming platform or the radio. You can do all of this in Logic and it can sound professional – although personally, I use Logic for writing/producing and then move the audio over into Pro Tools for the recording and mixing stages.

Pro Tools is the most commonly used DAW in professional recording studios. It is recognised as the industry standard and generally seen as the best DAW for multi-tracking (recording multiple sound sources/instruments) and editing audio. You can get Pro Tools on a subscription which may be more affordable to many than buying it outright. I personally find Pro Tools not very user friendly for the writing and producing stage, although many people use it for this purpose. You can use virtual instruments however you do need to plug in an external keyboard or add individual notes with your mouse since there is no musical typing, and there is less variety in virtual instruments than there is in Logic. Recording is what Pro Tools is best known for since you can record hundreds of tracks simultaneously. It can be used in any recording situation, whether you are doing one instrument or a full orchestra. Editing on Pro Tools is intuitive and you can easily combine all the best parts of different takes with the playlist function. There are many other things that you can do on this software, such as edit the timing of your audio so that it fits the tempo of your song with either beat detective or elastic audio – these run the same potential risks as the time editing in Logic but are great for minor fixes. There are stock effects that also come with Pro Tools such as compressors, EQs, reverbs and delays that can be added to tracks while mixing. Pro Tools is excellent for mixing, the separate mix and edit windows mean that you can have large faders that are easier to fiddle with than those on Logic.

There are many other DAWs that I haven’t covered such as Cubase, Ableton and FruityLoops (some of which I haven’t tried myself!), there are many tutorial blogs and YouTube videos to help you learn how to use DAWs and the features of them. Picking one to use really comes down to your experience level and what you intend to use it for – whatever your aim is, there will be a DAW for you. Happy creating!

If you want to join the mailing list to be kept up to date with Amplifindr’s progress or register interest, please send an email to rebekah@amplifindr.co.uk

What are the Musical Career Options?

For many of us, the first musical career that we consider is becoming an artist. Playing or singing music is something we are exposed to from a young age, whether through school, or having family and friends who play instruments. There are many options that stem from this, for example – creating or joining a band, becoming a session musician, or having a solo career.

Sometimes, learning an instrument can lead to an interest in writing music. There is a huge market out there for this. Whether it’s music that you want to release on Spotify and Apple Music etc, or whether it’s written for film, a game, writers are always needed. If you look at the credits for songs that have reached number 1 in the charts recently, many have multiple writers – collaborations are a great thing.

There is often a crossover between writing and production. Writing a song can be as simple as having piano chords and a melody but often, people want to develop ideas further than that by adding multiple instruments. Production is usually done in a DAW (digital audio workstation), for example, Logic, Ableton or Pro Tools.

Production, in this sense, is usually the development of the full track, based on the chord/melody combination that you start with, with all the instrumental and vocal parts that you intend to have in the final product. Some producers make tracks without a melody or vocal line written (sometimes called beats) that they sell or give to artists for them to write on top of.

However, in a commercial studio, being a producer often means something else. They tend to have an idea of what they imagine the final track to sound like, and how they wish to achieve it. Often they will communicate with the artists about the way that they perform and get the best out of them.

Engineers work closely with producers and do the technical adjustments and sound shaping required to achieve the final vision. This may be things like moving the positions of microphones or changing settings on compressors and EQs. A lot of the time, engineers will be the ones in charge of the DAW, stopping and starting recordings and making edits. This used to be the job of a tape operator (or assistant) when tape was widely used, however now, the job of an assistant is mostly tending to the needs of clients and making adjustments as needed by the engineer.

There are even more career options than this now – mix and mastering engineers are also an important part of the process. They make the song sound good everywhere including streaming platforms, radio, vinyl, headphones and speakers. A lot of mix and mastering engineers are freelance and will have managers that bring them work when they get to a reputable level.

You can do more than one of these roles, often they can fit quite well together and make you a good candidate for lots of jobs. Amplifindr allows people to gain more experience in these roles on a starting level whilst working alongside like-minded creatives.

If you want to join the mailing list to be kept up to date with Amplifindr’s progress or register interest, please send an email to rebekah@amplifindr.co.uk

Introducing Amplifindr: Get local studio time

Thanks for joining me!

I have loved music since my childhood, I’d always enjoyed singing and listening, but I wanted more involvement so once I reached school age I began lessons on the violin and piano. I didn’t know anything about production until I reached 17, I took a music production A-Level by recommendation of my guitar teacher and found that I enjoyed it even more than playing. After sixth form, I went to the Abbey Road Institute to do an Advanced Diploma in Production and Sound Engineering. Upon finishing the course, I interned at Studios 301 in Australia for 2 months and then returned to England to begin working as an assistant at Dean Street Studios where I currently am.

As a young assistant engineer, producer and musician, I have found that many creatives are not getting the exposure they deserve for several reasons. For artists – getting studio time or equipment can be expensive, and knowing how to work it all is another issue entirely. On the other hand, many engineers and producers with setups find themselves working for free to gain clients in the earlier stages (up to 93% according to a survey we sent out), or wish to attain more experience in recording others, but many opportunities in commercial studios such as internships are not feasible.

IMG_5566

Amplifindr is creating a way for everyone to win. Hosts can list their home/small scale recording setups on our website and get paid when artists book time at their spaces (with or without assistance from the host as an engineer and/or producer), whilst also allowing hosts to gain more experience in recording others, build up a client base, and of course – get paid for their time. Simultaneously, we are allowing artists to access recording equipment that they may not have, meet producers and engineers that they could end up working with long term who understand their music and visions, and also have a chance to learn more about recording equipment, workflow and production in general.

Amplifindr is being developed with everyone in mind – we want to see young and new creatives thriving, networking, doing what they love, and getting the recognition they deserve.

If you want to join the mailing list to be kept up to date with Amplifindr’s progress or register interest, please send an email to rebekah@amplifindr.co.uk or use the form on the contact page