Updated: Nov 9, 2021
In this article, I will give you a concise crash course on the basics of recording. The purpose of this article is to help my clients and the online community express themselves with the best possible sound quality. We will break it down to three categories: equipment, acoustics, and recording.
Microphone - captures the sound of your voice. Popular mics are usually in two categories: dynamic mics and large diaphragm condenser mics. Dynamic mics, such as the Shure SM7B, are a great choice because they are cost effective and rugged. Large diaphragm condensers like the Audio Technica 4040 are popular because they have a high fidelity sound. This can be a drawback, however, if your environment is noisy.
Audio Interface - connects to you computer, speaker and microphones and converts audio from analog to digital and vice versa. This allows you to record audio from your microphone and save it to your computer hard drive using software. This also allows you to play audio from your computer and hear it through speakers and headphones.
Computer - runs digital audio workstation software and saves audio to your hard drive. Both Windows and Mac are suitable for recording.
Software - digital audio workstation software, or DAWs allow you to record and edit audio. There are numerous free and paid options that are all more that suitable for recording. These include: Garage Band, Logic, Reaper, Audacity, Adobe Audition, Pro Tools, etc. Many programs now have monthly subscriptions, free or light versions, and trail periods. DAWs are distinguished from one another by their user interface, price, features, practical applications, and reliability.
Accessories - namely, cables, speakers, and headphones. You will need an XLR cable to connect your microphone to the interface. Speakers and/or headphones are a great investment to hear what you have recorded. With headphones, you can actually hear yourself while you are recording. Beyerdynamic, Audio Technica, and Sennheiser make fantastic headphones.
Acoustics & Environment
Acoustics is a fascinating field and is often misunderstood. For the purposes of this article, we won't be going into great detail but just outlining some considerations related to recording voice.
Record in a room that has relatively low outside noise from appliances, windows, etc.
Do not record in a room that has lots of reverberation like an empty garage.
Acoustic Treatment, often misconstrued with "Sound Proofing" is wood/fabric/insulation/foam material hung up on walls and ceilings to mitigate reverberation caused by hard surfaces. This is an amazing investment and one of the most important aspects of recording.
A common misconception is that acoustic treatment will help lower outside noise, or lower the amount of noise that is heard from outside. Aka "sound proofing", to avoid upsetting the neighbors. This is unfortunately not possible unless you build walls with concrete and insulation.
Microphone Proximity Effect - when you record your voice, the proximity from your mouth to the mic has a great effect on the sound. It will usually have much more bass the closer you are. It is generally recommended to be about six inches from the mic as a starting point.
Microphone Gain Level - the audio interface always has a gain knob that essentially controls the volume that the mic is capturing. If this knob is set too low, everything will be too quiet. Set too high, and the audio will sound distorted. The best way to go is to make sure that your volume level is a strong signal in the green or in the middle of the meter. Anything orange or red is too loud. And you don't want it to be too quiet either, because boosting up the volume after the fact will also boost all the background noise and is undesirable.
Sample Rate - this is a parameter adjusted in your DAW's preferences and when you bounce or export your audio after recording. The sample rate dictates the the resolution of the audio and the difference is not perceivable by humans beyond 44.1k. Usually music works with 44.1k and film works with 48k. I recommend staying with 44.1k if you have long audio files because it will take up less disk space!