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Home Studio: A Basic Guide for Beginners and "Stuck"

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An excellent musician with a strong professional background approached one of the ISP labs to record some tracks and seek advice about software to install. Upon seeing the studio and the simplicity with which the computer operated, he uttered a phrase that particularly caught my attention: "Man, I'm stuck in prehistory; I'm 10 years behind in terms of technology." I remember that on other occasions he had explained to me the reluctance he felt towards the idea of setting up his small computer-based recording studio. On this day, I discovered his reasons. I decided to propose this article to the magazine. I believe it could be useful for those of you who feel more comfortable with a pencil than with a computer but want to catch up.

This article is of a basic nature. I don't think advanced users or professionals will find it useful. However, for those of you for whom all this "stuff" sounds like Chinese, or if recording seems confusing, you might find it quite useful. I will try to use simple and clear language for that purpose.

Recording with a computer causes problems and doesn't work well
This is one of the reasons that often discourages people from venturing into the "home studio" experience (calling it a home studio just sounds like cheese). But if we analyze the common mistakes and typical actions that lead to things not working, we'll understand that it's not so complicated.

Many inexperienced users start dabbling with ill-prepared, hardware- and software-deficient home setups. It's normal not to want to spend money before knowing how things will go, but you should consider that if you conduct your tests using outdated, misplaced, inappropriate, or "pirated" materials, the result will likely be dismal. Don't let this discourage you; it's pure logic. Some of these common mistakes include

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I Have a Multi-Purpose Computer

I have an off-the-shelf audio/multimedia card and I'm trying to record with it. Well, these basic cards integrated into desktop (or laptop) computers are more designed to meet multimedia needs like playing mp3s, audio playback in videos, and even some types of interaction with your operating system through audio messages. Very simple recordings and not much else. This hardware (sound card) is generally not prepared for multi-track recordings or to support specific music software. They often lead to latency issues, and the result is usually a failed attempt and frustration.

Solution: It's not a matter of money. You need a device specifically designed for this purpose, which is an audio/MIDI interface compatible with our goals and the music software we intend to use. Currently, there are small (and sometimes very cheap) USB 2.0 or FireWire devices available on the market that you can install immediately. Some affordable options could be M-Audio, Behringer, Terratec, small Digidesign systems, basic Steinberg offerings, and so on. It depends on your budget. You can solve this issue for less than 30 euros to start with.

The Software Doesn't Work Well, It's Confusing, It's in English, It Doesn't Sound. You just can't understand it. If you've made the imprudent move of downloading "pirated" software, there's no need to investigate much about your problem. It's very likely that you got a "hacked" version that's wreaking havoc on your system. It's also possible that you obtained an (illegal) program from ten years ago, and what you're trying to do now wasn't even possible back then.

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Solution: Forget about pirated software. That's our recommendation. It might seem like you're saving money, but the time you'll waste trying to figure out why it's not working is worth more. Buy an original program with its keys and warranty. Start with something simple, cheap, but current, modern, and guaranteed to work. It could be any of the "Little" versions of Cubase, Pro Tools, Cakewalk/Sonar, etc.

So, I Bought a Small Interface and Software from a Music Store, but It Doesn't Sound or Record.

It's important to carefully read how you should connect everything. The basic setup is extremely straightforward.

Solution: Pay close attention to how you should assemble or install the new equipment. Try to ensure that the products you buy come with manuals in Spanish (you should demand it). The interface is usually connected through a simple USB or FireWire (with up-to-date drivers). And to the interface, you'll connect the MIDI and audio. If you have issues, you can join specific forums, like (forums), and try to share your questions.

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The Computer Speakers Sound Terrible

For starters, using them to familiarize yourself and ensure everything sounds okay might work. However, it's crucial to be certain that everything is connected properly before delving into the possibilities of your new software. Later on, it's ideal that you send the audio output from your new interface to self-amplified studio monitors. You'll find them from various brands and prices: Behringer, M-Audio, Roland, Yamaha, Digidesign, Tapco, Mackie, JBL, Genelec, PMC, and a wide range of qualities and prices.

Solution: Add amplified studio monitors.

I've Done Some Experiments, but I'm Not Achieving Much with the Computer

Most likely, if you've managed to get things working properly, you might end up sticking to outdated versions and not fully understanding what you can achieve nowadays. Some users still have the MIDI mindset of a decade ago. They also hold onto an outdated idea of work due to the use of prehistoric software.

Solution: If you're starting out, it's a good idea to work with basic, simple, small programs. This way, you can gradually become familiar with the tools without feeling overwhelmed. Today's technology is incredibly powerful for achieving fantastic results. The significant improvements in modern computers' performance have led to the development of virtual instruments, samplers, loop tools, instrument and track tuning tools, speed adjustments, precise MIDI editing, notation, audio files, and much more. Get to know each possibility gradually and gradually increase your toolkit. But read. Stay up to date and learn about what's new. In the world of computers, what was relevant six months ago, not just in music, is generally considered outdated.

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We could delve into many more concepts. However, this guide aims to help those who have tried but become discouraged due to the lack of minimally motivating results. If this is your case, follow these tips. You'll start to see that it does work, and it's amazing. You'll learn and find yourself needing to upgrade your equipment more and more each day. Then you'll be prepared to learn more about microphones, preamps, different types of monitors, specific virtual instruments, mixing, signal processing, mastering, control surfaces, multi-monitor setups, talkback systems, and an endless list of other things.

So instead of going to a friend's house one day and being amazed at how their computer setup sounds and what they can do, you'll have that same experience live in your own home studio.



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