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PCRECORDING.COM - - Setup pg. 2


Most multitrack software manufacturers have demonstration versions of their products available for download off of the web. For starters, I suggest you check out one of the following:

  1. N-track Studio 2.0, a great shareware program at
  2. Cool Edit Pro, a commercial program at
  3. Cake Walk, another commercial program at
  4. Vegas Pro by Sonic Foundry, a new release from

Again at the risk of sounding like your father - - always read your software manual or readme.txt file first, then install your recording software per its instructions. This will save you considerable amounts of time down the road. Your software should allow you to assign your soundcard for recording and playback. Generally, it will be the properties/preferences tab for your software. Click on it to confirm what your soundcard settings are. Be sure to double-check that the soundcard is set for full-duplex recording and test it if possible. 

Hint: All Soundblaster ISA cards, including the SB 16, the AWE32 and AWE64 series, can operate in full-duplex but are limited to monitoring playback signal at 8-bit resolution during recording. This results in a very noisy signal during playback. It can be quite annoying but only occurs while you are listening as you record additional tracks. When the recording is finished the playback resolution returns to 16-bit fidelity.


MICROPHONE TO MIXER: Plug your microphone into the mixer board. The mixer will have two controls that affect the input strength of the microphone. One is the input volume control and the other is the preamplifier control. Each independently affects the level and tone of the microphone signal but collectively work together as well. Through experimentation you will learn the best settings for each for your particular equipment.

MIXER TO SOUNDCARD: Plug a cable into the "output" jack of the mixer and plug the other end into the "in" jack on the soundcard. Look at the back of your soundcard. It should have, at minimum, a line-in jack, a line-out jack, and a microphone jack. On typical SB compatible multimedia cards the plugs will likely be 1/8" stereo plugs. See Figure 1.4.

Fig. 1.4

On other more advanced soundcards the jacks are either RCA plugs, 1/4" plugs, digital inputs and may be held on a breakout box. See Figure 1.5.
Fig. 1.5

Other cards like the MOTU 2408 are rack-mountable and can have inputs front and back. See Figure 1.6 and 1.7.

Fig 1.6

Fig. 1.7

SOUNDCARD TO MONITOR: Plug a cable into the "out" jack of the soundcard and the other end into either the monitor jack of your mixer or line input on whatever amplifier you are using to monitor the playback. Refer to the graph below to get an idea. Once you have done all of this you are ready to have a go at your first recording. Check out my Recording page for tips on how to get started.

Fire up your software. Get comfortably seated in front of your computer with your microphone on a stand. Plug in your headphones to the monitor channel on your mixer and put them on. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure the bit rate and sample rate of the software matches that of your soundcard. Now, before you jump in headfirst, make sure the system works by doing something very simple - - click on the "record" button and speak/sing for about a minute or so. Did the recording meters respond to your voice? Did the system record your voice? What does it sound like? Next, try recording several additional tracks one on top of the other. Check to see if you can clearly monitor your previous track while you are recording each new track. See if the tracks line-up correctly on your monitor. Are they the same length, etc.?

Now, try mixing down the voice tracks you have recorded to a stereo .wav file. In this way you are familiarizing yourself with the controls and particular protocols of your recording software. After you are comfortable with this process, then break out the instruments. Believe me, this may seem tedious but it will ultimately save you a great deal of time. It simply makes no sense to try to do some serious recording until you are sure the system is working correctly and that you know how to use it.

Hint: Think ahead about what instruments you will use on your song. Each of them will have a unique frequency range. Think about where an instrument sits in the frequency spectrum and try to avoid overlapping their frequencies ranges when your record. For instance, a trebly bass guitar may conflict with the mid-range of your acoustic guitar. Just because an instrument sounds really cool by itself does not mean it will sound good in a mix with other instruments.

Let’s start with an acoustic guitar for our instrument. The following principles apply to all instruments however, including vocals. Be careful about where you place it so you will not introducing other noise. For example, do not put the microphone next to the PC case while trying to record - - it will pick a lot of that noise. Using your headphones with the microphone on, try several positions until you get the sound you like best. Pay attention to the relative levels of frequencies, e.g., bass strings to treble strings.

Ideally, if you have friend with you, you can have them play while you get down on your knees and use your ears to find the "sweet spot" for your instrument. This is where you want to place your microphone. Finding the "sweet spot" before you record is a much better practice than trying to fix the sound later through equalizing the mixdown. After you find the "sweet spot", ensure that your input levels are set correctly. The meters will start with negative numbers and go up to 0, the maximum. Try to set your peak levels between -15 and -5. In digital recording, the greater your input signal is the better your fidelity is. That is, so long as you do not "clip" the signal. Clipping means going up to and beyond the 0 on the meter. Clipping a digital signal usually means a very distorted bad sounding recording.

Hint: For some helpful real world techniques for miking guitars go to Sweetwater Music.

Make sure your monitor speakers are off and that you are monitoring solely through your headphones. Don’t worry if you make a mistake. One of the beauties of DAW’s is that if you don’t like it, you erase it instantly and start over. Click on the record button and play your instrument. You will be able to add tracks as needed for lead guitar, vocals, harmony, or any other instrument you wish. The computer will separately record each track as a separate .wav file. Your system’s power is the only limitation on how many tracks you will ultimately be able to process simultaneously.

After you are done with your tracks, you can mix it down into a single stereo .wav file using the software’s mixer to route the signals and set the levels. There are many advanced techniques but for now keep it simple. Try to get a balance between the tracks you have recorded that sounds good to your ears. Most importantly, have fun!