What type of computer and/or DAW should you use.

So you're getting into recording.  Awesome!  Welcome to the club man; we don't have t-shirts, but we have a love for music.

You've got a good instrument, you can sing, after reading the earlier posts you now have a good inexpensive microphone, and now you're debating how to record.  Do you pickup a computer and an audio interface, or do you pickup a digital recording console like a Tascam Portastudio?

Fantastic question!  The answer to this question really depends on

What are you recording and what do you want the finished product to be?

I know guys who record on Portastudios and get fantastic results.  But these are usually old school analog guys who have been doing things the older analog way for 20+ years.  This is my experience, not a blanket statement.  You can do awesome things with Portastudios, but being of the computer and digital age, I find using a computer and a software DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) easier to control.

However, I do love that Portastudios have actual faders and knobs.  This gives you a tactile feel for your mixing.  Which if you're like me, and used to mixing on a board, that does come in handy.  But that's why companies make control surfaces.  There are several out there.  But they're not a necessity, and they cost a bit of money.

Portastudios come in different shapes and sizes, but typically you can record up to 8 sources at one time, and mix within a maximum number of tracks.  This can mean bouncing multiple mixed tracks down into one track to make space.  (Bouncing is like converting or exporting.)  So this can work well for demos, recording practices, and recording live.

But I find getting the effects to work how I want harder than on a computer.  So if you're trying to record for something other than demos and internal band critiquing, I would suggest getting a computer and an interface.

What kind of computer?

In a nutshell...something with a decent amount of power.

Some people swear that you can't do professional audio on anything other than a Mac.  Other people swear that the Mac people are clueless.  Part of the answer here depends on the DAW you choose.  Or, part of the DAW you choose depends on the computer you have.  I've done quite a bit of recording on PCs, and they work.  I also know of multiple studios in my area that use PC based systems, and they put out good stuff.

A couple years ago, the band I was in got invited to Nashville to checkout a national tour group.  We went, and it was a great experience.  First off, the "tour" was a joke.  We didn't join them for the tour, but that's a whole story of it's own.  We did, however, learn tons of great information from real professionals.  Things regarding stage presence, merch table appeal, marketing, distribution, and recording.  The guy on recording was pretty clear with us: "if you want to do a professional recording, and want to have the ability to send your work to another studio to have another engineer help mix it, use a Mac and get Pro Tools."

This hit me hard.  I was working in IT at the time, and I had been a huge PC guy.  But I took his advice and bought a Mac and Pro Tools.  Is my stuff better than before? Yes.  But it's better because I have a better understanding of how things work and I have more practice under my belt.  It's not better because of my Mac.

Things you need to consider here:
  • What's your budget
  • Are you more comfortable on a Mac or a PC
  • Do you already have a fairly high end computer (that's no older than 2-3 years and not running a Celeron processor)
A Windows based PC will work fine.  But you should have a powerful processor (which changes all the time, right now an i5 or i7), plenty of RAM (again, changes all the time, as of now at least 8GB if not 16GB), and a large hard drive.

If you want to spend the money and get a Mac, go for it.  But make sure that you meet the same criteria as the PC.

What kind of DAW?

There are several different DAWs to choose from.  For the most part, all DAWs do the same thing.  They all record audio, mix audio, you can add effects, and you can export or bounce audio out into a listenable format.  Some are easier to use, some are harder to use.  Some have better built in plugins (for effects, eq, compression...), some have a limited set of plugins that aren't very good.

Then you need to think about whether you're using it for mixing recorded audio, electronic MIDI audio, or a mix of the two.  Some are better at different things.
  • Pro Tools is basically the industry standard.  But it's complicated and not the easiest to use.  And it's not the best for MIDI.
  • Cubase comes packaged in with a lot of hardware and is a little easier to use, but I didn't find it as functional (but I didn't spend too much time with it).
  • Reaper is inexpensive, fairly straight forward, and functional.  I've used it a bit.
  • Audacity is free, about as easy to use as they come, and it works.  It might be difficult to get professional grade audio out of it, but it could probably be done.  And hey, it's free!
Like I said earlier, I use Pro Tools.  But I haven't always used Pro Tools.  I personally have used Audacity, Reaper, and I've spent a little bit of time with Cubase.  Pro Tools has a substantial learning curve, Audacity is the easiest, and the others are in-between.

If you are brand new to recording, I would suggest using Audacity (or Rockband on Mac).  Save your money for other needed equipment.  Take some time and learn the basics of recording on the easiest to use recording software.  If you're getting ready to upgrade, check out some of the other options.  But try to pick something that's at your level of expertise.  Don't be afraid to stretch yourself a little bit, but don't do too much too soon.

The reason I say don't stretch too much too soon is simply to keep you doing what you should be...recording and playing music.  That's why we do this, we love music.  So instead of getting super frustrated trying to figure out a complicated piece of software; learn what EQ does, what compression does, what reverb can add when it destroys a mix, delay, and so on.  Learn how to use the tools, rather than the interface that brings you the tools.  When you can use the tools well, and are making good music with them, then think about moving up the chain, if need be.

Play music, record music, love music.  Make something you love.