This is a (very) beginner tip on baby steps of own music making. Like a post I wish I’d have read when clueless on how people made all the music around – without investing so much money.
So this post is for all the bathroom singers out there who’re pretty good at it and want to try something new.
Do you sing to karaokes or enjoy singing and uploading songs on Smule (and wondered if you could take it a level up)? Ever wondered if the backing track was also made by you? Wanted to completely workaround your favorite song with your personal creativity?
Have you wondered how to spice up your skills a bit?
And do you know how to play a musical instrument? Like guitar? Delicious! (Even if you don’t, it’s okay- read on!)
Many people around do use Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) which are amazing piece of softwares (with a steep learning curve) to mix and edit tracks, add virtual instruments & effects and come up with awesome song covers.
Are you completely new to this but interested? It is a steep learning curve (that I’m yet to take), but I’d be talking on the baby steps. This would be an article I wish I had read when starting this stuff without a clue of where to start at…
I’m not a DAW / music expert, but still everybody starts new right?
So here’s the level up game that I believe can get you 1 step higher in this art.
Well no surprises, the thing I’m talking about is multi track recording. We all have our phone’s audio recorder filled with our singing portfolios of us singing the lyrics alone, but have you ever imagined the possibilities of layering so many recordings together? Like harmonizing alone, adding beats, playing the rhythm and the lead guitar together- all alone, from your bedroom?
And what if I say it’s not too hard as you might think?
So obviously I can guess the next question-
Is it costly?
Well I used to google the basic requirements for recording music at home, and I’m bombarded (and taken aback) by a long list of expensive equipments – condenser microphone, audio interface (what the heck is that I mean)! That list was way costly.
Anyway as a novice beginner I didn’t want to spend money on audio interfaces and studio microphones. And guess what, the earphones saved me. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to invest on that expensive gear just to see if you’ll enjoy music making or not!
Side question- do you have an earphone with microphone? (Preferably ones with the microphone coming on either of the earbud wires). You’ll need it.
So for bare minimum, for this, all you need is an earphone and a PC. Period.
The DAW? This is of my favorites – The open source, free and simple software – Audacity.
Shout-out to the entire community which built and maintains this beautiful piece – you people are awesome!
In case you haven’t heard the name, audacity is a free audio editing tool. It’s not a fully featured Digital Audio Workstation but very simple, doesn’t do fancy stuff, incredible tool for basic audio editing.
Plug in your earphone with mic into the PC, and audacity wouldn’t have a problem reading your mic and playing back through the earphones.
(Tip) in case you cannot place the microphone near the sound source and earphones in the ear at the same time (recording a keyboard for instance) you can buy an audio splitter (which splits the microphone and the speakers – like the good old days) and hire your friend’s or sibling’s earphone! So one goes to the speaker outlet (the earphones) and the hired one goes to the microphone in.
So beside the PC and an earphone, you have zero investment to level up!
And of course the quality won’t be as good as using a USB condenser mic or an audio interface, but for beginning, an earphone will do the job quite well!
So what is Multi Track Recording?
I think the word is self explanatory.
The Wikipedia gives you this – “Multitrack recording (MTR)—also known as multitracking, double tracking, or tracking—is a method of sound recording developed in 1955 that allows for the separate recording of multiple sound sources or of sound sources recorded at different times to create a cohesive whole.”
What it means is you basically can record several tracks, overlay everything together to create your own music. And with the PCs today, anyone can do this at ease from their homes (I guess this could be said like 15 – 20 years earlier as well).
Anyways, with audacity you can record how much ever track you want, pan it around to make it fit exactly where you need the file to be, and finally come up with resutls you’ll be proud of.
I’m not going to give an in-depth tutorial on the software procedure, because you can find plenty in YouTube. But few pointers:
- Once you’ve plugged in the mic and are ready, just click the record button (R on keyboard) to start recording and start singing. It’ll start recording as track one. (Rename tracks for easy identification)
- Important: Clipping. I’ll write about clipping in detail later, but this is basically when your input levels go much higher than what the bits allow (too high voltages in the system). Keep an eye on the input levels (the bar next to mic), adjust the input levels such that it doesn’t go red. Another way to see if your track is clipping is that the individual track wave signals touching the top on the interface. It’ll sound very annoying when you play too. Keep an eye not to clip.
- Tip: When recording, keep mic closer to the source and the mic volume (input level) Low. You’ll reduce the noise in the recording this way.
- Once your first track is completed, go on for the next! Click Record again, and you’ll hear the previously recorded file playing. Sing along/ play the instrument wherever you feel like and fill in the song. Here is why you need an earphone – what you hear is not recorded through microphone!
- Important: here comes a small glitch. I’m talking about Latency. Let’s leave the rocket science, but essentially, there will be slight delay between the new track and the previous track. This is because of some processing difficulties. (This will be very low if you use an audio interface btw). And the software gives you a workaround. You can either 1) adjust the Latency 2) pan the track. Latency could be a long topic and maybe I’ll write about in depth as another article, but for now, just know that you can set in the time delay between the tracks as Latency in audacity and it keeps the new tracks sync. If it sounds difficult, just pan the track, it works fine (just zoom in and pan so that you get good control for synchronizing the track). Also YouTube gives plenty of idea on Latency and adjusting it.
- So once your track is set, go for the next. Play and ensure the timings of all tracks are fine and keep adding next and so on.
- Once all tracks are done, experiment with volumes and panning and see what works. (Congratulations, you’re mixing your first track). And this is the same thing you see audio engineers turning and tweaking that box with lots of sliders and knobs! Note that clipping could occur on the final track even if individual tracks aren’t. Ensure that that annoying clipping noise is not present in the final mix.
- Tip: learn the basics of equalizers. (I’ll write about that too sometime), but there’s already plenty online on youtube so you can learn it. Apply this knowledge and equalize all tracks so you will remove much unwanted noise in your recording.
- That’s pretty much it! Export as an MP3 and Share with your friends or the whole world!
- Tip: learn the software. There are so many effects in this software and try to understand most of them so you have good tools to play with. Then once you feel you’ve got good with Audacity, level up with free DAW like podium or studio one prime. They feature virtual instruments and midi and lots of other features and finer control over your tracks!
Initially you’ll be clueless on what to add, and it’s pure instincts I guess. Do what you feel like, look and learn music for inspiration and you’ll come up with great mixes. I’ll share my usual workflow in another post, but be experimenting! Try what all creative things your head can bring out!
So these are the baby steps into music mixing and stuff, and you’re gonna get hands on so many awesome DAWs and expensive hardwares in this journey and they’re definitely gonna sound far crisp than one recorded with earphones 😉 But I do hope this post gives you some direction in starting off with music making!
I’ll share one of the tracks I recorded using the above technique. It’s a guitar instrumental of ‘Kal ho na ho’. You can listen it here: (link) show some love if this article helped you in some way – subscribe to this blog, follow my social media, and say hi 🙂
Listen to Kal Ho Na Ho (guitar) by Vishnu A Moorthy #np on #SoundCloud