The future of music production has arrived. Introducing the online recording studio!
If you’re stuck at home with all those great ideas in your head, but no idea how to record them properly;
If you wish you had a professional audio engineer by your side to help you set up your home studio;
Or if you’ve already tried recording your music by yourself, but aren’t satisfied with the results you’re getting;
Well, there’s a neat solution to all of these problems. Why not try recording your music online directly into a professional studio?
Provided you have the necessary tech, it is now entirely possible for a recording engineer to record your music REMOTELY through your computer. You don’t even have to leave your room!
Below is a list of everything you need to make it work.
*If you’ve already invested in all the essentials for home recording, you might like to skip directly to number 4.*
1. A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
This is your multi-track recording software. For the purposes of remote recording, you really only need a basic, no frills DAW. There are many to choose from, but ALL of them are capable of recording high quality audio files.
If you are new to home recording and don’t want to splash out on something you’re not sure you’ll need, a free DAW such as Garageband (Mac only) or Presonus Studio One Prime (Mac and Windows) has all the essential features and more!
2. An audio interface
This is the hardware that will connect your microphone or instrument to your computer.
An audio interface converts the analog signals coming from your microphone/ instrument cables into digital signals that a DAW can record as digital audio files.
To record using a microphone, you will need a male-to-female XLR cable.
Connecting a guitar directly to an audio interface simply requires a standard guitar cable.
Nearly all modern audio interfaces can connect directly to your computer via a USB cable without the need for any special adapters.
If you’re recording just one track at a time, it’s fine just to get a simple audio interface with no more than a couple of inputs.
Just a few of the simpler models include the Behringer U-Phoria UM2, the M-Audio M-Track 2x2M, the Focusrite Scarlett 212, the Apogee Duet etc.. Arguably the more you pay, the better hardware (and thus analog to digital conversion quality) you should get. But with good quality components costing less and less to produce, you needn’t pay top dollar for a decent interface. Shop around. There are many to choose from. All should do the job.
If you are recording vocals, you will of course need a proper microphone. The same goes for any acoustic source, such as an acoustic guitar, a piano or percussion.
For best results, consider getting a condenser microphone (and a stand to hold it in). If you’re on a budget, Rode makes decent but affordable ones. Make sure you get one that comes with a pop filter (a layer of fabric that filters out the ‘plosives’ in your singing/ speech). There are also great models by AKG and Neumann, among others.
The microphone built into your computer will NOT produce the best quality recordings.
It also helps to have a simple vocal booth to eliminate unwanted room reflections in your recordings. There are many affordable options here.
And of course, you’ll want at least one microphone stand.
For recording acoustic guitars (or any acoustic instrument), you will ideally want at least one condenser microphone.
This subject is covered comprehensively in this article.
If you are recording electric guitars, there are two approaches you can take:
- Record the sound coming from your amplifier via a microphone. A Shure SM57 dynamic microphone is a good choice, but you can also use a condenser microphone for this if you already have one.
- Recording a DI (Direct Input or Direction Injection) signal straight into the audio interface. If you still want the sound of an ‘amped’ guitar, you can either use FX pedals between the guitar and the interface, or use digital FX plugins in your DAW (either the native ones or third party).
Each approach has its advantages. Some argue you can never beat the sound of a real amplifier (assuming you have a good one). But this assumes you’ve captured a good recording of the sound in the first place!
You may also not have the option of playing your amplifier out loud in your home.
Meanwhile, amp modelling software/ hardware has now advanced to the point that many listeners could not tell you the difference between a real amp and a modelled one.
On the hardware side, the Line 6 Helix, Kemper, Axe-Fx all deliver impressive results.
If you’d prefer to stick with software, Helix has a Native plugin. Amplitube, Guitar Rig and Positive BIAS are other great options as well.
For bass guitar, the DI signal is often pleasing enough to get good results from. But if you’re looking for more grit in your sound, the same options are available for bass recording as for electric guitars.
If you’re recording a MIDI controlling instrument (e.g. electronic keyboards or an electronic drum kit) you can circumvent the interface entirely and just connect the instrument directly to the computer via a USB cable.
Please be aware, if you are connecting your instrument in this way, you will need to use a virtual instrument or sample library in your DAW to be able to ‘trigger’ notes and sounds this way. Garageband has a selection of these built-in.
If you want a greater palette of sounds, consider trying one of the many soft-synths available from Native Instruments. If you want ALL the sounds you can imagine, Omnisphere from Spectrasonics is hard to beat.
What about drums?
Drums can be recorded from home too. However, live drums are probably the most difficult instrument to make a decent recording of. Getting the best results requires a very specific setup of microphones, as well as ensuring the room has certain properties.
It is possible for an audio engineer to turn a bad drum recording into a respectable one, using sample replacement, in which each of the drums is replaced by the sound of a drum recorded under ideal conditions.
You could also technically record an electronic drum kit using MIDI to control drum samples as well.
However, the subject of home drum recording is big enough that it deserves an article to itself, so I will reserve a deeper discussion for another time.
But… it is perfectly doable!
If you’re to be able hear yourself and/or your backing track properly whilst you record, you will need a set of headphones. But even earbuds can work fine.
You should plug your headphones into the headphone output of your audio interface for the best quality monitoring.
Purely for recording purposes, you really don’t need the absolute top spec headphones.
If you want to try mixing music on the other hand, then you might want to consider splashing out. But note that good mixing headphones don’t necessarily make good recording headphones.
Recording headphones should be close-backed to avoid sound spillage into the microphone (such as the backing track or tempo click). Or you can place a pair of noise blocking earmuffs over your earphones for the same results.
Mixing headphones should ideally be open-backed. Using these for recording will increase the ‘bleed’ picked up by the microphones.
Monitors are not essential if you are recording at home on your own. You might want to use them to playback material to yourself or to others present. Or you might find yourself getting ear-fatigue if you’re listening through headphones too much.
But they’re really optional.
This is where the ‘remote engineer’ comes into the picture.
With Zoom, not only can you communicate directly with the recording engineer remotely, but, if you are willing to entrust this individual with your mouse and keyboard, you can actually allow the engineer to CONTROL YOUR DAW REMOTELY.
This means you can effectively have someone taking care of the recording side of things without having to invite anyone into the sanctity of your home.
You don’t have to worry about whether you’ve set up your gear correctly or dialled in your levels right – the engineer will be able to guide you in real-time through any necessary adjustments until everything’s working perfectly.
You don’t have to worry about pressing the record button, or taking care of editing, or figuring out how to do overdubs. It can ALL be done for you.
At a bare minimum, this is all that’s required for the remote recording process. From here on in, the engineer can work through the recording session with you for as long as needed. At the end, they can then export the tracks and send them to him/herself, either for further editing or mixing, or for preparation to be sent elsewhere for further work.
But we can take things further than that. Maybe you don’t want the engineer opening up a browser on your computer and accessing their email from there. It’s a big ask to trust someone to the contents of your computer after all 😉
Well, fret not. It’s actually possible to record from YOUR room directly into the engineer’s DAW without having to hand over the controls.
5. LISTENTO by Audiomovers
LISTENTO is a clever piece of software allows you to stream high quality audio via an internet browser to another computer with minimal latency (down to approximately 0.1s). It is not free, but you should expect the engineer to cover the cost of use for you.
If you choose this method of recording, you will simply need to insert this plugin in the last slot of the stereo buss of your DAW (or the engineer can do it for you’re worried about getting it wrong). The engineer can then setup the ‘receiver’ plugin on their end and record everything directly into THEIR DAW.
Of course, 0.1s is still a latency. If you’re recording onto pre-recorded tracks being held on the engineer’s DAW, this obviously isn’t perfect as the engineer will have to guess how to best sync up the audio. Whilst it’s a very small latency, it could make all the different to messing up your ‘groove’.
If you’re recording all the tracks yourself from scratch, though (say you’re just recording an acoustic guitar and overlaying some vocals), they will still end up in sync with each other, albeit perhaps slightly out with the engineer’s click.
If you and the engineer happen to share the same DAW, there is another solution.
6. Splice Studio
This is a free tool that allows you to sync your DAW session with someone else’s remotely. As long as you and the engineer are using the same DAW, anything that gets recorded on your DAW will show up on theirs. In exactly the same location!
Once again, if you’re not confident in how to sync sessions, this is another aspect the engineer can take care of remotely.
DAW syncing gets around any potential issues that may arise from the latency encountered with using LISTENTO. However, note that it is only compatible with Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Garage Band, Studio One, and FL Studio, so it is not a universal solution.
Hopefully this article will convince you that the options for recording your music professionally are as limitless as your imagination.
If you have any queries about the content in this article, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help.
About the author
Tom MacLean is a musician, composer and audio engineer living near Guildford, England. He is the founder and chief engineer of Twelve Tone Studio, a studio offering complete production services for rock, metal and alternative artists. For more information, visit the Twelve Tone Studio website.