Home Recording Basics: 1 – Getting set up

So, you want to record yourself, your band, or someone else at home. You have never recorded anything on a computer and are not sure where to start. The first thing you want to do is ignore everything complex and simply try to get used to the idea of recording on a computer. This article is for you and will walk you through the process of installing your home recording software all the way to recording your first few tracks.

Step 1: Home recording software – The DAW

If you want to do some home recording you are going to need a DAW. The term DAW is an acronym for Digital Audio Workstation, but what does that mean? A DAW is nothing more than a computer with some recording studio software installed. There are plenty of packages to choose from (some are outlined here) but our goal today is to get you started without having to visit a store or spend any money.

Head over to Cockos.com to download and install REAPER. This is home recording software that will turn your computer into a DAW. REAPER is the perfect software for testing the home recording process.

REAPER Other DAW software
…demo is fully functional to educate you and encourage purchase. …demo is crippled with limited features to frustrate you and force a purchase. That is IF they even have a demo.
…demo includes fully functional effects. …demo effects are crippled.
…has features which go head to head with Pro Tools. …have prices that go head to head with Pro Tools.
…small download/install size is indication of efficient coding practices to get more performance out of your computer and giving you more tracks before meltdown. …huge download/install size is an indication of less efficient coding practices putting more load on your computer and giving you less tracks before meltdown.
…has system requirements less than half most other packages. Got a 500mhz computer? It is probably good enough for REAPER! …have steep system requirements that limit them to new (expensive) computers only.
…is easy to use. …some are easy to use.
…is very affordable, won’t cost an arm and a leg if you decide to purchase a license. Do you really need both arms?

You are free to try out any home recording software you please and this is encouraged. Every DAW has it’s own methodology and you want to find the one that most closely matches the way you think about recording. We are going to stick with REAPER for this tutorial though, so go ahead and get it installed.

Step 2: Soundcard setup

Most modern computers come with a soundcard that is good enough to get started with home recording. There are a few exceptions, and my heart goes out to you if your machine is one of them… The general requirements for doing some home recording are:

  • soundcard has a stereo line in
  • soundcard has a mono mic in
  • soundcard is full duplex (this means it can record and play back at the same time)
  • soundcard lets you hear the input over connected speakers or headphones

Open your REAPER software. You may be presented with a few dialogs asking about new projects or showing information. Just close them all as we will cover those in the next step. Go to the Options menu at the top and choose Preferences at the very bottom of that menu.

REAPER soundcard configuration

  1. Under the Audio category click on Device
  2. Choosing the right Audio System might take a few tries to find your soundcard but DirectSound will probably show your built in Windows soundcard.
  3. Choose your soundcard here. I have a SoundBlaster Audigy in my machine so that is what I have chosen.
  4. Choose the same soundcard here that you picked in the previous step.
  5. The Sample Format and all the settings below it will probably come up this way by default. Feel free to experiment with the settings but for now the defaults should be fine.

You may notice the latency information at the bottom showing I have 185ms of latency. Other home recording “experts” on the internet will probably tell you this is unacceptable and that there is “no possible way” you can record with latency that high. Well, they are wrong. Look here if you are curious about the subject of latency and why we don’t care.

Now we need to get the soundcard mixer configured for recording. Open it by double-clicking on the little speaker next to your system clock.

windows soundcard mixer icon

The Windows mixer will open on the playback controls for your soundcard. Make sure the playback channel is not muted for the channel you are recording on and muted for the other input channels. In the screenshot below you will see I have made sure my Line-In is not muted and the Microphone in is muted because I am going to record the Line-In.

windows mixer for playback

Next go to the Options menu and choose Properties. Change to Adjust volume for Recording. At the bottom you will see some various inputs listed. You will likely see a lot more than you expected. Don’t worry about all the extra stuff, just make sure your microphone and line inputs are selected.

configure the recording channels

The next screen is probably the most confusing part of the process due to non-standard terminology. You may need some trial and error to find the right combination of settings. The goal is to make sure the channel you want to record on is selected and the volume is up. From the configuration screen above we can see the Analog Mix controls the Line input so that is the one we want to turn on and turn up.

soundcard recording configuration

You can see I have activated the Select checkbox for the Analog Mix channel because on my soundcard that is where the line input is controlled from. Notice the button labeled Advanced below the Select control. Be sure to click that and see what is there. The Advanced controls for my soundcard reveal a setting to Record Without Monitoring which is definitely not what we want. That would mean we can not hear the track we are recording while we record it! It may not seem to make a lot of sense but if you are using an external mixer it might be what you want.

Now your computer is configured to operate as a DAW and you are ready to create your first project! This is covered in the next article, Home Recording Basics: 2 – Creating a project.

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4 Responses to “Home Recording Basics: 1 – Getting set up”

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  1. Fernando says:

    hi there.
    thank you for your useful site.
    I am new to reaper and just found very useful your site. when trying to configurate the soundcard mixer, under the volume for recording, I do not get all the options you get. Is this due to my soundcard? (i just use windows xp). Will this imply a problem?
    thanks a lot

  2. bvesco says:

    Yeah, each soundcard can have a different list of possible inputs. Use the ones that work for your soundcard.

  3. Jimmy says:

    Great article! However, I’m running Windows 7 on my laptop. Most of those sound menu items I remember in XP, but they’re gone on 7. The only thing I need to do is make my default recording device the “Stereo Mix” (soundcard) instead of “Microphone”. Are you running 7 yet?

  4. bvesco says:

    No Win 7 for me yet. I’ll probably hold off for a few more years. XP is just fine.