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Home » Arts & Entertainment, Music, Technology

Recording on a budget?

By: 1 June 2010 4 Comments

Just a few years ago, recording music at home was a bit costly.

Even a low-dollar operation typically required a four-track recorder, a decent amplifier (make that two for both guitar and bass tracks) and at least a few effects pedals to grab just the right “sound.” All of that gear ran into some money, of course, and some found the cost prohibitive.

These days, things have gotten considerably less expensive. In fact, the home recorder can get by with just a computer (most people have a decent one sitting around, anyway), a Behringer guitar link, a software drum machine, some effects and a mixer that allows one to record and edit tracks and output them to a file.

The good news is that most of that stuff is free. Yes, professionals can spend thousands of dollars setting up a computer-based recording studio, but folks who just want to sketch out ideas and make recordings that sound pretty good can get by on a very small investment.

About the only thing the home recorder must buy is the aforementioned Behringer guitar link.That device costs around $40 and is a simple unit that allows one to connect an instrument cable through a computer’s USB port. It should be mentioned that the only way to monitor tracks through the recording process is through a set of headphones that also plug into the guitar link, but most people have a pair of those around somewhere, right?

For those wanting to record vocals, things get a bit more expensive. Fortunately, a great USB microphone — the Blue Snowball— costs around $70 and is well worth the money.

Honestly, that’s about all the hardware you need. The software that allows one to record those works of art is, fortunately, all free. Sure, you can buy amplifier packages, drum machines, mixers and all of that, but you’d be amazed at all the great stuff out there that doesn’t cost a dime. Besides, why worry about spending money on gear unless you’re a professional?

A great mixer is the Kristal Audio Engine, which allows up to 16 tracks at the same time and doesn’t push a computer too hard. Recording and mixing tracks is a breeze with Kristal, and it even allows one to bring in files such as drum tracks.

Speaking of drum tracks, the  HammerHead Rhythm Station is a great software drum machine that’s easy to program and features enough samples through “user banks” to provide plenty of percussion. Sure, it’s more than a bit limited, but it’s more than good enough for most people working through tracks at home.

Of course, you’ve got to have plenty of effects for recording guitar tracks, right? Fortunately, there are a lot of very good amp modelers out there for free. There are a lot of great effects out there (just pull up that Google search engine and type in “free VST effects” if you want proof), but some good packages to start with include the SimulAnalog Guitar Suite (the Marshall JCM900 Twin Reverb model is particularly great) and Acme Bar Gig has a lot of great stuff.

Oh, and there’s one more software package you’ll need — Audacity. While Kristal is great for recording and editing tracks, it lacks the ability to export anything to MP3 files. Audacity can do that (with the right plug-in, of course — just follow the documentation). Furthermore, a great tactic to use with HammerHead is to program in a drum pattern, stream it to a file, then open that file with Audacity and repeat the pattern it as much as you’d like.

Want to hear how all of this comes together? Just click the below link to hear a simple track I put together with my setup at home using a a cheap bass and a Fender Deluxe Stratocaster for the rhythm and lead guitar parts:


About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • Donnie Pitchford said:

    Interesting! I just bought a Samson G-Track USB microphone to do some voice and radio work. Drop that Stratocaster in the mail and let me try it out – ha ha!

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Ouch! Can’t mail the Strat — I’d go through withdrawal!

  • Styrofoam Sheets  said:

    A4tech ang Genius both makes cheap but great performing usb microphones*-*

  • Halogen Cooker · said:

    the usb microphone that i use is made by Creative, this is a really nice usb microphone ;'”

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