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So how do you even get started with all this?

Discussion in 'Home Recording Studio' started by velvet_man, Sep 10, 2018.

  1. velvet_man

    velvet_man Strat-O-Master

    Sep 7, 2016
    TL;DR: I'm a total noob at this and could use a pointer to some good tutorials on where to get started, especially with particular reference to Garageband since that's what I have access to.

    OK, this is going to be long, so I apologize.

    I've been trying to cobble something together in Garageband for a couple of weeks now, and it's sounding sort of OK but nowhere near good. And I'm finding I'm just running into more questions all the time, and all of the tutorials and things I've found online haven't been all that helpful. I tried searching this forum to see if there was anything already posted about how to get started, but I couldn't find anything.

    So, how do I get started with home recording?

    Right now, I have a Macbook Pro with Garageband that seems to be able to do what I need, though I don't know how to do most of it. I also have an amp with USB out, which lets me record even if it's taking me a while to figure out how to get a decent sound recorded. I had been using this very basic setup, and I used the octaver Garageband to add a bass line with my guitar, and I used the built-in drummer (this "drummer" named Jesse seems to be doing an OK job holding down a beat for me) to add a beat.

    So I get some stuff recorded, hit play and it's all out of whack volumewise. So I adjust the volume sliders on each track to get it sounding somewhat good. Then I'm working on it later that night, so I plug some in headphones, and now it sounds all out of whack again. So I readjust the sliders and it sounds good. Unplug the headphones, sounds like crap again. And so on...

    I'm guessing this is because I'm using cheap headphones and the built-in speakers in the laptop. So first question I have is, what's the best bang for your buck on monitoring headphones? How much do I realistically have to spend for something good enough ("good enough" being the key—I don't need the best, high end ridiculously expensive stuff).

    My other most pressing question is how to get a decent guitar sound through the USB. I posted about this before, but I think I found part of the problem. I had thought that I would get the sound from my amp sent straight to Garageband, but I noticed recently that Garageband seems to automatically select one of its "amps" to run my signal through. So my overdriven amp signal was getting fed into Garageband's Vox model, which was adding it's own gain, low, mid, and treble adjustments to the sound.

    I remember reading in my amp's manual that it has a re-amping mode, which sounds like it would just send an untouched signal to Garageband. Is that right, and would that be the best option? One caveat with that is that Blackstar hasn't released new Mac drivers for it's Insider software in about two years, so I can't actually change the amp into re-amping mode at the moment. So is there a way to get Garageband to stop running it through one of their amp models, or would I be best off setting my amp as clean as possible and doing all processing in Garageband?

    And once I get that sorted out and get what I have recorded sounding a little better, how do you even go about mixing and mastering? Do you have to use different software for that, or can it be done in Garageband, too? I've seen some people mention getting other people to mix and master for them. Is that expensive? Where do you find people who can do that? Is it better to just bite the bullet and learn how to do it yourself?

    Of course, this is only scratching the surface, thus my initial question about a good, simple tutorial on how to get started with all of this. The last time I asked a question on this forum, people were responding with things like "run a high pass filter" or "put an IR in your signal". I don't know what any of that means. So really technical or jargony responses aren't going to help much.

    Last edited: Sep 10, 2018
    Mansonienne likes this.
  2. stratobiker

    stratobiker Senior Stratmaster

    Sep 16, 2011
    Sounds like you’ e made a great start, and probably learned a lot already.

    I would say the next step for you would be to get some proper studio monitors. Mixing through headphones, even good ones is always second best, and pc speakers or hi fi speakers colour the sound too much.

    You can mix and master yourself. The number 1 tip is to use a reference mix. So have a mix of something that you really like, and keep it handy so that you can A B it against your mix.

    Have fun! :cool:
    RichieS, simoncroft and velvet_man like this.
  3. Lonn

    Lonn Mod Admin Staff Member Strat-Talk Supporter

    Admin Post
    Again, what is TL;DR?
    Paperback Rocker likes this.
  4. hawk_eye

    hawk_eye Strat-Talk Member

    Mar 28, 2009
    Bristol, UK
    Too Long, Didn’t Read
    simoncroft likes this.
  5. Thrup'ny Bit

    Thrup'ny Bit Grand Master Curmudgeon Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 21, 2010
    Too long; Didn't read.
    simoncroft likes this.
  6. Dadocaster

    Dadocaster Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

    You show great promise as an audio engineer. Takes a lot of us a long to to grasp that mixes do not necessarily "translate" from device to device on playback. That's normal. You have to do mixes and listen on different devices to figure out what works. Using reference tracks, music that you know sounds great and is mixed great, can give you a starting point to figure out how your monitors sound.

    It's usually not a great idea to mix with headphones.

    I can't answer your questions regarding Garage band and your amp but the old fall back is to stick a mic in front of your amp if you like the sound. :D
  7. alderre

    alderre Strat-O-Master

    May 1, 2014
    New Braunfels
    People, put your TL/DR After the long explanation. This way those who Did Not Read can get the gist. So TL/DR at the end.

    TL/DR also work for the beginning of. Replies if you skipped most of the encyclopedia the guy wrote.

    Things have meaning right? How can we communicate if we just change it from year to year.
  8. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    Im on my phone, and tapping keys is too tedious for a fully detailed answer to everything you’ve asked, but heres a couple things.

    Get a decent pair of studio monitors.
    You dont have to break the bank, but get a decent set. Figure about $300 for the pair, and get a model with XLR inputs.
    You want a clean flat response monitor, so keep that in mind when shopping.
    *Hint - I use JBL LSR305 and love them.

    Youll also need an interface because even though your amp feeds the Mac via usb, youll need to connect to the monitors.

    You're feeding your guitar into the wrong type track in Garageband.
    You are using a guitar track, which seems like the obvious choice, but what you want is an audio track.
    If I remember right, its the icon with the mic on the track select window.

    We can talk about reamping and mixing later.
    Learn to walk before you run ;) and welcome to the insanely addictive world of home recording :thumb:
  9. velvet_man

    velvet_man Strat-O-Master

    Sep 7, 2016
    As someone who's read more than a couple huge walls of text only to find a TL;DR at the end, I kind of prefer the idea of putting them right up front so you can see it and decide if you want more details or just want to move on.

    Thanks for the tip about using the guitar track in GB. I can't believe it was something so simple that's been driving me nuts for months! I'll try using the proper track to record something report back.

    As for the monitors and interface, I was afraid that would be the answer. A pair of $60-$80 headphones wouldn't raise any eyebrows, but a set of monitors and an interface is going to run a few hundred, so I'll probably have to buy the wife some jewelry to make up for that. This is getting expensive quick!

    Looking on my local CL, I see the following monitors for decent prices. Any of them any good?

    - Yorkville YSM-1 (pair for $100) -

    - M-Audio Bx8 (pair for $100) -

    - Mackie MR5 MK2 (pair for $200) -

    - Amazon also has a Mackie CR4 pair for $185 and pair of PreSonus Eris E4.5s for $269.

    I think the others I've seen are a little more than I'd want to spend.

    As for the interface, I see a lot of Focusrite Scarlett stuff come up on CL. Are they good? Are there others that I should look into?
    TheDuck likes this.
  10. CalicoSkies

    CalicoSkies Senior Stratmaster

    Jun 10, 2013
    Hillsboro, OR, USA
    In the way it's used as a disclaimer sometimes, could it also mean "Too long, don't read"? As in the shortened version.
    velvet_man likes this.
  11. Chont

    Chont Most Honored Senior Member

    Sep 25, 2012
    been a while since I used Garage band on a Mac but on my phone if i use the "Audio Track" on a track It won't put an "Amp" on it.

    One trick I learned in the studio I worked at many years ago too was to double track (and more if you so Desire) your rythm guitar tracks. So record a take and pan it left, record another playing it as close as possible and pan that right. Thickens it up nicely and and adds a nice natural chorusing effect.

    Get yourself an audio interface too. Will make your world a lot easier. Garage Band is a great tool.

    Good luck

    Edit... Sorry... looks like the Duck already pointed out the "Audio Track" bit.
    velvet_man and TheDuck like this.
  12. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    @velvet_man - Do not, I repeat DO NOT buy used monitors from Craigslist!
    Ok, sorry, didnt mean to yell, :eek: but for the love of all things audio, dont buy used monitors. Especially from CL.
    Monitors are very sensitive, and something as simple as an incorrect connection can fry them.

    If you are going to make the investment, but from a store / website with a good return policy, and though I never recommend extended warranties, you might want to protect your investment.

    You can get a Behringer interface for about $30. Amazon, Guitar Center, everyone has them. They are a "clone" of the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, which is $100 retail and a great interface that comes with some killer plug ins and software.

    Amazon Basics has good quality XLR cables cheap, I mean really cheap. I paid $7 each for mine.

    You'll want an XLR connection from your interface to your monitors. XLR cables are balanced, have a better signal to noise ratio , and are clearer than a 1/4" plug or (gag) RCA connections.

    Also, if you plan on sitting near your monitors, within say, four feet or so, you want to look into near field monitors.
    Also, dont get lured into the "bigger woofer is better" sales pitch. My monitors have 5" woofers and easily fill my 14'x14' room, with enough bass for everything except possibly hard core Rap or Electro-dance music. But then again, thats not really music :cool:
    Quality over quantity is the rule here.

    Yea, it can get a bit pricey initially to get yourself set up, but compared to your Macbook Pro, these items are a bargain :thumb:

    Oh, and dont forget to budget in the $299 for Logic Pro X, which you will definitely want after you "outgrow" Garageband ;)
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
    Tone Deaf and velvet_man like this.
  13. simoncroft

    simoncroft Dr. Stratster Strat-Talk Supporter

    May 30, 2013
    SE England
    All your questions are sensible ones, so I'm sure you'll get to where you want to be, with time and practice. I've been jumped though much the same hoops over the years, and I can assure you that your earliest recordings won't be your best ones!

    If you want to get a better pair of headphones, I can recommend AKG and Sennheiser as brands that tends to have a relatively uncoloured sound. Which models you consider is very much down to budget, but I've nearly always headphones from those two brands to be excellent for the price points they occupy.

    Vocal recordings are best done with sealed-back headphones, so the backing track doesn't 'spill' into the mic and spoil the quality of your recording with a tinny version of your track playing behind your vocal takes.

    However, if vocal recordings aren't a big priority to you, you'll get a more open and natural sound from open-back headphones. Yes, there is a little 'spill' but they are generally a better bet if you are seeking a faithful rendition of your mix. At this point, it's probably worth talking about what 'monitors' should and shouldn't be doing for you.

    There are some monitor speakers that make dance music sound dynamic and exciting. While this kind of monitor might make sense to DJs who are certain their music will be played back through this kind of system, it can be a dangerous approach. After all, it's the mix engineer's job (that's you :)) to make the music sound great. A set of speakers that flatter your efforts are likely to lead to disappointment when you play your mixes on other systems.

    I'd suggest you buy a pair of speakers that sound as neutral and true as is possible for your budget. I'm currently using a pair of B&W 602 hi-fi speakers in my music room, mounted on very solid stands that allow me to align the tweeters with my ears. They are 'passive' speakers, meaning that I have a separate amp between my Focusrite audio interface and the speakers.

    Powered monitors, that require no separate amp, are a completely valid way to go. But read plenty of reviews before you make a short-list of the models that might suit you. Calling a small pair of speakers 'monitors' doesn't mean they're very good! Once you have a short-list, please go and listen to your potential purchase. If you've already chosen your headphones, take them with you and compare how the music sounds though speakers and headphones. You will make less errors of judgement if they are telling you about the same story!

    (I used to mix on a pair of Gale 402 speakers, and made the serious error of attempting to mix late one night on a pair of Beyer DT100 headphones, which are designed for minimum spill, not accurate response. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... :oops:)

    It's really important to put your monitor speakers on stands, not a desk. Otherwise, you'll be listening to all the audio quality a desk can deliver, which is not a lot. Seriously, the audio performance you've invested in will be compromised.

    I'll write more later, but it's time for me to put the dinner on. :thumb:
    stratobiker, TheDuck and velvet_man like this.
  14. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    Great info as always from @simoncroft

    He is right about a desk coloring your sound, but in my opinion, you can wait on the stands.
    Get them of course, but if youre on a budget, (and who isn't) that is a purchase that can be made later on down the road.

    I use mine on a computer table, about 1 foot from the wall, theyre clised back monitors and they work just fine in that scenario.

    There’s a picture of my set up somewhere in the home recording forums, if you can find it, you’ll see that it’s not nearly as complex as it sounds
    stratobiker and velvet_man like this.
  15. velvet_man

    velvet_man Strat-O-Master

    Sep 7, 2016
    Thanks for all the great info @TheDuck and @simoncroft! :thumb:

    When I was looking at monitors on Amazon, they were showing ads for isolation pads that go under the speakers, supposedly to prevent the desk sound transfer Simon mentioned. Are they worth the $12?

    Also, does Logic really do a lot more than Garageband? Garageband was free, so that's hard to beat. What about the free version of Pro Tools. Is that worth trying out?

    And yes, I know the Macbook Pro is an (overly) expensive piece of kit. When I got it, I needed a new computer for work, so I could have gotten a $500 PC laptop and spent about $1000 on all the software I needed (Adobe Creative Suite and MS Office plus a few other odds and ends), or get a Mac for $1500 and get all the software for free from work. I decided to take the chance on the Mac since Windows annoyances had already driven me to Linux on previous computer.
    stratobiker likes this.
  16. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    Most welcome @velvet_man

    I dont use isolation pads, but some folks wont record without them.

    Linux? Hmmm...
    Im about done with Mac, but thats another story.
    My next OS destination is Linux. Ill keep a Windows partition for work (Adobe CC) and recording (Pro Tools) and Linux for everything else.

    Logic is a whole other level compared to Garageband, as it should be, seeing as GB is free.
    That doesnt take away from GB though, its a great DAW to get your feet wet in home recording.
    You will eventually be annoyed by its limitations, but thats not something to worry about now.

    The free version of Pro Tools is called Pro Tools | First. Its a very good, yet very limited version of PT12.

    If you are considering going with Pro Tools in the future, try First, its a great taste of the PT universe.
    If not, dont bother. As theres a steep learning curve and if you arent considering making PT your full time DAW, it isnt worth the time investment.
    velvet_man likes this.
  17. sam_in_cali

    sam_in_cali Scream for me Strat-Talk! Strat-Talk Supporter

    Feb 21, 2014
    Santa Maria, CA
    Not to hi-jack this thread but I have a question on DAWs and plugins....I've been interested in the new Fortin Nameless Suite amp sim plugin but unsure if that would work with Amplitube or Garageband? I've been using Amplitube3 and its own amp/can/effects sims but wasnt sure if it would accept any outside "VST" software??
  18. Chont

    Chont Most Honored Senior Member

    Sep 25, 2012
    If I were in your shoes I'd spend the money on the interface and monitors and stick with Garageband to start out with. If you're just looking to get into tracking and basic mixing its fine. When you get into more complex mixes (automation, routing, grouping, FX sends etc.) or editing, you may want to look elsewhere. I come from a Protools background and that being really the only software I used, it made it a little difficult to get used to other Applications I've tried in the past. I made my money as an audio editor and I had to be able to work very fast to keep on deadlines and Protools is extremely user friendly for editing. Other apps seemed to work great for Music/Mixing and obviously that's what you're in it for so I'd learn the basics on GB and then download trials of other apps to see what they offer.
  19. TheDuck

    TheDuck Most Honored Senior Member

    Jan 12, 2016
    Lil' Rhody
    A3 stand alone wont run plug ins.
    You can combine the A3 VST/AU with other plug ins in your DAW, including Garageband.

    If you multitrack your guitars you might find GB a bit clunky and hard on your machines RAM., as GB doesnt use AUX I/O.
    I should say it didnt when I last used GB, though that was a few years ago.

    Other than that, it should work as intended.
    velvet_man and sam_in_cali like this.
  20. Paperback Rocker

    Paperback Rocker Nitro-mancer Strat-Talk Supporter

    Sep 18, 2014
    Lewisville, TX
    Shouldn't the people responding to the OP's wall of text be the ones saying TL/DR?