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dumbteenth's avatar

I would like to record layers of guitar, bass and drums over each other for as free/cheap as possible. How?

Asked by dumbteenth (205points) September 4th, 2010

I’ve been playing guitar, bass, drums and piano for years and years and have dreamt up so many songs and melodies but have never made them happen. I feel like they are going to waste and I need to start recording them.

I’ve dabbled in recording on a tape recorder, and then playing it back and playing over it while recording on to a seperate recorder (old school!). What is the cheapest and most efficient computer software equivalent of this? Is there a free (open source maybe) version? I don’t care if it sounds crappy – I don’t need professional quality recordings and I even sort of like the lo-fi sound. I just need a way to record layers of guitar, bass and drums onto a computer so I can get these songs out of my head and on recording. Preferably in MP3 format so I can send to singer friends to sing over.

Note: I do not own a mac – I REPEAT – I DO NOT OWN A MAC – and I likely will not be buying one any time soon, or at least not in a few months. Sorry for those who were gonna be like “dude, get a mac!” and then pat themselves on the back. I want to know what the cheapest and easiest and best (trifecta) recording software is out there.

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12 Answers

GeorgeGee's avatar

The free program Audacity is good for multi-track recording. You’ll need a good microphone plugged into your computer’s sound card microphone input.

TexasDude's avatar

Does your computer have a built in microphone?

If so, download Audacity.

DeanV's avatar

The drums are going to be impossible to record well without an interface and some drum mics.
Just putting that out there.

Otherwise, I’d invest in a good audio interface (essentially a high quality soundcard with ¼ inch guitar and mic inputs), one or two mics, and something called a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), examples being Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Logic, Reason, etc.

Recording from your computers microphone into Audacity won’t be lo-fi, it’ll just be crap.

blah_blah's avatar

I’m in camp Audacity. It will sound like shit but it is free and will work.

dumbteenth's avatar

Thanks so much guys, looks like it’s going to be Audacity. Had no clue about it. As for the drums sounding like shit, that’s okay – I sort of just want the drums to be a fuzzy background element, they don’t need to be crystal clear.

Matter of fact the whole thing can sound fuzzy, I like it that way and that’s how I envision a lot of my songs.

Pistol's avatar

I think for not too much money, you could try a tascam recorder. A friend of mine recently got married and wrote and recorded his own song for his wife on this tascam recorder link and played it at the wedding. It sounded really good! You can record up to 4 separate tracks and its good quality!

As for the drums I think you could get a passible recording with a mic attached to the tascam.

the100thmonkey's avatar

It all depends on the kind of instrument and whether or not you’re prepared to pay for hardware.

You can actually put together a reasonable setup for less than $300. The large majority of that will go on a PCI/PCI-E soundcard for your computer. You can get away with onboard sound, but the difference in quality is amazing.

For electric guitar-plugged-straight-into-soundcard, you’ll need to correct for the impedance differences between the circuits – a preamp.

For acoustic guitar to sound good, you’ll need a decent guitar mic.

I don’t know much about recording drums, but you’ll still need a decent mic setup to capture it – I don’t think you really took in just what “it’ll sound crap” means; there’s no other way about it, it will just sound crap. The issue will be the range captured by the microphone. The biases on the mic will be reflected in the recording, and then you have to take the relative distances between each individual piece of the drumkit and the mic. Soundwave amplitude is governed by the inverse square law, so positioning of the microphone will be very important given the relative position of each drum to the microphone and the frequency response of the microphone. It won’t sound “lo-fi”, it will just sound crap.

You could record each part of the drum pattern individually and then balance them using Audacity (and a lot of time, unless you’re a metronomic drummer)

It’s a lot easier to get well-recorded acoustic tracks to sound lo-fi than it is to get poorly recorded tracks to sound acceptable.

DeanV's avatar

I agree with @the100thmonkey. By “sound crap” I don’t mean lo-fi. I mean intermittent cutting out of audio, obnoxious overtones, and painful quality all around. Isolating it in the background or covering it with guitar wouldn’t really do much for it.
For at least the drums I’d look into a USB microphone if you don’t plan on adding anything else to your setup, otherwise Musicians Friend has some cheap Recording Packages which would come with an interface, a microphone, and a DAW a little more powerful and versatile than Audacity.

Do try the recording the drums with your current setup, though. It’s always been absolutely terrible on my computer, but yours may be a exception. If you don’t have a mic or anything right now, though, I’d be happy to record my drums through my computer for you to hear.

dumbteenth's avatar

Oh my god guys audacity is great. Been playing with it for an hour now. Not high quality, you’re right @dverhey but this is a great way to jot mental music-notes down before I step up to the next level.

the100thmonkey's avatar

Audacity is very good as a basic audio editor.

I’ve never used it for anything else, though, so I can’t comment on how it scales up to more demanding applications.

DeanV's avatar

@dumbteenth Actually, I wouldn’t say Audacity is most of the recording issue, I’d say it’s whatever mic you’re using, especially if you’re using the onboard one on your computer. Audacity has had pretty decent quality in my findings.

Also, if you find Audacity isn’t quite feature heavy enough, Tracktion is pretty awesome for some simple recording. It’s really inexpensive as well. I’d just recommend that if you are going to get serious about recording you eventually move on to something other than Audacity like Pro Tools, Ableton, etc. for the huge online knowledge base and the general reputation that they have within pro audio circles. If you’re going to spend the time learning the software, it might as well be the best.

Good luck, though.

Pistol's avatar

you can also try Ableton Live. link
It’s a very versatile program and the stripped down version is 99 bucks yet still packs a wallop.

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