Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Wednesday
Apr182007

How do I record a CD on a small budget?

"I've had a number of people in the filk community ask if I have a CD available for sale. I'd *love* to record a CD, but I don't have a lot of money to do it. Any suggestions and advice?"

From Scott Snyder:

"Making a CD for SALE is a labor intensive process.

Live recordings in your living room are okay, but don't compare to the quality of recordings that are for sale on your filk dealer's table.

There is no cheap way to do it, although there are less expensive ways.

The first thing I would do is to talk to one of your friendly filk producers - Bill Sutton and Bill Roper spring to mind - talk to them about your material, what you'd like to do, and what they suggest. They have mysterious connections to the underworld of filk musicians, and can often times make magic for you. Or at least lend you equipment and expertise. :)

If you really want to do this all by yourself - you're going to need to invest in a few things. A recorder (don't use your computer, unless you have an isolation box for it and can keep the fan noise out of the recording) - for cheap recorders I'd recommend one of the cassette or now digital multitrack recorders from Tascam. They are good quality and very inexpensive.

You will need microphones. If it's you and a guitar, then you will want at least 2 microphones. I'd suggest SM58's for ease of use, versatility, and value. They can be had for about $100 each (or less).

Don't forget cables and connectors to attach all these things together, plus two mic stands, and a set of QUALITY pro Headphones.

You will need a reasonable room to do this in - not too noisy, with lots of padded stuff around. Living rooms can work great, actually.

Know your material cold, it will save you lots of rewinding.

Get a good "live" you and your guitar (or instrument) recording down. Don't worry about multi-tracking if you have no experience. It gets messy. A good clean recording of you singing your song will be worth more than a bad multi-track mix.

If you REALLY want to burn these yourself, then you will need connectors from your recorder to your sound card. You will want to invest in GOOD audio recording and editing software - something like Sound Forge.

You will have to do a good deal of digital editing and post in order to take your recording and turn it into tracks that you can then burn to a CD. Seek advice from the pros, it's too complicated for me to tell you how to do it here. :)

Just as far as gear goes - I did a quick pick through Musicians Friend and found the following:

Shure SM58 x2 @ $99
On Stage stands x2 @ $15
Sony MDR-7506 Headphones @ $99
Fostex MR8 8 Track digital recorder @ $300
Mogami Mic Cables x2 @ $20
Sony Screenblast Sound Forge @ $70

Total of my shopping cart is: $753.85

This is a reasonable rig, and you should be able to make basic singer/songwriter recording with it with ease. The digital recorder means no post-recording conversions. And it transfers .wav files to your PC through USB, so no dealing with noisy PCI sound cards.

So - to me, saying I want to record it myself inexpensively means less than $1000 USD. :)

So - I will say one more time - Talk to a filk producer. They already have the gear, and will be more than happy to help you out or steer you in the right direction. You should be concentrating on your MATERIAL - have good songs and be able to perform them well.

Oh - and don't forget the Mastering! ;)"

From Graham Leathers:

"That really starts to depend on how small your budget is. You can get the software to run on your computer, yes, but you still need a decent mic. The recording is only step one. Then there is mixing, mastering, printing and duplicating. Recording, mixing and mastering costs can be reduced considerably if you can do much of that yourself, though it does take time. The printing and such, there are small production houses that will, if you present them with a master and your cover art work, and they can do the rest for you at minimal cost and they don't make you do a large bulk run, either. Yes, you can crank them all out on your own CD burner, but that does take time. You may find you are able to make better use of your time farming that kind of work out. You will also get better quality printing and discs that way. Even so, you can still sell your CD's at $10.00 US or even a little less and still turn a profit."

From Daniel Faigin:

"The biggest question is whether you have a CD burner on your computer. If you do, the answer is easy. Connect your amplifier's output (the one you would normally plug into your tape deck for recording CDs) into the line in on your sound card. You can use Roxio sound editor to grab the sound (use the mic inputs on your amp). Do a search for a tool called 'CD Wave' to split apart the wave file, and burn, baby, burn."

From "Mandelbear" on LJ:

"I'm now starting the recording process for my first CD, which is being chronicled on mdlbear_albums -- which was set up by my daughter chaoswolf as a way of prodding me into action. Having a deadline also helps.

My current advice (with the disclaimer that I'm at the very beginning of the process) is to invest in (or borrow) some good microphones and a pro-quality soundcard that will record 24 bits (more dynamic range means less need to fiddle with the levels up front).

Take some time to figure out how you work best: separate guitar and voice tracks? Start with a guitar+voice guide track? Live concerts in your living room? Try them all,

I'll know more about the back end of the process (editing, mixing, mastering, and paying for the print run) when I get there."

Related FAQ topics:

How should/shouldn't I be marketing my CDs?


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