Setting Up A Low-Cost Mac Recording Studio
There are numerous ways in which you may set up your home recording studio. Much of it depends on pre-existing factors; such as how much you are willing to spend, what you intend to record (music, podcasts, sounds, etc), the size or the recording space, the types of instruments or styles of music you wish to capture, the amount of gear you already posses and so on. These factors will all greatly influence what gear you will need, which software you will use, and what steps you will have to use in recording.
If you’re looking to go as low budget as possible when beginning recording it is easiest to start with GarageBand. If you’re using a Mac (which is likely considering the name of this site), chances are it is already installed on your computer (if not, it is available as part of Apple’s current version of iLife). The application supports multi-track recording and features enough mastering capabilities to be get any beginning recordist started. If you later find GarageBand to be to be far too limited, you may always upgrade to a more expensive audio recording software.
The second consideration is what you are looking to record. If you wish to record voice for a podcast only, you can easily settle for a headset or a USB microphone. They are affordable, easy to use, and require no additional audio interface to connect with a Mac. For a single microphone or instrument set-up, you may employ a smaller interface (such as the USB Fast Track) or other small unit. It will handle a single mic, quarter inch input, and features phantom power. If instead you look to record a full band, the most economical option is something like the Pre sonus FireStudio or FirePod (running around $500 or so); giving you 8 preamp channels as well as optional phantom power. Whatever the case, it is essential you confirm that the chosen interface is compatible with OSX, beyond that the criteria changes base in the you are looking for (channels, fidelity, USB or FireWire, etc).
In considering what audio you wish to record, you must also consider what microphones will best suite your purposes. There are various microphones for vocals and instruments. If you were setting up a major studio project, you would want to get separate mics for every task (vox mic, drum kits, instrument mics, etc.) However, if this your first project and you simply with to begin recording, it is easiest to start with something like a cardioid condenser mic (such as the M-Audio Nova). Such a mic can function as either a vocal or instrumental mic, and delivers decent audio quality for most sources. For recording a single track at a time, or in combination other inputs, the Nova will perform very well; however, you will still want to build up you mics over time to facilitate recording different sources (if you are looking create a Mac music studio).
A final consideration for making your Mac into a low cost music studio is monitors. While you certainly can use you Mac’s built-in speakers for playback, it will not be very useful when attempting any sort of mixing or mastering. Most practical is turning your existing home stereo into a monitor system. While the speakers may not be specifically intended for studio use; they commonly feature better speakers than buying a low cost monitor unit. Headphones offer decent isolation and allow for easier definition of the stereo image than common speakers, but only allows a single listener at a time. A pair of Sennheiser HD 202 headphones will serve as a decent headset for under $50. More expensive headphones definitely will deliver better audio quality, but also come at a much higher price.
After obtaining these items, it should just be a matter of plug and play. Assuming the compatible drivers are installed, simply select the proper inputs in GarageBand and you can be on your way to recording your first song using a Mac. Truthfully it still costs a few thousand the get the audio quality of profession recording studios, but you still may begin recording all of your demos from home. The greatest advantage to digital home recording is the amount you can record. As long as you have space left on your hard-disk you can keep on tracking.