High quality Low Cost home recording of the Harp

Audio recording

Part 1  Equipment

The cost of hiring a recording studio for a few hours or days to record your new demo or to begin recording your latest CD can be an expensive process. The endless rehearsals needed to enable the recording to be brief and not too costly can hinder the creative process, and for the harp player on a tight budget a less costly and more relaxed environment may be the way to begin recording. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just sit down in your own house and do your recording there? Well with a small outlay and a little practice you can do just that. 

The harp can present many challenges to the budding recording engineer.  You need to be able to capture all the beautiful sweet tones of the harp and keep the background noise to a minimum. Your recording must capture and enhance all the sparkle, atmosphere and clarity that you experience when playing your instrument, and all this will then be conveyed to and enjoyed by the listener.

So where do you begin?

There are many self contained multitrack recorders on the market but if you already own a computer you may already have most of what you need to set up a home studio. If you’re a bit of a technophobe like me, don’t worry – there’s nothing too complicated to worry about, and the list of gear you will need is small. Aside from your computer, leads and headphones etc (see below) you will need a microphone, an audio interface and computer recording software.

 Condenser Microphone

A high quality microphone will be needed to give your recording that super clear ‘studio’ sound. There are two types of mic to choose from – Dynamic and Condenser. For live performances we would normally use ‘dynamic’ microphones. These are great for stage work, they are robust and will give a good sound, but for recording, the much more sensitive condenser mic will pick up every sound from the harp with amazing clarity. The prices can vary from a few pounds up to several thousand pounds each. For the home studio there are several in the £50 – £150 price range that will deliver great results for the beginner. I have been using Behringer B1 and Behringer B2-Pro and am very pleased with the quality.

Photo – A Behringer  B1 condenser Microphone with suspension mount and windscreen.

The suspension mount helps prevent vibration from the Mic stand reaching the Microphone.

Audio Interface

The signal from the microphone will need to be converted to a digital signal for recording on the computer. This is done by plugging the mic into an audio-interface (connected to either the USB or Firewire port of the computer). This is essentially a small box into which a mic or two are plugged in. This is then in turn plugged into the computer’s USB port. Once again these units come in various shapes, sizes and prices, starting from around £100 and most or all will come with recording software which in essence turns your computer into a recording studio, complete with on screen mixing desk and effects such as reverb, delay, compression etc.  The one we use is an E-MU 0404, it cost in the region of £140 and came with a range of software including Cubase LE which, although a budget version of the well known Cubase recording software, gives great results.

Photo -E-MU 0404 Audio interface.

Computer Software ( Digital Audio Workstation )

As mentioned above you will need some recording software on your computer. Again these range in price from those aimed at the home studio on a budget to those used in top studios. Almost certainly your Audio Interface will include a free software suite and I would recommend using this to begin with. Unless you are already very familiar with digital recording  you will be grateful for the very brief instructions supplied which will be enough to get you started quickly without having to wade through hundreds of pages of a PDF manual.

Leads etc

Aside from the gear mentioned above you will need a set of headphones, a microphone stand or two, a microphone lead or two with XLR connectors* and if you are thinking of recording vocals don’t forget a pop shield which will both protect the mic from condensation from breath and lessen the effect of recording ‘pops’ when words with P in them are sung.

*Condenser mics need a 48V power supply. This is supplied from the Audio digital converter via the XLR connections in the lead.

Before buying any equipment be sure to have a chat with the sales person where you plan to make your purchases. They will be very knowledgeable and glad to offer any help and advice needed. Let them know what you are planning to record and make sure you are getting the right stuff. There are some great on-line suppliers who will stock a huge range of equipment and will have something just right for you and within your price range.

Background Reading

I would recommend some background reading. There are some great books for beginners which explain how the recording process works and give jargon free explanations.  If you have a grasp of things like ‘compression’, ‘expansion’, reverb and EQ’s then you will be more likely to achieve something close to the quality you hear on commercial recordings.  Guerrilla Home Recording by Karl Coryat is a great jargon free guide and well worth a read.

There is also an excellent DVD called ‘Roger McGuinn’s Guide to Home Recording on a Computer’. This DVD shows the beginner all he or she needs to know on beginning recording on a computer and will let you see that this is easily achievable. Everything is extremely well explained and demonstrated in a way which is easy to understand and is well worth a look.

In part 2 I will give a brief outline of the process of recording audio on a computer and how to get the best recorded sound from your harp.

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