RECORDING INTO A BOOMBOX
Basically, you need some way to get the music into your computer. The absolute easiest low-fi route is to just record on a boom box.
Pop a fresh tape in, hit record and do that voodoo that you do so well!
When you have your recording take, you will need a cable to plug it into the sound card on your computer. The cable is an audio cable that has 1/8 inch jacks at either end… the jacks commonly used for headphones. You should be able to find one at just about any store that carries Audio/Visual equipment.
Plug one end of the cable into the headphone jack on the boombox and plug the other one into the Line In – on most PCs it is a Light Blue jack on the back of your PC, probably in the neighborhood that your speakers are plugged into if you have them.
That’s the hardware setup.
RECORDING DIRECTLY USING A PC MICROPHONE
For a bit more flexibility and a bit better sound quality, you can record directly into the PC using a standard PC microphone or adapters.
Buy a standard PC Microphone from any computer or department store. They should run around $10.00 or so. Many new PCs come with microphones included, so you may already have the hardware you need.
The Microphone will have a cable with a 1/8 Inch jack. Plug that into the Mic Jack on your sound card. On most PCs this is the Pink jack.
If you want to record instrument directly in without using the microphone, you will need an adapter. Instrument cables, such as the ones use for guitars, keyboards, etc… use 1/4 inch cables. The adapter you will need is from 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch. It should cost around $3.00
If you are going to be recording an instrument that has it’s own power, like a keyboard, you may have better results recording into the Line In (light blue) jack on your PC.
The difference between the Mic jack and the Line In jack is that the Mic jack has a separate amplifier built in. If your signal is already “amplified”, you run the risk of overloading you soundcard. It shouldn’t hurt the soundcard, but the results will sound fairly distorted.
Now download an audio program.
For this tutorial, we are going to use Audacity. Audacity is freeware! Be sure to grab the LAME MP3 Encoder listed as we will need it later. Feel free to grab the other downloads, such as the plugins. They are all quite useful.
Install Audacity and then unzip the LAME files to a directory on your PC.
Now launch Audacity. You should see a screen like the one below.
The controls at the top right should be familiar to anyone who has used a tape deck. There are the standard controls like Play, Record, Pause, Stop. The forward and back buttons are a little different in that the take you in one click to the very beginning or end of the track you are working with. More on this later.
Below that or to the right (depending on your screen size) are two sets of horizontal bars with the letters L and R in front of them. These are your level meters. The one on the left is the playback meter. The one on the right is the recording meter. When signal is running through them, the playback meter is green and the recording meter is red.
Below that are two slider bars and box with some text in it. The slider bars are the level controls. They have icons next to them to denote what they are: The speaker icon is the the playback control and the microphone is the recording control. I have highlighted the recording control with a brown box in the image below:
To the right of the recording control, highlighted by a red circle above, is the input selector. This will designate which jack your program is going to get it’s signal from. The image above has the Line In selected.
So, We are ready to start recording. Select your signal source (Red circle), adjust the input volume (Brown box) and click Record (Blue box).
You should see an image like the one below.
When you are finished, click the stop button. Voila! You have a recording!
You should now have a bar with a gray background and blue squiggles in the middle. That is your audio track. It is laid out left to right as you record, with markers on the top marking out time increments.
Note the red bar, which shows how much signal is coming in. The bar has a lighter and darker color selection. If the bar fills up with all dark, you probably have your signal to loud and need to adjust.
It is always advisable to do a test take when you first do a setup to make sure your have your levels set correctly. Record as loud as you intend to record and then play back the results. If there is popping or distortion in the sound, your recording level is too high. If it’s too faint, the recording level is too low. Adjust it and try again.
Say you want to jump to a specific point in the track. Just click the audio track at the point along the track you want to jump to. A black line will show up to show you where the “play head” is. For example, you want to start playing at 2 seconds in. Click the audio track right underneath the 2 marker. If you want to jump to the very start or end, this is where you use the Forward and Back controls that are up with the Play and Record controls.
What if you only want to listen to a very small section. Easy. Click the start of the section, hold down the mouse button and drag to highlight the area. The image below shows a section starting just before 1 second and extended past 2 seconds that is highlighted.
If you have it highlighted and you press play, you’ll only hear the highlighted section of the track.
Highlighting is very important for other reasons as well. Using highlighting, we can select sections cut, copy, silence, move, change, etc.
In the image above, note the controls I’ve highlighted with a red box. From left to right they are Cut, Copy, Paste, Trim and Silence. Cut, Copy, and Paste, are self explanatory. Trim removes all other sound other than what you have currently highlighted. Silence removes the sound in the highlighted section without shifting sound on either side of the selection.
So now you’ve recorded a killer guitar track, but you want to add vocals. No problem.
Either rewind or jump to where you want to start adding material and press Record. Audacity will add an additional line of sound and start recording what you are doing.
Note the controls on the left of the audio track. They are highlighted in a red box below.
When you have multiple tracks playing at once, it is sometimes useful to either turn off that track temporarily (mute) or to play only that track (solo). The slider bar with the plus and minus symbols is the control for the volume level of that individual audio track. The slider bar with the L and R is the Pan control, for setting the “position” of the track in stereo.
MAKING AN MP3
So, now you have all your tracks recorded, levels are adjusted, pans are set… the track si ready to go.
It’s time to export the whole thing to an MP3.
Click File from the menu at the top and then select Export as MP3. The program will prompt you to pick a location to save and filename for the MP3.
If it’s the first time you have exported to MP3, the program will prompt you for the location of the LAME MP3 Encoder we downloaded earlier, as in the image below. Click Yes and a file dialog will pop up. Browse to the place you extracted the file to and click the Lame_enc.dll file.
After that, it will prompt you with ID3 tag information, which you may fill out or ignore. (It is a demo after all.)
Voila! You have a demo in MP3 format. The default resolution is 128Kbit, which is a good balance of compression and fidelity.
All you have to do now is upload your file and you are in business!