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So, you wanna do some recording? Here's a basic list of what you gotta do:
A-Make noise
B-Capture the noise
C-Get the noise into your computer
D-Record and edit it

And here are some ways to achieve that:
A-Making noise...hah, no problem there. Play some guitar, sing, bash stuff. Whatever, noise is easy to come by.

B-This is where it starts getting complicated. To capture the noise you can either use a microphone, or a direct input setup. Using a mic is relatively common sense, simply stick a mic in front of whatever is making the noise. Direct input means that you bypass the microphone and send the signal straight from your guitar or amp, already in an electronic format. An example of this would be using the "Line Out" on your amp or plugging your guitar into something called a DI box.

C-So you've got your sound, and you have a way to pick it up, be it via a microphone or with a direct input setup. What now? It's not as simple as just picking up the sound, we need to actually get it into the computer without sacrificing quality. For this you need an audio interface to convert the analog sound format(comprised of waves) from your guitar into a digital format that the computer can understand(binary digital, made of 0's and 1's). Most people already have one of these built into your computer, you may know it as a "sound card." So you might be thinking "Well gee, I have a sound card, and so I have an audio interface, and so I'm all ready to record lolololol!" Well, to an extent this is true, but it has a catch: the sound cards that come stock in a computer are VERY rarely suitable for recording. You can have the top notch Creative 7.1 blah blah surround sound card, and it won't do shit for recording. Those sound cards are meant primarily for converting digital sound from the computer into analog sound that the speakers can reproduce. So you'll find yourself probably needing a new audio interface to get the sound into your computer. This is where it gets REALLY complicated. So complicated in fact, that I'm going to write a whole section on audio interfaces after I get this FAQ done.

D-So, you've gotten a setup to get the sound into your computer. Congrats, the hard part is over with, and you're almost ready to crank out your new masterpiece. The last thing you need to do is to actually record the sound onto your hard drive, and then be able to edit it. You'll need a program to do this. Some of the most popular programs are Cubase, Adobe Audition, etc. There is a nice list of them HERE.
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The Recording Interface

Here's what an audio interface meant for recording typically has in terms of components:
Preamps-The output from a microphone or straight from a guitar is a very low volume. The pre-amplifier(usually shortened preamp) simply amplifies the signal to a level that is loud enough for the rest of the interface to do its job. A good quality preamp is important to keep the signal sounding clean and as close to the original signal from the mic as possible. Typically each interface will have one preamp per XLR input.

Line Ins-An interface will also often have line inputs too. These inputs aren't hooked up to a preamp, you are expected to already have the sound at the right level. A line level signal has already been through a preamp, and should be around -10dBV in volume. If you have a mixer or an amp with a line output, you can plug that into the line input of your interface.

Analog to Digital Converters-This is the most important part of the audio interface. It converts the analog waveform into a digital signal for the computer to use. Again, you want to make sure your interface has a good one so you don't get skipping and all sorts of crud. Make sure it has a fast converter too. If the converter is too slow, you will get lagging(called latency by recording dweebs) when you record and listen to what you're recording in real time. It's very hard to play when you hear what you're playing half a second after you actually hit that note.

Output-The final job of the interface is to send the signal to the rest of the computer. We'll have more information on this in the next section.

Things to look for in an interface:
1.) A suitable number of preamped inputs. Use these for plugging in mics and other things that need to be preamplified.
2.) A suitable number of line inputs. This is very handy if you can't afford an interface with lots of preamped inputs. Simply buy a cheap mixer and run the mixer into the line inputs on your interface to add more microphones to your setup. Of course you can use them for tons of other junk, like using a DI box.
3.) Low S/N ratio. The signal to noise ratio shows how noisy the interface is. You want the largest number possible for this(that means larger signal, lower noise).
3.) Output that you hook up to your computer. The 3 most common are USB, Firewire, and PCI. More on this later.
4.) Number of recordable inputs at once. Some interfaces won't let you record from all the inputs simultaneously. This is pretty lame if you ask me, if I buy an interface with 4 inputs, I want to be able to record from 4 inputs at once.
5.) Phantom power. You need phantom power to use most condenser microphones. See the section on microphones lower down.
6.) Will be added as I think of stuff.
7.) Will be added as I think of stuff.

Using your stock computer sound card to record:
So there's pretty much a new thread every hour on how to skimp by on a recording by paying as little cash as possible. Usually I just tell them to stop being such cheap bastards. I'm hoping that if I outline how to do it in here, we'll stop getting these newbie threads.

So, to start, the average computer soundcard has a mic input, and a mic output(has a preamp). I've described these terms up above, all the same stuff applies.

Common newbie idea #1: Buy an adapter to plug your mic into the 1/8" mic input on your computer sound card.
Sure this will work. However, it will sound pretty crap. Stock sound card mic preamps are made for yelling at people over Teamspeak while playing Counter Strike, or other equally quality unintensive stuff. They're not very nice sounding for anything musical. But if you *have* to take this approach, it will work. Just sounds ugly.

Common newbie idea #1: Buy a mixer or preamp and plug it into the line input.
This is a better idea for sure. You're essentially replacing the crappy preamp of the sound card with a new one. Better idea by far. This will get you tolerable quality, but you will still have lots of latency from the analog to digital converter, and you'll certainly be able to get nicer quality. This has the added benefit of allowing you to plug in more than one microphone too.

Those are basically your two options. Now is when I'll point out the biggest problem with using the stock soundcard and a mixer.
It will squish all your different mics into one signal!
Why is this a problem? Say you record a take, and everything goes flawlessly right? So you go to listen to what you recorded, and you realize that the bass is way to loud in the mix and you can barely hear the guitar or drums. So you just go along and turn down the bass track right? BUT YOU CAN'T! The bass track has been mixed(hence the name "mixer") into one signal. You can no longer raise the volume or edit individual tracks now, since you only have one. In this instance you would need to lower the bass volume on the mixer, and re-record the whole track. Wow, pain in the ass, eh? This is the primary advantage of buying a new interface if you ask me. Each input will get it's own track to record onto, so if you want to equalize or edit any individual track you can.

Now personally, I use 4 microphones on my drums, so I would need like a 6 input mixer to record all that live, which I can't afford. So I use a mixer to mix the drums. The mixer mixes the drums all into one signal, but that's ok with me because I have found a setting on the mixer that I like and I always use. So even if I can't edit the volume of the tom compared to the snare, I can edit the overall drum volume. This is good enough for me.

Other assorted stuff:
On the issue of Firewire to USB to PCI when it comes to hooking up your new audio interface, you want the fastest connection possible. USB is the slowest, and is more likely to have latency. Firewire and PCI interfaces have a very fast connection, and should have less latency. Not all computers have a Firewire card, but you can add a Firewire card very easily. Most computers have PCI and USB connections available. Keep in mind that using PCI requires opening up your computer and plugging in a card. It's not remotely hard or dangerous, it just plugs in, but it's something to remember.

If you're going to be buying a new computer to record, don't just go out and buy a cheap Dell. Spend some time thinking about what you're gonna want a moderately fast-fast processor, extra RAM slots, and other stuff. Look at the system requirements of the interface you want. These requirements aren't rock solid, but they give you some good guidelines for what to look for. You might try looking at a Mac based setup too, the drivers on Windows can be hard to deal with and be a real pain in the ass. Hooking up my Firebox to my Apple Powerbook was as simple as plugging it in, no drivers needed. w00t.

Rant/Rave-the MBox/Protools
I had to add this in. The the MBox and Prootools go together. They are proprietary, meaning that you can only use the hardware with the software. This, IMO, sucks. You don't have a large choice in future upgrades. You pay more and have fewer choices. If you ask me, it's a much wiser idea to get gear that is expandable in the future that will be compatible with as much other gear as possible.
You can make a kickass Protools rig for sure. The thing is that you'll have to pay more to get the stuff that goes with it. Just something to think about.
I'm not very active here on UG currently.
I'm a retired Supermod off to the greener pastures of the real world.
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The DI Box

A direct input box will take your guitar signal, apply some effects to it, and then allow you to plug it straight into your audio interface. The most famous(infamous?) DI boxes are probably the Line 6 stuff such as the GuitarPort and TonePort.
The GuitarPort is pretty has an audio interface built in, so you plug it straight into the USB port. In general though, it's not much of a substitute for micing a real amplifier. Personally I find the amp models sound pretty fake and digital, but that's just me. You would like it if you enjoyed the tone of a Spider amp.
But all bias aside...they are a good deal if you don't have much cash to spend, and don't care too much about tone and only want to record guitar.
The Toneport is basically the same thing, but with the benefit of some microphone preamps. In my opinion you would be better off skipping these modelling line inputs and going with using a mic on your amp. They are an option though, just IMO not a very good one.

You also have the analog DI box. These boxes typically have a preamp for your guitar, and then a speaker simulator that will tweak your guitar to sound like you've run it through a cab. Some have built in distortion settings and other amp stuff, and some won't and you'll have to get distortion with a pedal. In my opinion these sound much nicer than the Line 6 gear, but I still prefer to use a microphone on a real speaker.

Remember that in the long run this is all up to your own ears to decide for yourself. Just don't be caught a month after you buy something sick of your purchase and wishing you got something else.
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I thought I'd add a quick section on microphones. Here we go:

Main types:

Dynamic microphones- These are your typical generic workhorse mic. They function by having the sound waves hit a diaphragm, which moves a coil up and down a magnet to create an electric currant that represents the sound wave. Incidentally, this is essentially a loudspeaker in reverse. Bands have used small speakers as microphones before, so if you have some old speakers laying around, you could try this. They're typically good for loud applications, where you don't need alot of fine detail and texture for the sound. Some examples include micing a snare drum or a loud guitar amp. Dynamic mics usually have a tailored frequency response. You might want a mic with lots of bass for bass guitar or a bass drum, or maybe a mic with lots of mids for guitar.

Condenser microphones- Condenser mics are a bit more sensitive, and they require a power source to function. They work by having two charged plates(one being the mic diaphragm) very close together. When sound hits the diaphragm, the capacitance between the plates is changed, and this creates the signal. Some condenser mics have an internal battery, and some use phantom power which means power is channeled through the mic cable. If you want to use a condenser mic without an internal battery, you will need to plug into something that can supply power to the mic. A condensor mic usually has a flatter frequency response, which means that the sound *should* stay closer to the source.

Microphone directional properties:
Different mics pick up sound from different directions. Here is the terminology used for this, and what it means.

Omnidirectional- This is a microphone that picks up sound from all directions. They're not much good for most stuff, as they'll pick up everything going on in the room and will usually make the recording sound garbled and muddy. However they can be nice for picking up general room ambiance. These will feed back VERY easily, so they're definitely no good for live work.

Cardiod- The term "cardiod" means heart shaped. Sound is picked up mostly from the frontal areas, but also a bit from the side and a tiny bit from the rear, making a heart shape. These are good general purpose microphones. For example, you'd probably want to mic a guitar amp with a cardiod or hypercardiod mic...which brings us to the next part:

Hypercardiod- This is just a really tight cardiod pattern mic. Pretty much all the sound is picked up from right in front. You might want to use these if you're really worried about different instruments bleeding into the wrong mic.

Bidirectional- This is where sound comes from two directions...dunno why you would want one of these for musical recording, but they do exist.

Micing a drum set!

This is a question lots of people the *%@# do I mic a drumset? Here goes:

Ideally you would want to have one mic for each drum, each symbol, and everything and then you could mix and match to get the perfect drum mix. However I'm assuming that you probably don't have enough cash to buy a crapload of fancy drum mics, so you're going to want to scrape by with as little as possible. Here are some common mic positions:

Overhead- The overhead position is probably the one I would pick if I had to mic a drummer with only one microphone. If you choose a good mic, you can get pretty good response from the whole drumset. The overhead position is very easy to tweak with an EQ. If you want some more snare, just find the frequency that the snare is at and jack it up a bit. But while the overhead position is very nice, it's not perfect. The drums will sound pretty "loose," and will lack the tightness that a drummer needs. That's why we need more microphones:

Bass drum- There are a variety of places to put these. Some drumheads have mic holes in them, and you can shove the microphone inside the whole drum. You can also put the mic right up where the foot pedal hits it, but this can get too much "smack" and not enough solid bass sound. Personally I recommend putting it right in front of the drum Anywhere from 6" to 2' out. This probably depends alot on what mic you are using though, so play around. This is a very important position to mic well, if you do a crappy job the whole band won't sound as well held together.

Snare- The snare needs to sound tight too. It's probably equal to importance as a bass drum microphone. The overhead should pick up the snare, but in order to give it a nice solid crack it's generally considered a good idea to stick a mic on it. A common position is to point it at a 45 degree angle downwards towards the center of the drum. You can also point it up from underneith, but this can give too much snare sound and not enough solid impact to the hit.

Toms- The toms IMO are less important to mic. They're used less often, and in my experience the overhead does an ok job at picking them up. If you do mic them, do them like the snare drum at the 45 degree angle. You could also try using one mic for both. With my microphone the overhead usually does an ok job, but I use mics for each drum anyways just to get the nice smack of the stick on the skin.

Hopefully this will give you a good idea of where to start...if you're on a limited budget, figure out what you need your drums to sound like and try and patch something together.

Tuning a drum set! I know this isn't strictly recording stuff, but it's very important to getting a good drum sound. It's pretty simple. You want to tighten the resonant and batter heads the same amount. This is key. Loosen all the lugs, and tighten them all the same number of turns. How many doesn't really matter, as long as you like the sound and all the lugs are turned the same amount. You'll have to find what you like, but remember that tip! As long as you remember this, you should be able to find a nice setup for your drums.
I'm not very active here on UG currently.
I'm a retired Supermod off to the greener pastures of the real world.