Building the perfect live rig can be a daunting task. In this month’s field guide let's discuss how I record to a computer-based workstation.
I have been working on some new material in the studio lately. This month, I wanted to share with you the workflow that I have been using to record the audio from my devices into my digital audio workstation (DAW).
First, let me say that I do not have an audio interface with multiple inputs. I am using the Alesis IO2 Express. It is a two-channel USB interface with MIDI. It is very simple to use and does a great job in my experience, but it is limited to two mono inputs or one stereo input. Since the synths in my live rig are already connected to a compact mixer, I simply connected its main stereo output to the left and right input channels of my audio interface. This connection allows me to leave everything in my rig wired the way it is. I can also use the hardware effects I have connected to the effects sends on my mixer.
Obviously, there are some trade-offs to only working with two tracks at a time. For instance, I cannot capture the audio from all of my instruments to individual audio tracks at one time, eliminating the ability to record a complete song in one take. But I find working with two tracks at a time suits my style of recording and composing. I tend to build up my songs with one or two parts at a time, so it is easy for me to record the audio to the computer and keep adding audio tracks as I go. Years ago, I would use my computer to sequence MIDI parts for an entire song and send it to my Kawai K5000W workstation, which could play 16 sounds at once. However, today most of my desktop synths are monophonic and many of them don't have MIDI, so a different approach is required. Also, I want to utilize the step-sequencers and real-time controls found on them, so I normally don't send MIDI notes to them.
I still use MIDI quite a bit for other things, like tempo sync. For instance, I will program a pattern on the step-sequencer of one of the synths and use MIDI from the computer to sync the tempo. This will keep the new sequencer part in time with the audio tracks I have already recorded. When I do record the audio from that synth, I can perform all of the tweaking I would normally do live, like adjusting the filter cutoff or audio effects in real-time and that performance is captured to the audio track. Sending MIDI to a desktop synth like the Volca Bass also allows me to use its sync output to sync a device that doesn't have MIDI, like the Pocket Operators by using the sync in and out jacks.
One situation where I use MIDI to record notes is when I am playing my synthesizers that have full-size keys. Recording the MIDI is a nice way to capture my performance and it allows me to fix any mistakes before I record the audio of that part. It also allows me to cut, copy, and past the part, so I don't have to play it all the way through the song. I also use my full-size keyboard to play the sounds on my desktop synths and iPad, which is much easier than playing the tiny keys on those devices.
Another advantage to recording audio from these monophonic synthesizers to the DAW is that I can use the same synth for multiple parts. Many times, in a live situation I wish I could play a sequence and a lead on the same synth. By recording multiple tracks to the computer, I can use the same synth for many different parts. In fact, that is how many of our featured artists use simple devices, like the Stylophone, to record elaborate arrangements.
There are many ways to compose and record music. This workflow may be obvious to you, but I hope that it demonstrates that it doesn't require the latest technology. With one synth and a multi-track recorder, you can create amazing music. Don't be afraid to use what you have available to start your musical journey.