Making Music At Home, How To Start

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So, let me start off by saying that I am an amateur in every sense of the word.  My brain is like a frenzy of thoughts and focus is REALLY hard for me.  For whatever reason, when it comes to remembering the simplest of things, I FAIL time and time again.  I am really not sure why this is but being over 40, I am beginning to suspect that I have a brain dysfunction.  I mean, I am still functional but so many times, when something I said or did gets pointed out to me, I feel like the worlds biggest dumbass.

Now when it comes to music, I feel like a fraud.  Not a fraud in that I rip off other people’s music, I would NEVER do that unless it comes to loops which are a shared source and meant to be used by anyone who wants to use them but they usually come with some limitations unless you pay a lot of money; maybe not a whole lot but still, a good chunk for most people starting out in making their own music.

When I say fraud, it’s like this.  I write all my own music from scratch and it starts out with my guitar or some random hook that plays in my head and my duty as a musician (if you can call me that) is to get it down, to record it and to make it work.  The hard part for me is when it comes to understanding what exactly I am doing.

I can read music and I can read a tab, but ask me to do it the other way and I fail.  Ask me to write down the notes, chords and time signature of my own tunes and I am lost.   When someone asks me to play say, an E minor, I can play it but ask me to write that on sheet music…ugh, fah gettah’bout it.

I even took music theory in college and I passed with an ‘A’ because I wasn’t asked to write my own but to systematically regurgitate theory and play scales.  Because I can play a guitar, I remember things from hearing them but hardly when it comes to writing them.  Knowing this about myself makes collaborating difficult for me especially when I don’t know my own time signatures.

It makes me feel bad because people who I really admire for their knowledge of music and their personal skills tell me that I am really talented.  I think of my self as a functioning illiterate.  I hide the fact that I cannot remember the names of things no matter how often I try to ingrain it in my brain.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s what gives me the advantage of creating music that is different but I do know that it is also what holds me back from opening up Pandora’s box and unleashing my full potential.

With all that said, when creating music at home, it becomes even more difficult and overwhelming.  In some ways, these days it has become easier to transfer files from one place to another to work on them when the original source of your creation is missing something you want to add BUT it can also be a frustrating process that I swear takes more time than writing the song in the first place.

It’s easy for me to jot down a song and record it when it’s just me and my guitar, a pen and some paper to draft lyrics and (now) a phone or something to capture your creations with.  I do it often when I want to get a melody down quickly but the art of producing an mp4, mp3, wav. etc…, that is a different beast altogether.

It’s been years since I really got into the production aspect; plugging in amps, pickups, mics and using these little boxes to get them on a computer.  See, I know how to use the stuff but I can’t remember the names of stuff which makes me feel super stupid.

Being completely frustrated with such things like my own tracks not having permission for me to use in other applications because they’re blocked for some reason (something that happened yesterday that never happened before no matter how many times I used AmpliTube to jot down an idea) but it must depend on which other software you are using.  There are SOOOOO many formats these days.  Literally, there are some formats that I have never heard of before.

Other problems with building an at home studio besides file formats, getting your work to the right destination for easy access (which seems to not matter when a file format is not compatible with something else), and bleeding out background noise has a lot to do with production.

Midi, a mic, cables, enough ports and then getting familiar with laying out the settings for creating a song.  Things like the BPM or time signature which, if you know what you are doing, make the process of editing a lot simpler and less frustrating and time consuming.  And choosing which music editing software to use is also frustrating.

Twenty some years ago I used things like Cakewalk and Fruity Loop (or what it Fruit Loops?),  I plugged my guitar into a little black box for manual gain and effects controls and all your equipment was tangible.  Basically plug and play in the truest sense aside from finding the right drivers to run applications that were not so easy to find then, unless you had the CD containing what you needed and most things were still Windows XP.

Basically it used to be easier, I think, you played real time and did the recording in one swoop (but with many takes for that matter) now, because I am a lone star when creating my own tunes and being out of the loop for so long, I have to find more compatible software that will accept just about any number of file formats that is also easy to understand.

Have you ever looked at a soundboard?  They can be intimidating.  Aside from applying effects, the most difficult challenge is sound limits.  Yes, I just went through a bunch of other bullshit about just getting started but ultimately, it’s all for nothing if you can’t hear it or if you’ve just spent hours, days, weeks on something and then noticed that it breaks in one little spot that you cannot edit without redoing the section.

Anyway, if you managed to read all that non-sense (hahaha) if you are just starting out on building your home studio, there are a few things that I can tell you that will make the process a little easier.  And why even trust me?  Having some serious mental limitations, these are the things that I do know.

  1. Before you get started, you do need to have at least a mic.  If you don’t have a soundproof room, you’ll probably want a one directional mic, one that pics up sound directly in front of you.  Something like a cardioid mic.  This will lessen the noise that get’s picked up in the background but even then, you’ll still pick up background sounds but not nearly as much as a omnidirectional mic.  The downfall is that (I think) it doesn’t give your voice that fullness that you want.  Thus, you’ll need some sort of interface (something that will speak ‘volumes’ to your computer… that little box OR ones built into your applications).  Gain, chorus, reverb, delay.  They’re common features because they are the most useful.

Also note, you’ll need to be sure you can connect it to your computer.  Some will plug directly into your computer via the mic/headphone jack or USB, others need some other equipment to make them work (the little box- midi audio interface).

2.  You’ll need a program to run things on.  These days it seems like most people are wanting to use their tablets or iPads or phones to create their tunes.  It’s all good. It doesn’t really matter that much what you use as long as you can get in down.  -production quality for shopping your work is a whole other story-

  • For IOS, the easiest to use so far is AmpliTube.  They are specifically designed to be run on Android and IOS.  It’s very user friendly and it can be used with Garage Band that’s preinstalled on your Apple devices.  Not only is it the easiest to navigate and understand, the sound adjustments are actually very good.  File sharing is simple as well.  You can share files from your PC to your device via iTunes.  Just open your iTunes, click on the device you have plugged into your computer and select File Share.  Select which application you want to share with (this case would be AmpliTube), wait for it to generate files from the locations you want, then add it to your device.  Still, that’s mostly a one way street.  It’s easy to share files from your PC to your device but sharing from your device to other programs that are Window’s based is another story which is why file formats are super important.
  • For PC that is app based, Recording Studio is easy but really lacks the essentials when it comes to volume control.  However, if you have a mic, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Ideally though, if you are recording your guitar.  You will want a direct line in.  Still, because I know the trials and tribulations of not having a lot of money to spend on audio equipment, iRig makes a decent mic for acoustic guitars that will plug straight into your computer or device via the mic/headphone jack (which is where I found AmpliTube).  It is super sensitive though and will pick up your voice if you are singing along while building your progression or layout.

There are others out there that I have tried but these two are about as simple as it gets, IMO of course.  They really are essentially plug and play, don’t require a lot of know how and their help features are easy enough to understand.  By easy enough, I mean give it some thought and you WILL figure it out.

Finally, consider getting a midi keyboard with drum pad.  I know, a real drum pad that you can get down with would be epic but I don’t have that much money or space to devote to things like that (although I  wish I did) and my guess is that if you landed here, neither do you.  Being real, you can create beats using the built in features of a lot of applications but it’s frustrating to try and layout a beat pushing little buttons on a screen.  You can get a midi keyboard for super cheap with or without a drum pad.  It will make your life so much easier.  Using one will help you unleash your inner rock star because THEN you’ll also have as many instruments as you want at your disposal which can completely alter your original work.

None of the listed things above should cost you more than a couple hundred dollars assuming that you already have a computer/device and instrament.  You can get away with using the headphones that come with your devices too but eventually you’ll see why getting a better mic and headphones are worth it in the long run.

All that said, if you can, save your file to mp3 or mp4 or WAV.  That can get pretty daunting when using applications that want to write weird ones that can only be opened by the original application.  But they can be rewritten.  That’s a whole other post in itself.

Now for tips:

  • Use the cloud.  OneDrive and iCloud are compatible and using them frees up much needed space on your computer (device etc.) and makes it easier to fetch them.
  • “Do you”.  In all the years I have spent writing music, one thing I know is that they never finish they way they started.  Don’t be a hate, Love accidents.  Don’t feel like you have to be like everyone else.  There is enough of everyone else.  Sure, they make it big and all that but music creation is about YOU.  And I, hands down, know that the best of the best, the legends, the “gods” and “goddesses”, they didn’t become them because they wanted to be like everyone else.  They did it because they were not afraid to be them, to express themselves, to write what mattered to them and to let what they were feeling translate into epic guitar solos, legendary ballads, folk songwriters that you love for their simplicity.  Take Jewel for example.  Professionals (music theory pros and the likes) would probably tell you that she lacks theoretical knowledge but what she had was skill.

When I say skill, what I am talking about is essentially like making a bond.  It’s not what you know about the guitar it’s HOW you play a guitar.  It’s not about how well you can sing but how you sing it.  How you approach the art of making a song is up to you and personal.  You do NOT have to follow convention.  Music is personal and you never know who you will reach if you have already decided that you are not good enough.

Be proud of your work and don’t let little road blocks stand in your way.  In all my years up until now (recently in the last few years) the music industry has really let me down.  Part of me believes that it is because it’s all about making money to them or being a superstar to them but to me, music has and always will be about something much more powerful and meaningful.

It’s what moves me/you and I hate to see people quit or not even start just because they feel like they don’t have the knowledge or aren’t cool enough or don’t look “hot” enough or they don’t have the money to do what they desire to do.

It’s not only the most rewarding of all things I have ever put my mind to but it is deeply satisfying.  Even if you never make it big do it because you can.  Do it because you want to.  Do it because you feel like it.  Do it for you.  Share it because it’s yours.  Love it because you did it.

I hope this really long read is enough to inspire you to not let anything stand in your way and to ease a little of the frustrations that come with starting out recording music in your own home.

FYI, I don’t get a paid a dime for anything I said.  Take it or leave it.  That’s your call but truly,  in my heart of hearts, if making music is something you want to do, something you love and something you want to start in on, start here because I made it about as simple as it can get.


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