Recording Your Own Music: A Step-By-Step Guide for Musicians

Learn how to record, edit and mix your own songs at home in this comprehensive beginner-friendly music production course
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  • Lectures 51
  • Length 4.5 hours
  • Skill Level All Levels
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 10/2015 English

Course Description

Music creators like you have songs to share with the world. No matter what your genre, you're passionate about your music, and you care about the quality of your sound.

But when it comes to recording music, many musicians and songwriters struggle with technological hurdles and steep software learning curves. And the expense of hiring a professional recording studio is simply too much for most independent music creators to bear.

This course aims to overcome this challenge by helping you get the skills and confidence you need to record and produce your own music at home.


Record and Mix Your Own Music in This Comprehensive Step-By-Step Guide for Music Creators

  • Discover the equipment you need and how to set it up to get the best results
  • Learn how to record acoustic and electric instruments (guitars, bass, vocals, etc.)
  • Extend your music production options with tools like MIDI and sample loops
  • Polish your recordings with simple yet effective editing techniques
  • Understand the basics of compression, EQ, and reverb and when to use them
  • Create a release-ready final mix with powerful and versatile mixing and mastering tools


Make great-sounding music recordings at a fraction of the cost

Technology has changed the music industry landscape. Music creators can now produce their own music for commercial release at a fraction of the cost. Unsigned artists, bands and DIY indie labels now have unprecedented power to record their own music, distribute their music worldwide, and connect directly to their audience.

We created this course for songwriters and musicians who want to record their own music at home. Whether you want be able to record high-quality demos, or you want to record music for commercial release — knowing how to record and mix your own music will help you get your music heard.


Content and Overview

This course is a hands-on, project-based course suitable for musicians and songwriters with little or no previous recording experience. We designed this course especially for beginners — so you don't need to know anything special about recording gear, signal flow, or mic placement before starting this course.

We simply expect that you're a musician, and that you'll be recording yourself throughout this course. And we strongly recommend you take this course with a specific song in mind to record! Songs that feature guitar, bass, percussion, keyboards and vocals are best suited for this course, but you can adapt any instrumentation. If you don't have a song ready to record, you can record the sample project song we'll provide to you.

Throughout this course, we'll walk you through every step of recording your song:

  • You'll learn how to set up your audio interface to work seamlessly with your computer and REAPER, the digital audio workstation (DAW) software we'll be using throughout this course. You'll also learn how to optimize REAPER for music recording, so you can improve your workflow and get the results you want faster and with less effort.
  • Using either your own song or the sample song we'll provide to you, you'll learn how to use XLR microphones, audio interfaces and other tools to record acoustic and electric musical instruments. Once you understand the basics, you'll feel confident combining these tools to capture and preserve the quality of your sound.
  • We'll demonstrate some helpful audio editing techniques so you can fix timing and tuning issues, compile your best performances, and edit out unwanted sections from your song. You'll also learn how create a release-ready final mix by using compression and EQ, adding reverb, and automating level changes.
  • Finally, we'll cover everything you need to know to export your final mix into your preferred digital format. Whether you need to send demos to your bandmates, upload your songs for digital distribution, or create stems for others to remix, you'll learn how to export your mix to a digital format that suits your needs.


This comprehensive course includes complete project files and other downloadable resources, such as:

  • A checklist of recommended equipment
  • Sheet music, lyrics and chords for our sample project song
  • A customized configuration file to optimize REAPER for music recording
  • An audio troubleshooting checklist
  • Free kick and snare drum samples and percussion loops
  • Helpful PDF reference documents and "cheat sheets"


At the end of each section, we'll also give you a project checklist so you can practice the skills you've just learned. By the end of this course, you'll have recorded, edited and mixed a complete song you'll be proud to share with the world!

What are the requirements?

  • You'll need a computer (Mac or PC), any entry-level audio interface, an XLR microphone, headphones, and any musical instruments you wish to record. (If you don't have an audio interface or an XLR microphone yet, we'll explain how to choose and purchase these items to suit your needs.)
  • You'll also need to have REAPER digital audio workstation (DAW) software installed on your computer. You can download a free, fully functional 60-day evaluation version of REAPER from their website at: reaper.fm
  • We also recommend you have your own original song to record throughout course. (If you don't have a song ready to record, we'll provide you with the sheet music, chords and lyrics for our example song so you can follow along.)

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Set up an audio interface to work seamlessly with your computer and REAPER digital audio workstation (DAW) software
  • Record acoustic and electric instruments using an XLR microphone and your audio interface
  • Fix timing and tuning issues, compile your best takes, and edit out unwanted sections from your project
  • Create a release-ready final mix by using compression and EQ, adding reverb, and automating level changes
  • Export your final mix into your preferred digital format

What is the target audience?

  • This course is for musicians and songwriters who want to feel confident recording their own songs at home, either as high-quality demos OR for commercial release.
  • This course is intended for beginners with little or no previous experience with computer or multitrack recording.
  • This course is not intended for those who already have a solid understanding of computer and multitrack recording.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.

Curriculum

Section 1: Introduction
04:07

Welcome to the course! In this lecture, we'll explain why we're so excited about recording music, and why we think you should be too. We'll describe exactly what you need to know before starting this course, and what you'll be able to accomplish by the end of it.

This lecture will also provide a brief overview of what the course covers, and how we'll teach it. And we'll also tell you a bit about ourselves, your course instructors.

Let's get started!

1 page

Here's a list of recommended equipment to successfully complete this course.

01:28

In this lecture, we’ll introduce the demonstration song we’ll be recording throughout this course.

To get the most out of this course, we strongly recommend you follow along by recording your own project. If you don’t have a song ready to record, you can download the sheet music, chords and lyrics chart for our demonstration song.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND CREDITS: "Yorkshire Lady" written by Darryl Webster. Originally performed by OLD KID. Please support the artist!

04:45

This activity will get you up and running with REAPER, the digital audio production software we’ll be using to record and mix our song. We’ll start by showing you how to optimize REAPER for music recording, then guide you to create your very first REAPER project file.

Section 2: Setting up your audio interface
05:08

In this lecture, we’ll explain what an audio interface is and why we need one to record music onto your computer. We’ll look at three different entry-level audio interfaces, and explore the differences and similarities between them.

By the end of this lecture, you’ll be able to identify all the essential connections and controls on your own audio interface.

1 page

Make sure you know where everything is on your audio interface and how it's labelled. You can use this Audio Interface Reference Sheet to review all the most common connections and controls.

04:46
(for PC users) Now that you know all the basic connections and controls on your audio interface, it’s time to get it to talk to your computer. This lecture will guide you through the process of installing the correct driver software for your audio interface, as well as configuring REAPER to recognize your audio interface as an audio device.
03:44
(for Mac users) Now that you know all the basic connections and controls on your audio interface, it’s time to get it to talk to your computer. This lecture will guide you through the process of installing the correct driver software for your audio interface, as well as configuring REAPER to recognize your audio interface as an audio device.
00:40

If you haven't already set up your audio interface to work with REAPER, take the time to do it now.

Here's your Project Checklist:

  • Start by reviewing all the connections and controls on your audio interface.
  • Next, download and install the driver software for your interface.
  • Finally, follow the instructions in the PC or Mac video to select your audio interface as the audio device in REAPER.

Once you've completed the checklist, you're ready to move on to the next section!

Section 3: Recording your first tracks
03:54

In this lecture, we’ll explain what a “click track” is, and why it’s a good idea to use one when recording.

You’ll learn how to set the correct tempo for your song in REAPER, as well as how to set up REAPER’s built-in metronome to use as a click track.

04:26

In this lecture, we’ll explain what an XLR microphone is. We’ll look at three different example microphones, and explore the differences and similarities between them.

By the end of this lecture, you’ll understand the difference between “end address” and “side address” microphones. You’ll also know where and how to position a microphone to get the best sound, depending on the situation.

08:04

In this lecture, we’ll show you how to get audio into REAPER using an XLR microphone. We’ll explain why it’s essential to set good audio input levels when recording, and show you how to do it.

Finally, we’ll explain how to set up a headphone mix (or “monitor mix”). This mix will allow you to hear the click track in your headphones while you play.

1 page

If you're having trouble getting audio into REAPER, use this Audio Troubleshooting Checklist to find a solution.

02:53
In this lecture, we’ll record an acoustic guitar as our very first track. After we’re done, we’ll demonstrate how to quickly return to the start of the song and listen back to what we’ve just recorded.
02:53

In this lecture, we’ll explain how REAPER handles and displays multiple takes. By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to create multiple takes of the same track in order to capture the best performance possible.

04:57
In this lecture, we’ll record a vocal part to go along with our acoustic guitar. We’ll review how to set good audio input levels, as well as how to create a headphone mix (or “monitor mix”) so you can listen to the guitar in your headphones while you sing.
05:36
Did you mess up any of the lyrics while recording your vocals? No need to re-record the entire track! In this lecture, we’ll show you how you can use “auto punch” to automatically record just a specific section of a track.
05:22
In this lecture, we’ll show you a great way to keep your session organized using REAPER’s timeline regions. By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to label each section of your song so you can quickly navigate to any point in the song.
01:16

Now that you've learned some recording basics, it's time to use your new skills!

Here's your Project Checklist:

  • Start by setting up the tempo and a metronome for your song.
  • Then dive right in and record an acoustic instrument. We recorded an acoustic guitar, but you could try mic'ing up and recording another acoustic instrument, such as a piano.
  • Next, record a vocal part.
  • Finally, label all the sections of your song using timeline regions. Identify the verse, chorus, and bridge sections, along with any other sections you want to label.

Once you've worked through the checklist, you'll have everything you need to move on to the next section.

Section 4: Adding overdubs
09:24

If you’re not a drummer, programming drums is often the most practical way to add a drum part to your song. In this lecture, we’ll show you how to program a simple drum part using MIDI.

By the end of this lecture, you’ll be able to use REAPER’s “ReaSamplOmatic5000” plugin (yes, that really is what it’s called!) to program a drum part using the MIDI drum samples we’ve provided with this course.

06:30

“Loops” are typically short, 1 to 4-bar audio recordings that can be looped seamlessly in order to repeat indefinitely. Drum loops are most common, but anything can be made into a loop.

In this lecture, you’ll learn how to add a percussion loop to your project by matching the tempo of the loop to fit your song’s tempo.

03:57
There are times you may need or want to record an electric instrument, such as an electric guitar or bass, without using an amplifier or microphone. In this lecture, we’ll explain what the “high impedance” input is on your audio interface, and how to use it. Then we’ll walk through the process of recording an electric bass directly into REAPER, without using an amp or mic.
11:38

The next three lectures will cover everything you need to know in order to be able to add synth parts to your song.

In this lecture, we’ll talk about virtual instruments (also called “software synths”) and what they do. We’ll show you how to download and install TAL Noisemaker, a free virtual instrument available for both Mac and PC.

04:01

In this lecture, we’ll explain how to set up a MIDI controller so you can record a MIDI keyboard performance right into REAPER.

If you have a MIDI keyboard, we’ll walk you through the process of setting it up to use as MIDI device in REAPER. If you don’t have a MIDI keyboard, we’ll show you a neat trick that lets you turn your QWERTY keyboard into a virtual MIDI keyboard!

11:11

Now that you’ve got TAL Noisemaker installed along with a MIDI controller, you’re ready to make some music with it!

In this lecture, you’ll learn how to select a sound in TAL Noisemaker and record your MIDI synth performance directly into REAPER. By the end of this lecture, you’ll also know how to adjust the timing and the relative volume of each note after you’ve recorded your performance.

00:59

It's time to add some overdubs to your project!

Think about what parts you want to add to your song:

  • If your song needs percussion, try programming a drum part using MIDI, or add some percussion loops.
  • Does your song need an electric guitar or bass? You can record these parts either by mic'ing up an amplifier, or by recording them direct using the instrument input on your audio interface.
  • If you want to add a keyboard part, install TAL-NoiseMaker or any other software synth. Set up your MIDI keyboard as a MIDI device in REAPER to record your keyboard part.
  • Does your song need backing vocals? If so, record those too.

Once you've worked through this checklist, you're ready to move on to the next section.

Section 5: Editing
04:23

In this lecture, we’ll explain why it’s important to take a “snapshot” of your project at periodic intervals for backup purposes. We’ll show you an easy way to do this using the “Save As…” function in REAPER.

10:15

Do you wish you could fix the timing of just one note in a recorded performance? You can! In this lecture, we’ll show you how to use REAPER’s built-in tools to fix timing issues by moving and stretching an individual note without changing its pitch.

07:27

“Comping” is the process of making a compilation of the best sections of many different takes. You can use this technique whenever you record multiple takes.

In this lecture, we’ll demonstrate making a “vocal comp” that combines the best sections of each vocal take we did back in Section 3. By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to create and save your own custom “comps.”

NOTE: “Comping” doesn’t have to be left until editing! If you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to do this as soon as you’ve recorded the part, while it’s still fresh in your mind — yes it is!

09:49

Now that you’ve “comped” a track, you’ll need to clean it up to ensure a better final mix.

In this lecture, we’ll explain why and how you should check all the fades in your comp, and delete any long silent sections in your final comped track.

13:36
Using the same techniques we learned in the previous lecture, let’s clean up the rest of our tracks. In this lecture, we’ll go through the process of adding crossfades where needed, along with removing long periods of silence. We’ll do this on every single track in our project to help ensure we get a better final mix.
12:19
Sometimes you’ll want to make edits to your overall song structure AFTER you’ve already started recording your project. In this lecture, we’ll demonstrate how to edit all your tracks simultaneously by cutting out 4 bars from the second guitar solo. We’ll also show you how to adjust fades in order to keep a seamless transition between sections.
00:49

Now, it's time to edit your project!

  • Before you start editing, remember to use "Save As..." to save a new version of your project.
  • Review your tracks to see if there are any timing issues you want to fix.
  • If you did multiple takes for a particular part, such as a vocal, create a "comp" to combine the best sections of each take. Then clean up the comp by adjusting the fades between sections into crossfades.
  • Next, check ALL your tracks for silent sections, and make sure to delete those.
  • Then clean up each track by adjusting the start and end fades.

Once you've completed this checklist, you're ready to move on.

Section 6: Mixing and adding effects
07:44

In this lecture, we’ll look at three things you can do to organize your project before you start mixing:

  • Moving tracks around
  • Using track folders
  • Colour coding

Organizing your project before mixing will save you time AND make mixing a lot more fun!

07:11

In this lecture, you’ll learn how to get a consistent audio level and avoid distorting your mix. We’ll show you how to start at the loudest, densest part of your song in order to make sure your mix doesn’t clip. We’ll also give you some guidance on how to decide what the balance should be between the different tracks in your mix.

10:05
In this lecture, we’ll talk about pitch correction. We’ll discuss the differences between extreme auto-tuning (the “T-Pain” effect) and more transparent pitch correction. By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to use REAPER’s built-in ReaTune plugin to correct the pitch of a single note OR an entire track.
08:11

In this lecture, we’ll introduce compression as a kind of “automatic volume control” we can use on any track (such as a vocal). We’ll talk about the most common parameters you might want to start adjusting on a compressor, including:

  • Threshold
  • Ratio
  • Attack
  • Release

By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to use REAPER’s built-in compressor ReaComp to even out a dynamic track and increase its overall level without clipping.

09:46

In this lecture, we’ll introduce EQ as a “tone control” you can use on any track to adjust the treble, bass, or any frequency you want. We’ll demonstrate using REAPER’s built-in ReaEQ plugin to remove the unwanted low bass from our recorded acoustic guitar track, and instead emphasize the “sparkle” of the instrument.

12:01

In this lecture, we’ll explain what reverb is and show you how you can use it to add a sense of “space” to your mix. We’ll demonstrate how to add the same reverb to multiple tracks in order to make them sound like they were recorded at the same time in the same space. We’ll also experiment with different reverb sounds by changing some of the available parameters, including “length” and “room size.”

06:23
In this lecture, we’ll demonstrate how to create a realistic electric guitar tone by using plugins to alter the sound of a track that was originally recorded direct, without an amp. To do this, we’ll use REAPER’s built-in amp and cabinet simulator (“JS: Convolution Amp/Cab Modeler”) along with a reverb plugin (“ReaVerb”).
04:20

REAPER’s built-in automation feature lets you automate practically any parameter you want! In this lecture, we’ll demonstrate how to use it to automate level changes so we can make the electric guitar louder just in the second solo.

01:10

It's time to mix and add effects to your song!

  • Start by organizing all your tracks in a way that makes sense to you. You might want to move some tracks around, put some tracks into folders, and use colour coding.
  • Next, use the track faders to set the levels for each of your tracks to get a rough mix of your song.
  • Once you have a rough mix in place, you can start using compression, EQ and reverb to tweak the sound of each individual track.
  • When you're happy with the sound of each track, try using automation to get the levels just right for each section of the song.

Once you've completed this checklist, you're ready to move on.

Section 7: Exporting
10:14
In this lecture, you’ll learn about some final tweaks you can make to your final mix in order to prepare it for export. We’ll explain what “mastering” is, and what options you have at this stage of the production process.
06:18
In this lecture, we’ll talk about some common audio file formats and their respective uses. By the end of this lecture, you’ll know how to export your finished song as a 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV file, suitable for upload to iTunes or Spotify.
04:32
In this lecture, we’ll explain how to extend the functionality of REAPER to export your finished song as a high-quality 320kbps MP3 file, suitable for sharing with friends.
02:03
Sometimes it can be handy to have an instrumental mix of your song, whether for rehearsing or as a backing track for live performances. In this lecture, we’ll show you how to export an instrumental mix of your song.
06:27

In this lecture, we’ll explain what “stems” are and how to create them. You can use these stems for backup purposes, or to give to remixers. By the end of this lecture you’ll know how to export stems for your own project.

01:18

Congratulations, you’re almost done! Let’s wrap up your project:

  • Prepare your mix for export
  • Export your song as a 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV file
  • Export your song as a 320kbps MP3 file
  • Export an instrumental mix of your song
  • Export stems of your song
Section 8: Conclusion
1 page

Let’s review the project we just completed. If you like, you can download our complete REAPER project files so you can see what we did throughout this course. You can also download any of the course resources.

01:03

This concludes our course – now all that's left is for you to practice. Take what you've learned here, and apply it to your own songs and projects. The more practice you get, the better you'll become!

As you can imagine, we've just scratched the surface of what's possible. There are a lot more features and functions to explore within REAPER. In our final lecture, we'll give you some advice on how to continue improving your skills.

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Instructor Biography

Kathleen Farley, aka Robobunnyattack! + co-founder of Audiohackr

Kathleen Farley is a computer geek, teacher, learner, vinyl junkie, hockey fan, and recovering non-profit executive. Occasionally she breaks (and fixes) computers. Not necessarily in that order.

The Montreal-born technologist trained as an audio engineer before moving to Hamilton, Canada in 2007. She now runs Maisonneuve Music, a Hamilton-based independent record label.

Kathleen teaches technology and management skills at a music industry school in Toronto, Canada. She's also the co-founder of Audiohackr, a startup that helps indie musicians, producers, and DIY labels make the most of technology.

Kathleen produces technology training videos under the moniker Robobunnyattack!

Instructor Biography

Michael Chambers, music producer, engineer, and co-founder of Audiohackr

Michael Chambers (aka moon:and:6) is a Canadian music producer, engineer, and (re)mixer. He launched his professional career in the 1990s, assisting on sessions for the Philosopher Kings and the Juno Award-winning Willie P. Bennett tribute album, Heartstrings. As a founding member of Canadian pop/rock band The Golden Dogs, Michael recorded and produced the band’s debut album Everything In 3 Parts (True North/Universal, 2004).

Working under the name moon:and:6, Michael recorded and mixed Whitehorse’s self-titled debut in 2011, followed by their 2013 Polaris Prize shortlisted album The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss (Six Shooter Records/Warner Music). Recent credits include Sarah McLachlan, Royal Wood, Paul Federici, and Boy With An Atlas.

Michael is the co-founder of Audiohackr, a startup that helps music creators record and share their music.

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