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Tips for recording digital piano + vocals


konaboy

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Hi

 

I'm developing my piano + vocal skills and want to record my efforts in order to track my progress and eventually record some demo material. I was thinking of using my PC. Currently I have an Audiophile 2496 PCI card with 1 stereo input and one stereo output plus midi in/out. I have a license for Ableton Lite and I use Audacity and Reaper.

 

I need some advice when it comes to recording hardware and strategies as I'm inexperience when it comes to multi-track recording.

 

Here's a couple of points to bear in mind:

 

- Need to record piano & vocals in one take. I don't want to first record piano and then record vocals. I think that would destroy the feeling of a solo performance.

 

- I want the piano and vocals on separate tracks so that I can apply different effects to each track and adjust the volume. I have tried recording piano and vocals to a single stereo track but it is hit and miss if you get the right balance.

 

- Need to monitor both vocals and piano when recording.

 

- I have tried an approach recording one track vocals and one track midi and then using the demo of Truepianos/Pianoteq to generate the piano sound. But I don't feel that they are worth the extra expense and the sound is no better than the audio from my yamaha P120.

 

- I would be comfortable recording the piano direct to audio (as opposed to a midi track). I'm competent enough to play the piano track well enough first time without needing to edit midi data.

 

So please, give me some suggestions on how to best accomplish this. I'm confused how to route the audio and what hardware I need. Thanks!

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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The problem is you only have two audio channels to work with, so if you want to capture the piano output at the same time as the vocal, you'd have to record both in mono - not ideal.

 

Although you may not need the post-record editing facilities of MIDI, the best route for you will be to record the piano midi data as you capture the vocal, then afterwards use the MIDI output to trigger your P120 and record the audio output in stereo as it does so.

 

An alternative (but which would involve further cost) would be to buy a better audio interface with more input channels. I use the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40, which has eight ins.

Studio: Yamaha P515 | Yamaha Tyros 5 | Yamaha HX1 | Moog Sub 37

Road: Yamaha YC88 | Nord Electro 5D

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Exactly Alden. Thanks for the reply.

 

I was considering going the route of recording midi as I record vocals and then playing back the midi track and recording the piano audio in a second take.

 

problem I encountered was monitoring. how do I hear the vocals and piano track at the same time? If I plug the piano into the headphones then I can't hear my singing. i do have a compact mixer but I couldn't figure out how to use it to solve this problem.

 

An audio interface with at least one stereo inputs + one mic input with a headphone output for monitoring would certainly do the trick. More suggestions please!

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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Well, as you're presumably only using the one channel for the vocal (which will be a mono recording), can you not just set the second channel up to "record" the piano, so you get mono monitoring of that, while simultaneously recording the incoming MIDI data on another track? Then proceed as before? That way you won't need the mixer which, unless it's very good quality, is likely to introduce noise into the signal path anyway.

Studio: Yamaha P515 | Yamaha Tyros 5 | Yamaha HX1 | Moog Sub 37

Road: Yamaha YC88 | Nord Electro 5D

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Aidan, that's a great idea. Appreciate the help!

 

Just one thing though, currently I use a mixer between the mic and the sound card. The reason is that the card has one pair of stereo inputs which are line-level. So I use the mic preamp in the mixer to boost it up to line level.

 

Are you suggesting that I connect the mic to one of the line inputs?

 

Perhaps this is what you mean:

 

TAKE 1) record vocals and piano midi

 

mic -> mixer -> soundcard in (L)

piano mono output -> soundcard in ® (for monitoring)

piano midi-out -> soundcard midi-in

soundcard output -> headphones (via mixer)

 

TAKE 2) record piano audio

 

soundcard midi-out -> piano midi-in

piano out (L)-> soundcard in (L)

piano out ® -> soundcard in ®

 

that should work. A bit cumbersome perhaps? Lots of cable swapping between takes will get tedious.

 

Can I skip the mic-preamp and boost the microphone signal digitally in the DAW?

 

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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I'd forgotten that card doesn't have mic pre-amps in it, so yes, I'll think you'll have to use the mixer for that at least. It might be worth comparing the difference between the piano going in through the mixer or direct when you come to record the MIDI playback.

Studio: Yamaha P515 | Yamaha Tyros 5 | Yamaha HX1 | Moog Sub 37

Road: Yamaha YC88 | Nord Electro 5D

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.......

An audio interface with at least one stereo inputs + one mic input with a headphone output for monitoring would certainly do the trick. More suggestions please!

 

Some ideas for interfaces to check out:

 

USB:

 

M-Audio Fast Track Ultra

 

Edirol UA-101

 

Tascam US-2000

 

 

 

Firewire:

 

(Using a PCI/Firewire card/adapter for PC or PC Laptop; basically $15 - $35 on Tiger Direct, or similar online PC peripheral supplier)

 

PreSonus FireStudio Mobile. (http://www.presonus.com/products/Detail.aspx?ProductId=58)

 

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24

 

M-Audio ProFire 610

 

 

 

I currently use a PreSonus Firebox (somewhat a predecessor to the FireStudio Mobile), but will likely be upgrading to a multi mic pre, FireWire interface - to get the mid-quality, slightly noisy mixer out of my audio chain (Aidan's suggestion of not having a mixer involved is worth considering, as most - if not all of these Firewire interfaces have built in, software based mixing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'Someday, we'll look back on these days and laugh; likely a maniacal laugh from our padded cells, but a laugh nonetheless' - Mr. Boffo.

 

We need a barfing cat emoticon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is no doubt that an entry level interface will make your life easier. They usually have discrete monitoring independent of what is getting recorded, multiple inputs, and easy to understand controls. Usually these boxes with software are under $200, often found on ebay for $150 or less.

"I believe that entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set out to make art you're an idiot."

 

Steve Martin

 

Show business: we're all here because we're not all there.

 

 

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yeah, a more capabale interface seems to be the best option.

 

I'm a bit alarmed that there isn't much between your typical guitar + mic 2-in, 2-out boxes and the next step up which is 8-in 8-out! After all I only need 3-in 2-out!! I'm never going to use all those other channels.

 

I did try the monitoring in mono idea, but crawling around behind the PC to switch cables is a pain and the sound of the piano in mono through phones was uninspiring.

 

Guess the only other viable alternative would be to simultaneously record one channel for vocals, and another channel with midi which triggers a virtual piano VSTi. I can monitor both tracks from my soundcard, no problem. Balance the tracks, apply fx and then render to audio.

 

I've tried this and it does works well, it's just that those piano VSTs seem expensive and the perceived improvement in sound over my Yamaha are negligible, for my ears anyway.

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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Sure Gismo, that works. In fact that's what I used to do.

 

My mixer has one mic and 2 pairs of stereo lines. But then it all gets mixed down to one stereo track. It was frustrating to nail the perfect performance only to find that the vocals were too quiet.

 

THere's no possibility to mix after recording, and no way to add fx to just the vocals.

hang out with me at woody piano shack
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There's no possibility to mix after recording, and no way to add fx to just the vocals.

For precisely this application I use a standalone digital workstation (Yamaha AW16G), which acts as both mixer and recorder - with effects. This is the previous model so used units can be got quite cheaply from eBay, though there are probably smaller, even cheaper recorders that do this kind of thing just as well.

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