What You Didn’t Learn in Music School: Recording Classical Music in Your Home


Up until March of 2020, my experience in recording myself was insufficient, and that’s giving myself a huge benefit of the doubt. Sure, I had made successful audition tapes for college auditions and festivals. Maybe I turned on a recorder every now and then in a practice room faintly remembering that a teacher (or all of them) had said it might be a good idea to hear how I sound. But other than knowing how to turn on a Tascam DR-100 mkII Linear PCM Recorder (say that five times fast) I received as a Christmas gift in high school and thinking to put the device far enough away that it probably—hopefully—won’t distort the recording, I had no idea how to record music. In my defense, I didn’t even know what I would need to know to get started; it just wasn’t something anyone thought to teach me.


What you need to learn


If you are a musician of any kind, you need to learn how to produce a competent recording and to use basic audio and video equipment by yourself. You may be asked to make an audition tape, or you may need to start teaching online over Zoom. You may decide you want to start creating content online or perhaps you just want to be able to hear how you actually sound in the practice room. Of course, there are professional engineers who offer recording services for musicians, but unless your recording must be at the highest standard possible, learning basic recording skills will offer you a great deal of artistic freedom and save you a lot of money.



Hardware


In order to start recording yourself, you’re going to need a microphone. So, what should you buy? It’s going to depend on your budget and your needs, but there are a few categories of microphones to look in to:


USB Microphones are probably the most ubiquitous type of microphone right now because they are the easiest to use with video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype. The most popular is the Blue Yeti, which is the microphone I used to start my YouTube channel and Instagram. They are powered from your computer and require a Digital Audio Workstation (more on this later) to record, but they are fairly easy to use.


Handheld Recorders like the Zoom H2N or the Tascam DR-100 I mentioned earlier are good options to start recording. They’re portable and battery powered, meaning that you can set them up anywhere you need to record. Some handheld recorders can connect to your computer via USB cable and act as a USB microphone for video conferencing, and larger models like the Zoom H4 will have inputs for XLR microphones, meaning that should you choose to upgrade your equipment, you can still use the handheld recorder as an audio interface.


XLR Microphones is admittedly a broad category, but to be as basic as possible these are all of the microphones that connect via XLR cable. There is an insane variety of microphones (Condenser, Dynamic, Ribbon, etc.) at an even wider variety of quality and price range. High-end professional audio equipment exists in this category, for example, but so does entry-level gear that can be used in a home studio. Generally, there are a few things to keep in mind when you start down the rabbit hole of these kinds of microphones:


• To use these microphones effectively you will need an Audio Interface like the Scarlett 2i2 to power the microphones, control the audio levels, and to connect the microphones to your computer to record.


• Most of the time, you will want to be recording in stereo, meaning that the Left and Right audio channels are independent and different. The acoustic space is an important part of the sound of classical music and recording in stereo helps make your recording sound like you are in the room with the music. But, in order to record this way, you are going to need two microphones and you will need to learn how to set up basic stereo patterns like XY and ORTF.


• The polar pattern of a microphone describes where the microphone picks up sound. Most common are cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional or figure-8, but for recording music, especially as a beginner, it’s probably best to stick with cardioid patterns.


If you want to hear a direct comparison of some of these microphones, I’d recommend my video “How to Record the French Horn: Microphone Test and Buying Guide,” which I promise will work for all instruments too.



Recommendations


• If you need a microphone for a home studio to teach over video conferencing that’s easy to use, go with the Blue Yeti or a similar USB Microphone.


• If you need a microphone that can connect to your computer for video conferencing, but that you can also travel with to record your practice or record in or outside your home, purchase a Zoom H2N. You can also get a Zoom H4N or H6N if you want something more robust that you can upgrade later down the line or use with XLR microphones.


• If you are looking to start making professional level recordings and learn more advanced recording techniques, purchase a Scarlett 2i2 audio interface and a