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Getting Started With Digital Audio

Getting Started

To begin with, you can use the sound card built into your computer, but I don't recommend it. Internal sound cards pick up noise from within your computer, and most computer manufacturers don't include a first-rate sound card unless you pay extra for it. Still, if you aren't going to be recording much audio, you will be able get by with your default sound card for awhile.

The most important factor in deciding which software to buy is what you are comfortable will get the job done. You should consider trying shareware versions of as many programs as you can before committing your money. In addition to the comparisons in this article, you will find plenty of user reviews and forums at these sites:

Like buying cars, houses, or shoes, there is no "best" product. Different people have different needs, and understanding those needs will help you determine what software is right for you. To get you going, I will lay out three different example scenarios: a production setup, a recording setup, and an editing setup. Although I separate these three "types" of setups, there is obviously a lot of overlap. Still, here are some good options for you:

Production Setup Recommendations

The production-centric setup is ideal for everyone from bedroom techno programmers to hip-hoppers, singers and songwriters creating their own demo CDs, and everyone in between. The emphasis in a production setup is the ability to create music efficiently and creatively. You will want as many sounds as possible at your fingertips, so it is important to look for a software package with a large sound library to get you started. It is also a good idea to find software with lots of bundled plug-ins, as these can be expensive to buy individually. (A plug-in is an effect or virtual instrument that expands the functionality of a larger program.)

This is a good time to discuss MIDI. If you are going to be writing music with your computer, you need to familiarize yourself with MIDI (an acronym for m usical instrument d igital i nterface ). MIDI is generally used to store a musical performance as information - pitch, tempo, timbre, etc. This information contains no actual sound, and is comparable to the script of a player piano. This technology is of use to people concerned with creating music; it is less important to the recording and editing of digital audio. A MIDI controller is usually a piano-style keyboard that is useful for playing a musical idea, which is then sent to your computer and stored as digital information.

If you don't have one already, you should buy a MIDI controller to "play" your virtual instruments. An example of using MIDI to control a virtual instrument would be as follows:

  1. You press a key on your MIDI controller
  2. The note just pressed triggers a plugin to play back a sample (a small sound file) assigned to the key. Note that the sound comes from the plugin itself, and not from the keyboard.

This is just one example of the many uses of MIDI. Not all software packages support MIDI, and as a producer, you will definitely need MIDI support. Programs such as Motu Digital Performer, Apple Logic, Ableton Live, Propellerhead Reason, FL Studio, and Apple Garageband are all common choices for producing music.

Although there are many options, I would recommend that a beginning producer use Propellerhead Reason and the M-Audio Ozone . Reason is great for beginners, because it not only has lots of tools for creating your own sounds, it also includes a massive library of sounds. The only limitation of this software is its inability to record audio. If this is important to you, pick up Sony Soundforge . Soundforge allows you to record sound, process it, edit it, and even synch it to video.

The M-Audio Ozone is a great first piece of hardware for the aspiring producer, because it serves a dual purpose. Not only do you get a very functional audio interface that can record 2 tracks of audio at 24-bit/96kHz - above CD quality - you also get a two octave MIDI controller with eight assignable knobs. With this combination you'll be producing in no time.