How to Record Audio on Computer

By Lori Spencer

The digital revolution has made it possible for every musician and songwriter to produce professional-sounding demos at home. With a simple home studio setup, you can record, edit and mix an entire album on your computer. If you're serious about producing top-quality audio, it is recommended you invest in pro recording/mixing software such as ProTools ($250 as of October 2010). For most amateur home studio productions, however, several popular software programs will do a great job for between $50-$80. Some basic audio recording software is even free or comes with a free trial period. A few recommended choices are Audacity, WavePad or MixPad, CakeWalk, Garage Band (for Mac) and Adobe Audition.

Things You'll Need

  • Audio recording/editing/mixing software
  • Microphones
  • Headphones
  • USB audio interface
  • Mixing board (optional, but recommended)
  • Outboard gear (optional)

Step 1

Purchase at least one external microphone. Depending on the sound quality you ultimately want to achieve, plan on spending anywhere from around $100 for a Shure SM58 up to $3,000 or more for a top-of-the-line Neumann U87 as of October 2010.

Step 2

Get a USB audio interface (priced from $150-$200 as of October 2010). This device lets you plug guitars, bass, keyboards and microphones in directly and record them to your computer.

Step 3

Invest in a pair of high-quality headphones for accurate, clear reproduction of the sounds while recording and mixing. A good pair of cans will run you anywhere from $80 to a few hundred dollars as of October 2010.

Step 4

Open the sound recording software program of your choice. This tutorial uses WavePad. However, the essential functions and commands of audio recording programs are going to be the same regardless of which software you use.

Step 5

Test your recording input levels by pressing the red "Record" button (keyboard shortcut: F5). A record dialogue window will appear where you can name the file and select the recording sound device or input.

Step 6

Press "Rec" (or F5) again to start your test recording. Capture 30-60 seconds of voice or an instrument, including very loud and very soft passages to set an overall range for the recording level. Adjust the microphone/input level as necessary. Keep an eye on the waveform meter to ensure you're getting enough signal without distortion. Press "Stop" when you are done recording the test track.

Step 7

Playback your test recording by pressing the "Play" button (keyboard shortcut: space bar). If everything sounds loud and clear, repeat steps 5 and 6 to start cutting individual tracks.

Step 8

Check each "take" after recording by playing it back and listening through from start to finish. You may have to record several takes until you are satisfied with the result.

Step 9

Close the record control window when you have the take you want to keep. Your new track will automatically open in the sound editor window.

Step 10

Edit your track as desired in the sound editor window. You can add effects such as echo, reverb, EQ, noise reduction and pitch modulation. To delete unwanted sections, highlight those portions of the track with your mouse and then press the "Del" key to remove them.

Step 11

Save your recording to a specified folder on your computer's hard drive. Select the desired output format (usually .WAV, .WMA, or .MP3).

Tips & Warnings

  • Bear in mind that every audio software program has unique variations and features, particularly in the areas of editing and mixing. Read the operating manual that came with your software package to learn what your particular program can do.
  • For simple recordings (such as just a single voice speaking), you can use the basic sound recorder program that comes pre-installed on your PC.
  • A mixing board and outboard gear are optional, but highly recommended if you want to produce a professional-sounding recording.
  • Don't turn your headphones up too loud while recording: the sound can "bleed" onto a live microphone. You may also experience feedback and risk damaging your ears.
  • Eliminate all sources of noise when recording; turn off electrical appliances, plumbing and air conditioning/heating units. Use baffles if necessary to block out sound coming from other rooms or outside.