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The Laptop Production Process

Connect an audio interface to achieve professional recording quality.
laptop image by Dušan Zidar from Fotolia.com

A laptop not only is suitable for casual web surfers, businesspeople and students but also can accommodate the serious or budding music producer. As laptop processors continue to become faster and more powerful, newer laptops can handle even the most demanding recording and mixing projects. Once you optimize your laptop for audio production, you can bring your music projects to life whether recording at home or mixing on the road.

Things You'll Need:

  • Musical Instruments
  • Soundproofing Panels (Optional)
  • Instrument Cables
  • Monitor Headphones
  • Audio Interface
  • Microphones

Install a digital audio workstation on your laptop. For simple projects, you can download a free program from the Internet (see Resources), or a user-friendly program such as GarageBand or MixCraft. For professional mixing, you will want to invest in a professional program such as Logic Pro, Pro-Tools or Cubase. GarageBand comes standard with Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard, and other programs are available at music supply stores or online from the manufacturers (see Resources).

Place your laptop in a noise-free environment with strong acoustics. You can purchase foam soundproof panels that hang on the wall for optimum recording quality, or you can just select a quiet, closed room. Place your microphones near an empty corner for strong, natural reverberation.

Connect an external sound card to your laptop, known commercially as an audio interface. This device connects to your laptop using FireWire or USB and contains one or more rows of audio jacks for your musical equipment, including guitars, keyboards, microphones, RCA inputs, speakers and, in some cases, MIDI hardware. If your laptop contains a FireWire port, consider purchasing a FireWire audio interface for faster transfers. If your laptop is not FireWire compatible, purchase a USB interface. You can find these devices at music supply stores such as Guitar Center and Sam Ash, and from online music retailers such as Guitar Trader and Musician's Friend.

Connect your musical hardware to your interface. Your individual production needs will depend on your style of music, but in general you need to connect at least one vocal microphone, a pair of monitor headphones (for playback), drum microphones and all your analogue instruments (guitars, bass, keyboards).

Record music using your digital audio software. Your software relies on “tracks,” or horizontal recording layers, to maintain your recordings. For example, if you record a guitar riff on the first track, which spans horizontally along the top of your software window (like a long bar, or a line on a sheet of paper), you can then layer a vocal track on top of it by recording your vocals in second track, spanning just beneath the first. Add an additional track for each vocal layer and instrument section.

Disconnect your interface from your laptop and begin mixing your music, using your software's on-screen mixing and editing features. After you finish recording, you should wait at least a day before you begin mixing in order to hear the sounds with a fresh perspective and mix your tracks objectively. Connect your monitor headphones to your laptop to hear your music precisely and use your software’s mixing features to adjust each track to perfection. Use your software’s “EQ” to adjust the frequencies (treble, bass and mid-tones), use volume to balance the tracks and apply effects to add flavor to your tracks.

Save each song project as an audio file. Your software will include an exporting feature on the menu bar, usually appearing beneath the “File” menu or the “Sharing” menu. The option may read “Export,” “Save as MP3” or “Bounce.” When you select the exporting option, a pop-up window will prompt you to enter a name for your song and choose a file type. To retain the quality of the song, choose “WAV,” “AIFF” or “FLAC.” To compress the project into a smaller file, suitable for digital media players, choose “MP3,” “M4A” or “WMA.”

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