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So Ya Want a Home Studio?

Let me start off by saying that I am not the definitive word on today's modern home studio. I know what I use and I know it works well so I'm going to give you my opinion. Would you expect anything less?

So, if you're reading this, it's a fair bet that you have a computer. It's also a fair bet that it's not fast enough, big enough, and is so crammed with un-mentionables that well, we better not mentionable them.

Step one, turn off your computer, gently unplug it from the wall, unplug the monitor from the CPU, carefully wrap up all the components, give it a kiss, put it in a box, and bury it in the back yard.

Next, go to your nearest Macintosh dealer and buy yourself a new computer, you're gonna need it. Any Mac system available today and built after about last week will work great. Now, before I get all that nasty email about being a Mac guy consider this. Mac's are just plain ol' better at the music thing and even better at running a thing called Pro Tools.

Yes, you guessed right, you're diving into the world of Pro Tools, kids - the world's most-used, straight-ahead, rock-solid, computer-based recording program. Yes, there's Logic. Yes, there's Digital Performer and a host of others. Trust me, I used Digital Performer for over 15 years, and it doesn't compare to the simplicity and ease of Pro Tools. And get this, if your band doesn't make a million dollars selling that hit you just wrote, you can get a job working for one of the gazillion studios and film editing companies that use Pro Tools on a daily basis as a bonafied expert!

So, next question - ask yourself how many inputs you need. By this I mean, you have your band, and you want to record it, so how many instruments are you going to want to plug in? 8 drum mics? A bass and guitar? Do you have a singer? Count them all up, this will tell you what audio device you're going to need to help get the music into your new shiny computer. I, myself, am a professional bass player and a lot of people send me their tracks to have me put bass on them from the comfort of my own home, so I don't need a lot of inputs. In fact, I just have two - I use the M-Audio Firewire Solo. It sits on my desk, has all the inputs in the front, is amazingly easy to use, and powers itself off the firewire cable connected to the computer. Perfect! And if you need a few more inputs, try the M-Audio FireWire 410 Mobile Recording Interface.

Here's the deal with Pro Tools. It comes in three versions: two identical "Lite" versions called "Pro Tools LE" and "Pro Tools M-Powered", and a pro version (Pro Tools HD) too expensive for all of us. The company that makes Pro Tools, Digidesign, recently purchased M-Audio, one of the world leaders in affordable audio equipment so, you guessed it, Pro Tools M-Powered works with M-Audio interfaces. Pro Tools light works with Digidesign's own interface, the M-Box. The lite versions and the pro version of Pro Tools are virtually identical. The real price difference is in the way each system handles audio. A Pro Tools HD system handles all the heavy processing inside large separate hardware interfaces that take the pressure off the computer thereby eliminating latency. Our inexpensive setups don't do that, so latency (the ability of the computer t o record and spit the sound back out through its processors) can be a factor. Again, armed with your shiny new computer, it shouldn't be a problem.

I think any of the M- Audio interfaces coupled with the M-Powered Pro Tools is the most cost- effective and inexpensive way to get up and running fast.

Oh yeah, in all my excitement over Pro Tools, I forgot to mention that you'll need some mics if you're going to some live recording. Like most musicians on the planet, I've been a Shure fan for a long time, so I suggest the Shure SM57 for instruments and the the Shure SM58 for vocals. You'll also need a good pair of headphones, and you certainly can't go wrong with a pair of AKG K240 Studio Headphones.

I bought my system through ActiveMusician, and I have to say it totally rocks! The first time I booted up Pro Tools M-Powered, it just opened my session with nary a question of where things were supposed to be. In 15 years of using Digital Performer, I rarely had it open up without the software saying "What the &*#! Is this you're trying to do? How dare you ask me to perform such a task! I will crash now unless you download my new drivers within the next 5 seconds. Ready go, 5, 4, 3 ..."

All the Pro Tools versions are now Intel-Mac friendly (and Windows-compatible if you that's your thing) and are solid as a rock! If you're looking for an inexpensive way to get into the most popular digital recording format in the world head on over to ActiveMusician and pick up your system now! Tell em' I sent ya.

Chris Tarry is a bass player in New York and not really a writer of any great distinction. I'm sorry, we should have warned you sooner.