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Recording to PC

Connecting to the PC (or Mac) to record a mix

Once again, this is all covered in more detail in the book

See chapter 11 in the book for in depth detail

The first in the set of three "How To's" originally written and sent to me by Justin Hornsby. A lot of hard work has been put into these three guides, so read and learn. The programs he mentions using are the best for the job. By all means substitute your favourites (I use Cool Edit instead of Sonic Foundry) - just don't come to us if it goes wrong!!

There's various means and methods for how to connect and record to your computer. Your soundcard will probably have come with a particular piece of software to use - so go through the instructions for that - the following guide is just one experience of how to do it. In case you're interested, I have an external soundcard which I can connect to either my Mac or my PC. When using my PC - it's all done through Nero soundstation, and when using the Mac, it's all done using Audacity - but the principles remain the same

What you need

In order to record to your computer, you'll need:

  • A computer (Mac or Pc, it's your choice)
  • A soundcard (internal or external - this is probably dictated already by what PC or mac you're using)
  • A cable to go from the mixer to the PC/Mac (this will either be a RCA to RCA cable (see the connections page), or if your soundcard just uses small headphone jack sized connections, you'll need a pair of RCA's to a 3.5mm stereo jack as shown in the image below.
  • Software to record the mix - again, this will probably have been provided with the soundcard, but Audacity do a free program for Mac and PC which you might want to use.
  • Speakers, so you can listen back to the mix, and make sure you're happy with it. Headphones would do just as well.

Setting up to record

Turn your speaker volume down to minimum.  Connect the two phono plugs on the above lead to the line output of whatever you want to record (e.g. minidisc or mixer).  Plug the 3.5mm stereo jack plug into your PC soundcard's line input.  The line input socket is normally black coloured (the line output socket is usually the lime green one).  Turn up the volume of your speakers to a reasonable level.  Play the sound source which is now connected via the lead.

Now open up the windows mixer panel by double clicking on the speaker icon in the system tray near the clock (bottom right hand side of the screen)

Select the LINE input and adjust its volume

When you're happy that it sounds nice & doesn't distort, move to the next step.  If it does sound distorted, turn down the volume of the line input in Windows mixer - and if that doesn't help, turn the output of your mixer down - it's too loud!

Open the windows mixer panel again.  This time select Options, properties then select 'Recording'. 

Make sure the line input is the only input selected - this is shown by a tick in the checkbox associated with the input fader.  If you have any other inputs selected you run the risk of recording Windows system sounds and hiss from your soundcards microphone channel!

Now you need to open your sound recording program.

A good one will let you enter a 'record ready' mode - usually by just clicking on the first record button.  What happens here is that the program is READY to record but it's paused.  This is useful because you can look at its level meter to make sure the input isn't too loud.  Your recording program does have a level meter doesn't it?  If it doesn't, you might as well give up now & try again when you have a proper sound recording program!!!

If the level meter is always in the red, first try turning down the level of the line input in the recording mixer.  If that doesn't work try to turn the volume down at the sound source.

When you're happy with the recording level, rewind whatever you want to record to the very beginning and pause it. Click on RECORD in the sound program and play as much of the sound as you want recorded.

When you've recorded all you want, press the STOP button in the recording program.

SAVE the file.  Name it something easy to remember like (and find) "stevesmix10-07-04".

So that's it!  You have now successfully recorded sound onto your PC's hard drive.

Now you might think it's ready to burn onto CD... before you do that, just play it back to make sure it's okay.  You don't have to listen all the way through but it helps to check it at various points in the recording just to make sure.

Making a professionally arranged CD

Okay so now you've recorded & saved a big soundfile you're happy with...  Suppose you want to burn a gapless CD with trackmarkings.  It's easy.  Of course if you want to use Nero to do it (and you've got all night to wade through the file) you can go ahead and use that.  But if you're anything like me you want as little frustration as possible.  Here's how to use Soundforge to split the big file into tracks:

Make sure the file you want to split is open in Soundforge.  Zoom into the start of the recording.   

Highlight the silence before the music starts.

Hit the scissors button to remove it.  (You can trim the end of the recording this way too).  Click on the very start of the soundfile and press m to mark the start of the file.  This is very important!

Then, go through the soundfile, zooming in and playing parts back to find the start of new tracks.  For a mix CD it's best to put the track marks at places where the next track obviously starts, say the first beat of the upcoming track which doesn't have any of the outgoing one mixed in.  Press m where you want the track mark to be.

Repeat the process until you've marked all of the tracks you want to separate.

Go to the special toolbar on the top menu.  Select regions list and then select markers to regions.  This will convert all the markers you put in to regions which will later be split into individual wave files.

Once you've done that, go to the tools menu and select the extract regions option.  This allows you to strip all of the regions now set, into separate wave files.  One thing to remember here is that whatever you do here the original long file will remain untouched!  Tip:  make sure you have enough spare hard drive space for this.

When that process is complete you can exit out of Soundforge (there's no real need to save the edited file on closing) and open your favourite CD burning program - the one I use is Nero.

Burning the mix to CD

Having opened Nero and selected its audio CD burning tool, find all the separate wave files that you just split from the big file and drag them into Nero.  You can easily re-arrange them if they don't appear in the right order.  Select a track and click the play button for each one just to make sure.

Since you want a gapless, seamless mix CD you need to set the pause between each track to zero.  This is very easy to do.  Select all tracks except the very first one.  Right click on the selected tracks and select properties

Set the time in the pause field to 0 and click OK.

Your track listing should now look similar to this - note the section highlighted in light blue:

Put a blank CD in your burner and click on the burn button as if you were burning a regular CD.  That's it!  All done. Remember: This is only one out of hundreds of possible methods you can use to make a seamless mix CD.  There are scores of programs out there which can do this job, but none I've used seem to be as easy to use or as painless as Soundforge.

Another top tip - when you're working with sound recordings on your PC try whenever possible to keep an original wav file of the recording.  Compression like MP3 is great for saving space but repeated operations on mp3 files can reduce the quality very noticeably.  That is - you load a file one day, do something to it, then save it - load it again another day, edit & save it again - each time you de-compress and re-compress an MP3 you're losing more & more quality.   Also watch out if you save your extracted tracks as MP3s before burning to CD because some MP3 conversion programs put a small gap at the start or at the end of every file - this will result in your mix CD being less than seamless.  Don't say I didn't warn you!