Wednesday, February 5, 2014

DIY Recording Tips - Latency Issues

Latency is a problem for musicians that want to overdub multiple tracks in a recording program on their computer if their computer does not have all of the specs and capabilities required to overcome latency. This covers a lot of people because a computer that has all the specs, etc. usually costs a lot more than your average home PC or laptop. What actually happens in my case is this: I have some tracks open in Audacity that I put together with MIDI and now I want to add some guitar/bass tracks. I hook up either a mic, or a direct connection with a guitar, set it to record and start playing along with the tracks I've already made and whenever I play a note on my guitar, I hear it a split second or so later than I played it. This is the computer lagging behind because it doesn't have the power and specs required to keep up with the pre-recorded tracks. As you can imagine, it's maddening to try and work with this. I get around it with another piece of equipment known as a "porta-studio", in my case I have a Tascam DP-004. This cost me less than $200.00CAN. If you total the cost of an average computer and one of these it's way less than the above mentioned hi-spec computer, and these are pretty useful in more ways than just beating latency. These are not considered to be a professional alternative as they only record in 16bit, however, this blog series is for the lo-budget, lo-fi musician. Once I have the basic outline of a song in Audacity, I export it as a "guide track" and load it into the porta studio, mine is a four track so I put this guide track on track 4, then I hook up a mic or whatever kind of direct input I want(you can plug an electric guitar straight in if you want). I then set the guitar to record on track 1 and start it up, now I can hear the guide track and my guitar in real time, no latency. Once I have a track down that I'm happy with I upload it from the porta studio to the computer and add it to the tracks in Audacity, which will be perfectly in sync, and I'm ready to mix/alter/whatever. There are several makes and models of porta studios available, some have more features like XLR connecters and more tracks but most of the low budget ones I've looked at are 16bit, like anything in this world, you have to spend more money to get the higher specs, however, I know I'm not the only indie artist out there that is recording and releasing music with this level of equipment, and some of those artists sound pretty good to me. One more tip: If you do buy a porta studio of any kind read the manual thoroughly before you try to use it! They can be a bit complicated at first but once you get used to it they're amazing.

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