Way back in the dawn of history, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I dabbled a bit in the art of recording. Back in those days, we used an infuriating torture device disguised as a computer program called “Pro Tools.” Everyone with a beard laughed at us from behind their Neve consoles. “You morons!” they laughed. “Analog sounds so much better than digital!”
Well, those beards are laughing out the other sides of their faces now, because everyone listens to music digitally anyway. Now it’s easy to create viable musical product at home, and some people even claim that the process can be enjoyable. Of course, many of the people who say that have beards, so they can’t be trusted.
If you want to get started doing this home digital recording stuff, the most important thing you’re going to need is called a DAC, or Digital-to-Analog Converter. That’s the thing that takes the sultry sound of your voice and turns it into the bleeps and blorps that computers understand. In the olden days, your DACs and preamps and mixing console all came as separate units that cost a small fortune each, but now they are often folded into single pieces of gear in varying sizes which are usually called an “interface.”
One such interface that we like a lot for Set.fm recording is called the Alesis Multimix4. It is a 4-channel desktop mixer with a USB digital audio interface built right in. It is everything you need to get started recording at home in one box for a great low price ($120 MSRP, but more like $80 street price). For that money you get a very sturdy little box that looks like it could hold up under touring conditions quite nicely. As far as we know, there is not currently a better product on the market. If you can think of one, please let us know! We will certainly check it out.
The MultiMix4 can plug directly into an iPad running Set.fm via Apple’s USB to Lightning or USB to 30-pin connectors. Apple calls these “Camera Adapters,” but they work just fine for our purposes as well. Then all you have to do is stick a microphone or microphones into the mixer, adjust your levels, and away you go!
The Alesis Quick Start guide has a list of steps to make sure your computer is listening to the inputs from the MultiMix, which are pretty straightforward. It comes up for me as “USB AUDIO CODEC.” You’d think Alesis would have it called something like, oh I don’t know, “Alesis Multimix4,” but they don’t.
The reason we like this mixer so much is it offers our artists a lot of flexibility. If you can get a stereo line out from the sound guy, just stick those into the line ins numbered 3 and 4. Then, if you have room mics you want to use, you can put those in XLR inputs at 1 and 2. This way you can get a blend of everything going through the mains plus some of the room sound so you can still hear people clapping and cheering. If you can’t get the line outs, you can still work just fine with room mics.
One thing to note is that in USB mode, the main fader is inoperable. I sat there fiddling with mine for probably twenty minutes before I realized it wasn’t supposed to be working.
One other point in the MultiMix4’s favor is that it is powered by a wall wart style adapter rather than having an onboard power supply like a traditional mixer would. This helps isolate noise that might otherwise transfer into your recordings while keeping costs low. Full size boards have to be heavily shielded against noise and that shielding costs money which is then reflected in the MSRP. We don’t have anything against high-dollar gear, we’re just trying to keep the bottom line low so the returns can be high for our artists.
Keep in mind that this is currently our “preferred” Set.fm setup, but it does require a little knowledge of how mics and inputs and so forth work. None of this is hard. We think anyone can do it, but it might take a little trial and error. Get out there and experiment, folks! We can’t wait to hear what you come up with.