Looking for a hand getting started

Posted on

Member Since: Jun 07, 2010

Hello all,

I'm a game programmer with some music background, and I'm looking to try putting together some music for a game I'm working on. Unfortunately my current studio is a $10 microphone headset, an acoustic guitar, and a copy of audacity.

So I am clearly in need of some guidance...

What I really want is a keyboard + software setup that can reasonably approximate orchestral style instruments and percussion, and not sound completely out of place if the actual guitar finds it way in to a recording.

Is there anything you fine folk could recommend in either software or hardware to accomplish this sort of thing(I'm on an XP machine)?

Sorry for the lengthy post, it's just I have no idea where to begin looking, so any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!


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Since: Feb 07, 2005

Jun 07, 2010 07:59 pm

Wow, lots of different ways to go about this. What kind of budget do you have? It would really help to know this to narrow down the options

Since: Jun 07, 2010

Jun 07, 2010 08:45 pm

Well I'd definitely prefer to stay under $1000, but I'm open to suggestions.

Thanks again.

Since: Dec 04, 2007

Jun 08, 2010 03:30 pm

Sweet, a game programmer. A field I've been toying with getting into lately. Wanted to get into writing some gradius or R-Type-like shmups. I'm starting to teach myself OOP via C# and XNA lately since I never really got my head around OOP in the past; just procedural via C++ in college (which was a decade ago) So I'm re-learning stuff from the ground up. Though, I've got experience working with PHP, and still have a good grasp of the fundamental coding concepts/logic.

Anyway, welcome to HRC man. Like Beer said, there are a lot of ways you can go, but here's some suggestions.

Mic: Depends on what you're recording. A dynamic mic would probably be fine since they're more forgiving on certain things. Condenser more sensitive, and good if you're recording instruments (like your acoustic) or vocals that have a large dynamic range, but a condenser will pick up every little aspect of the room too. Your computer running, the AC Vent, possibly cars from the street, etc. So isolating the mic will be somewhat important.

Keyboard: what size of keyboard are you looking to get? If you have any background playing piano, I'd recommend getting 61 keys minimum. Otherwise, you might get by with 37 or even 25 key sizes. (I find 37 keys tolerable for doing melody leads, and being portable, but I use a 61 for my main keyboard controller)

That said, I've heard some good things about the new AKAI MPK series of keyboards, with the exception of the built-in drumpad. Apparently the drum pads on those aren't as responsive as some would prefer, but could still be useable. I myself have an Xboard-61. I like the feeling of the keys quite a bit, and it has enough features for what I do. Novation makes some nice keyboard controllers as well, but they get pretty expensive, depending.

Software: Best thing I can recommend is downloading and trying different types to see what works well with your workflow. I've been using FL Studio for quite some time, but I recently picked up Reaper's demo, and I've been having fun playing around with it. Both are pretty cheap as far as DAW's go. Then you've also got Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase, Wavelabs, Macki's Tracktion, Pro Tools, list goes on. They're all capable of the basic things that a DAW needs to do, the question is what jives with you, and helps you get things done, and which of the "extra" features you could see yourself using in the future. Some DAWs are also stronger or weaker in certain areas as well, such as audio vs. midi editing capability.

Hardware: if you want to record anything via mic, you'll definitely want to consider an external or internal audio interface at least to get away from the onboard sound chip. For your purposes, something like the Line6 Toneport UX1 would be a good fit.

Monitoring: Which is to say what your ears are hearing while you work on the music/mixing. This is the one place where you don't want to skimp, and it's important that the monitors work well with your ears. If you can find a music shop that sells nearfields, you might consider dropping by and listening to several speakers with an album that you know very very well, that you can pick up every little nuance on. Since you're on a budget, there's a few brands worth checking out: KRK, Event, JBL, Samson, Wharfedale, etc.

For a starting budget pair, you'd probably be looking at about $250 to $300.

Out of those, KRK is pretty popular. I've heard good things about the Wharfedale Diamond 8.1 (or was it 8.2?) for a budget monitor. Shop around, do some listening. Others will chime in here as well.

Fitting hand in hand with the monitor, is your room setup. Controlling the sound you're hearing back is the most important thing in any studio. Basically, the music you create and mix will only ever be as good as your room and monitors will allow. Now, there are some things you can do that will help. Bookshelves filled with books along the walls certainly help. Even just getting bass traps for the corners (floor to ceiling) as your only room-treatment purchase will help the majority of issues within the room. Hanging up very dense fabric could also help in spots, like a thick heavy blanket or comforter.

Now, that said, you CAN keep all that within the $1000 budget. The toneport runs about $150, the monitors $300-ish, The mic, probably about $80-$100 for a dynamic, maybe a bit more for a condensor. Software, Reaper is dirt cheap at $60, and the demo is uncrippled. A solid midi keyboard will run about $200ish, maybe a little more based on features. Treating your room can cost nothing at all, except for possibly ready-made bass traps, which tend to be overpriced a fair bit.

Though I (admittedly) don't have traps in my room, since all the corners are taken up with stuff like furniture (desk with hutch, book shelf, etc.) I'm itching for the day we eventually move so I can properly set up a recording/mixing space. We're currently in a tiny apartment, and we just don't have the room for it.

Since: Feb 07, 2005

Jun 08, 2010 06:21 pm

Great info J-Bot. I've been trying to make my way back into this thread but just haven't had the chance. This should be stickied of sorts.

Since: Jun 07, 2010

Jun 08, 2010 06:43 pm

Thanks a bunch, J-bot. That's exactly the kind of direction I was hoping for. I think Google and I can take it from here :)

Thanks again, I really appreciate the advice!

Since: Sep 30, 2009

Jun 08, 2010 07:31 pm

One more little bit, depending on the game style this may differ. But, Native Instruments has some excellent packages. And stuff like Absynth would be great for crafting some ambient music for the game, but they also have sample packages for doing more "orchestral" sorts of sound design.

Since: Dec 04, 2007

Jun 08, 2010 07:37 pm

Thanks and not a problem. Feel free to ask us anything as you get going. :)

I've got actually got a bit of a "rule of thumb" guide in the works concerning home studio gear. Got the first draft done, and had my wife proofread it. (She's a researcher/scientist type). I just haven't had a chance to go back and make changes to it. Once I do, though, I'll post it here first to make sure things are correct before popping it up on my website. It's not a comprehensive listing to be sure, more a set of guidelines, but I try to be fairly thorough and cover the path from the mic to the monitors more or less.

And I just realized I left out a section involving keyboard/other midi controllers, doh! Gonna have to update the guide hehe.

Edit: also on VST, KVRaudio is a great place to find freebies. GTG Synths is another nice site with some nice softsynths. Tweakbench also has some freebies which are cool.

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