Revolutionize Your Playing with Home Recording, The Outrageously Easy Way
No matter what level you are at with your saxophone playing, I’m willing to bet one thing – if you are not doing it already you could improve your playing quite dramatically by making recordings of yourself and listening back to them.
Self recordings allow you to take a step back and become your own coach. When you listen to your own recordings you have a level of objectivity that doesn’t exist when you are busy playing because when you are playing you have so much else to think about before analysing your technique.
The most simple way to start analyzing your technique is to use a microphone to make recordings of yourself. If you have a smartphone you can do this using an app on your phone, but if you want recordings that sound a little better the next step up is to purchase a usb microphone and make recordings on your computer.
USB microphones are a relatively recent invention that came about when microphone manufacturers started to build microphone preamps and digital audio converters into the bodies of the mics. For the hobby recorder this means that you no longer need a home studio with cables everywhere, you simply need a usb mic and some software.
My recommendation for recording software or DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software is Reaper for Windows and Mac. I can’t speak highly enough of this program. It’s free to try out for as long as you like, but if you do find yourself using it frequently, please purchase an affordable license to support the developer.
Choosing A USB Mic For Saxophone
While most of the major microphone manufacturers now make usb mics, there are still not that many on the market compared to regular microphones.
Quality USB microphones start at around $50 and go up to about $400. The more expensive mics have more features that you may or may not need depending on what you hope to achieve.
In a recording studio, an engineer would spend a bit of time matching the correct microphone to the particular player and instrument, since more than just about any other acoustic instrument, the sax has a very wide range of tonal possibilities.
As a home recorder, the first thing you need to think about is the room that you will be recording in. What size is it and how does it sound? If you are recording in a very small room, then the reflections in your room probably don’t sound very good. In this case you will want to choose a dynamic microphone and position the microphone closer to the sax, about six inches away from the bell to minimize the sound of your room in your recordings.
If on the other hand you have a nice large sounding room to record in, you can position the mic further away to get more of the room sound in your recording. In this case you should consider condenser microphones as they capture much more detail in the recording.
The next thing to look for in your usb mic is does it have a headphone socket on it? This is important because you can plug headphones into the socket and listen to your recording live without any delay. You can then move the position of your sax relative to the microphone to experiment and find a nicer sound for your recordings.
For more information about USB Microphones and a handy chart to compare features checkout my site www.usbmicrophone.info [sorry, since the publication of this article, this link has become inactive].
With a copy of Reaper and a USB Microphone you have everything you need to start making self recordings. Listen to yourself playing, analyse your strengths and weaknesses and then focus on eliminating your weaknesses, and you will start to see rapid benefits in your saxophone playing.
May 30, 2013 @ 10:51 am
Excellent suggestions. I also recommend Audacity as a very easy to use DAW. It is also open source, meaning free forever.
May 30, 2013 @ 11:18 am
Yeah, these DAW’s are all new to me (although I have heard of Audacity), as I’ve been using Logic for years, but that’s obviously pretty over the top if you’re not doing hard core music production. Thanks for the suggestion!
May 30, 2013 @ 11:57 am
Love the site (and congrats on the baby)! I run a swing band and jazz combo and record our rehearsals for practice purposes. I have also had luck using Audacity. I have one condenser mic and one dynamic plugged into the Tascam DR-100 and then feed it all through the program for editing.
In addition, I agree that listening to yourself playing makes you a better sax player. I was amazed at how often I would use a lip slur every single time I hit the top of my runs. Every single time! Would have never known if it weren’t for the self recordings.
May 30, 2013 @ 7:58 pm
Hey Russ, thanks so much for the kind words and the congrats!!
Sounds like you’ve got a nice and simple set up. The USB is a good very simple way to start out, but it sounds like you’re a couple of steps ahead of that.
Glad to hear that the advice in the article resonated with you!
June 3, 2013 @ 4:42 pm
If you have a decent mic you could purchase a 3M USB Male to 3Pin XLR Female Microphone for about $12 on Ebay.
That’s what I did. Waiting for the cable to arrive to try it out with Reaper.
Thanks for the article!
June 5, 2013 @ 11:51 am
Sounds like a very reasonable solution, God bless eBay – thanks for sharing!
June 15, 2013 @ 3:44 pm
Thanks for posting this article. I’d been deterred by the complexity and expense of home recording equipment until I learned from this article of USB mics suitable for recording music.
Most of the reviews of USB mics are with reference to podcasting, voiceovers, and such, not instrumental recording. Maybe this site could provide a space in the reviews section for readers to give their impressions of the home recording setups they use – fidelity, convenience, suitability for specific acoustic and noise environments, software issues, assorted quirks….
June 17, 2013 @ 7:29 pm
Perhaps someday it would be good to have a forum here (maybe that’s sort of what you’re recommending?), but there are already a good number of sax sites with forums, so I’d have to think about how a forum of some sort would be beneficial to my readers, not ruling it out, but it would probably be a while.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article though!
June 23, 2013 @ 5:52 pm
Yeah, I see your point about forums. The signal-to-noise ratio can get pretty bad, and how to manage that tends to get into some sticky political decisions. Don’t blame you for not wanting to go there. I was thinking that the lead article/comment format on this site might work well for user reviews.
June 19, 2013 @ 7:22 pm
Followup…The 3M USB Male to 3Pin XLR Female cable came. Hooked up my Shure SM57 gig mic and ran it thru Reaper. Works fantastic!
Alistair is spot on….if you haven’t listened to yourself play…probably have a surprise coming….I did!
Thanks for the article!
June 30, 2013 @ 3:52 pm
I’m very pleased with the results I’m getting using a Blue Yeti. It’s well made, feature-laden, versatile, and it does very high quality recording. It’s a good unit to use in an imperfect acoustic environment because the gain control can be used to suppress room echo as well as outside noise. With the mic gain all the way down and the software gain around 20% the cardio pickup is very clean. Stereo or Omni mode can be used with the gain control for ambient effects. The monitor jack also picks up playback from the computer with zero latency, so you can record yourself over a backing track. That bad boy is head and shoulders above anything going for $100 or below.
August 21, 2015 @ 8:20 am
Hey Love this website. I can find anything I need compared to 15 years ago when I took a break in playing my sax. Since this year I started again and my progress is considerable.
About recording oneself for practice, I keep on wondering if the cats in the olden days used to do this (I mean 40’s 50’s 60’s), or where they just floating on talent?