Record An Entire Album Without Touching An Instrument WiredGuitarist March 22, 2019 Articles, Recording Tips, Tutorials, Uncategorized This article is just for fun, and to show how incredible technology has gotten. Don’t take it too seriously. 😉 Not sure how to play guitar, but want to write your technical death metal magnum opus? Want to record a great song idea but too lazy to pick up your instrument because “it’s all the way over there”? No problem! Technology has gotten us to a point where we can write, record, and publish an album all from just a laptop. It’s been that way for years, but now we don’t even need an instrument! In all seriousness, this is simply a fun experiment to illustrate that – if only for the fun of it – you can record an album without a single real instrument. Here’s how to write and record your own album using only software. Writing Tools Your best writing tool for guitar-based music is Guitar Pro. While most of us bought (or pirated, let’s be honest) the software because all the highest rated guitar tabs online were .gp files, it’s also a fantastic writing companion. Not only is the notation software created with guitarists in mind, but the playback feature allows you to hear a rough idea of the final product. You can add distortion, layer instruments, and write music even with a very limited understanding of music theory. Being able to play back the audio of your notation allows you to experiment and try new things without playing guessing games. The software allows for extended range instruments, custom tunings, and lets you write guitar, bass, drums, pianos, synths, strings, anything you could possibly want. One of its best features, however, is the ability to export MIDI files for each instrument. If you’re not familiar with this format yet, MIDI is essentially just information. It contains information on musical pitches, what octave they’re played in, their duration, their volume, and more. This MIDI information can be turned into audio, but we’ll get to that later. Recording Software In order to take this information and turn it into audio, we need a digital audio workstation (DAW) that we can work in. This software is often going to run you somewhere in the realm of $300-500, even for a student copy, but luckily we don’t need to spend a dime. Reaper is a free DAW that is rich in features and doesn’t restrict any of your tools during the free trial period. While it is not technically freeware, the lack of limitations on both the feature set and the time duration for the trial allow us to use it free of charge. While Reaper boasts an incredible amount of customization, but the best plan of attack is to avoid any customizing until you know the default settings inside and out. Just focus on learning the program for now. The good news is we won’t be needing most of the standard editing tools, so that’s one less thing to learn. Using Reaper, we can import those MIDI files we mentioned earlier and use audio plugins/samples to turn that information into sound. The plugins will interpret that MIDI info and translate it into specific samples based on what we’ve written in Guitar Pro. Pretty cool! Create a MIDI track, import the MIDI, and apply the plugin with the desired settings. Now, unfortunately, MIDI is not always universal, so you may find certain notes are triggering improperly, but you can drag them to the right notes fairly easily. Emulating Drums By now, we’re all familiar with drum samples. While they are often the topic of controversy – particularly in metal and rock – they also let us make our own drum tracks without having to record it ourselves. Recording drums isn’t nearly as simple as recording guitar or bass, you typically need a great sounding drum room, an equally top-tier drum kit, an arsenal of 8+ microphones, outboard gear… you can see the dollar signs starting to add up. It’s a demanding task, but with drum samples, we can remove that financial barrier and get great sounding recordings for a fraction of the price. If you don’t have any of your own, there are great, world-class samples available from companies like Steven Slate Drums or Room Sound ranging from raw and organic to modern and mix-ready. Recreating Bass While not as commonly used as drum samples, bass samples are also available. Companies like Wilkinson Audio offer plugins like Zombass to do all the heavy lifting for you. Colossal Bass is another great answer to your low-end problems. With bass there is a bit more work involved since the instrument has a larger variety of nuance. The plugins allow you to specify upstrokes, downstrokes, slides, slaps, taps, and other articulations. The same process applies here as with drums, import the MIDI and apply the plugin, tweak MIDI as needed. Yes, Guitar Too Yes, I know, science has gone too far. You can now use sampled guitar to write music using Shreddage 2. It contains the same luxuries as the bass plugins mentioned earlier, letting you dial in the correct articulations for every single note. Harmonics, slides, trem picking, legato, you name it. The software has samples all the way down to Drop G. If that’s not low enough for you, there’s also Uproar RAW’s 8-string samples. You can dial in your guitar tones using any plugins you like, but if you’re not looking to spend any money we’ve got you covered with lots of fantastic free options. Final Thoughts All that’s left to do from here is mix, master, and upload! Most serious artists won’t be using this approach to put out their original music, but it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that all these tools have given us an incredible amount of creative freedom. As silly as this idea is, we’re immensely lucky that we live in a time where these options exist, where we don’t need a drummer to make drum tracks for our songs, where we can communicate musically without touching an instrument, and where we can collaborate even on entirely different continents. For just a couple hundred bucks you can record what would otherwise require tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Maybe someday we’ll get to a point where we’ll have convincing vocal samples, then you won’t need to worry about your vocalist bringing his girlfriend to band practice anymore. Ah, such a bright future ahead of us!