So, I mentioned here before that I got the Focusrite Scarlett Solo as part of my holiday haul, and so, have spent the past week or two spending a good amount of time noodling with it. Today, I’m going to share with you some absolutely newbie sort of things that I learned.
1. Plug the little sucker in before opening your audio program. Close your audio program before unplugging it. I’ve minimized my program a few times, forgot I had it open, and when I went to unplug the Solo, the computer lets out a deafening wail that does not stop until the program is closed. This is not a program specific thing. It’s happened in at least two separate DAWs. Save your eardrums. Close the program first.
2. Mic response on the Scarlett Solo is problematic. The instrument input responds much more readily than the mic input, so you’re going to have to make volume adjustments after the fact. You’re probably going to have to have more gain on your mic. Or, alternatively, buy something (like a cloudlifter, for example) to boost your mic’s signal. If, as a new user of Audio Interfaces, you expect to be doing a lot of vocals, or playing a lot of acoustic instruments, budget with this in mind. By the way, if you are looking at the solo, a boosting device like the cloudlifter costs more than your interface. If this is high priority for you, you might want to just look at a higher quality interface out of the gate to save yourself the tears of woe.
3. Gain increases volume, but reduces clarity. So if you really need that mic to come in at a higher volume, know that you’re likely going to have to make adjustments to clean things up after the fact, or decide to go a little gritty by adjusting your instrument of choice to match.
4. Not all programs will respond to your interface the same. Some things are your program. Some things are your interface. Some things are your microphone, or your cables. Learn to sort of what problem is coming from where. Have spare cables to check. Heck, have a cheap backup mic to check (my backup cost under $30. Would I want to record with it? Not really – that’s why it’s a backup – but it can definitely be used to troubleshoot.). Some programs are going to hear things coming through your interface better than others. Other programs are going to be more sensitive to background noise. Most programs will default to your interface if it’s plugged in at boot up, but some won’t. You’re going to have to get used to checking your preferences in each of these programs until you know which program is likely to do what.
5. Anything recorded through a mic input is going to have more trouble with excess noise than things recorded through an instrument input. This one, admittedly, is fairly obvious. But there are things you don’t quite realize are making noise around you until you attempt to mic a ukulele. Just saying. An instrument input will pick up the sound of your fingers hitting strings when you shouldn’t be. A mic input will pick up the sound of you shifting weight in your chair, or your instrument shifting on your lap, if you’re not careful.
6. Nothing will find your mistakes better than an Audio Interface once recorded. When you start recording things as single tracks, you might be in for a rude awakening. If you’ve, for example, been recording everything into your cell phone, your voice will end up covering some of your errors in guitar playing. Once you take that vocal away and have a clearer overall recording all those little things that make you cringe? They’re you. Work on them. Also, I notice my strings need to be changed way more quickly with a recording and a pair of headphones than I do with just my ears and the tv playing in the background. Change your damn strings when they need it. Don’t be me and wait until the high E sounds like it’s crying, or the whole set slips out of tune before you can finish a song. Listen to what your interface is telling you about your playing and your instrument. Isolating sounds from each other has a wonderful way of being completely merciless.
7. Use a mic stand, and keep your darn hands off of it. Breathing is noise. Chairs are noisy. Fingers are noisy. Everything is noisy, okay? And your mic picks up handling noise. Just the sound of your fingers holding it can turn into background noise, whether you think you’re moving your hand or not. Save yourself some heartache and use some sort of mic stand to reduce potential for that sort of noise. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I favor a low profile mic stand, because I can wedge it in comfortably close to tight spaces without tripod legs tripping me up, and I can get it to a comfortable height, but a cheap little desktop stand will also do the trick. Just make sure whatever you choose adjusts tall enough for you to sit in front of it comfortably. My desktop stand does not. I’m only 5’4, with most of my height in my legs, but I find that I have to hunch over it. This works fine for short intervals, but will become uncomfortable to use for any extended period of time.
8. Headphones. For the love of everything good and right in the world, get yourself a pair of decent headphones. They don’t need to be top of the line, I’m not saying that. I’ll never be the person to tell you you have to fork over huge wads of cash to get something workable, but if you’re already shelling out cash for an audio interface, then if cringing at the idea of a few more bucks for studio headphones, you need to reexamine your priorities. Bargain hunt. There are sales on last year’s phones all over the internet. I bought my CAD phones for $25 (which included shipping). So you can definitely get a good deal if you look. Check all the music retailers for who has a sale that week, check ebay, heck, check craigslist. Musicians upgrade from perfectly good gear all the time. But using some $5 crap from [insert major retailer here] and expecting it not to cost you all the benefits I discussed in #6 is just plain silly. Your headphones will block some ambient noise from your ears in a way your PC’s speakers can’t, isolating things down to what you’re playing. Working with that level of quiet is hugely beneficial in ways you can’t always predict until you’ve done it.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. I’m sure I forgot tons of things. But, at least it gives you an idea of all the things my brain has been full of after working with my Solo for two weeks or so.