As music technology has evolved, so too have the needs to produce music. Whether at home or at the studio, music producers utilise audio interfaces. These interfaces contain multiple pieces of important equipment, all vital for recording. But exactly how important are interfaces for modern music production?
An audio interface itself can be seen as quite simply as a microphone/instrument preamp with a built-in converter to change the analogue signal into a digital signal usable by DAW software on a computer. Some interfaces have different features, like MIDI ports, or even DSP effects allowing for signal processing during the recording stages, without affecting the PC’s processing potential. Because most music nowadays is composed on a computer, interfaces have become the most important piece of equipment in any setup.
The two most important parts of an audio interface are the preamps and the converters. However, interfaces are more than just these two parts – many interfaces offer features to improve the quality of recording along with boosting your workflow. As previously mentioned, DSP effects allow for improved recording quality and workflow. These effects will be used directly from the interface itself, and present compression, equalisation, reverb, gates/expanders etc. allowing for producers to use during a recording stage, as well as save space, time, and money. Other workflow functions can include re-amp outputs for sending a signal out to a guitar or bass amp, or even inserts allowing for an external preamp to be used in conjunction with the interface in question.
Though Interfaces have become the heart of all studios, are they actually needed for small time producers/newcomers to music production?
Alternatives to Interfaces
Audio interfaces are largely used due to how much they offer, and the workflow potential they allow. However, music technology is ever evolving, and there are alternatives.
In terms of vintage alternatives, tape recorders are still a viable means of recording. There are many different options to choose from, and they are relatively easy to use. However, they are limited in what they provide, along with this, an interface would eventually be needed to release widely on streaming services/music download sites, thus tape recorders are widely only used for quick recordings saving things for later, or for recording demos to be worked on with a producer at a later date.
Innovations in the music industry have allowed for some rather specialised alternatives to having an interface. Some audio companies offer ‘all-in-one’ microphones which have built in interfaces, with their own gain and headphone outputs. These microphones tend to have a USB and allow for direct recording to a DAW or even just directly to a computer’s own recording software. These do offer good workflow for singers, and also allow for recording of some instruments like acoustic guitar. However, they are limited to only one recording at a time, again like with a tape recorder, these are better suited to quick recordings to be used at a later date, or even just quickly recording vocal or instrumental ideas for later productions.
Interfaces have been the heart of music production for almost thirty years, this is due to computers becoming the main way of recording and storing music. Though there are alternatives to using an audio interface, none of them truly provide the quality or workflow needed to be able to be used regularly, or for productions consisting of more than one instrument. Generally speaking interfaces are the heart of studios and producer setups because they provide everything needed, and continue to improve and offer more to those who use them.
This article briefly explains the importance of interfaces, however there is much more information readily available to be able to deep dive and understand more of what is offered, and what is actually needed when it comes to producing music, whether at home or even in a studio environment. A great starting point for a better understanding of interfaces and answer to the question what is an audio interface exactly, you can find here.