How To Record Keyboard and Synths

If you have a studio full of hardware synths and drum machines, your audio interface can be your studio centrepiece and time-saver all in one, increasing the efficiency of your workflow. Recording keyboards and synths can be straightforward. These instruments usually have line-level outputs, which connect straight into an audio interface’s line inputs, making it simple to get a great recording quickly. But there are several things to take into account when recording, and some power-user features that you can apply to your workflow to make the most of your keyboards and synths, and stay connected.

How many inputs do I need for recording keyboards and synths?

The short answer is: as many as possible! With lots of music-making machines, your ideal interface will have one input per each output of your device(s). Each stereo synth or drum machine will need two of you interface’s inputs. Those instruments with multiple outputs — which let you separate individual tracks or layers in isolation — will use up even more of your channel count. With just four of five different machines, you can easily occupy all the inputs of even the most capable interface.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider getting an interface that can grow with your needs. ADAT offers expansion of a further eight inputs. On an interface like the Scarlett 18i8, that means you can expand up to 18 inputs — enough for even the most serious keyboard rig.

But if you don’t have a huge number of inputs, don’t worry. You can manually disconnect and reconnect your cables whenever you want to record the output of a different synth. Having front-panel inputs, as found on all Focusrite Scarlett interfaces, means that you don’t need to blindly reach behind your device every time you want to connect something new. To simplify the connection process even further, you could consider using a patchbay, which lets you keep all your sources connected; connections are made by patching short cables between sockets on the patchbay.

Using a mixer with an audio interface

Alternatively, you could submix your keyboards, synths and other machines using an external mixer. In this configuration, you can blend some or all of your music-making machines and send the mixed output via a stereo output to your audio interface’s line inputs. The downside to this is that, once you’ve set your mix, you can’t re-balance it once it’s captured.

Setting your levels when recording keyboards and synths

A good rule of thumb is to set the output level control of your external devices to about 70% when sending the audio to the interface. This should be enough to give the interface plenty of healthy signal without distorting the inputs. Always check your input levels to make sure they are getting a balanced and strong signal. Focusrite’s gain halos are helpful in setting your levels: if the halos are in the red all the time, your signal is too hot. Focusrite Control lets you precisely measure the input level of every analogue input, so you can make the appropriate adjustments before pressing record. If you’re recording at 24-bit, peaking at -12dBFS is a good reference point.

Make the most of your audio interface’s MIDI connectivity

Some audio interfaces also include MIDI input and output ports, which enable simple connectivity between your DAW and your MIDI hardware. Having MIDI capabilities on your interface helps consolidate your wiring, cuts down on rack space and simplifies other studio infrastructure.

Using your audio interface as a mixer

Focusrite Control 2 is a great tool for Mac®, PC, or iOS that allows you to route your audio, set up cue mixes, or capture in-computer audio using loopback. You can even use Focusrite Control to create custom mixes for your live show. Choosing an audio interface with a high number of line outputs means you can easily send a separate mix, or even several submixes of instruments, to the front of house engineer — they will love you for that.