Useful Stuff to Know » article » Basic Tips for Home Recording » Dec 16, 10:52 PM

Basic Tips for Home Recording

1) Buy quality gear that you can feel proud to own, even if you have to save up longer and buy it one piece at a time. Cheap gear quickly loses resale value and will bring you regret and frustration in the long run.

2) As long as it has the features you absolutely need, it’s better to get a higher quality thing with fewer features, than a lower quality thing with lots of extra features. In other words, better to get a very good single channel audio interface than, say, a 12-channel mixer with tons of knobs, if that’s all you really need.

3) Research thoroughly before buying: the manual, user reviews, and forum threads. Look for cut corners, missing features you might need, and general shortcomings.

4) Instead of having a poor performance or poor sounding audio source and expecting to fix it later with plugins, get the source sounding as good as possible first, so that you need as little processing as you possible. Reason is that trying to fix things with plugins introduces artifacts that take away from the realism.

5) Beware of how your recording space sounds — the echoes, reverb, reflections, etc… of the room. A small room with a metallic echo, or a microphone placed too close to a wall, will make even the most expensive of microphones sound bad. Learn about acoustic treatment: hanging up blankets or mattresses, reflection filters, portable vocal booths, or using acoustic foam, bass traps, diffusion panels. Acoustics have more impact on your recording tone than the brand of microphone used.

6) Condenser microphones are more sensitive to room acoustics as they pick up a wider field of sound. Dynamics are less sensitive to that, but they also sound a bit more up close and stuffy on vocals. Dynamics are great on loud blaring sources like electric guitar cabs, trumpets, snares, and so on. Condensers are best for acoustic guitar, vocals, piano.

7) How you position the mic relative to the audio source, and how both of those are positioned in the room, is very important. Mic position relative to your mouth or the guitar amp speaker, that’s something you’ll really have to play with. Do many tests to see what sounds best.

8) Pick five or ten songs from your music collection that you think have the best production sound similar to what you’re going for. As you mix, constantly refer back to those songs to see how you’re matching up. Make sure volume is adjusted so that your song and theirs are equal volume.

9) Beware of ear fatigue. That’s where after several hours of listening, your ears get numbed to certain frequency ranges and your sense of hearing is totally inaccurate. Most likely you’ll be unable to hear lower bass and upper mids and trebles, and will attempt to turn them up in the mix to compensate, only to realize the next day that the mix sounds scooped and harsh. When your ears are fresh, listen to an awesome sounding professional song … then as you mix, refer back to that song … when it starts sounding dull, you know your ears are shot for the day. Give it a break. For severe ear fatigue it can take up to a week to recover to 100%.

10) Studio monitors must be your single most valuable investment. Do not skimp on those. If you are serious about recording, you must get good, flat spectrum, accurate studio monitor speakers. They are your microscope into the mix. If they are off, your mix will be off. Good monitors are ones that, if what you make sounds good on them, it’ll sound good as can be on everything else. For mixing bass, since subwoofers are expensive and room acoustic resonance will make them inaccurate unless your room has bass traps everywhere, you may need to invest in some Audio Technica ATH-M50s headphones to accurately judge the bass.

This will allow you to buy studio monitors in the 5-6” cone range (way cheaper than the 8” ones) and not worry about having to mix bass only on those. You can also mix on the Audio Technica cans, but speakers will give you better judging of relative volume levels and not be as ear fatiguing. The cheapest good monitors are the Equator D5 for $300+shipping per pair, which is cheaper than many monitors for each speaker. If you can’t afford good monitors, then mix on the best you have, and then listen on car stereos, pc speakers, anything you can find to see what you need to fix. But I swear, good monitors are the key to good music production.

11) On microphones. My personal preferences.

Dynamics: SM57, Sennheiser e906, or Audix i5 on guitar cab. SM7B on vocals.

Condensers on vocals and everything else: Audio Technica AT2020, AT4050, AKG C214 or C414, Studio Projects CS5, Kel HM-7U.

Beware that dynamic mics need a lot of gain (40-65dB) and some cheaper audio interfaces aren’t powerful enough. Also, condensers require 48V phantom power and not all audio interfaces have those either.

12) Audio interfaces. If you’re not recording a whole band or a drum set, all you need is a 2 channel USB interface. The cheap unreliable ones are under $75. Passable are $75-$165. Decent are $165-$225. Good are $225-$350. Very good are $350-750. If you want an all around good interface for under 300 with 2 mic inputs, check out the Roland Quad Capture.