Hints for the Home Recording Artist

Hints for the Home recording artist

I've been recording music at home with computers for about 17 years now. I'm not a pro, I don't do it for a living, but it is a serious hobby for me that I put a lot of time into. I see lots of questions for help on how to make your home recordings and mixes sound better. Here are some things that I've learned over the years that may be helpful to others.

Note for the pedantic among you: none of these tips are hard and fast rules. There are situations where almost all of them won’t apply. Take what works for you and adapt it, ignore what doesn't.

1.Clipping is the enemy. When recording an input try to get the input volume to be as loud as possible without clipping. You'd rather have an overall quieter signal amplified in post processing than a loud signal with clipping all over it. Quiet can be fixed, clipping can't.

2. Record dry, add effects in post. The goal of recording is to capture the performance and dynamics in as clean a form as possible. With a good clean performance the sky is the limit tonally. When you record wet you paint yourself into a corner. This may not be applicable for some folks, but in 9 out of 10 cases make this part of your workflow.

3. Mix via EQ. Relative track volumes are important, but arguably less important than getting each track into its own portion of the frequency spectrum. Every track should have a pre-fader EQ on it that you use to shape the sound. Your vocals shouldn't have bass transients stepping on your bass guitar. Your drums should punch in the kick, snare, and hats, but not have lots of useless spectrum ties up where the vocals and guitars sit. If you get every track shaped right with EQ, mixing will be a lot easier, and sound a lot better.

4. Learn compression. It can be hard to grasp, and it can be hard to hear when you are doing it right, but learn it. Done right compression will tighten almost everything up. It'll make your bass guitar pop, it'll make your drums punch, and it'll even out your vocals so they sound consistent and professional. Spend time learning this. It will set you apart.

5. Double and triple track vocals. This doesn't apply 100% of the time. For example, if your vocalist has an incredible voice you may want a single track so all of the dynamics of the performance can come out. But if your vocalist is a normal/average rock/indie/pop/whatever vocalist then double or triple track the vocals. They'll sound more cohesive and generally better.

6. Unless you want to go for a specifically cold, sparse, or empty sound add a droning sound that sits low in the mix and runs through the entire track. Electronically produced music can sound too clean. It can lack "space" or sound artificial. Some of this has to do with the psychoacoustic effect of hearing a zero signal when there's nothing going on. In real life there's never no sound. Take a pad, or some sound, and drone it low in the mix (barely audible) through the whole track. Just leave it there and ignore it. It will take up the space hiss and recording noise would have taken up back in the day. It will make things sounds "more real."

7. A very little bit of reverb on (almost) everything. Take a decent reverb, turn the signal mix to 90+% dry and put it on (almost) everything. Adjust mix % up and down per track as appropriate. This will go a long way to filling out your sound. Not appropriate 100% of the time, but a lot of the time.

8. You probably want delay on your vocals, not reverb. Reverb can work on vocals, and plenty of people use it. But many times delay is a better fit for vocals. It provides much of the same psychoacoustic effect of thickening the sound up and reinforcing the notes but delay has the added benefit of not adding extra frequencies into the mix that then have to be shaped. I find delay works better with most vocalists and most vocal performance. A stereo delay image is really great. For best results put all 2 or 3 of your vocal track through a single bus with EQ, compression, and a nice stereo delay.

9. Practice good digital recording hygiene. Name your tracks something descriptive. Name your projects something description. Color code tracks and group them. Keep your project folders organized. Backup, backup, backup, backup. This stuff pays off and makes you more productive and keeps you from losing work. Take your work seriously in this regard.

10. Technique is more important than equipment. I get better mixes out of a 100$ audio interface, $250 monitors, and GarageBand than most other folks get out of much higher end stuff. Don't try to throw money at a technique problem; that better plugin or DAW wont make your mix sound better if your tracks are all EQ'ed like crap, tracks are clipping on input, and your mix is mushy. Put in the time, experiment, and get good at the craft. Then throw equipment at it :)

11. Leave headroom in your mix. Let your mastering engineer squash it if that's what you want.

12. Plan your stereo image. Don't pile everything up dead center, and don't haphazardly throw things around the stereo image. Plan your stereo image such that competing or contrasting performances are in different spaces. You might pan your guitars hard L & R, a pino or synth slight mid right, vocals dead center, hats slight left, and strings mid right, etc. Just like with EQ use the stereo image to give things space.

13. Take the time to prepare your instruments. New drum heads and strings, guitars and basses intonated and properly set up, etc. A great recording starts with the source. If the source is flawed, a great capture of that source, using the best gear and the best recording techniques, will only mean a great, high-fidelity and highly-detailed reproduction of those flaws.


Read 5 Questions with...

Joanna Trottier- Go Local Music

Mike Crane- Captain Chet Lawson

Kyle Webber- Ghost Dinner Band

Scott Solsky- BRABSE

Drew Hines - Tyler Road

Bobby Rice- Pat and The Hats

Chris Noyes - Dusty Gray Band

Jeoff Jarnot - The Joint Chiefs

Steve Mcbrian – Crunchy Western Boyss
Local bands you should checkout-
Dusty Gray Band,Boogie On Alice, The Ghost Dinner Band
The Van Burens
, The 123's, Juliana Cable, Kitchen, The Ron Noyes Band, Diamond Joe, Lucas Gallo, Crunchy Western Boys, BRASBE, Charlie Chamberlain, Run Gazelle Run, Tyler Road, Ways To Fall, Gorilla Finger Dub Band, Yankee Cockfight

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