10 Tips for Not Tanking Your Home Recordings

Access to powerful DAWs and an audience supportive of artists taking charge of their releases don’t guarantee stunning audio productions.

Thanks to current home-recording technology, all musicians can aspire to emulate the great studios of the past and present. But be warned. Access to powerful DAWs, a desire to crush the doddering tenets of the recording business, and an audience supportive of artists taking charge of their releases don’t guarantee stunning audio productions.

And yet, hard work, research, experimentation, and experience can pay off big time within your personal creative bubble. Put in the time, and you may be amazed at how wonderful your home-studio productions can sound. Here are ten snippets of advice to start you on your way.

1. Egg cartons may be retro cool, but they’re not effective for diminishing annoying slap echoes and other sonic aberrations. If your studio space is bedeviled with weird reflections, invest in some audio-grade absorptive foam. As a bonus, most companies making these products offer free advice for transforming bad-sounding rooms into places where you can make good recordings.

2. Dedicate a computer solely to recording. Sharing computing firepower with photo libraries, spreadsheets, videos, and other personal doodads can make your recording software act wonky. If you’re going to get serious about recording, you should make sure your DAW is running at optimum performance.

3. Use your entire space—not just the room in which you’ve set up your DAW. Interesting miking opportunities can be found in closets, bathrooms, kitchens, stairwells, and garages. Don’t be timid about positioning microphones in strange places—many noted engineers and producers have done it.

4. Savvy panning can often clarify elements more naturally than cranking EQ. Don’t be afraid to drop something exclusively into just one speaker if it helps the part bust out of the mix.

5. Accurate monitoring is essential, so purchase nearfield studio monitors (not computer or stereo speakers) that deliver relatively un-hyped, transparent sound. Position them in an equilateral triangle of three feet apart (the bottom of the “pyramid”), and three feet from your ears (the top). This up-close-and-personal arrangement helps diminish any gremlins your room imposes upon the listening space, which can cause you to hear an inaccurate reference of what you’re recording and mixing.

6. Headphones can be lifesavers if studio monitors are not practical (cranky roommates, late-night recording, sleeping kiddies, etc.). But avoid hyped-up, consumer fashion models that pump up certain frequencies, and go for studio-quality phones that provide a flat, accurate representation of the sounds you are tracking.

7. Make sure you have a good dynamic and a good condenser on hand. Two mic choices will allow you to consider the best one for a particular application. If you have the bucks, go for two matched condensers to handle stereo-recording needs.

8. Go easy on the reverb levels. Nothing screams “amateur” like a track flooded in ambience.

9. Compare your tracks to your favorite CDs to see how your frequency spectrum stands up to established masterworks. If your low end, high end, or mids are found lacking or too extreme, adjust the EQ until your tracks sound closer to the reference tracks.

10. Making the best recordings should be your goal— not being a know-it-all. If you suck at mixing, arranging, tracking, and/or any other essential audio-production task, find someone who can do the job really well. Your ego will still be pissed at you, but at least your recordings won’t suffer when you insist on doing something you’re not yet that skilled at.

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