In your recordings in your home studio, are you constantly worried about noise? Be honest, it’s okay if you are.

That is something that I have struggled with my entire recording career. Homes, apartments, houses — they’re just not very quiet. A professional recording studio is acoustically treated and isolated. If you walk into a pro vocal booth, it is dead quiet.

But the question I have for you is this — is that really that important? Here’s what I think: no, not really.

How do you listen to music? Are you listening in a very quiet room on really nice headphones or very accurate studio monitors? Or are you listening with iPod ear buds, riding your bike, or working out? Or perhaps you are listening in your car, going 70 miles per hour down the interstate.

Some of my favorite recordings done by professional engineers — major label releases — have all sorts of noise on them. There is one in particular. When I listen to it, I very distinctly hear hiss at the beginning and ends of certain songs; and because I know the producer, I know that a lot of this was recorded in hotel rooms, actually on tour with the particular artist.

Does that make the songs bad? Not at all. In fact, the performance and the quality of the recording so far outshine the little noises here and there that it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I find it kind of cool.

So, if you are one of those people who really struggles with noise in your studio, and you can’t stop thinking about it, here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. Will you be able to hear it in the mix?

Yes, if you solo that acoustic guitar part, you can hear the noise, but once it is blended with everything else in the song, can you hear it? If the answer is no, don’t worry about it.

I just finished up a project where there was all sorts of noise, you can even hear my baby in the next room crying on a couple of tracks. Did I let that stop me? Did I re-record everything? No. I couldn’t hear it in the mix; so I moved on, and the recording sounds great.

2. Will it distract from the song?

This goes hand in hand with number 1, but even if you can hear the noise in the recording, like the record that I just mentioned above, does it distract from the song? Chances are the answer is no.

3. Can the song still sound great?

This is the most important thing. If the song and the recording sound phenomenal, I don’t care what noise is there. Focus on the song, focus on a good recording, no one will ever notice the noise.

So, be honest, do you worry about noise too much?

[Photo Credit]

  • Carlos Mitil

    Hey Joe, quick question relating noise. I love the sound of “analog” style plug-ins, but I find when I use them they add a hiss to the mix. This is minor but, for instance when I use SSL strip on drums, vocals, guitars, etc. the hiss will add up (quite loud). If I switch the analog switch to off the hiss is gone. I know it’s part of the character of the plugin but not sure that that amount of noise is normal. I am pretty new to DAW recording so maybe it is something I’m doing wrong. Any suggestions? Thank you.

    • Yeah, those SSL plugins can introduce noise. I wouldn’t stress about it too much. I use them all the time. If the noise is too noticeable, I just turn the Analog button off on some of them. They still sound good. 🙂

      • Carlos Mitil

        Awesome Thanks for the response!

  • More than often, I find myself adding noise, to give more character! Sometimes a room ambience sound, sometimes a very quiet hiss… It just seems to make things sound more musical and natural. Also, I like the idea that someone with acute ears may one day hear the lorry drive past in the vocal take and point it out…

  • Umm….yes. 🙂

  • nar-slava

    I write all the instrumental parts in the Propellerhead Reason since I have an industrial/heavy electrinics music project. But when it comes to vocals recorded on the Apex-440 USB mic, I usually do quite a bit of work in terms of noise reduction and putting silence in certain parts before throwing the vocals in Reason and compressing them. Sure, when I play the solo of the vocals track, it has some hissing, especially after application of the effects, but in the overall mix it is not bad at all.

  • felipenoris

    All my worries about noise are gone since I saw this instructional video on voice over. It said that you should record some room noise alone to fill spaces between takes or if you delete a part or a take, so it sounds natural. I think that room reflections is something to worry about though.

  • Jan dB

    Noise gets more important when you start compressing recordings, and can seriously limit how far you can go!

  • haha. I was totally about to spend a couple hundred dollars on some new acoustic treatments. I read this. Thought for a minute. I realize now that once I throw a little gate on the tracks I never have a problem.

  • I totally agree. People will stress out over adding “analog warmth” to their tracks at the same time as they’re stressing out over digitally removing an actual analog artefact from their recordings. This makes no sense to me. Unless you’re producing something which has to sound clinically clean, like trance or something, a little noise can only add to your track’s warmth and charm. (I did say a little…)

    Some producers (including me, more often than not) need to bear in mind that we talk about Signal-to-Noise Ratio, and while that ratio is ideally infinity:zero (all signal, no noise), it never actually is.

    On the other hand, the ear works by noticing changes. If the noise present in your track is at the same (low) level, occupying the same frequency range throughout the whole track, I bet you won’t even notice it’s there by the time the verse kicks in. If on the other hand you’re trying to gate it or filter it out at different points, and the noise level/frequency is changing, you’re doomed. It’ll stick out a mile.

  • I totally agree. For a long time I was hyper aware of every little bit of noise that I heard that may have hit my mic. I stopped caring as much and I’m not only happier for it but more productive as well. It’s always great to be aware of the details, but at the end of the day it’s all about getting closer to a final product without stressing over the small things that don’t matter in the big picture.