I’ve been recording in my home studio for years.
I’ve recorded in a hallway at my parent’s house, in a dorm room at college, in a tiny (and really messy) bedroom I shared with a roommate, in church sanctuaries, in lots of apartments, in a log house, and finally in 3 different rooms in my current house.
The one common theme? NONE of those places were designed to be studios.
That’s the beauty and the frustration of working in home studios. All those imperfections make for a challenging (but immensely rewarding) environment for making music.
Over the years I’ve learned countless valuable lessons, but today I want to share with you eight of the most POWERFUL lessons I’ve learned. These are things that have made a dramatic impact on the quality of my recordings.
Here we go…
1. The Power of Pre-Production
When I say “plan,” you might think “dorky.”
But having SOME sort of plan in place for your recordings is wildly helpful. That “plan” is often called pre-production.
For me, it involves identifying tempo and arrangement of the song, writing charts, getting a rough idea in my head of where I want the song to go.
It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it helps me have a plan and a purpose for my next recording session. I hate leaving things too open-ended. With pre-production, I have a plan, a rough guideline, to work from.
I’m certainly free to veer from that plan as the project moves forward, but having that plan gives me structure, direction, and focus. And THAT, in turn, keeps me from spinning my wheels on any given session.
2. The Power of a Good Source
Have you ever been desperate?
For me, freshman year of college was a time where I felt like I HAD to have a girlfriend, so I dated the first girl who showed any interest in me. The relationship didn’t last long at all. (Shocker.)
It’s the same with recording. If you’re desperate for something to record, you’ll end up letting yourself record really crappy sources.
A crappy source can be a bad singer, a bad instrument, a bad amp, a bad song…and all of these things will lead you down a path of HATING the recording process.
Now, we can’t always record top-notch musicians. I get that. But do yourself a favor and don’t settle for crappy sources. All the polishing in the world won’t make that turd shine.
‘Tis sad but true.
3. The Power of a Decent Microphone
There’s a big difference between a crappy microphone and a decent microphone.
One will damage the sound. One will capture it fairly accurately.
My first foray into recording involved one of those diction mics that came with PC’s back then. I’d be surprised if it even captured anything below 200 Hz or above 5 kHz.
But I used it like crazy.
While I had fun and learned a lot, those recordings were doomed to be bad. Even improving my technique (which we’ll talk about in #4) wouldn’t have mattered. The mic was too bad.
Here’s the good news — for a relatively small amount of money (even $100-200) you can get a microphone that’s more than capable of at least capturing an un-damaged sound.
4. The Power of Good Mic Placement
When I bought my first large-diaphragm condenser microphone, I was ecstatic. It came in a super-cool case, and it looked like a pro mic.
I fired it up and basked in the glory of how good it sounded compared to what I had been using. I then promptly (for the next couple years) placed the mic 2-3 inches away from my acoustic guitar and/or voice, and recorded lots and lots of music.
Little did I know at the time (be it inexperience or stupidity, it’s your call), but by simply adjusting the mic placement, backing it away a little bit, I could get a much better, less boomy tone.
When I finally started to experiment with mic placement, my recordings started to go to an even better level.
5. The Power of Editing
This one is subtle, and it’s a hard sell.
But chances are most of your favorite modern recordings have gone through a heavy round of editing.
The word editing can mean lots of things — cutting out noise, pocketing (correcting timing issues), tuning, re-arranging, comping.
When done well, editing lets you make a dramatic improvement to the “clean-ness” of your recording, all with tiny little changes to the recorded audio.
As we’ve said before, you need to get it right at the source, and you can’t fix it in the mix, but you can clean things up rather nicely with a little editing.
6. The Power of Subtractive EQ
When it comes to using EQ, I was a boost-a-holic for a long time.
I just assumed that EQ was meant to boost good frequencies. If something lacked clarity, I’d boost some highs. If it lacked punch, I’d boost the lows.
It wasn’t until I started using subtractive EQ that I saw some pretty significant changes to the sound of my mixes. Subtractive EQ is simply using EQ to remove frequencies from a source, rather than adding more frequencies to it.
There’s certainly still a place for the occasional boost here and there, but the bulk of my EQ work involves EQ cuts, not boosts.
7. The Power of Compression
Compression confused me for a long time. It took me forever to even grasp the concept of what it does, much less how it could be used creatively in a mix.
But now, years later, I’m still discovering new ways to use compression. It’s like a swiss army knife. I can do so many different things to a particular track, all by choosing different settings on the compressor.
It’s an amazing powerful tool that can be really easy to overdo, so be careful.
8. The Power of Mastering
At first, mastering seemed pretty boring. Then the more I started mastering albums, I realized how fun it can be.
It’s a completely different mindset than mixing. I use a lot of the same tools that I would use during a mix, but I use them VERY differently on a mastering session.
I’m always blown away at how much a good mastering job can add to an already-good mix. I still get a kick out of hearing the before and after.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I’ve learned thousands of things along this recording journey, but these are some of the things that stand out the most (and have made the biggest impact on my recordings).
If you want to see how I combine all of these elements together into finishing one song from start to finish (from pre-production to finished master), then you would LOVE the Production Club. It’s 19 weeks of me walking you, step-by-step, through the process.
You’ll learn how to take all these concepts and apply them to a real-life home studio recording.
Ready to go?