Home studio recordings and productions have increased in the past years thanks to the evermore accessible technology, to free online content that allows people to learn about recording techniques, and of course, thanks to the ever pursuing spirit of the freelancer. But still it can be challenging to venture into this realm just by yourself without the help of a professional sound engineer, or the guidance of an experienced amateur, to support you on your recording.
Be that you are a musician who wishes to record his/her own music, or an aspiring sound engineer that searches for the best sound qualities, you must take from the beginning some very important focus points to make your recordings sound as well as possible from the first moment.
Prioritise Recording Above Mixing
First thing to have in mind is that the more careful you are with the quality of your recording session, the less time you will have to be spending on the mixing of your music. You should avoid having to fix your sound on the mix as much as possible, so always aim for a clean recording.
Check Room Acoustics
Test sound inside your recording room. A basic and zero budget procedure is to clap your hands in different places of the room and listen for possible wall reflections and reverberation. The goal is to understand if it’s suitable for the style of music you’re recording and if there are unwanted reflections that could interfere with the quality of your recording. Remember that it is easier to add the characteristics of a room later on mixing than to take the characteristics of a room out from the recording. If you want to learn more about sound treatment of a room check out our other blog posts.
Treating Room Acoustics
Certain sounds must be avoided. This can be done by covering up stone surfaces, figuring out bass traps for the corners, dampening the sound with absorbers for avoiding reflections where the listening or recording is happening. But this doesn't mean the room should have no sound at all. If you over-dry your room sound you will see that this is also not the way. There are various formulas to figure out how much space of a surface should be covered with sound treatment.
Reduce Surrounding Noise
As part of the treatment of the room you should also search for unwanted noise. For example, make sure that your computer’s fan isn’t being detected by the microphone, or if there is noise coming from the street, or surrounding rooms/flats. Depending on it, you might have to find your way around to reduce the noise as much as possible, such as, turning off devices that make noise, soundproofing your room, learning when your surroundings get quieter, such as off rush hours, etc.
Mic and Instrument Positioning
Independently of how good your microphone or instrument is, you must know where to place them correctly. The goal is to find the place where the microphone captures a sound that is most similar to the real tone of the instrument. Similar thing happens with the instrument placement in the room. In your “Check Room Acoustics” step you probably noticed how different places in the room react differently to your clapping. The same rule applies to the voice or an instrument, so be careful with their placement.
Don’t Let It Bleed
When talking about mic positioning one should also consider the quantity of sound that is taken by the mic. Check out the input levels on your console and make sure the sound doesn’t bleed and therefore distort the quality of your recording. Different instruments are able to produce different intensities and you will have to make adjustments for every single one of them.
Pop Filter for Singers
A pop filter is the simple solution and essential tool to have if you are recording voice and all those “p’s” are coming through to the recording.
Tune Your Instruments
101 for every instrument player (and singers in their own natural way) - make sure your instrument is in tune every time you record. If your instrument is not in tune, the recording will most probably not sound well. There are ways to correct pitch but till a certain extent.
Try Out Different Speakers/Headphones
If you have the chance, have different devices to listen to your music. Every set of speakers and headphones have their own character, some darker, others brighter. With some you can easily distinguish all the instruments whilst in others you can’t. Remember that everyone else listens to music with all sorts of equipment and that your recording should sound well in majority of them.
Add Effects Only After
There is a tendency for many musicians who have access to sound effects to immediately use them when recording. Even though it might sound very nice right away, it can limit you after when you’re in the mixing. For you will not be able to alter much more the effects themselves, since they have already been applied to the original recording. So, add your sound treatment only after you record.
Perform The Best You Can
When you check out every point of this list you should be able to finally record your music with a good sound quality. If you have tried before to record without considering some of these aspects, you will most likely feel a big difference in the quality of your recording. Generally, these are some of the basic concerns of sound engineering applied to a home studio environment. Only after these details are sorted out comes the time to actually record. If the clock is ticking, make sure to first have “safe takes”, so that no matter what you end up with something that can be worked on the mix. Safe takes include things such as playing with a steady beat, not making wrong notes or unwanted noises. Once this is done you can move to “inspiring takes”, where your main focus is on playing with the real feeling of the music, even though it might take you off the “perfection” track. It is very likely that the inspiring take will be the take you chose, then the only thing you have to do after is treating it in the mix while passing here and there bits from the safe takes.