Doing a great home recording is easier than it has
ever been, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t
challenges to getting great tracks. Here are some tips
to help you get that studio “magic” at home.
Pick a recording program and
a setup that works for you.
Grammy award-winning engineer, producer, and songwriter
John Jones (Celine Dion, Duran Duran, Sir Paul
McCartney) noted that “you can nowadays get a great
sounding record at home. The key is to be able to get
what you’re hearing.” Just because Pro Tools is what
many pros use, doesn’t mean something less involved
(and less expensive) won’t work as well. Get a software
program that gives you the flexibility you need,
and that is easy for you to use.
Learn the ins and outs of your gear.
Take the time to learn the software, hook up your
equipment properly, and practice recording and mixing
before you need to get a song out to someone.
On a deadline, it only makes matters worse if you still
are learning how to use the equipment.
Apprentice with a mentor.
Old-school engineers used to sweep floors, get coffee—
anything to get a chance to sit in on sessions and
work with a great audio talent. Take Grammy-winning
recording engineer Dave Russell (Two Against Nature,
Steely Dan). He spent three years sweeping floors at
George Benson’s studio to get a chance to engineer.
Once he did, the rest was history!
Wiring and Connections.
Nothing spoils a great performance like technical difficulties.
Make sure everything is wired and connected
properly. If you’re not sure, get help. For example, if the
speakers aren’t connected properly, they may produce
out-of-phase signals that can sound thin, cancel out
critical frequencies, or mess with the stereo spectrum.
The solution is to change the polarity of one speaker.
Use speakers in playback and mixing.
Headphones can be deceptive both in recording and
in listening back to the tracks. Great speakers give
you an accurate perspective on the sounds and levels
of the individual tracks and the stereo mix. Says
Jones, “Turn the volume way down. You should mix at
a low level with speakers, so you can clearly hear the
balance of the instruments and the vocal.”
Listen to the instruments.
How does the acoustic guitar actually sound? Or the
vocalist? You should listen to the sound in the room
before you record it. Then, you’ll have a sonic foundation
to reference after the signal travels through the mic
and mic preamps and to the monitor speakers.
Get a basic foundation
in song structure.
At a recent ASCAP Expo, Quincy Jones noted that in
order to do what he needed to do in his career, he
took a class in orchestration. Yes, even Quincy Jones
needed some training. His advice to songwriters and
artists was: “Get your chops together—that’s how the
spiritual can come through.”
Do your homework.
This ties into orchestration, but learn what instruments
play which parts and how. If you add a violin sample to
a song, ask yourself if a violin would really play that
part? If you play bass lines on a keyboard, learn how
bass lines move from a bass player’s perspective. If
you’re not a vocalist and yet you record vocals, take a
vocal class, and learn more about the challenges
Get rid of the buzz.
Every bit of buzz, ambient noise, and room sound that
gets onto the track stays there. Notes John Jones, “Think
of your job as an engineer to find every little piece of
junk in the track. Notice each noise, click, and pop.”
Avoid the flavor of the month.
Remember the gated-snare trend of the ’80s? Yeah,
sounds rough today, doesn’t it? So do you think you
need overprocessed autotuning on every vocal?
Think again. Unless the genre of music specifically
dictates it, don’t think you have to get on every trend
for every recording.