6 Tips to Produce Great Music Recordings at Home

by Jessica Brandon

Remember the old days of recording on a 4 track cassette recorder and find out that the recordings are to plain and you need to go a 24 track recording studio to get a great recording? Well, those days are over. A smart phone, tablet, an old laptop with some inexpensive gear can now produce high fidelity recordings that can rival those made in expensive studios.  Isn’t it amazing that we’re now living in the age of the home recording revolution?

However, many musicians who aren’t producers or recording engineers may find the task of recording and producing a great track really daunting. Here are 6 great tips that home recording enthusiasts can employ right now to start getting more polished recordings…

 

  1. Obtain a Preamp

When you plug a microphone or guitar directly into your recording interface can often produce a very transparent sound that lacks the warmth and volume that a great track requires. There is an easy and inexpensive way to get a better source sound: plug the guitar or microphone into a preamp first.

A decent preamp one can be obtained for as little as $250 and will immediately add volume and warmth to everything that you record. A few technical things to note: First, if you buy a tube preamp, it’s best to junk the tube that comes with it and replace it with a better one (doing so requires nothing more than a screwdriver) which you can buy at a guitar shop.

An example, I used PreSonus BlueTube DP V2 2-channel Mic/Instrument Tube Preamp for a mic preamp and it really made a difference in my recordings.

After the tube change thing is thing is a real bargain, it adds depth, texture and warmth to anything you run through it: voice, instruments, master tracks, even post-mastering makes the sound way better. If you work in the digital samples realm, please consider using this thing to add realism to your sample pallette.

 

  1. Obtain a Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

It is important to get a good condenser microphone. I’ve used an Audio-Technica AT2035 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone for just $150.00 and I could hear the big difference compared to my previous use of Shure SM57 microphone. The Audio Technica AT2035 is widely regarded as the ideal first mic for anyone starting a home studio on a shoe-string budget. Among the dozens of terrible mics in this price range, the AT2035 is one of the few that actually delivers on its promises.

I strongly recommend that anyone mastering their own recordings, even on a shoestring budget, make purchasing a large diaphragm condenser microphone mandatory. The reason I believe in this item so dearly is that in addition to recording vocals, you can also record acoustic instruments (banjos, acoustic guitars, mandolins, etc.), light percussion (tambourines, bongos, etc.), and a whole host of other things.

If you start buying separate condenser microphones of various shapes and sizes for all of these different tasks then your wallet is going to take a beating, and the results really won’t change all that much.

 

  1. Obtain Good Mastering Software

I use a product called Ozone 8 Standard by Izotope. You can get it for about $250, and older versions of the product can be had for even less (like Ozone 7, Ozone Elements, etc).  This is a very powerful mastering suite with a streamlined workflow. The result is a great sounding recording and it’s easy to use. The new track assistant is a genuine timesaver and does a great job at getting you started. This gives a pretty cohesive, pleasing mix, with enough dynamics to master.

One thing that virtually any new home recording enthusiast inevitably says is, “my track is done, but it’s not as loud or punchy as my favorite band’s tunes are.”

Many folks will then turn to professional engineers to master their finished songs. While these consultants often do great work (at increasingly cheap rates), it is no longer required that artists use them.  If you are like me and like to record a lot of material, using a lot of outside engineer help is just too expensive.

 

  1. Obtain Decent Monitors

Many home recording honchos fall into the trap of buying really expensive monitors for playback. But if you are on a budget like me, nothing fancy is required.

I used a pair of PreSonus Eris E5 5.25″ Powered Studio Monitors, and I obtained it for just $275.00. These speakers sound fantastic; very balanced, plenty of Bass, plenty of volume, etc. At this price and size, you can’t go wrong. I find this set of speakers surprisingly good monitors at a surprisingly comfortable price point.

The only important thing is to simply know how your monitors compared to other speakers. Listen to your tracks, as well as commercial recordings on headphones, car stereos, and cheap computer speakers and compare what you hear to the sound profile of your monitors. Maybe your monitors don’t project certain frequencies especially well so you know to turn those up a little bit when mixing. If you follow this rule your tracks will be just as well mixed as the guy or gal who is using an exceptionally expensive monitoring system.

 

  1. Avoid the overuse of Auto-Tune and other Effects

A common mistake that many musicians make when attempting in-home recording is to rely on “Cher inspired” Auto-Tune and other effects that they hear on radio, both pre-amp and post-recording, to make up for the lack of clarity, warmth and overall quality of a recording. Here at IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), we have listened to demo tracks where the auto-tune, reverb and other effects overwhelm the song to the point that it is hard for the judges to listen to the actual melody and lyric.

The most commonly over-used effect is reverb, which is all too often used to make recordings sound less ‘flat’ or ‘more professional’. However, the proper amount of reverb to use to remove the flatness of a vocal recording is rather difficult and is why so many make the mistake of drowning out their recordings by making them so ‘wet’ with reverb that the notes become slurred together and indistinguishable.

A rule of thumb should be to always try to record each track as clean as possible, avoiding pre-amp effects whenever possible, and then only using effects to do minor touch-ups or additions afterwards.

 

  1. Obtain a decent Mixing Control Surface

If you use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), you may want to use a decent DAW controller. I used a PreSonus FaderPort 8 Production Controller for less than $500. This 8-fader control surface features motorized, touch-sensitive faders that handle effortlessly and follow automation precisely. Channel controls include all the standards, such as level, pan, solo, mute, and record arm, and a full set of digital scribble strip displays also help to keep you on track. The great thing is that this FaderPort 8 has native support for PreSonus Studio One DAW (got this a few years ago for less than $400).

So, do you have any more tips you wish to add? If so, please add your comments below!

For more information on the 15th Annual IAMA (International Acoustic Music Awards), go to: https://www.inacoustic.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Linda July 16, 2018 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article. It contains the exact information needed for home recording equipment on a budget.

  2. Scott Mondfrans July 17, 2018 at 1:28 am - Reply

    Great article.

  3. Danny Ray July 18, 2018 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    I have an old version of cool edit pro and I use the presonus fire studio to record thru. What are my options to make a decent demo cd

  4. Gregg Shively August 6, 2018 at 1:31 am - Reply

    Really solid, informative article. I would add one suggestion to those who are on a budget and trying to record reasonably quality tracks at home. First, I suggest that folks explore the option of adding a program “Band In A Box” from P.G. Music to their arsenal.. BIAB contains a 2nd program “RealBand” which is a collection of digital recordings of literally hundreds of musicians (real A-Line players like Brent Mason (many time award winning studio picker), John Jarvis (studio and road piano guy for folks like Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood, etc.) . You can lay down a track with your guitar and vocal, enter the chords in “RealBand” and have bass, drums, dobro, piano – whatever playing with you. I then do a “mix” in a program called “Reaper” (cost is $60) where I can tweak EQ, widen the mix with panning and play (gently) with reverb, delay, etc. I then render the final mix to a stereo track which I then drop into a mastering program AAMS (Auto Audio Mastering System) which is (or was) free. Then I have a final mixed, mastered stereo mp3 (or wave) file that I burn onto a CD, upload to my website or whatever … The options available for home recording are simply amazing these days and, with a small budget, within the reach of everyone … Blessings on ya, Gregg <

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