RECORDING AT HOME
(mixing in the studio)
a vital guide
If you have a microphone and computer, you may already be making recordings at home. It's possible but unlikely that you'll produce tracks that compete with studio releases. However, sometimes the musical performances recorded at home can't be equaled at the studio. The challenge is to make recordings with a limited range of gear, imperfect acoustics, and less experience, that all works in the final mix.
The good news is that it can be done, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Many artists now choose to split their recording between home and the studio to have the best of both worlds.
Should I really record at home?
Of course, you should record at home! However, just in case you haven't noticed, you're on a recording studio website. We have a bias, and for good reasons.
We have mixed hundreds of home recordings, and it is possible to have a finished product that sounds terrific and that you can feel proud of. For many, this is a great option.
Let's face it. The main reasons to record at home are to save money and work in your own space. And, you can work the hours that you choose. Even if you rerecord at a studio, you'll have the experience of the process. Yes, record at home.
Your home is unlikely to have professionally designed acoustics.
You may have extraneous sounds that interject into your recordings.
Although you're in your own comfortable space, you may be distracted with partners, children, animals, and the neighbor's lawnmower.
You will not be working with an experienced producer or specialist vocal coach who can assist in bringing out your very best performance.
You have to operate the recording gear and perform at the same time.
No studio owns just one microphone model to use on all applications. No single microphone sounds good on everything. A microphone that sounds perfect for one female voice may be detrimental for a different female voice.
Should I mix my own recordings?
No! In a word, and here's why...
Knowledge and Experience
It takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to learn to mix tracks that will sound good on Spotify and youtube, against the competition. Every successful song on the radio was professionally mixed.
You need people to give your songs a listen. If their first impression is that it doesn't sound right, then they will skip past within seconds.
Rooms and Gear
Speakers and room acoustics play a vital role at the mix stage. A mix engineer can even hear what type of speakers you're using on your mix by the mixing errors that become obvious later. Studio speakers cost upwards of $4,000 a pair, and studios will have more than one set to mix on, and that's after the mix room has had thousands spent on acoustic design.
Mixing on headphones is not a viable option as it also leads to significant issues with the finished mix. A professional mix engineer will always check mixes on headphones but never use them as a primary mixing tool.
It saves you time to have a professional mix your music, giving you more time to write more songs. Don't get bogged down learning about phase distortion, multiband compression, M/S master processing, sidechaining, distribution specifications, mono compatibility, comb filtering, transient manipulation, etc.
Having a separate pair of ears to work with you will help bring out the most from your songwriting and arranging. Our producer/engineer has worked as a full-time musician and produced hundreds of songs in many genres and styles.
One interesting and quite complex example
Anita Levy has sent home recordings for mixing since 2016. She finds it best to create in her own time in her own way with a simple home studio. The tracks are edited, mixed, and mastered here at Soggy Dog Recording.
This one was complex, with 60 channels of audio without edits. Most of the parts were retained for the final mix, included some spoken Japanese. The chosen piano sample was unusable, so her pianist came to the studio to record using our grand piano.
The first sample is the original home mix, and the second is our studio mix. Watch and listen to the entire track on the youtube link.
Two more examples
Making Your Home Recording
Before you begin recording, call Steve on 0415 236 303. He will answer questions, no obligation, and help you prepare.
Let's get the best out of your room, your gear, and your musicianship.
You'll need at least a reasonable USB condenser microphone or a condenser microphone and external USB soundcard. If you have two microphones and a USB sound car, even better.
If you know how to do this, record at 24bit (16 will do) and 44.1 kHz (48 will also do). Export to .wav files and not MP3.
Always set levels conservatively. It's better to record too soft than too loud. Be very careful with brass instruments that will clip at low metering levels.
Closed-back headphones are the best for avoiding 'click' bleed. However, an alternative approach is to use earbuds and put industrial ear muffs over the top. You will generally need to record with a click track, but we don't want to hear click bleed on the recording.
Any computer with recording software will do. Paid software is better than free, but starting with free is fine. (The quality of the recording will not suffer.)
Acoustics for recording
Even more important than your microphone choice is the space that you make your recording. The recording space should be a quiet room where you cannot hear birds, motors, trains, cars, animals, heating/aircon, or other noises. Your ears become accustomed to the noises where you live and tune them out. The microphone never learns to tune them out.
Your room should be an acoustically dead space. A bedroom with soft furnishings works well. Don't record in the kitchen or bathroom, except for handclaps and sometimes, harmonica.
To record a voice or an instrument, stand in front of an open wardrobe, in front of your clothes. It's essential to have something soft behind you. Don't point your mic at a window. Don't sit or stand in the dead center of the room either. Avoid hard surfaces near the performer or the microphone.
If you do not own a pop filter, place the microphone around forehead height and tilt it down slightly. This helps in several ways, but the most important is that you won't accidentally blow into the mic on 'p' sounds. Sing from a short distance from the mic. Just a few centimeters.
Warm-up before you record, and when you record, always aim for the most musical performance, even if it compromises the pitch a little. Although no singer wants to be autotuned, these days, it's easy to tune a vocal. You can't add expression later!
Sit on a chair that does not squeak, and watch out for the following sounds you don't want to record.
Foot tapping, a shirt button clicking against the back of the guitar body, the plectrum clipping the edge of the tone hole on your downstroke. If you hear the tone hole clicking, hold your guitar more vertical.
Place the mix a little below the guitar and in front of the 14th fret. Aim it in towards the tone hole. Unless you are playing fingerpicking style, don't have the mic in front of the tone hole.
As your room will not be perfect, keep close to the mic but be aware that if you move around while playing, the tone will change as you move. If you move a lot, position the mic further away.
Recording acoustic guitar is so much more complex than almost anyone would expect. Many of the most experienced singer/songwriters use a session guitarist for even the most straightforward guitar parts.
Acoustic Guitar DI
If your guitar has a pick-up and you can plug it directly into your sound card then go ahead. It will sound good if you have a high quality DI and you play to suit the sound of the guitar/pick-up. If you have a decent mic, good acoustics and only one input, I'd normally suggest that you use a microphone. If you have two inputs, record with a mic and the DI (direct input).
Electric guitar with an amp
Make the best sound you can from the amp first. This is not necessarily loud or necessarily a big amp. Small amps record very well. Aim for the tone that you want, and don't confuse that with volume, although it may be loud(ish). Too loud and your not-so-perfect room may cause problems. Place the amp on a chair or at least off the floor.
Place the microphone almost dead center of one speaker near the grill. Face it directly in, but you can move it around slightly to find the best sound. If you have a dynamic mic, such as an SM57, you might try it instead of the condenser mic.
If your finished track has bass, then do not have much bass in the guitar sound.
If you have a pedalboard such as the Fractal FX8 or similar board, record from the line out of the board instead of miking your guitar amp. If you can record in stereo, even better.
Drums really require specialist knowledge and equipment. They are arguably the hardest instrument to record. best not to try, but if you do... I'll assume that you own just two mics and and a two channel sound card.
One mic on the kick You really must experiment to find the best position for the sound you want. Just inside the hole, or a long way inside the hole, or often outside a few centimeters from the skin. If you have just one condenser mic, use it as the overhead. Use whatever else you have with the kick.
One mic over the snare drum a little above your head height.
The chances of creating a suitable drum part for a releasable album are quite low. If you have three mics, look up information on the Glyn Johns Technique. It works brilliantly for some styles, provided your room acoustics are reasonable.
Easy! Don't use an amp. Plug it straight in to your soundcard.
You may be using software synths that are included with your recording program. When you export for mixing, always render the MIDI to an audio file. Export the audio file and also the MIDI file.
A new page will be added soon on preparing your song, arrangement, and performance for recording.
Why have the studio mix?
The mix engineer's job looks simple, yet there are many hidden techniques and adjustments used in most tracks. These take hundreds of hours of practice to master. As a professional mix engineer, it can also be helpful to hear the track fresh, providing a new set of ears. We don't know which parts you had trouble with or found easy. We just hear the recording.
Typical home mixing errors...
Vocals sounding dull and lifeless
Bass and low frequencies lack clarity and sound muddy without punch
Drums sound more like old steel trashcans than a quality drumkit
The mix sounds two-dimensional
Some instruments sound like they were recording in a different acoustic space to others
Mixes sound too narrow
The finished track sounds quieter or weaker than its rivals
On some speaker systems, some instruments disappear in the mix.
Lack of front-to-back depth
The balance is not consistent, with vocals and other instruments too loud, then too soft.
At the studio...
With the vocals alone, an engineer may use equalisation, harmonic enhancement, single band, multiband, parallel, or sideband compression; parallel processing of saturation or distortion, mono or stereo delays, a mixture of reverbs; panning L/R and front to back; level automation: and many other processes or effects. And sometimes, almost no processing is used.
Before mixing, vocals may require pitch correction, mouth noises removed, plosions and sibilance corrected, and background noise attenuated. Breaths are sometimes removed, sometimes turned down, and even some breaths will be replaced with better-sounding breaths.
Surprises for inexperienced mix engineers...
Even slight modifications to one instrument impact the way we perceive other instruments
Mixes sound different on every speaker system
Mixes sound different the next day.