Recording can be a stressful task at any time in your career.
There are so many techniques and things to think about that it can quickly lead to overwhelm! At the BBC we used to refer to the red “recording” light as the nervous light, to try break the tension, I’m not sure it worked!!
To take away some of the stress when you are new to recording, here are 5 simple steps to help you record great audio at home, all you have to do is follow a few simple guidelines to give you a starting chance.
Remember the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid!).
Tip 1. Be Prepared
Spend some time in pre-production nailing down the final arrangements of your songs. Rehearse them until you know them inside out and you can each play your songs without error, or at least only occasionally. Make sure your recording session has a plan of action.
- Set up your DAW session ahead of time or create a template
- Which songs are you going to be working on?
- Do you have enough microphones, cables and inputs?
- Write out chord charts for the songs to keep everyone on track
- What’s the room like and what problems can you predict?
- Make sure everyone has new strings and drum heads
Tip 2. Check Your Tuning After Every Song
Seems obvious but you’d be surprised how often this gets forgotten.
Don’t just tune up at the start of the session and forget it, retune after every song at least. Better still, have a tuner wired into your setup so you can quickly check before every take. Can your drummer tune their drums? Get him or her to learn or learn how to yourself.
Tip 3. Keep It Simple
There are a lot of different microphone techniques and recording methods, just keep it simple. Do a bit of research into straightforward stereo techniques such as an X/Y or spaced pair.
If you’re on limited inputs then go with a single microphone where possible, or choose mono for the keyboard parts. Multiple mics on a single instrument can give you phase problems, so stick with one mic for safety. Drums will have multiple mics of course but everything else will be fine in mono and panned in the mix.
Taking the time to get the best sound you can, makes for a quicker mix.
Try your best to get the best sound possible by playing with the mic position. Monitor on headphones if you need to hear in more detail and don’t rush. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can fix it in the mix.
Tip 4. Watch Your Input Level – Red Is BAD!
It’s all well and good taking the time to get the mic in the right position but be mindful not to overload the inputs on your interface. Digital distortion, or clipping, sounds horrible and can’t be fixed later. Keep your levels on the conservative side (yellow or green led’s) to leave headroom for loud peaks in level.
Tip 5. Nail it!
If you don’t get your sounds quite right whilst recording, yet you get a brilliant performance that’s full of energy or emotion then chances are no- one will notice or even care if that acoustic guitar sounds a bit wooly or the snare distorted once. This is where your efforts in pre production will reap rewards. The performance is what gives us goosebumps or brings a tear to the eye.
So don’t stress it, be prepared, have fun and try to get the best sounds you can without clipping and you should be on your way to a great sounding recording.
This is a basic overview on a few areas that I think will point you in the right direction.
A couple of great resources to further your learning about recording is Graham Cochrane at The Recording Revolution he has tons of free tutorials to help you get great sounding mixes on a budget, then if video is more your thing then there’s Warren Huart and his Academy and marvellous YouTube channel Produce Like A Pro. Warren is a multi-platinum producer and has loads of fantastic informative videos to demystify recording and mixing at home.
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