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Get Better Song Recordings at Home

I work on a lot of mixes where people have tracked themselves in their home recording studios. With home recording equipment now more accessible and affordable that ever, it's becoming a much more popular and often cost effective way of recording. Here are a few things to think about when you're recording your next song at home that might help you get better results.

It's All About the Song

One of the biggest things that you miss when recording yourselves is access to a Producers brain who may be able to suggest ways in which you can improve your song. When you're demoing and listening back to your tracks make sure you have a critical ear and don't fall into the trap of "demo-itis" where you fall in love with the first demo and never want to change it. Ask for other peoples opinions and don't take any feedback personally. I wrote a previous blog on how to approach producing a song which you can read here. Alternatively, if you want some unbiased feedback just drop me an email with your demo and I'll happily give it a listen.

Have a Vision

It's very easy to record everything completely clean because you might be worried about doing something wrong, or that when you send it off to be mixed the mix engineer might have some better options than you do. The problem with this is that it can make the performances and productions a bit sterile. When tracking guitars I always recommend recording a DI for safety but always try and get a guitar tone you're happy with. That way even if you don't think it's the final one, you can at least send this to the mix engineer as a reference. Playing with a tone that you enjoy during tracking will also help with your performance. If there's a particular effect that you created on an instrument, don't immediately think you need to remove that when sending it to be mixed and ask the mixer to re-create something similar what you've already done! I ask my clients to send me a version with the effect printed into the track as well as a clean version. That way at least I have both options if needed. When you're sending it to be mixed also send a rough mix of levels, that way the mix engineer has a good idea of how you roughly want the levels to be set.

Do The Simple Things

Sometimes it's the simplest things that can make the biggest difference. I'm talking about checking your guitar tuning between takes, muting off unwanted guitar noise, making sure the room is dead and free from reflections when recording vocals, using a pop filter on your vocal mic etc. These things are so easy to do but can make a huge difference to the end product. Without a recording engineer there to take care of these things for you, make sure you keep on top of them yourself. Why not make a checklist and refer back to it to keep yourself on track. Check out my previous blog on improving your guitar recordings.

Quality Control

Make sure the audio that you're capturing is free from any unwanted noise. The last thing you want is listening back after you've nailed a great vocal take and you can hear your next door neighbour mowing his lawn in the background. Be sure to check for things like un-wanted electrical hum, computer fan noise, clicks and pops in the audio. As well as the quality of the actual recording, make sure you're capturing the best quality takes as possible. If you're comp-ing together different takes make sure that it sounds natural. Are your strumming patterns matching? Does the drum beat sync with the bass line? Are you getting headphone bleed into the mic? Keep one eye on these things as you're moving through the recording process as well as ensuring the performances are the best.

Get a Better Vocal Mic

It's great that recording gear is so cheap these days, but cheap gear often comes at it's on price and that is often the sound quality you get from it. One of the most common at-home vocal mics is a Rode NT1A which is ok, it does a job and it's ok as a starter mic. I can nearly always tell when I've been sent vocals have been recorded on an NT1A, they just sound a bit thin / brittle and have this upper mid range harshness to them which can be a pain to even out. If you're wanting to get better results from your vocal recordings I recommend upgrading your mic. (Side note, the early 90's NT1 models are actually really good - before the Neumann lawsuit which is another story). You don't have to break the bank either - stretching your budget only a little bit further will yield better results. Here are some options you might want to check out:

Aston Origin - £199 / $199!

Aston Spirit - £283 / $329

Shure SM7B - £299 / $399

Blue Bluebird SL - £299 / $249

Audio Technica AT4040 - £333 / $299

Let me know if any of these helped you out and don't forget to drop me an email when your next song is ready to be mixed!

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