By Tommy D
So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and build a home studio, whether to demo out that album you’ve been talking about recording for years or to put together a finished product that your friends and fans can enjoy for years to come, here’s some tips I’ve learnt over the years that will help you get the most out of a home set-up.
#1 Make space!
First things first, you need to find a space for your home studio. Think about what you’re planning to use the space for? If you have a simple producer set up with a microphone and sampling pad, an outside shed may suffice. For something more complex, perhaps a spare bedroom or office space?
For larger set ups, and especially if you want to record drummers, you will need to take into account the space needed to contain the player and instrument as well as the space around that player for microphones and stands, and then also space around those microphones so that you can mauvoure and position the equipment without getting in the way.
A garage is a classic work around for this problem, a large space designed for a car is perfect for positioning yourself and performers without getting in the way. However, the acoustics of an untreated room can make recordings sound cheap and amateurish.
With this in mind, we move onto the next important aspect of home studio design:
Tommy D Live in Studio
#2 Sound treatment
Unlike sound proofing (a very expensive and difficult process that often involves building rooms within rooms and insulating walls) sound treatment is something anyone can do fairly inexpensively to help ‘deaden’ a space and make recordings within it sound better.
A simple and easy way to do this is to buy acoustic foam squares and place them in the corners of the room and anywhere the sound reverberates around. You can discover this yourself by clapping your hands together and listening out for unpleasant ‘bouncing’ sounds that are caused by the sound waves hitting each other and clashing. Try it in your room, you will notice the sound clash gets worse in the corners.
With sound treatment you are looking to help remove the echo and reverb sounds you can get in some rooms, any soft surfaces will help with this, so if you’re just planning on doing a quick ‘pop up’ recording, an easy work around it to set up in the lounge or living room. Curtains, sofas and carpets will all help to get you that killer recording.
When applying sound foam to your spaces, concentrate on corners and anywhere the sound clash seems loudest.
#3 Do Your Homework
So much about sound recording has to do with where you place your microphones, how loud you the audio signal is going into the interface and what you do to the signal after you’ve recorded it (this is called gain staging). There are many great resources online where you can pick up handy tips, these include:
Youtube – https://blog.feedspot.com/audio_engineering_youtube_channels/
Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/r/audioengineering/
Blogs – https://theproaudiofiles.com/
It’s also important to use the right types of microphone for the right job. I used this.
great list of the most common types of microphone used in studios. It gives a great comprehensive view of each microphone type and what it’s most commonly used for, as well as the most popular makes and models. Even if you’re not interested in this part of recording it’s worth taking a look; you’ll recognise many of these mics popping up on live videos of your favourite recording artists!
#4 Focus on performance, not recording style
Although it’s important to know what you’re doing with regards to mic placement and gain staging, the most important element of music recording is to give a great performance. Make sure you’re comfortable and happy, take regular breaks, and if you find you can’t play the part well yourself, find someone who can.
Don’t just record one or two takes! Record twenty and then ‘comp’ the best parts of those takes together. In the studio the phrase ‘that will do’ is never good enough. I often find I get my best takes in the 10 – 15 sweet spot where I’m warmed up and ‘in the pocket’ but not yet tired and fatigued.
It’s also often helpful to have a friend in the room with you who can press record on your project and give support as a ‘second ear’ to listen out for problems or areas where you’re routinely making mistakes. This helps you avoid many problems later down the line.
#5 Beg, borrow, steal
I often find that the best place to get decent quality equipment from is old friends and other studios who have outgrown their equipment. It’s worth joining your local musicians groups and finding out where your local studios are based. I’ve found almost everyone involved in music, especially locally, are super friendly and helpful, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for people posting old gear they’re selling.
It might even be worth being pro-active and reaching out to people and studios to ask if they have any old gear they’d like to sell. I’m sure it would work out well!
In my little studio I have a Clavinova electric piano and a Fender Stratocaster that were donated to me by friends and co-workers who had no use for them, as well as a Mapex drum kit, audio interface and studio monitor stands that I bought cheap. You may be able to find someone who has tried learning an instrument and given up, or needs to make room and wants to sell something off cheap!
#6 Have fun!
The most important part of home recording, and of any music in general, is to remember to have fun! The process of writing, recording and gigging can often be stressful, but it’s worth bearing in mind why we got into this in the first place, because we love music!
Take a step back and appreciate how far you’ve come, have a break and then come back to the project if you’re not enjoying it. When you release music, appreciate every positive comment and try not to compare yourself to those more successful than you. Often they are in the exact same boat, with the same stresses and worries, they’ve just been doing it longer.
Tom Dulieu is a Singer/Songwriter from London, you can check out his music at: www.tomdulieumusic.com
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