Tips to Recording Music at Home

Your good, you’re really good! Everyone’s told you, “you need to record an album.” but nobody is ponying up the cash to get it done professionally. Even if you do all the performing yourself, vocals, instruments, percussion, etc., etc., etc. it still tends to be well, cost prohibitive.

Wait! Can you perform all those parts yourself? Then why not record it yourself! You can do it from home, yes, from the comfort of your own home. You would be surprised how many good recordings come out of someone’s Bedroom, living room, or even their garage.

Photo by Paulette Wooten

Here’s What You Need

First, you will need a computer, it can be a laptop or desktop. It can be a Mac or PC.

Next, you will need DAW, (short for Digital Audio Workstation), software to install on your computer. There are several that are available online for free. Checkout: Presonus; Traction; Audacity; and Pro Tools which are some of the more acclaimed DAW’s that offer the beginner good starter Software that you can produce quality recordings with. 

Peripherals

A microphone is important and you need to decide on what kind. (See post: “What is the best Microphone for recording, or is there such a thing?” for additional insight). Don’t forget to include a “Pop” filter in your decision, (you’ll thank me later).

You can connect a microphone directly to the computer by using a USB microphone, or acquire an interface that attaches to the Computer via USB, (or Thunderbolt or Firewire), which then allows a broader range of microphone options along with instrument and other inputs and of course the headphone output.

These are important considerations dependent upon your proposed instrumentation. For example, if you will be using an electric guitar, then you will want to either plug directly into the interface and use the DAW effects features, (recording a clean or dry signal then playing with the various built-in offerings) for the guitar, or use the microphone to record your guitar amplifier with the desired effect pre-selection on the amp or pedal effects group.

The least expensive option would be the Computer; DAW; headphones; and a good USB microphone (with Pop Filter), and lots of time. 

Getting the Feel of it

Once you have your setup lined out, you need to go to work on your project. There is so much here to do, and for a quality production, doing your home work will help. 

First and foremost – you are going to want to play with your setup to learn what you can and cannot do. Being creative comes from knowing the potential available to you from the outset.

Photo by Nick Karvounis

Make sure you know how your project is going to go. Have it well rehearsed so you can be free to be yet more creative and passionate as you progress through the process. This is a good place to tell you NOT to delete takes because something didn’t go to plan. Often times, you may find you have some really good stuff that can be later integrated into other takes as you head to the final cut.

Getting the Tracks down

Once you have emersed yourself in the technology and the project, you need to begin recording. Let’s say, for the sake of example, you will be singing and playing guitar. A basic format might go like this. 

A Click track. Rhythm is what keeps the parts on task, so start with a click track set to the tempo you desire. This is also very helpful if you decide later on to add additional instruments, or vocals, whether played by you or another singer/musician.

Next, do a recording of your song with vocals and guitar together on the one mic. It does not have to be perfect, but with all the practice in preparation for this, I bet it will sound pretty great.

Now go back and do a separate track of your guitar with the microphone set to the optimum location that best captures the sound you want. There are several places you might want to consider depending on what you are going for. In fact, you may want to do a couple of tracks of the guitar with the microphone in the various positions to be evaluated and/or blended later.

Photo by James Coleman

Vocal time!!! Set your microphone up so that you are in the ideally suited position to render your best vocals. Sitting in a chair versus a stool which sits you a little more upright, or better yet, standing. If your really good, (like everyone says you are), then this should go in one take. But if you’re like me, (get super conscious of everything and forget to just have fun), then it will take a couple of runs before you have what you want.

Let’s Mix it!

The recording is now done and the real work begins. Mixing your recording to get the best sound possible. That word “sound” is a big one. This is not a rush job, it requires patience and time. You will be listening to this project over and over to tweak it just right. So you will want to do several things to ensure the desired outcome.

Take breaks, let your ears rest, and by the way, if you do not play the music super loud, your ears will thank you and your finished product will be better. Granted, different genre’s of music do require different volumes, I get it, but not when you are mixing. NO! don’t play it super soft either, but do pay attention to your body. If you walk away and your ears are still ringing an hour later, turn it down.

On average, (and this one is tough for me), break it up into 15 to 30 minutes sessions, no more. Take a coffee/tea/espresso break and then come back and go another session. It will help. Reviewing when you get back can also help you keep on the mark and get the sound and affect your aiming for.

Your mixing will include all kinds of things. Adjustments in the tracks in terms of timing and emphasis, essentially combining them so they are coherent. Adding the necessary EQ (equalization), compression, and effects to give the recording body and presence. Then getting those combinations down into a stereo file for mastering. Understand, the majority of the tweaking is done in the mix, volume issues, timing issues, blending issues all occur in the mix. If it doesn’t work out here, you need to go back and do more recording.

Yes, Master!

To keep costs down, you will also want to do your own Mastering. This is the final stage in which you render a polished and final product. At this stage of the process, you should have immediately available to you a like genre recording of your favorite performer to use as a reference. This will assist you in calibrating things like overall volume, presence, balance, etc. Your finished product should sound like it came off the same album in the sense that the feeling when the songs change from one to the next, is not lost in the pause. So drop it right into your project and play one after, and/or before the other and listen. 

The Final Product

Obviously, this is the bare bones basics. If you read my post on live music recording equipment, you’ll note I reference the accommodating attitude of amateurs and pros alike willing to share there knowledge and experience. It’s for real, check it out,  there is a wealth of information out there on the net if you don’t have access to the real deal like I was blessed with. Here is a non-exhaustive list of a few excellent sources: Produce like a Pro; Creative Sound Lab; DIY Musician; Reverb: and the list goes on and on and on…

Photo by Obi Onyeador

Learn all you can because most importantly, the world is waiting to hear you, and I’ve heard your good, you’re really, really good!!! so let’s get recording ~

6 thoughts on “Tips to Recording Music at Home

  1. Eric Chen Reply

    Hello Red,

    Great article on how to record music at home! My friends and I have guitars and drums at home. We enjoyed playing but never thought about recording. This definitely gives us something to think about.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    • Red Post authorReply

      Eric,

      Excellent!!! yes, you can do this ~ Capturing the music you make allows you to listen to it at your leisure. Recording can also be a useful tool to help your band to expand its creativity and perhaps even its vision, something more to think about ~

      Red

  2. Vicki Reply

    Cool post- I am a muso and I want to learn how to record at home and will keep coming back to read again and again and then hopefully I will make some progress
    Thank you

    • Red Post authorReply

      Thank you Vicki,

      You will thank yourself down the road for getting those recordings down. For most of us, it is about the time, I understand that, and that’s one of the great things about a home studio recording. Studios require a lot of money per hour which means you have to dedicate that block of time to get the recordings down. In your home studio, the time is yours to control based on schedule and creative juices ~

      Red

  3. Brandi Gray Reply

    Great post Red. I believe in doing whatever it takes to get things done. Setting up a home studio to record music is an awesome idea. My husband’s friend has a studio inside of his house to record his music and his music sounds great. The tips you’ve mentioned are amazing for someone who want to record music at home.

    • Red Post authorReply

      Thank you Brandi,

      I hope they are helpful, that is the goal on this site. In fact, since I am pretty sure I don’t know everything, I am myself always on the lookout for insights, especially from others who are like minded. I would be honored to be enlightened by any musician/producer who is willing to share ~

      Red

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