Anytime you’re recording at home there are certain obstacles to navigate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a decent recording from your house! Just make sure you’re aware of your space and understand how to best use whichever tools you have.
Choosing the right room in your house is the first serious decision to make! Here a few things to consider when choosing your space:
A lot of noise can come sources outside your home (a busy street, a loud neighbor, etc). Choosing a room that has fewer external walls can seriously minimize unwanted ambient sound. (Closets are great for this if you can fit!)
There can also be a lot of noise from within your space that you want to keep out of your recording. Listen closely for what these sounds might be. It’s likely any room in your home will have issues with AC noise–so turning your AC off when tracking is essential. Fridge too noisy? Unplug it for a bit. Just don’t forget to plug it back in when you’re done!
Also test out a space by setting up a mic and recording the ambience, you may catch some stuff you didn’t hear with just your ears!
Live vs. Dead Rooms
In a recording studio, some rooms are acoustically designed to be “live rooms.” In these rooms, the sound of your instruments filling the space and getting into a mic is a huge part of the sound. In your home, however, you’ll be better off keeping your room as acoustically “dead” as possible–rug floors, blankets on walls, etc.
Rooms not built for recording can have odd resonances, and these can affect your recording very negatively. In a more “dead” room you can have a clean-slate recording that you can add simulated rooms and reverbs to later. (This is also why closets are preferable to bathrooms for vocals).
Whatever the quantity or quality of the equipment you have, there are are two things you need to make sure you familiarize yourself with as much as possible: your mics and your mic-pres
Don’t forget to schedule a time every now and then to check all your cables and make sure they are all functional. Nothing will kill a productive session faster than having to look for working cables. You can get an inexpensive cable tester on Amazon. It can save you many hours of frustration!
This should go without saying, but make sure your instruments are in good shape. Make sure your guitar or bass strings have been changed recently and that they are in tune. If there are intermittent crackling noise coming from a piece of equipment, find a way to get it fixed or try not to use it for your session. Few things can be more frustrating than getting a great take only do discover there’s a huge crackle in the middle of it.
- Get to know your mics
- Know your mic types (dynamic, small diaphragm condenser (SDC), large diaphragm condenser (LDC), ribbon, etc.)
- Know your mics frequency response (know where your mic is naturally boosting/cutting)
- Know your mics pickup-pattern (know where your mic’s null point is)
Knowing your mic will help you intuitively understand where to place it and how to aim it. If you have any ambient noises you just can’t get rid of, make sure the null of your mic is pointed towards it.
And finally, one of the most important tips: be conscious of your gain structure.
Here’s a metaphor that can be helpful when understanding setting gain:
Imagine a microphone with a small bubble around its capsule. This bubble represents the area surrounding your mic where it is capturing sound. As you provide more and more gain from your pre-amp, this bubble grows, capturing the sound of more and more of its surroundings.
This, like any metaphor, has its limitations, but it is important to keep in mind that setting your gain affects more than just the level of your intended source–it affects the level of all ambient noises surrounding your source as well. Lesson here: don’t over-gain your mics. Close mic where you can, and as much as is possible, capture only your intended source in your “bubble.”
One last note on gain structure: don’t record too loud, don’t record too soft. Using your DAW meters, set your input gain so that the signal averages around -18 dB, with peaks around -12 dB. Resist the urge to record as loud as possible before clipping.Conversely, make sure you’re not recording too quiet.
Making sure you have a good gain structure at the time of recording will ensure a smoother mix down process. If your tracks are too loud, the first thing you’ll have to do when entering the mixing phase is to turn your tracks down, so save yourself the extra effort. If your tracks are too quiet, you’ll have to add gain after recording, risking adding unnecessary noise.
With home recording, your best goal is to keep everything as clean and dry as possible. Don’t feel that you can’t experiment with a room mic in a living room or some bathroom tracking, but what you’ll probably find is that a living room sounds like a living room and a bathroom sounds like a bathroom; good clean/dry tracks, however, can sound like anything once they’ve been treated and processed.
We know how intimidating home recording can be. We’ve done it for years and would be happy to help you with any questions you might have. Already finished with your track but need help taking it to the next level? We offer mixing and mastering services to give your song that professional shine. Schedule your free 30 minute video consultation today and let us help get your song on its way to greatness!