To get more out of your music production setup, you don’t have to break your head (or your piggy bank). Recording equipment is affordable and compact today, but to make a good recording, there are many things than simply pressing that big red button and starting to play. We have collected some tips that will help you get the best results from your music production setup, whether you use DAW recording software, an integrated hardware recorder/mixer or even an old tape recorder. It goes without saying that a good music production starts with a good performance of a well-composed song, but even a good performance can be at risk even before the sound reaches the microphone. So let’s start there.
1: Use improvised materials to improve the acoustics in your home studio. If the recordings of your voice or instruments sound jammed or enclosed, then the problem is almost always with the room, not with the recording equipment. Because a full acoustic treatment can be quite expensive, you can improve a lot by hanging blankets, sleeping bags or duvets around the place where you record or mix to make the sound drier. You don’t have to do that all over the room – just where you record or mix.
You can hang a thick polyester down blanket over a microphone stand that you set up in T-shape. Keep the down blanket in place with pegs or clips – usually available at the local hobby or DIY store. If you hang such an acoustic screen a bit off the wall, it will have more effect than if you hang it flat against it. And don’t forget to place a pop filter between the microphone and the singer (s).
At the place where you mix, you best hang absorbent material on both sides to absorb reflections from the side walls. If you have any absorbent material left, hang it behind the speakers.
If you are in a rented accommodation and you prefer to use acoustic foam panels instead of (down) blankets, but you are not allowed to stick anything to the walls, stick an old CD on the back of each foam panel (top in the middle) and then hang the whole panel on a thumb nail, with the hole of the CD over the head of the thumb nail.
2: Do not quantify everything unless the music style requires it. The musical feeling is usually the result of slight changes in tempo or notes played just before or after the beat. By quantizing too much, this feeling is lost. If you still need to quantize to tighten up a MIDI performance, try using the percentage quantization function to retain some of the natural feeling.
With some music styles it would be better to just ignore the click track and use the computer or digital recorder as you used to work with a tape recorder. The post-processing is a bit more difficult, but the result will sound more natural.
3: Keep the recording volume under control. Analog devices can often handle signal levels well above +15dB VU before anything clips, but digital recorders don’t have space above their digital spectrum, so you have to build in your own safety margin. If you set the average signal level to approximately -15dB on the record level meters of your computer, you will prevent accidental clipping and you will not struggle with too loud signals during mixing. Most recording software on computers sounds purer if you keep the signal strength of the recordings at a reasonable level.
MUSIC PRODUCTION – RECORD VOICES
4: Although your voices are best recorded in a fairly dry acoustic environment, acoustic guitars and other string instruments will sound better with some controlled reflections , with a hard floor usually giving the best results. If you do not have a hard floor, simply place a hardboard, MDF or plywood plate, or even some trays and placemats on the floor under the instruments and under the microphone.
5: Place your monitor speakers in the best place. In a rectangular room of living room size you will always get the best result if you aim them according to the longitudinal axis of the room, especially if you want to keep the basses even. That being said, the bass response of small rooms may never be perfectly even, so you’ll have to accept (and ignore) any peaks and troughs in the basses. Do not be tempted to raise the layer with the EQ to ‘fix’ the bass problems, because those problems may be more due to your production environment than to your mix.
Studio monitors are usually arranged symmetrically with respect to the centerline of the room so that they form a more or less equilateral triangle with the listener. However, if the basses sound uneven in your room, you might be able to improve this by moving the monitor speakers a few centimeters off the center or by placing them closer or further from the wall behind.
HOW DO I USE EQ IN A MUSIC PRODUCTION?
6: If you work in a small square room, don’t sit in the middle of the room when you have to decide on the mix , because in the middle of the room you almost always have a big dip in the basses. It is a known problem that it is difficult to get accurate monitoring in small rooms, so do not use speakers that are too large for the rooms and double-check your mix on headphones .
7: Following on from the previous point, double-check your mixes on other speaker systems such as the hi-fi system in your living room or your car . If your mix sounds acceptable on all those systems, then you know that your work is nicely balanced.
8: Headphones are excellent for mixing , especially at night, and they also display small details that speakers might miss. However, you still have to check your mix on speakers because the perception of the stereo image and the level of the bass differs between these two ways of listening. With headphones, the left ear only hears the left channel and the right ear hears the right channel, while for speakers, sound from the left speaker reaches the right ear and vice versa. It is important that your mix sounds good on both speakers and headphones. The so-called ‘open back’ headphones are usually the most accurate to mix.
9: Always remember that the most important part of a recording happens before the sound reaches the microphone, so make sure that you bring out the best sound and performance from the beginning. This also includes the musical arrangement and the choice of sounds, in particular sounds from electric guitars and synths. If something is out of tune or out of time, do it again.
10: The heat in a studio can make instruments displeased, so check the tuning of your guitar and bass before each take. I use a Boss TU-10 Clip-On Chromatic Tuner on both my acoustic and my electric guitars, and it has always proven its accuracy and reliability. If you record using software, as most musicians do today, you will find that your DAW contains a tuner that you can leave on the screen.