In 2020, working out of a home recording studio doesn’t mean having to compromise on the sound quality of your music. We’re seeing more artists produce phenomenal sounding music from modest home studios than ever before. The good news is that you can do it on a tight budget. Yet, to get the kind of results that succeed in music, there are some basic things you’ll need to do to prepare your songs for release.
Treating your home studio and reducing background noise
Let’s start off with an easy one. You don’t need a multi-million dollar recording space to create music that sounds amazing. However, you do need to prepare your DIY studio to record. At the absolute minimum, this means reducing background noise as much as possible––pets, roommates, water heaters, creaky floors, weather events, etc. The only sounds that should make it onto your songs are the ones you intentionally record. So, do your best to detect unwanted noises and eliminate them.
When you acoustically treat your space, remember that the goal isn’t to completely dampen the sound, but to create a neutral palette to work with. For most rooms, this means using materials that both diffuse and absorb sound. Sound treatment panels can be purchased or built. Also, recording vocals in a DIY sound booth can improve the sound quality of your recordings in a big way.
Recording with professional gear
You don’t need a massive budget to get decent recording gear, but you do need some money. The difference between a $100 mic and a $200 one is sizable. Bump that number up to $400, and you’ll hear an incredible difference. Instead of buying inexpensive versions of equipment that’s not absolutely necessary for recording (mics, interfaces, etc), think about investing in great products for the stuff you truly need and slowly building up your studio that way. It ends up being a lot less expensive to purchase equipment you know works well than blowing your money on cheap products that you’ll end up throwing away and replacing later.
Mixing is one of your biggest weapons in the war against bad sound. But more than an exercise in making music sound good, it also shapes songs in ways that give them nuance and character. Mixing is the process of adjusting and blending multiple tracks into a cohesive piece of music. If you’re in the habit of throwing your recordings together and releasing songs soon after, you’re missing a big opportunity to make your music sound the best it possibly can. Track volumes are a start, but mixing involves EQs, compression, reverbs, and other ways of shaping sounds as well. You certainly don’t have to mix your own songs, but if you do, make sure you recognize that it’s a completely different skill set than songwriting and it takes a great deal of practice to get better at.
Mastering is mandatory for creating the sort of music that gets taken seriously. Where mixing blends separate tracks into a single song, mastering balances a stereo mix and optimizes it for all the different ways music gets heard today: over the radio, through streaming platforms, CDs, etc. Mixing is a skill many artists can learn to do on their own, but mastering is usually a different story. Today, you have the option of getting personalized, human mastering from an audio professional. Or, you can choose from multiple automated digital services.
Digital mastering platforms are convenient and inexpensive, but nothing replaces the passion and expertise of a human audio engineer. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get quality masters from an automated platform. No matter which route you take, it’s crucial you complete this step before releasing your music.
Creating and recording from home isn’t easy. However, it is amazing how far DIY recording has come over the past 20 years. With decent gear and a little preparation, you’ll be able to produce professional recordings on your own straight from home. This is a huge departure from the past when recording for most musicians meant paying lots of money for limited time at professional studios.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.