4 Tips For Recording Your Own Sessions

Recording can be a grueling process even when a professional audio engineer is at the helm. But when an artist acts as a performer, producer, and recording engineer, it gets even trickier. Between the affordable cost of DIY recording equipment and a modern listening audience that’s come to expect a constant stream of new music, more artists are recording their own sessions than ever before. Self-recording is by no means an easy process, but you’ll be far better off if you remember these basic tips:

Make sure things sound exactly how you want them to before you start recording 

There’s no worse feeling than getting ten takes into a session only to realize you weren’t recording, or that your takes are unusable because of distortion or some other issue. Before you dig into your sessions, you need to make sure everything is working correctly and sounding exactly how you want it to. Some amount of trial and error is unavoidable when you record your own tracks, and this usually requires running back and forth from your instrument and DAW a couple of times to get things right. But the more you can avoid wasting time, the better. The time you’ll invest in getting things to sound right the first time will help you avoid lots of frustration in the long run. 

Record more takes than you think you need

When you record on your own, you don’t have the benefit of someone listening to you and deciding which takes are usable and which ones aren’t. Ultimately, you’re going to have to record more than you think you need to to ensure you’ll have enough usable material to work with. If you think you’ve nailed it in four takes, do three or four more to be on the safe side. When you record more than you think you need to, you also have the added benefit of settling into the process which helps you refine and energize your performances. A producer or recording engineer would typically help you do this with insights and advice, but since you’re on your own, it’s up to you. 

Use the looping settings on your DAW to record multiple takes at a time

This is the most important tip on this list. Modern DAWs feature loop settings that allow you to record multiple takes without pausing. If you’re stopping after each take, you’re recording yourself the wrong way and wasting loads of valuable time and energy in the process. Once you get the settings of your session sounding exactly the way you need and want them to, use the loop settings on your DAW to record take after take until you’re finished. Recording like this takes a lot of stamina, so be prepared to work. But in the long run, the looping method will save you a huge amount of time. 

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Be patient and don’t settle 

Self-recording your sessions is exhausting. This is because it’s a process that requires you to take on multiple roles. With how hard recording yourself is, it can be tempting to cut corners, settle for mediocre takes, or miss glaring mistakes in your performances. Patience and an uncompromising approach is needed to pull off self-recording. If you rush or try to force inspired playing when it’s just not happening, you’re not going to get the material you need. You need to record more takes than you think you’ll need, which means you’ll probably need to set aside more time than you think you’ll need to get things done. Don’t rush, don’t settle, and don’t tune out to how things sound and feel. Take as many breaks as you need to get what you need. 

Recording yourself can be tricky and time-consuming, but the freedom it gives you is invaluable. Rather than relying on other people, it allows you to record however, whenever, and wherever you want. With discipline, patience, and the usage of basic strategies like looping, you’ll be able to engineer, produce, and perform professional sounding takes on your own from your home studio. It’s a process that takes practice and stamina, but if you’re a serious musician, those are attributes you’ve already spent years developing. 

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.

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  • Harry - September 1, 2021 reply

    All sage advise! Especially the looping…

  • Facunga - September 2, 2021 reply

    You’re always on point with these tips. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • Grant Miller - September 4, 2021 reply

    Can you elaborate on ‘looping’? Is it recording on the same track in your DAW over again? Thanks,

    Kenny - September 17, 2021 reply

    If you’re using Pro Tools, each audio track has a Playlist function which allows you to record multiple tasks. By selecting the area you’d want to record and setting the playback function to record, when it gets to the end of that selection, it will automatically return to the start of that selection anf begin recording another take. Having to stop, set up a new track in between each take is time consuming, and by utilizing the loop function, you don’t have to stop between takes.

  • Kenny - September 17, 2021 reply

    Takes, not tasks

  • Rick Herron - May 25, 2023 reply

    Hi Patrick

    There is one key element you have forgotten to list and that is practice. I have done this since the 70s and 80s when I was performing with various bands on the east coast; Night School, Vanishing Point and Herron-Holland. As a performing band on the outset practicing 4 sets of songs was key at the time unless one were a cover band or already a recording artist. You needed up to 60 songs to have in ones repertoire in order to get a gig or more importantly to get called back as a featured band. Performing in public was a must back then and there was no other way.

    This must be the first step or you are spinning your wheels.

    Many artists today never work with a band and therefore are not aware of the great need to figure out the arrangement of songs, the writing of lyrics and the spacing of the parts. I would avoid using the looping and rather record many more sections of the song as often the looping can be off or out of tune or time that way you can edit much easier when you get the correct sections. It also helps to develop alternate melody lines for leads, bass and vocals and even rhythms and drums. It gets you in the mode for flexibility and the innate understanding of how harmony works especially if you are working alone.

    Also let a song or group of songs sit maybe months before recording. Often, even after you think a song is right on listening back months later you find a word is wrong or a better one has been found or a part need’s adjusting or altering or added. Often the effect pedal or the synth instrument is not the right one for the specific part. Let’s say a drawbar organ instead of a piano or a 12 string instead of an acoustic. This will help in understanding arrangements intrinsically. Let the song age as a good wine will in time.
    Too many songwriters are in a hurry and this is the problem with releasing songs that are technically correct but just aren’t in the grove.

    And, finally hire a drummer and a mix and mastering engineer as their input is critical for their feedback.

    Rick Herron
    Herron Recording LA
    New release soon. Bitter Sweet.

  • Facunga - May 25, 2023 reply

    Great advice.

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