Home Studio Tip #6 – Setting Up Your Recording Studio

I hope you’re enjoying the home studio recording tips so far. Please do ma a favor and leave a comment right now and tell me what you’re struggling with, even if it’s really small.  Let me know what you’d like to work on and I’ll do my best to help you with that.  I read and respond to every email I get, so fire away!

Still with me? Good!

Setting Up Your Recording Studio

With the basic tools in hand (Computer, Software, Audio Interface, Monitors or Headphones), let’s talk about setting things up and recording your first tune.

This starts with where you’re gonna do it. I assume you’ll be working in a spare bedroom, the garage, basement, or maybe in the living room of your studio apartment. The one thing these spaces all have in common is that they’re lousy rooms for recording music. If you have a dedicated studio space, that’s the best. Pro studio spend a lot of money designing and building a space that is “acoustically transparent.” You’ll hear about “room treatment”, “bass traps”, sound absorption and reflection, “standing waves” and the like.

Don’t worry about that stuff for now. Maybe not ever. It’s true that these things all matter, and they make a difference to the final sound of a recording, but they’re not as important as some “gurus” would have you believe.

This is a HOME RECORDING STUDIO, right? My philosophy is to use what you have, make the most of it, and then gradually make improvements where they matter most.

Plugging In

Set up your computer in whatever space you’ve got, with enough room for your instruments, microphone & such. A standard computer desk or table works fine. If there’s a quiet part of the house, so much the better. If not, you’ll need to record when you won’t be disturbed for awhile. If neighbors are an issue, use headphones instead of monitors (speakers). Actually, you’ll be using headphones a lot anyway.

Preproduction

“Pre-production” is just a fancy term for getting your sh*t together before hitting the “record” button.  It starts with learning the song really well, designing a good arrangement, and having a basic plan for the vocal (if the song has lyrics) and instruments, and how you want things to fit together.

Once that’s done, the next part is to make sure all your gear is working properly. Put new strings on the guitar and stretch them out. Tame any squeaks or weirdness on your horn, pick the right patch on your keyboard. Make sure your cables are all in good repair.

Setting Levels

Plug your instrument or vocal mic into the audio interface; connect the interface to your computer and fire up the DAW software. Plug in your headphones and hit “record”.  Play or sing something for about 10 or 20 seconds.  You’re not going for the real thing here, you’re just “setting levels”. The sound going into the computer needs to be right, not too soft or too loud. Watch the little meters in the DAW and turn the gain up or down so you’ve got a good signal, but not so much that it goes into “the red” and distorts.  Used to be, we’d try to get as hot a signal as possible, without distorting, but that’s not as important with a decent DAW. Just set it in a middle range and leave yourself some “headroom.” (i.e. so the LOUDEST notes still don’t distort or “clip”.)

Play back your recording. Chances are it will sound like crap at first. Not to worry! Adjust the volume, or the distance from the mic, and try again until you get a decent, basic sound recorded.

See? That wasn’t so hard!

Tomorrow

Now that you’ve got the basic setup, and you’ve recorded your first few sounds, tomorrow we’ll talk about how to start creating your first masterpiece. Or maybe your first punk rock thrash tune, or whatever you wanna do. We’ll dive into the process of recording a real take, adding EQ and/or compression and start building the song.

Cheers!

Craig Olson
Home Studio Geeks


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