17 Jan 6 Mistakes You’re Making While Home Recording To Send For Mixing
If you’ve just recently gotten into home recording, you’re probably making some of your worst recordings ever. No offense, but that’s just how it goes. You’re brand new to an artform that requires both technical skill, talent, and experience. You’re probably making a lot of mistakes along the way. But guess what, so did I! In fact, I still make mistakes. It’s all part of the process.
Houston We Have A Problem
That being said, if we can learn some things that will minimize our mistakes and the pain involved, then chances are good we can get to some better recordings faster, right? Don’t worry, I’m here to help. While there are so many things that CAN go wrong in a recording session, today I want to highlight six of the most common “mistakes” I see home studio owners falling prey to and how if you reverse these, you can improve your recordings right away!
Mistake #1 – No Proper Guide Track
The biggest mistake most people make comes way before they ever hit the record button. By simply creating a new session in your DAW, hooking mics up, and diving into the recording session, all without proper preparation, you are setting yourself up for failure. The best thing you can do is to put a few things in place early on, resulting in a solid “guide track”.
This guide track is usually a series of tracks that help the musicians and engineer have a clearer map of where they are going. Things to include in your guide track would be:
- Demo of the song with guitar/piano and vocal
- Click track matching the demo’s tempo (or vice versa)
- Drum loops to follow along with click (optional)
- Markers for each verse, chorus, bridge etc.
By taking a little extra time to set these elements in place, your band or musicians (or yourself) will be forever grateful as they can hear where they are in the song, feel confident about the tempo they should play to, and in turn will deliver a more musical and professional performance. They’re mind will be less focused on where they are and instead zeroed in on the music. And honestly, whatever you can do to get a better performance, your recordings will be better for it!
Mistake #2 – Recording Levels Too Hot
This mistake is usually a hold over from the analog recording days. We used to be taught “Record your tracks as hot or loud as you can without clipping.” This was mostly due to nuances of an analog signal path’s high noise floor. Plus, when recording into a nice analog console and to analog tape, the hotter you pushed the tracks the “warmer” a sound you could get because of the inherent natural “compression” or saturation that occurred. Neither of these reasons exist in the digital recording world.
If you record to any modern DAW or recording software, you have a super clean signal path with practically no noise floor. You don’t need to push the signal very hot at all. In fact, the hotter you push things the worse they can sound as computers don’t handle loud signal levels the way analog equipment does. Things can get a bit dicey if you are pushing you meters closer to the red. The best thing you can do is record very conservative, maybe 50% up the meter. You’ll be able to get more volume and signal out of your tracks with compression, so no worries. Just turn up your speakers and forget the old axioms of “loud, but not clipping.”
I want you to make the absolute best recordings you can. If you’re planning to record at home and send to a producer, you’ll need to give him the best raw takes for the best end product. That’s why this blog exists. One way to get better is to stop making dumb mistakes. We’ve all make them, but it’s time we make a course correction and get to better recordings.
Via Marcin Wichary Flickr
Mistake #3 – Out Of Phase Stereo Recording
It took me a while to figure this out when I was getting into recording, but if you can understand this concept you will have crisper, and punchier sounding recordings every time. If you use two (or more) microphones to capture a certain source (drums, acoustic guitar) as opposed to one microphone, you introduce a potential threat: your tracks being out of phase.
The idea is simple, without proper attention to placement the sound from your source could easily hit one microphone a few milliseconds before the other, causing it to be slightly behind in one track than in the other. The audio wave forms are therefore smeared as it were and you can have actual sound cancellation happening, causing your tracks to become hollow or thin. Not a good thing.
How can you fix this problem? Two simple ways: either place the mics in such a way that no phase cancellation is happening, or simply forget the stereo recording all together and use one mic. Here are some examples:
- Use the 3:1 rule for stereo miking. This involves placing the mics in such a way that they are three times farther apart from each other as they are to the sound source (or the other way around).
- Use an X/Y mic technique. An even simpler mic technique is to place the mics so their capsules (where audio is hitting them) are right next to each other, yet aimed across from each other. You will get a stereo image, yet sound hits both mics at the same time because they are in the same place!
- Use only one mic. This is probably my favourite solution because it is fast, simple, and guaranteed to give you no phase problems. Recording drum overheads? Just place your mic right above the drum kit and move around to taste for the right cymbals to kit balance. Recording acoustic guitar? The same thing applies, one mic properly angled to pick up both the meat and the brightness of the guitar will sound perfect in your mix, rather than two phase-y mics.
Of course with using only one mic you don’t get stereo, but that doesn’t mean your mix won’t be a stereo mix. It will simply be comprised of many mono sources (as most mixes are) and they will be punchy, clear and phase free!
Mistake #4 – Miking Too Close To The Source
Whether it’s because of the ads we see in magazines or just lack of exposure to good recording technique, many home studio owners put their mics up way too close to the source they are recording. Specifically I see this as a problem with vocals and other acoustic instruments (like acoustic guitar, violins, horns, etc).
The problem with throwing a mic right up on your face is something called the proximity effect. Basically, with most mics that we use in the home studio having a cardioid polar pattern (i.e. it picks up sound primarily in front of the mic, not all around it) the closer we get to the mic, the beefier sounding we become. There is this buildup in low frequency information that occurs. Sometimes that can be desirable if you want more low end (let’s say a movie trailer announcer). But for tracking most vocals and acoustic instruments it only makes things sound muddy and more difficult to mix.
Instead, simply back the mic away 6 inches to a foot from where you might typically have it and see what that sounds like. You may want to back off even more for louder instruments like horns. You’ll likely get a more natural sound recorded. One that sounds like the instrument does in real life. Of course this means more involvement of the room itself in your sound, but if you are strategic about where you place the mic you’ll do just fine.
We all make mistakes in life, especially when it comes to recording. Yes music is creative and an artform, but there are still some legitimate things that aren’t wise to do. If you can eliminate the mistakes, you can get better recordings. So forget your pride, spend 5 minutes of your life learning and get to making better music in your home studio right now!
Mistake #5 – Recording Too Many Takes
I’m all about setting limitations in the studio. In my opinion, they are the key to unlocking creativity. The problem with modern recording studios and our all powerful DAWs is we can easily find ourselves recording a ton of takes for each part.
Tracking bass guitar? Why not lay down 3 or 4 takes. We can comp the best of the best together later. Lead vocals? Definitely record 5 or 6. Heck the singer wants one more round? Do it. We’ll just piece it all together later or pick the best take. There are two problems with this mindset: it breeds laziness in the studio and more pointless work in the editing/mixing stages. Do yourself a favour and limit your musicians to two takes max on any part. Two takes of drums, two bass guitar takes, heck two takes of lead vocals. If you can’t get a solid performance in two takes then you’re not ready to record.
Let your musician play through the song once to warm up and ensure they have a great monitor mix and you have the right mic placement and gain settings. Then when everyone feels ready, hit the record button and give them two shots. It’s that simple. This slight pressure (which isn’t much considering you have to nail it in one take live) will usually bring out the best in a good musician. They know they are “on” and want to make some killer music. Also, when it comes time to mix you will only have two takes to choose/comp from. It will allow you to know those takes more intimately and ultimately deliver a better edit, faster!
Mistake #6 – Not Doubling Key Parts
Now I know I just told you to not record too many takes, but one thing people don’t record enough of is doubles. What is a double you ask? It is simply setting up a second track and re-recording the exact same part with the intention of the two parts being played simultaneously for a doubled or chorus effect.
Why is this helpful? So many great mixes benefit from having doubled guitars because you can easily get a huge thick wall of sound without any crazy mix tricks. Pan one part left and the other right and “Bam!” you have one big sound. Same is true with vocals.With a double available you can easily thicken up parts of a song, say the chorus, by un-muting the double and blending the two tracks to taste. No plugins needed.
I think so many home studio owners miss out on doubling because they either a) don’t think to do it, or b) don’t realize how beneficial and subtle it can be in their mixes. Here’s the truth of the matter, it’s almost impossible to create a double after the fact, but you never HAVE to use the doubles you do record. So you might as well record some doubles for guitars and vocals now and see if they work in your mix later.
Eliminate The Mistakes
That’s it. If you can stop making these six common mistakes in your recording sessions, I promise you’ll notice a difference. Have you made any of these mistakes? Leave a comment and let us know what you’ve learned!
Looking to record at home and send the files for mixing? Get in touch with me below!