I’m nobody in the grand scheme of things: My music doesn’t get airplay. Nor does it bring in any much-needed cash. My recordings all sounded like a** for 11 years before it all began to gel on a consistent basis. I’ve probably made every mistake there ever was to make- from mic placement to over-doing eq and compression. Thankfully, my technique got better and overall, I’m still enjoying the process.
Writing and recording at home is challenging. Resources are scarce. My room is all but untreated (unless you count the odd painting on the wall, a kingsize bed in the room, no echo chamber, no mixing board, no vocal or drum room and no access to real tape other than Scotchtape). I just read an article in which someone thought that his Mom’s cooking rivaled or surpassed anything he’s had in a “proper” restaurant. Oh yea, peasant cooking… rustic cooking at it’s best is a real pleasure. Same thing with Rustic Recording.
Here are tips for getting the most out of your recordings. You won’t win a Grammy, but isn’t Coldplay nominated this year?… You see my point?
1) Use mic distance to your advantage.
Recordings aren’t just stereo or mono. Create depth using multiple mics as well as by using reverb and EQ to great effect. The brighter the sound, the more up front it appears. Using lo-pass and hi-pass filters as your “go-to” tool will keep things sounding natural and make sounds that compete for space easier to manage and fix.
2) Go DI for bass.
Bass signals plugged in direct to your daw will end up lifeless, but you can “fix it in the mix”. I always go DI and end up duping the original track 2x. Now that I’ve got 3 bass tracks:
- Leave the DI track as is.
- Route track 2 through an ampsim.
- Route track 3 through a fuzz or distortion box.
Blend these tracks to create a tasty bass track.
3) Perfect your performance before you hit record.
If you can’t play it all the way through without that red light on, you’re not ready to have a go at it. Seriously- learn your material. Make sure you can sing it and play it.
4) Buy the best instruments you can afford and use them.
And this doesn’t mean that you have to subscribe to the myth that your guitar needs to be a 1959 Les Paul in order to be considered “best”. I like Elliott Smith and was pleased to learn that the entire Roman Candle album was recorded using a cheap Domino parlor guitar. Best= what works best for the material. New instruments might not work as well as something old or beat up even (have you seen the hole in Willie Nelson’s Martin?).
5) Drum machines suck.
They’re repetitive and lack soul. Pepper any drum machine track with real tambourines, claps, woodblocks, etc. anything that sounds real- even shaking a key ring full of keys will go a long way to impart that touch that only a real human can. Or better yet, just find a real drummer.
6) Don’t marathon mix.
Take breaks every hour. Let your ears rest for 15-20 minutes. It will make a big difference. Ear fatigue, especially when listening to high volume rock tracks, is a death sentence for quality.
7) Audition your mixes before and after.
There are people who can actually mix well using headphones. Just be sure to A/B them on car stereo, home stereo, etc.
8) Elevate you demos with proper mastering.
Home recordings can sound cheap because they often aren’t mastered properly. Even Ozone (when used sparingly) can yield great results.
9) Mistakes= Happy Accidents. Keep Them.
You are making music for real live flesh and blood people to hear. Your music should sound like it was made by one. Mistakes happen. Nothing is perfect. Remember that.
10) Always, always experiment.
Do something you haven’t tried. It might make your song better.