Years ago struggling artists had to shell out more cash than they had to get a professional sounding recording done. Before websites like YouTube and social networking sites like Tumblr and Facebook, sometimes the music recorded in a studio might not even make a lot of progress for the band, which meant a lot of money was wasted. But today if you can put together an affordable home studio that is capable of recording great music, you can make as many tracks as you want with the only repercussion being your time. If you don't like a track, scratch it, move on - you are not paying for the time, so this is a non-issue. When you're not paying by the hour, you don't have to stop recording when those hours that you are paying for are up. There's nothing like leaving the studio knowing that you have to schedule and pay for more time because you just could not finish those last couple of tracks. With a home recording studio, the time that you have is all the spare time you want to devote to your recordings.
Saving Money on Your Equipment
First, before you go out and spend more money than you need, step back and ask yourself what it is that you're really going to need and what it is you are really going to use. A lot of times you might get caught up in the moment, and you might think the newest, coolest gear will help you make the best music possible.
This is so not true, getting caught up in the moment can cause you to have a lot of equipment that you paid for but never end up using. Just because it's the newest technology out there and received great reviews, it doesn't mean that it's right for you or your project. I've been there before and bought equipment that I never ended up using. This is very frustrating because you know the minute you buy a product that you don't end up using, when you do decide to sell it you will not get the same amount of money that you bought it for, used or not.
The next thing you need to ask yourself is do you need to buy brand new? For instance, say you're looking for a mixer, find one that is around five years old with the amount of outputs and inputs that you need. If it's in good shape, you may be able to buy it for a great price. As long as it's compatible with your computer and your DAW software, you might end up with a great 16 track or so mixer that will fit your needs perfectly. Do not worry if the mixer lacks some of the functions and goodies that the brand new ones have, because if you have an up-to-date DAW software, all the goodies you will need will be in your computer software plug-ins, like compression, EQ, delay, and automation.
The same goes with microphones, headphones and studio monitors, if taking care of properly these tools can work just as good as the day they were bought new and still deliver the quality that you need for a great sounding recording. I also suggest getting a plain-jane MIDI keyboard. You can get a good MIDI keyboard for about $100-$150 with no sound bank. You can then use your software to assign sounds like the grand piano, strings, drums, percussion and more.
Another thing I suggest doing to save money is make your own baffles, sound absorbers, acoustic walls or whatever you want to call them. Obviously, you can't record a band all in one room at the same time without baffles because of the way the sounds will bounce off the walls. This will cause major leakage from other instruments into other microphones that are not designated for that source. Since sound absorbers get expensive, getting creative and getting hands-on can save you a lot of money. You should try using empty egg cartons, styrofoam or used carpet to save money. If it's something that will absorb sound, get out the drawing board and spend some time and fabricate your own. Hint: making mobile baffles are the key because in the long run you might want to change the position of your instruments and where you play them. It's possible you might rent your studio out to other bands. Some bands may have a lot of instruments and some bands may not. Being able to move your baffles around will leave you with many different options.
Here are the three different kinds of microphones you will come across:
Condenser: A good all-around mic, great for vocals, great for using for a room mic and just about anything else that you want.
Dynamic: A rugged mic, good for kick drums, toms and bass guitars. Also, a mic that will last you a long time, this mic could take numerous falls and many beatings and still work religiously.
You also need to know microphone patterns:
- Hyper Cardioid
Each pattern picks up sound on the microphone in one place but rejects it in another - remember to always point the rejection of the microphone toward the sound source you do not want to pick up. Each microphone diagram pattern can be found on the box and or in the owners manual.
Recording and Mixing
Now that you have some knowledge, possible some equipment, its time to have some fun. The first and biggest rule in recording is to know your equipment. If you're not going to take the time to utilize all of it's functions than whats the point of having it.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when recording is setting up their microphones. Always make sure you have the best possible sound before you start recording. A lot of times people will make the mistake of saying it could be better, but we will fix it during mix down, this is not the best way. The more you have to use your plug-ins at mix down, the more you take away from the natural sound. It may take you some time adjusting microphones, but in the long run you will be much happier than you would be if you have to fight with all your plug-ins to find that perfect sound.
Just remember one thing: no rules for recording are set in stone. Use your ears, be creative when placing microphones and try different methods until you get the sound you want to hear.
When you get started, make sure the level of each input signal is as close to zero as possible without clipping/overloading and then record some tracks. When you're done recording, cut each track down to length and separate them into individual files and normalize the wave forms. Once that is done you want to mix them to your likely by using the automation, panning, compression, EQ, delay and so on. Being creative is a great gift, but you don't want to over do it with your effects and plug-ins for it will make a track sound artificial.
When you are finished and you like what you hear, take the tracks and mix them down to a left and right stereo track. Whatever program you are using will have a section in the manual on how to do this particular step. Now your project is ready to be mastered.
A lot of people get scared when they hear the word mastering, and to tell you the truth, you should be. This may be a spot where you would like to go to a professional and have it done properly, but if you feel bold enough to take on the grueling task, I will help you out.
First and foremost, make sure your mix is exactly the way you want it. The process of mastering only deals with the left/right channel (stereo track). So if your guitar is overpowering the vocals or there are other problems that should have been fixed during mix down, there is not much that can be done to fix this in mastering.
Unfortunately, you will have to spend some money on a mastering program to do this step properly. There are many different types, but in my opinion, the best program for the price and most user-friendly would be the IZTOP software. You can get this program just about anywhere where music software is sold, and you can use it as a plug-in for most all DAW software programs making it even more convenient. Also, programs like Wavelab and Sound Forge are great programs you might want to look into purchasing for the analyzing of your wave forms.
Next you need to do some research on the three most common methods of mastering:
1. Multi-Band Compression
2. Parallel Compression
3. General Compression and Brick Wall.
Before you get into EQ and compression, think of the order you wish to do this process. You can definitely EQ first, but just remember when you compress, you could be compressing the very parameters that you just equalized. Just make sure that you plan to make one final EQ after compression.
Once you decide on a mastering program, you have to time some time to get used to it. I strongly suggest getting familiar with the spectrum analyzer, the spectrum analyzer will help you get a better sense of what ranges might still need a little EQ. Maybe your lows are pounding a little too heavy and your mid-range is running a little too soft. This problem may not be heard right away, but the Spectrum will help you see it by showing the problem on a graph.
Also when mastering, try to get your average RMS level around -10. If it peaks a little over -10, you should be alright as long as the average is where it should be.
Remember mastering consists of very little changes and the better you do on the mixing process of the project the easier the mastering process will be.
My Last Words
This is just a starting point and your first go at it won't be perfect – in fact, you will never be perfect. You will always learn new techniques and processes that work better for you.