Here are some tips that I wrote when I started out home recording. They will take you through some of the basics and logistic thoughts that you are likely to come across yourself.
- Neighbours – When I first started recording music I worried about upsetting the neighbours. Since starting recording however, I have come to realise that my neighbours are just as nosiy as me if not noisier. I have to contend with grass cutting, dogs barking, cars coming and going and passing by, shouting, wind chimes, kids playing and kicking footballs, hammering and general DIY out side, oh and a steam train that blows it’s whistle when it comes past our little country village. So when you sit down to record and start worrying about upsetting the neighbours with your recording levels, just remember these things, but try to be respectful of times of day you are recording and keep noise levels to a similar level to all the background noise you have to endure. It’s actually usually fine to record a guitar amp at a fairly quiet volume, so I’m not sure if anyone hears it anyway when I record. It’s more about recording the right sounds from the amp, and sometimes a lower volume will be better. Note that the closer the mic is to the amp, the bassier the sound, so you don’t want to fall into that trap of moving the mic closer to make up for low amp volume.
- Where to sit – If you are on your own, you need to be at the computer so you can stop and start quickly if you are recording on your own, so sit at your desk, or in front of your laptop wherever that is. This is not ideal because many movements, computer noise, and all mouse clicks will be heard if you are using a microphone in the same room. Make sure to leave time at the end of each recording before clicking that mouse! If you are recording an acoustic guitar, the mic can be placed a few feet away from the guitar with good results, so swivel your chair to the left or right from the computer, and set up your acoustic and mic there to the side.
- Amp / Mic Placement – As you are going to be sitting in front of your computer, you will need to put your amp in another room if you are using a microphone to pick up the sound, or at least as far away as possible in the same room as your computer. This goes for anything you are recording with a mic – get it away from the computer if you can. Ideally put the guitar amp in a room with the least ambient noise and run the cables under the door. For me it’s in a slightly noisier room than the one I sit in to record into the computer, but that’s just where my work station is for now. Ideally i’d love to go into a recording studio and have a dead room, but we can’t always have everything. If you are just demoing stuff there are no problems anyway, but if you are going to release anything you will want to carefully listen to the recording for any background noise and record it again if need be. It’s not the end of the world if you need to re-record especially if you consider you are not paying any studio fees; it’s only your time you are spending, and if you make sure to enjoy what you are doing and don’t pressure yourself, then it’s not time wasted and it’s all experience and learning.
- Time Constraints – If you are new to home recording, understand that it will take time to go through the process of writing songs, recording them, and then releasing and promoting them. If it is your first time, don’t set yourself a deadline to get it done, because you will probably get anxious and stressed and take longer than if you had no deadline. Don’t let the drive of wanting to make the music get in the way of enjoying creating the music and enjoying the process of recording it. It SHOULD be fun recording and writing music! I see recording music as a way of practicing and improving on my instrument, which has an amazing by-product of having something to show for it at the end. It’s much more rewarding than practicing scales to a click (keep doing that though)! The more you go through the writing and recording process, the more experienced and quicker you will be, so in the future maybe you can give your self a block of time to record a set of songs based on your past experience of how long things take, but I would still not recommend setting a deadline on your first few rounds of recording. Allow your self time to be creative and don’t get stressed doing something that should be fun. Sometimes you do need to grind out the mix to finish something off, perhaps you know you won’t have time to finish it for a long period of time. That’s up to you. There’s many ways of looking at it. I think though that if that’s your default method of working, or if you push yourself hard too often, there will come a time when you burn out and need to take an even longer break.
- Record a rough draft first – When you think you have come up with a song, record it roughly first using a DAW, with single guitar tracks. Record it with a click so you can copy and paste sections easily if the structure needs to change. When you are happy with the structure, you can then start doing things like getting the perfect guitar sound, double tracking guitars, making sure mics and amps are positioned properly and that the guitar is fine tuned. Often you will discard sections after rough drafts, so being able to chop them up and listen back to it on the computer is really useful. In the long run this is almost always the fastest way of recording a song, even though it seems like you are adding in an unneccesary step. Otherwise, you tend to record many more of the ‘perfect sounding’ takes to get the song finished.