You are very happy with your new song and you should be, it’s very good. You’ve even started on the production, building around the track with increased knowledge of the tools available to you. But something is still missing! Here are a few things to remember when recording gets tough.
Keeping it interesting
Once you’ve got a good handle on all the most common types of effects, what they do and how they change the sound of the instrument you are processing, the next step is to take it from a ‘technical level’ to an ‘artistic level’. Use your sense of music to add sounds and movements that will compliment the feeling of your song. Always have a purpose, don’t just slap a certain effect on there because other songs sound that way or you read it in a textbook. What does the song ask for? Try to picture it in your mind. Sometimes this means some drastic processing and/or editing. It may take a clever use of automation or combination of effects that might sound really out of place in another song. If it sounds good it doesn’t matter if you have to bend the knobs backwards to achieve it. I will dedicate a future blog series to this topic and give some hands-on tips and examples about how to apply this way of thinking when working!
Getting the most out of your home studio environment
The concept of a home studio was basically unheard of 20 or so years ago. Nowadays with the advance of digital recording and better studio gear becoming available for prices that won’t break the bank, it has become very common for upcoming musicians and producers to run their own home studios. These can be as simple as a laptop, an interface for recording and a pair of headphones. More complex setups will have a dedicated room for recording, mixing and producing, possessing gear more commonly found in professional studios.
Home studios that haven’t been extremely well thought through from the initial construction phase share two common problems.
- The acoustics of the rooms used are not properly treated.
- There’s a lack of gear to choose from, to be able to capture the ‘correct’ sound from the instrument/vocal you’re recording.
Taking into consideration what I mentioned earlier in part I, the gear is not the biggest problem here, it’s definitely the acoustics. Non-treated acoustics make it impossible to record without poor ambient room noise spoiling the sound quality and make it very hard to process properly. This also carries over to the producing and mixing phase and is equally important for styles that do not necessarily involve live recording (dance or electronic music). If your mixing room isn’t acoustically balanced, you’ll often end up with mixes that sound great in that particular room, but sound totally different when played back on different systems in other rooms. This is due to the fact that the uneven frequency response of the room colors the monitor sound in an unwanted way.
So what can you do about it? Going into too much detail would make for a very long blogpost but it’s very often an undesired amount of early reflections (the onset of the reverb tail of a room) and an imbalance in the lower frequency range 20-500 Hz that cause the most problems. I recommend reading up on DIY acoustic treatment, the acoustics forum over at Gearslutz is a great resource. With some relatively cheap home made absorption panels and bass traps, you’ll improve your sound with a much, much greater price efficiency than any piece of new gear or software.
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for part III and don’t hesitate to contact me if you want any clarification on anything I write in these blogposts!
Martin, songwriter, producer and studio engineer.