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Essential Tips for Home Recording vs. Studio Recording

  • 09 January 2015, Friday
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Man sitting in a recording studio

It is often hard for independent musicians to decide how to record their music professionally. On the one hand, studios cost a lot of money. On the other hand, many agree that audio engineering, compression, mixing and/or mastering are far better handled by professionals in a studio. So how should you proceed with your music? Here are 4 simple tips to help you make the call.

How To Build a Home Recording Studio On a Budget?

Thanks to for this graphic.

building a home studio on a budget infographic

1. Fast, Cheap, Good: pick two

Fast, cheap, and good, pick two words to remember when it comes to your recording project and choosing between "How to Build a Budget Home Recording Studio (I)" recording at home, in a studio, or combining both. This is the same advice that Tom Waits gave in his ANTI-Press Release in 2008: "Jim Jarmusch once told me 'Fast Cheap and Good.... pick two.

If it's fast and cheap, it won't be good. If it's cheap and good, it won't be fast. If it's fast and good, it won't be cheap. Fast, cheap, good.. pick (two) words to live by.” In other words, when applied to the recording process, if you record at home it may be cheap and good, but it most likely won't be fast. If you go to the studio it may be fast and good but it won't be cheap. In the end, what you want is for your recording to sound great without wasting time or money and there are several ways to get there.

2. home recording rigAsk yourself the right questions

Are you better performing live or will you be better at tracking each instrument? Are you performing with other musicians or solo? Are you a better performer when you know someone is listening in and guiding you between each take or are you comfortable performing alone and pushing the record button by yourself?

Whether you are going to stay at home or go to a studio you will be better off either way by first figuring out your abilities, what you are after, and logistically how to make your recording possible.

Would it be better for you to completely focus on your music and pay a studio to take care of the audio engineering while you play?

If you know these basic practicalities, then you will know how to get started. If you decide to record at a studio, take your time finding the right one, make sure you like their sound and that you have a good communication with the audio engineer.

3. Adapt a strategy that fits to your skills

Once you have figured which possibilities and limitations exist according to your skills, goals, and resources you can then focus on creating a strategy that fits. Part of this strategy can be to first make demos of what you are aiming for. Demos offer back to you a unique reflection of your music in it's raw form. You can use the demo to find advice from your colleagues on how to approach the recording project and also rehearse for overdubs.

Another part of your strategy can be to use music that inspires you to find the sonic 'colors' that you would like for your own recording. These 'colors' can be found by doing a little investigation into what type of room they used, which instrumentation, who worked on the project with them and how, and also who mixed and mastered the music and where. You may be able to mix some of these characteristics and colors into your own recording process and it will add resolution to your aim, work method (studio vs. home), and working conversation.

Your strategy for recording is like a blueprint for building a home you would like to live in. The plan should be as personal as possible but it is a good idea to do your research and learn from other musicians' experiences and recordings.

4. Mix it up

In a studio you don't need to worry too much about finding the perfect position for your microphones because there will be a sound engineer and perhaps a producer there to figure this out for you but on the other hand this is one of the conveniences you pay for. Today, all you need is a good microphone, a sound-­interface, pre­amp, and a recording program on your computer or a recording machine to create CD quality recordings on your own.

In the studio a musician is under pressure and must be exceptionally prepared to perform and there won't be much time to improvise and figure out new parts or changes in your music. Recording at home won't get you the big clean sound of the studio but you will be able to spend as much time as you want on getting the music aesthetically, structurally, and artistically how you want it.

Recording at home and then sending your music file to a studio to be processed through their compressors, limiters, frequency enhancers and other equipment can be a great way to create a more professional sound while on a budget. For example iMusician offers this service when it comes to creating your Master Tracks. You can also use an opposite method and record the basic back-bone of your music at a studio and then take the file home and record overdubs.

Today, combining your home studio and a professional studio together for the various attributes they both offer is a good approach towards making high quality, well conceived recordings in a way that works best for you. Remember Fast, Cheap, and Good... pick two words to live by and then mix it up.

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