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How to improve your home recording sound

  • 28 August 2014, Thursday
An artist on stage singing into a microphone

Recording at home has become much more common these days. A polished studio sound is still popular with many musicians, producers and consumers, but there’s definitely something cool about the DIY approach. You can experiment with your sound without being under the same kind of pressure as a studio environment, where every hour costs money. You can also learn a lot about how to interact with other producers, sound engineers and mastering engineers when you make your bedroom into a little studio, and start understanding some of the craft of recording music. Here are some tips on the kind of things you need to think about to make your home studio sound as good as possible!

  1. Sound proofing. pThere are many different materials you can put on your walls to soundproof them, for your neighbours’ benefit or to stop the room having too much echo. If you want to build a completely soundproofed home studio you should seek professional advice on how to best control the different frequencies created by cymbals, drums, and bass, etc. There is a difference between sound proofing your room and making the acoustics better for your own listening and recording.
  1. Acoustic treatment. There are several ways of manipulating the acoustics of your home studio to suit your taste and needs. For example, if there is a lot of ‘reflection’ due to hard surfaces, windows, or glass, you can use carpeting and curtains to absorb some of the sound, and ‘deaden’ the room a bit.  Things like egg boxes, acoustic foam, duvets and curtains are more useful for acoustic treatment than soundproofing! When recording a vocalist, make sure there is a duvet or thick blanket hung up behind them, creating a sort of mini ‘vocal booth’ if you don’t have use of a separate room.
  1. Monitor placement: ‘the sweet spot’. It’s better to use a rectangular room than a square one. Place your monitors so that they face one of the longer walls, and are equidistant from the two shorter sides. They should be at ear level (by using monitor stands, or old books), and approximately 3-5 feet away from each other. You should sit in the middle of the two, also approximately 3-5 feet away, with the monitors turned in slightly towards you. The monitors should be around 8 inches away from the wall. This ‘sweet spot’ means that you will be able to create a better stereo image for your recordings. The symmetrical setup of the whole room is important. If you have extra furniture like a bed or sofa, position it opposite the monitoring desk, not to one side. The soft texture of these pieces will also help to absorb sound. The monitors should also be ‘isolated’, i.e. not resting directly on your desk/books/stands but separated by a piece of foam, to avoid the interference of any extra vibrations. Here is a link to some useful monitoring products from amazon.
  1. Microphones: placement and type. Listen to how the instrument you are recording sounds in different areas of the room. You can choose the spot you like the most to set up a microphone. This is not about improving the sound of your room necessarily, but rather about learning to listen carefully, and understand the natural features of the space you are working in. The more you practice this the better you will become at hearing where the best possible spot is for a violinist or a singer to stand is, for example. Choose your mic carefully, and test how it sounds in different areas of the room. If your budget is small your choice will be limited, but there are specific mics that sound better under certain circumstances. For example, directional mics can help reduce room noise. Check out this post on the top 10 mics for home recording.
  1. Other kit: headphones, an interface, monitors, computer and DAW, etc. If you can invest a bit in these areas this will definitely help you create a good sound. Don’t spend drastically more on one item than the others, however. If your equipment ‘matches’ in terms of its quality, the overall result will probably be better. Buy enclosed headphones to avoid them bleeding into your takes. With the effects included on your DAW and some practice with your interface, you can create good quality basic audio tracks.

Remember, you can always ask other people for help or advice, read instruction books, or look up information online. Most people who have already started creating their own recording spaces will be happy to give you advice. Work with sound engineering students or musicians who are just starting out, or find people who are on a similar level to you both musically and in terms of their production skills. The key is to be realistic about what you can achieve, but be experimental and creative within those boundaries.

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