50 Ways To Improve Your Home Recordings

This page will include excerpts from the book that we are writing about how to make better recordings at home, whether you are sitting in your living room with a Mackie and an ADAT or with a 72-input console and a couple of 2" analog machines. These are not tips that will be equipment specific, like "use a Neve preamp." These will be generic tips that we have used to make better recordings in studios and in artists' and producers' homes for years. They are not rocket-science, nor are they acoustical mumbo-jumbo, but they have helped many other producers and musicians. After answering many of the same questions for years, we thought it was time to make the answers more widely available. Soon they will be assembled in an electronic volume, available for purchase. For now, a new one will be offered every few weeks. So check back in often for new recording tips.

(This book is getting closer to completion every week. So stay tuned. If you would like to be notified by email when the book is released, then email me. Put "Recording Book" in the subject line.)


Tip #2: Location, Location, Location

Position your monitors for accurate reproduction.

If songs that sound great on the radio don't sound good on your monitors, then maybe you should try re-positioning your monitors. There are places where the monitors can be comfortably positioned that are not always the best places for them to be, when it comes to monitoring accuracy. Here's a tip. If your monitors sound thin on the bottom, then move them closer to a wall or physical boundary. If they sound too big on the bottom, then move them away from the wall. This is based on a very simple acoustical principle, that the bass output from a speaker cabinet is inversely proportional to the size of the space it must fill. If your speakers are standing in the center of the room, on a pedestal, and are near no boundaries, i.e. walls or floors, we call this "free-field" and they are pushing air into a 360 degree space - above, below, and on all sides. In that position, the low end is trying to fill a full sphere. If you take the same speaker on a pedestal and move it up against a wall, then it is only driving a half-spherical space. The bass output will increase because it is only filling half as much space. Then, if you move the same speaker on the pedestal, against the wall and into a corner, the bass output will increase again. Because now the cabinet is only driving a quarter-sphere. And to maximize the low end output from any speaker cabinet, you can half the output space again, by moving the speaker down from the pedestal and onto the floor. This creates an eighth-sphere space for the speaker to fill.

Often in home studios, the speakers are mounted on a speaker stand, or console overbridge, or keyboard stand. This "free-field" position can be the cause of monitoring inaccuracies. Use the principles described above to make your monitors present a more accurate representation of what you are hearing in the real world. A monitor's job is not to "hype" or flatter you with how good your music sounds. Its foremost purpose is to give you an accurate representation of what you are creating sonically, so that you won't be surprised when you listen to your mix in your car.


Tip #3: Reference, Reference, Reference

Listen to lots of CDs on your monitoring system.

Evaluate what it is about the best sounding CDs that makes them sound good to you. Then pick the ones you like the most and try to make your mixes sound as much like them as possible. If you know a CD that has fabulous bottom end on it, then reference that when you are trying to judge the bottom end on your mixes. If the great CDs sound sizzly on your monitors, then make your mixes sizzle.If mixes that sound great on the radio, sound thin on your monitors, then move your monitors and position them according to the guidelines above. I have one CD that use to evaluate a room's low end capacity, that has a 40 Hz drop kick on one song. It is surprising, even with my own personal monitors, how many rooms will not reproduce anything audible at 40 Hz. That is important to know before you start mixing, or else you may be cranking an extra 10 dB of bottom end on everything, trying to make up for the inaudibility or even cancellation of a frequency in the room.

Once you have found the best location for accurate reproduction, then begin studying CDs that sound great and look for sonic characteristics and consistencies between them. If mixes that sound great on the radio, sound like the vocal is way back when you listen on your monitors, then mix with the vocal way back. If the bottom end sounds totally huge and out of control, then make your mixes just as out of control on the bottom. I have mixed in rooms, with my own personal amps and monitors, where everything I referenced and listened to sounded unbelievably bright. Even stuff that I had cut and mixed was almost uncomfortably bright. In that situation, you can do one of two things. Try to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it, which is not easy to do. Or you can mix so that everything is just as bright as the CDs. This is not an ideal solution, and it will make you want to run screaming from the room, but sometimes you have to mix things so that they will sound right "outside" in the real world, even if it means you can't stand it while you're mixing it. I finished one project recently where the only true reference I had was under headphones. In the control room, the sound changed every time you moved your head, even as little as a few inches. There was no low end at the mixing position. You had to move back from the console two feet to tell what was going on below 200 Hz. And the monitors sounded incredibly forward, with all the vocals stepping out 3 dB louder than I would ever want them. But that was the way it sounded on everything I listened to in that room.

So to make the best of that situation, a good engineer must make a mental picture in his head of the characteristics that the room/speakers are imparting on their own to the sound and then try to mix to the inverse of that curve. It's mentally and sonically challenging, but it works and is one way to make sure that you will end up with quality mixes even when listening in a less-than-ideal environment.


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updated 12:00AM CST on 1.1.2002

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