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How to Create Professional Sounding Recordings at Home

Whether you’re a musician looking to make it big and need a cheap way to get audio and video recordings of yourself out there, a music tech student playing around with different recording methods for your latest project, or someone just looking to mess around with an instrument at home, knowing how to create professional sounding recordings will get you a long way.

Even if you’re not that into music yourself, having a done-it-yourself home recording facility might be a useful way to make some extra money if you have a spare room.

Before you get your grand plans into action, whatever they may be, you need to know how to set up your home recording studio. Here’s what you need to know.

Home Recording Must Haves

A computer is your big home recording must have. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a top of the range system specifically designed to be used for recording, but naturally something that can run and process faster and support better software, or a high performance sound card that will still work in a lower spec system, is going to give you a better recording experience and more options when it comes to mixing, remixing, and adding effects later.

Once you are all set up, you’ll be ready to manage the whole recording process, which at home will flow as per the below diagram.

Recording-Process-guest-post

Buying Your Home Recording Equipment

When it comes to buying home recording equipment, what you buy will depend on a few things, but most likely be predominantly decided by your budget, which itself may be influenced by your reason for buying in the first place.

You don’t need to necessarily spend tens of thousands of pounds on high level equipment, but naturally if you buy at the top of the market you’ll enjoy better quality and a wider range of features. If you’re looking to keep costs low now, be assured that you can create professional sounding recordings at home with lower priced gear.

Many people instantly turn to Apple, but if you have a decent Windows or Linux laptop there are plenty of options available. Whatever system you have, your main audio interface is likely to be the largest expense, so take your time in choosing the best ones.

We have listed four excellent guides below which will help you with the decision making process.

The Gear4Music website also has a great page with a wide selection of USB interfaces to choose from.

When it comes to a microphone, you can usually save a lot of money by picking up a second hand one. So long as it is in good condition it will do the job you need. Look for music stores or music equipment suppliers near you; although most will only openly advertise selling new equipment many of them will have returned equipment or kit they have accepted as part of a trade in.

On top of all this, the software you use will be crucial when it comes to mixing, remixing, or otherwise manipulating your sound.

If you’re an Apple user, then Garageband should be considered an essential. Garageband is so good for a free platform that even if you are using a Windows or Linux PC but own an iPad you should even consider recoding on your current system then sending the file to your tablet to then use within the app. Garageband is easy to use, but if you get stuck or don’t know where to start, this tutorial may help you.

Once you start to get serious with your recording, or if you have the budget anyway, you should invest in a premium recording software. Reviews and ratings of most of the better options are available here.

When you have chosen a software we recommend you join their relevant on-site forums or find groups on Google+ and Reddit where home recording is discussed. The tips and tricks you’ll discover that you might have missed, or that weren’t even included, in the instruction manual and initial online reviews will help you unlock a whole new recording experience.

Acoustic Treatment

Whether you’ve been used to a studio all the time you’ve been recording, or you’re entirely new to recording music, many who are new to home recording don’t consider the need for acoustic treatment. In some respects, acoustic treatment should be one of the first things you consider, and we’d certainly advocate looking to take care of this before you start buying kit. After all, you can always buy a better computer or audio interface later, but if the acoustics of your room aren’t doing you any favours, you will still struggle to create something you’d want to listen to or share with others.

This fantastic post, aptly titled Acoustic Treatment 101, provides all the necessary information you need to know in order to create a better sound at home, as well as a range of treatment options as well as links to additional articles regarding soundproofing and other options you may wish to explore as you look to ramp up the professionalism of your recording process later.

Additional Purchases

Everything else you might be thinking about at this stage should be placed into the box marked “Would be Nice to Have.” We’re talking about things like expensive mic stands, a brand new and top of the range microphone, professional recording headphones, and professional speakers. You shouldn’t consider these essential at this stage, especially if your budget is tight and you’re not sure when you’ll be able to make your money back, or how your recording ventures are going to work out.

Final Things to Remember

It is incredible how many people will spend a small fortune on setting up their home for recording, only to have their session ruined by the dog barking or a cup of coffee being spilled onto an expensive piece of kit.

Take some time to make sure you can actually record what you want to, and not have to deal with anything else so you can enjoy a productive and enjoyable home recording session, all with a professional result.

This post was written in collaboration with the team at Pro Music Tutor, a provider of online guitar and saxophone lessons taught by some of the world’s leading professional musicians.

A New Song – Apologies to Frank Turner

So, enough of writing about how to write a song (okay, just for a little bit) – here’s an actual song!

It’s a song with a story, too.

It goes back to about three years ago when I’d just started seeing someone new. Around the same time, one of my favourite artists was in town – Frank Turner. With his show sold out before I even knew it was on, I’d long given up on going and arranged to see my new lady friend instead.

Cut to that night – I get a phone call from a friend. He’s got two tickets, whether by hook or by armed robbery I’m not sure. One’s mine, if I want it. Needless to say that I do, but it’s so late in the day that I’m pretty sure she’s probably already on her way. Even if she’s not it’s really far too soon in our relationship to hope that she wouldn’t get the wrong message. I grit my teeth and turn my friend down and am put under strict instructions not to tell his girlfriend that I had first dibs.

Let’s just say it was a lovely night and I didn’t regret the decision.

That was more or less that, until a couple of months ago. Another Frank Turner gig in town, another sell out before I even get a look in.

But wait!

My cousins’ band (yes, plural possessive – two of my cousins are in the band) Skinny Lister are touring with Frank and supporting him at that very gig. Awesome – catch up with them AND see them play AND get see Frank Turner. There was much excitement, which is somewhat rare for me.

Until the realisation slowly dawned.

I’m booked to be in London that weekend and have been for several months.

I’ve looked for lots of different ways round it – trains up and down, flights, sleeper trains. Ultimately I realised I can only do one. More slowly I realised that it has to be London.

That’s because I’m going to a song writing conference put on by The Songwriting Academy, so it got me to thinking. The last FT gig I missed turned out rather well for me (as you’ll hopefully hear in the song) – maybe this one will too!

Still, I’m pretty gutted, not least because my girlfriend will get to go to this one herself! The injustice of it all, if I could only roll back three years…

Plan Your Song Part 2 – Outlining

I can’t remember the number of times I’ve sat down in the past with a line in my head that I thought would work well for a song and just started writing. I’ve inevitably hit the proverbial (and yet somehow very real and often visited) wall of solid brick.

Old-Brick-Wall

This was because I didn’t really know what the song was about or what it was trying to say. I just had a line and a semblance of an idea.

This is why it’s so important to plan – a great line is a wonderful thing – write it down – but be sure to give it a point and some context!

Of course, the more great lines the better, so after you’ve brainstormed and generated a load of ideas to work from, it’s time to plan your song. Sketch out what you want to say in your song and manoeuvre that into a structure. Of course this might work the other way round, too. For example, a very general one could go something like this:

  • Verse 1 – set the scene
  • Verse 2 – introduce the character(s)
  • Pre-chorus – lead into/set up the main point of the song
  • Chorus – main point of the song
  • Verse 3 – Additional information
  • Pre-chorus – as above
  • Chorus – as above.

This process of deciding what you want to say and where you want to say it really helps focus what is hopefully a tumbling mass of ideas from your brainstorming session when you come to writing lyrics. It might also generate further ideas to explore.

If you are interested in reading more about songwriting, I highly recommend this book by Jason Blume – Six Steps to Songwriting Success. It gives loads of great examples to help with research and, hopefully he won’t mind me borrowing this, points out that while there are no rules to writing songs there are guidelines. It’s worth learning them before breaking them!

Anyway, at this point you’ve hopefully got lots of ideas to work with as well as a plot and a structure. This can make writing lyrics that much easier – more on this next time! Not to mention I can feel a video of a new song of mine on the horizon…

Plan Your Song Part 1 – Brainstorming to Avoid Writer’s Block

Ever been writing and find yourself frozen with indecision?

Writers-Block

It’s easily done. But writer’s block is also easily avoided. For one thing, it’s important just to let your writing flow. But before that, it’s important to plan your song.

I like to brainstorm ideas and draw a mind map of words, phrases and their associations. The associations are particularly important because this is what will lead a song will stand out. For example, a very common song theme is love – what do you associate with that? Red, hearts and excitement to quickly name something off the top of my head. Now go further – what do you associate with those things? Grab a pen and paper and draw it out, something like this (awful handwriting optional!):

Mind-Map

Now all of a sudden we have some strong words and/or ideas to use and develop. ‘Heartbeat’ is about as cliché as it gets, but what about heart blood? Combine them into a single, new word and there’s a strong title – Heartblood. Otherwise ‘heart blood’ is a strong image that might feature in a line or two.

To demonstrate my point here I’ve committed a cardinal sin – I’ve started writing before I’ve really planned anything. If I dive into writing titles and lyrics with just those few words and ideas, I’m going to run into what I think of the opposite of a dead end (a living end?) – there are just too many possibilities and choosing from them becomes overwhelming.

But that little brainstorm took about a minute and led to one idea straight away, helping me choose one of those possibilities. I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but it’s a starting point for something. What really needs to happen is to keep that brainstorm going:

  • Expand on associations of the other words such as ‘attack,’
  • Explore opposites of the theme
  • Look up quotes about the theme
    • There are loads of great websites full of literary and pop culture quotes.
    • Try and be specific – quotes about lost love, for example.
  • Write down any clichés you can find or think of and look for ways to alter them.

Fill a sheet or three with these ideas. I find that the shape of a song can start to change as you go through this process. Make sure you let it and don’t start writing until you’ve got a load of material to work from.

Even then, make sure you outline your song before you start actually writing – more on this next time!

Practise Does Not Make Perfect

Practise forms habits. So practise right!

Completing-Lego-Wall

Practise letting your writing flow, then coming back and editing. Practise finishing songs. This is one of the main areas I’m working on – I’ve spent years writing bits of songs and thinking I’ll come back to it later. Sometimes I do, but unfortunately that has distilled this routine of incompleteness in me and now it’s a bad habit to overcome, rather than the much more useful habit of seeing something through that it could be. And will be!

Of course all of this ‘practice forms habits’ is also true of recording, mixing, marketing and pitching. This is why it’s important to focus on quantity over quality. But remember – it can be easy to fall in love with your own work and want to record everything, especially if you can do that at home. Consider spending more time on your writing, first. It will make the time you spend recording that much better spent.