A Quick Guide To Home Recording

Tired of that useless recording sound? No money to purchase more advanced facilities? This article will help you make the most of what you've got when it comes to home recording.

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Home recording is often a difficult art to master. There are so many variables created by the lack of professional equipment which can affect the overall quality and outcome of your recording. However, after many painful and frustrating hours, I have finally achieved a recording quality for my solo work that I am proud of, so I have decided to share my methods so other people can benefit from my work and not waste as much time as I have trying to produce a good recording sound. This article will focus on recording drums, bass, guitar and vocals and will try to keep the facts and methods as simple as possible. The first thing that you need to realise is that you are doing this at home and that you can't expect your recordings to sound identical to those released by your favourite bands. As disappointing as it may seem, you do not possess the greatest recording equipment on the market, but this does not mean you won't be able to create a high quality recording. Aim to achieve a sound that you are both comfortable and happy with; it does not need to sound perfect. Another point I need to explain is that this article will focus on home recording for the financially challenged such as myself. There are too many articles which assume you possess ten microphones and the facilities to minimize natural reverb and create brilliant masters etc. so I will try to focus on using the least professional equipment and the most household appliances as possible. The first instrument that is usually recorded is the drums. The drums provide the timing and drive for your piece of music so they need to be both precise and fairly loud in the final mix. If your recorder is equipped with a built-in metronome, make sure you use it to achieve a recording with an accurate tempo. If not, you can record a simple click track which you can play along to, which can be erased and recorded over with another track at a later stage. I have discovered multiple ways to record drums using different numbers of microphones. To achieve the best drum recording quality, I believe five microphones are necessary. However, it is possible to achieve adequate with results with a single microphone. I think I should point out that you do not need to possess an expensive drum microphone set to achieve a good drum sound; normal omni-directional microphones will do the trick just fine.
  • If you are using a single microphone, place it next to you to your left, level with the bottom of the snare drum. This position ensures the mic captures the bass drum, the snare drum and the hi-hat cymbal, as these parts of the kit are used the most.
  • If you are using two microphones, place one mic central over the entire kit above your head and the other near the bass drum. The bass drum needs to be loud or the entire drum track will sound empty. The other mic ensures all parts of the kit are picked up on the recording.
  • If you are using three microphones, you can use the traditional triangle set up. One mic should be placed over the left side of the kit, one over the right and the other near the bass drums. This set up produces a similar quality to the previous point but the two overhead mics provide a more adequate capture of the whole kit than a single mic.
  • If you are using four microphones, place one between the hi-hat and the snare, one over the middle two toms, one over nearer the floor tom and one near the bass drum. This ensures the hi-hat, snare and bass are captured most, and also provides a good sound for the rest of the kit.
  • If you are using five microphones, place one between the hi-hat and the snare, one under the middle two toms, one over nearer the floor tom, one centrally over the cymbals and one near the bass drum. The five mics ensure a good capture of the whole kit. For those of you using two or more microphones, you will need to utilise a mixer in order to record through all the microphones onto the same track. The mixer usually allows you to alter the volume of each mic individually in order to achieve the best single drum sound in relation to the others. If you are doing this however, make sure all the volumes are accurate before you record because you cannot alter these volumes once you are done; you can only alter the master volume of all of them together. If you possess a more advanced recording machine with a capacity for many tracks, you will be able to use something similar to a five track simultaneous record, where you will be able to record through each mic onto an individual track, therefore possessing the ability to alter the volumes od separate drums once the recording is complete. However, most standard recording devices can do two track simultaneous recording with two inputs. If you are using more than two mics with a mixer, I suggest you use the simultaneous recording method and record the bass drum onto a separate track as this is the part of the kit which needs to be loud and often isn't. Using this method, you will be able to alter the volume of the bass drum separately once the recording is done. If you use the two track simultaneous recording method, you will often find that you need that extra second track you have just used. However, all is not lost! Most recorders have a function called 'bounce' where you can compress many recorded tracks onto a single track without any degradation in quality, similar to how a mixer brings down all the mics onto a single track. However, once again, make sure that your volumes are accurate before you bounce as you won't be able to alter them once the bounce function is complete. The last point to remember is that you will normally record drums in a large room, consequently there is often a large amount of natural reverb which you really don't want on this final recording. To minimize this, try recording your drums in a room with a carpeted floor rather than a solid floor which will reflect the sound, or a room which contains furniture such as sofas or padded chairs which will absorb the sound. If this isn't possible, attempt to make some kind of barrier using materials in your home, such as bedsheets, coats etc; it doesn't have to be too advanced as long as it satisfies the criteria and does the job well. The next track that is usually recorded is the bass. The bass' main function usually is to support the guitar so the two will need to have a similar volume in the final mix. If you possess a good recorder and just want to record a simple bass line with no output effects, you can simple plug your bass guitar directly into the jack input and record that way. This method avoids any background white noise which could occur through your amplifier and provides a nice finish. Some recorders possess output effects of their own designed specifically for different instruments so check them out and see if any of them provide you with a higher quality bass sound. If you are recording bass with output effects, then it is preferable to record the output speaker of your amplifier using a microphone instead. A unidirectional microphone is used for this as it only records sound in one direction (the direction of the speaker) and eliminates the sound of emptiness caused by the remainder of the room and captures as much bass as possible. However, if you do not possess such advanced technology, you can use a normal omni-directional microphone with a thick piece of clothing like a hoodie or a jacket wrapped around it to dampen the sound from other directions. The next tracks to be recorded are usually the guitar tracks. If your recorder contains two inputs, it is possible to record two guitars at the same time onto the same track. However, remember you cannot alter the volumes of each separate guitar once you are done. Similar to the drums, you can save more than one guitar track onto a single track using the bounce function, which leaves you with more free tracks to record other instruments, but make sure your volumes are accurate once again. You can record the guitar straight into the recorder through its jack socket for a clean sound but this often sounds flat as there is a lack of reverb which is required to achieve that polished final recording. Having said this, like the bass, there are some preprogrammed output effects present on some recorders so feel free to investigate to find the right setup for you. Beware though, as these effects usually sound more fake and manufactured than a real guitar sound. The best method to record guitar is the same one used to record the bass; a unidirectional mic (or a normal omni-directional mic with a hoodie/jacket around it) place in front of the amplifier speaker. However, if you are recording the guitar using this method, make sure the bass control on the amplifier is turned up quite loud as most recorders have a nasty obsession with making recorded guitars sound tinny by extracting the bass; the unidirectional mic you have created will be able to capture the bass more sufficiently though. If you are using effects, I have found that clean effects tend to sound louder than certain distorted effects so make sure the volumes are similar when you commence recording, as a large volume differential will make mixing extremely difficult. The last track to be recorded is the vocals over the top of the rest of the piece. When recording your voice, it is vital that you apply some kind of reverb effect to make your voice really sink into the piece. Failure to do such a task will result in a flat sound and your vocal line will not sound like part of the piece. For those of you who don't know, the definition of reverb is the time taken for a sound to reflect of an object and return to its source. It is commonly linked to echo as the two do no sound dissimilar, although echo is more of a delayed repeat of the original sound. Some recorders have a vocal reverb function output effect already included which provides a brilliant full sound when recording straight into the recorder through the jack or XLR socket. However, if your recorder does not possess this superior level of technology, you can use either use the reverb built into your guitar amp and connect the output of the amp directly into the recorder or use a guitar effects pedal with a clean reverb function. Failing these choices, a large room with materials which reflect sound well will provide you with some natural reverb which will suffice. However, is you are using this method; you may need to use more than a single mic to capture some of this reverb onto a single track. Once again, you will need to use a mixer or simultaneous recording to record many signals onto a single track (or use the bounce function after recording the vocal line onto several separate tracks). If you do not possess more than one microphone, attempt to make some kind of reverberation booth using reflective materials which captures the reverb in a more enclosed area. If you have spare tracks, I recommend recording a guide track of the notes you are going to sing on a separate track using the guitar, keyboard or a similar instrument to sing along to in order to record the most accurate vocal line. If you are recording a mixture of normal melodic singing and screaming (nu-metal, screamo etc.), the screaming bits tend to be louder than the normal singing so step back a little from the mic at these parts to avoid a large volume differential. However, if life rally has been kind to you, you can use an EQ device which allows you to select a certain volume and bring the rest of the track up or down to that volume. The last step of the recording is the mixing and mixdown process. Mixdown basically means the same as bounce; bringing all the separate track of the piece onto a separate track. Remember you cannot undo mixdown so make sure your volumes are accurate when you mixdown. There is no correct way to mix, it is a matter of personal preference. However, I will offer a few simple pointers I follow when I mix my tracks. Mix the guitar and the bass first as you can set the drum volumes around these once you are done. Make sure the bass is loud enough to provide sufficient drive for the guitar and compensate for the bass taken from the guitar line by the recorder, but not too loud that it drowns out and dominates the guitar line. When mixing your lead or solo guitar line, make sure the track is loud enough so every note can be heard above the rest of the piece but not so loud that is becomes disjointed from the piece altogether. The same goes for the vocal line; make sure this track is loud enough so every single word can be heard but not so loud that it dominates the piece; while the vocals are usually the focus, the accompaniment is vital for the success of this line. Finally, when mixing your drums, make sure every snare and hi-hat beat can be heard rather clearly as these are usually the vital rhythmic parts. If you listen to one of your favourite bands, you will realise that the hi-hat cymbal is usually well heard but does not dominate the piece; it should be mixed in appropriately with the rest of the piece. Also make sure your crash cymbals can be heard when your piece enters a new section as this cymbal produces the distinctive marker and climax to show, for example, that the verse has ended and the chorus has begun. Finally, make sure every bass drum beat can be heard just above the bass line to provide that vital accompaniment, but not to loud that it begins to sound irregular within the piece and dominates it. And that's all there is to it! This guide may not use the most professional methods around but it gets the job done, and produces a high quality recording I'm sure you will be proud of. I hope this guide shows that you do not have to own the most expensive equipment on the market to record your own tracks and good results can be achieved by simply using objects around your home. If you have any further questions or there is something you don't understand, do not hesitate to contact me.
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      marcus00
      I have a Line 6 guitar port which records excellent, clean sounds straight into my wav editing software (I use Audacity, but I'd imagine just about anything's open). I also have Propellerheads Reason, so right now I'm just trying to figure out how to get the guitar I record into Reason, and still make it sound good. If anyone has any ideas, please PM me. Thanks.
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      How do you get each person to match timing with the others without a metronome?
      Get your drummer to record a click track which every player can hear when recording.
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      I apologise. I didn't mean to quite so abrupt A lot of people have been asking about computer software. Personally I don't use it myself because most programs cost a fair bit and I've never discovered a decent free one. If anyone knows of any free software, feel free to share it
      King Kusa
      I would suggest a program I found called Kristal
      i tried to use kristal but when we recorder it seem to be out of time and i dont think its us but any ideas what it could be? it was the bassist recording so i suppose it could be hes fault he is left handed o.j. nothing rong with that.
      thedekker
      i use a program called cooledit pro on my computer. i went to radio shak and bought an adaptor to go from my electric guitar patch cord, directly into my computer. cost me $3.00. with this program you can record as many tracks as you want, and because the guitar is being recorded directly to the computer, theres no outside sounds. just perfectly clean guitar. then you can add effects to the guitar and make it sound kickass. i strongly recommend this method. then you plug in your bass, do the same thing, then record voice over top with your mic, and to finish it all up, you do a "click/pop filter", cleans up the sound so much. --derek
      kkamikazekidd
      Free recording programs can be downloaded that will give you many tracks, and mixing options,..like cubase, not as good, but FREE....I record stuff on tape with a porta2, then use my pc to mix it down. On the pc you can download many free plugins...
      Godderz_24
      decent article, was wondering if you (or anyone) could give any advice on panning and on mastering the track once you have your final mix?
      pontino
      this is a great article me and my band have been struggling with my portastudio 4-track, now im on the hunt for mixers, mics and bigger recorder things. whats the least number of tracks to still have enough? im on a budget y'see...
      pontino
      also, can anyone suggest any fairly cheap but decent quality mixers/mics/recorders? any advice greatly appreciated...
      KurtzFireEagle
      Good article. I have just finished an extremly frustrating session with my Zoom MRS- 8 8 track it makes the guitar sound less full, and i think pushing the bass up might hepl! Thanks. And the reverb on the vocals is just what ive been missing ive been wanting to do so for a while now but not sure if i should, thanks man, just brought a marshall freverb pedal the day before yesterday so i shall run it through that! Got some cool effects on there any way.
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      KurtzFireEagle wrote: Good article. I have just finished an extremly frustrating session with my Zoom MRS- 8 8 track it makes the guitar sound less full, and i think pushing the bass up might hepl! Thanks. And the reverb on the vocals is just what ive been missing ive been wanting to do so for a while now but not sure if i should, thanks man, just brought a marshall freverb pedal the day before yesterday so i shall run it through that! Got some cool effects on there any way.
      I use the Zoom MRS-8 as well Sorry I haven't replied to anyone's questions, I've been on holiday. I will try to answer in questions anyone has ASAP. Chris
      pontino
      if it says anywhere apologies, but what exactly do i do with the hoody/thick article of clothing?
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      pontino wrote: if it says anywhere apologies, but what exactly do i do with the hoody/thick article of clothing?
      All you have to do is wrap it round the microphone when it's placed in front of the amp; it dampens some of the sound from the other directions which you don't want recorded
      bgroen
      axejam123 wrote: nice article. I use a yamaha aw16g for my recordings and theyre not bad, its just more of a hassle getting through the hundreds of menus on the mixer/recorder than it would be using protools and a nice mixer like a studio. I need a compressor though. Does anybody know of a good compression unit for a decent price? Thatd be great.
      DBX makes a good compressor that cost are around $250 dollars I think, it might be $200, my friend has one and it does a great job
      rikishirai
      nice article. i myself use fl studio 6 to lay down the drum tracks. its a sequencer program and v easy to use. drums sound amazing cause of the endless tweaks you can apply. then i use line6's toneport ux2 to record my guitar, bass and vocals. again, brilliant results due to the vast amount of amp modeling and effects available. and for the multi-track recording program i use magix audio studio11. again lots of quality features, including mixers, stereo enhancers ect. pretty much everything a real studio has. all in all, in my opinion a very adequate set up for less than 300e. (385 dollars). my advice though is to invest in a decent audio card for your computer if u intend to record with it. when it comes to audio cards, you pretty much get what you pay for.
      singer_johnny90
      i am 16, with no job and zero money. i think i will look into the Kristal thing. if anyone has suggestions for something better, please do tell.
      callum2903
      hey, gd artical, me and my band are still only just starting out, what sound i use with a couple random cheap ( 15quid) mics. At the momment im just pluggin the mic into the mic bit on my PC and then recording the drums from a distance, but where should i put them, and also with the tone port line 6, can u reocrd good drums with it as well?
      thrice_removed
      Ok not a bad idea, but this article is lacking in a number of points. #1
      However, if life rally has been kind to you, you can use an EQ device which allows you to select a certain volume and bring the rest of the track up or down to that volume.
      That is not an EQ device - it is called a compresser. #2
      However, if you are recording the guitar using this method, make sure the bass control on the amplifier is turned up quite loud as most recorders have a nasty obsession with making recorded guitars sound tinny by extracting the bass
      Turning up the bass on the amp will make the sound turn to mud. Most of us who have been doing this awhile actually CUT the bass frequencies from the guitars as they interfer with the bass which causes mud. Also if your recording device is making the guitars sound thin by cutting out the bass - what will it do to the bass track??? #3
      you can use a normal omni-directional microphone with a thick piece of clothing like a hoodie or a jacket wrapped around it to dampen the sound from other directions.
      Ok the first mic you buy should be a Shure SM57. It is the cheapest useable mic out there for recording purposes imo. And is actually so great that it is used on more rock albums than any other single mic. So you should never have to be compensating for not having one as it should be the first thing you get. #4
      a large room with materials which reflect sound well will provide you with some natural reverb which will suffice
      While that will create reverb, it will also produce nasty bass reflections, making your vocals sound obnoxiously muddy. One of the first things you should do when setting up a home studio, is to do some acoustic treatment, to get rid of bouncing bass signals and GET RID OF reflective surfaces. Enough said.
      StatutoryApe666
      this is a lot better than my bands technique of setting a computer with a mic in the center of the room and just all playing the song.
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      God I just realised there are some obnoxious people on here! lol. Thanks for all the positive comments guys and to the 'know it alls', I know now that it's not an EQ device, it's a compressor - I've learnt since then. And also, most of these people just want to make a decent little recording at an affordable price and my advice ensures that. We don't have it all, so just leave us be. Thanks.
      edion0
      if anyone needs a recording setup, i have the exactt specs for a good but VERY cheap one (total of under $300!) just e-mail me @ mail2contactpoint@yahoo.com for it. Anyways, I've been trying to record my band for a while now, but none of the takes have come out quite as good as needed. Almost, but not quite. The main problem that I have, though (not addressed in the article, btw) is timing when doing line-by-line recording like what you did---that is, how do you get each person to match timing with the others without a metronome? For good free recording software, btw, go to audacity.sourceforge.net. It takes a a little while and a bit of experimenting to get used to it, but you can get TONS of add-ons and effects for nothing on the same site.
      TearsFall
      Good stuff.. i needed this as i am horrible with recording at home.. the drums are always overpowering the others
      ChrisW-Ness2003
      Hey guys, thanks for the nice comments. In response to brandnewjunkie's issue of the mics, by omnidirectional, I meant cardoid. I was simply using that term to describe the directions from where it picks up sounds. The majority of mics you can purchase for a decent price are cardoid, and pick up sounds from all directions. Sorry if I unintentionally confused anyone. I would have discussed compressors, but I have no experience in using them and don't even own one myself. lol. Make use of what you have guys! And keep recording! Chris
      Lydian_Mode
      very nice. I'm not quite at the recording stage yet but when i get there this will be very helpful
      pottsy
      iv been recording at home for a while, and im lucky enough to have a line 6 PODxt for a sweet clean recorded guitar sound, but i had have really struggled with a decent drum sound, cheers for the advice on the set up!
      curtis uck
      i just have the bare minimum of technology and i get a pretty gud sound. the drums can be recorded with one mic overhead as well. it works fine.gud article tho.
      ~AdNy
      nice, lotta good tips. man i really need a mixer. i can get good cleans, but i can never seem to get my distortion tones right. any tips there?
      brandnewjunkie
      Good article for the beginner who doesn't know about the recording process. I kind of take issue with your mention of "omniderectional" and "unidirectional" mics. You don't see many cheaper (under $500) mics that are omni. Most like the good old SM-57 are cardioid which is definitely directional and when close micing guitar cabs the room sound will barely matter at all. Also as a good tip, a condensor mic can be placed a few feet away if you have a good sounding room to pick up the ambience (you still close mic it on one track though). I find this especially helps in getting big full sounding rhythm guitar tracks and delivering the "size" of a 4x12 cab if you have one. Also worth mentioning is that a condensor mic (for those just starting maybe an MXL 990 or similar) should be used to get studio quality vocals. You also said "you can use an EQ device which allows you to select a certain volume and bring the rest of the track up or down". I think you mean a compressor? I can't believe you left out a discussion of compression, which is the single most important tool in making your recording sound professional. Used on drums and bass effectively it makes them sit much better in the mix, and it is often essential for leveling vocals or as an effect that will really give your vox punch. For the person above asking about distortion tones: if you're not micing the speaker, do that (SM-57 is great). If you are, make sure you're putting your ear where you put the mic (plug the other ear) to find a good sound. You will be surprised how different it sounds if you haven't tried this. If that also fails then try the aforementioned ambience mic. Anyway quite informative article. Lots of things people need to know.
      axejam123
      nice article. I use a yamaha aw16g for my recordings and theyre not bad, its just more of a hassle getting through the hundreds of menus on the mixer/recorder than it would be using protools and a nice mixer like a studio. I need a compressor though. Does anybody know of a good compression unit for a decent price? Thatd be great.
      private
      earlier today i realized i wanted to start recording at home and this deffinetly helps.
      Ulfe
      Very good written, I prefer to record guitar solos n shit like that after the vocals on another track, but maybe you just didn't cover that. Great work!
      TeenBite
      For my home recording setup (mainly acoustic and vocals), I use the unconventional method of Shure PG-58 microphone->Behringer UB1002 mixer->Soundcard's line-in. It works surprisingly well seeing as the mixer cost me 40 and the microphone was 40 also.
      1973tour
      sweeet artilce man, very informative. i have been using the three microphone setup for quite a while. ive been mixing and mastering myself as well. but now it is time for the studio!