Studio Set Up – 8 Ways To Get The Most From Your Home Recording Sessions

With the rapid development of affordable music technology, the popularity of an artist choosing to do home recordings continues to grow, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’m a big advocate of home recordings.

Providing you know (or are) a great mix engineer and you have a decent enough knowledge of your own software and hardware you can achieve radio quality results without ever getting out of your pyjamas.

I’m not going to go too technical in this post, but I want to list a few things I think are important (and I’ve heard others attest to) in order to maintain a level of zen when working in the studio.

If you do home recording yourself you’ll know it can be a lonely, frustrating and mind-numbing experience.

On the other hand initiating, building and then completing a new track is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

So how can we optimise the experience so every session is like musical nirvana? (not the group, the spiritual thing)

Studio-Comfort

1.COMFORT IS KING

That’s right, a comfortable musician is a productive musician, who knew?

What we all know is the mathematical equation for how long a studio session takes, whether it’s tracking or mixing.

Estimated time it will take + small talk + sandwich runs + vocal comping and tuning X 2.5 = Time will actually take

That’s a lot of time to be sat around so it’s important to be kind to your body, the last thing you want are aches and pains distracting you from your work.

Invest in a good engineering chair, it’s where you’re going to spend most of your time as a producer, and make sure there are plenty of other comfortable things around the room for guests such as sofas, bean bags, whatever really, just somewhere to lounge.

Even if you just fly solo and don’t plan on having guests it’s important for you to move around a little bit and not be stuck in one position.

Go and sit in different areas of the studio during playback, it will not only give you some great insights into the mix from other parts of the room but it will give your rigid body a bit of a let-up.

Studio-Fill-your-Room

2.FILL YOUR ROOM

As I just mentioned it’s great to have lots of furniture, but not just for chilling, it’s also important for absorption.

You can have every wall covered in thick acoustic foam but that isn’t going to help you if you’re in a big empty room.

It’s maybe a bit of a generalisation (and I’m sure some acoustic experts may beg to differ) but in my experience when it comes to furnishing your home studio more is more.

Get in the armchairs, bean bags, giant stuffed animals etc.

In theory the less space there is for the sound to echo around the purer what you hear directly from the speakers is going to be.

So decorate your room with as much crap as you want it can’t hurt!

Studio-Jangle

3.BEWARE JANGLEY STUFF!

I’m not talking about that Rickenbacker 12-string, that might come in handy.

I’m talking about random little bits of crap that make noises that are really annoying and hard to locate and make you think there is something weird going on in the mix.

I know I said fill your room with crap

BUT

When you do start bringing all your stuff in be aware from the beginning what might later give you a nervous tick, and try to find an inoffensive place for it (or keep it away!)

I’m talking about stuff that has the propensity to rattle when playing music at a decent volume.

Things that may be included in this list – loose CD’s on the desk, a snare drum (with the snare on!) a loose screw on a rackmount, a tambourine on a desktop…

The list is endless, and I’m certain that you have experienced this phenomena before (please let me know in the comments)

WHY DOES THE HI-HAT SOUND LIKE IT’S VIBRATING IN THE MIX?
(sees loose change on a table across the room, finds mind again)

Studio-Break

4.GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

The is the most important one.

It’s also the one that no-one ever sticks to ever, but if they ever do they’re like “Ahhhh it’s true what they say”

Then they never do it again.

HOWEVER..

Taking regular breaks is really super important.

There are many reasons for this, some of which include:

Keeping morale high

Not getting bored

Not getting square eyes

Not getting cloth ears

Getting FRESH AIR

Seriously, I know the majority of the world doesn’t take music seriously but being in the studio and recording a masterpiece is a fucking marathon, right?

You need to be able to focus intensely whilst also having the stamina to commit to 16 hour days (often in a row) AND party?

Taking regular breaks help you retain focus.

You have to give your ears a break otherwise you’ll stop hearing properly. If you’re in charge of mixing this is NOT good.

It’s also really not advised to spend too long a period staring at a screen.

Have you ever been in the studio and got really into a track and spent 6 hours solid working on it and then felt like you were going a little bit mad?

I know I have, and you know what?

That feeling can actually be really hard to shake and run the rest of your session.

In summary, even if things are going well, take a step out and get some fresh air and vitamin D.

Sure you might be itching to get right back into the studio and keep working, but that is EXACTLY the feeling you want to have throughout the recording process, right?

studio-shitty-speakers

5.USE SHITTY SPEAKERS & HEADPHONES

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s important to have an extra pair of reference monitors (like a 3rd pair).

Make sure this pair are pretty crappy, and have on hand some in-ear headphones also, as this is sadly how most people will be listening to your sonic masterpiece.

I’m not advocating the use of these as your main mixing tool, a great pair of monitors is essential to getting a good balance

BUT

Having some sub-standard gear at your disposal can really help ascertain some glaring mix mistakes that you might have previously missed.

6.DON’T START DRINKING (OR SMOKING) TOO EARLY

Being in the studio is FUN. Making music is FUN. Not being at work is FUN. Hanging out with your buddies is FUN.

When all these things come together of course it’s easy to wanna start the party at the first opportunity (especially in a ‘home studio’ where anything goes) but try and hold off as long as you can.

drunk

I’m not saying don’t enjoy yourself, but everyone has limits, and it’s important not to reach them too early on in the session ‘cos if you peak too soon it can really affect the latter stages of your session.

Everyone sings better after a couple of drinks, right? I mean, that’s like science or something?

BUT

after 3,4,5 you start to lose your shit (shit meaning tone, diction, range etc.)

You might feel more confident after a few drinks and deliver some real emotional performances, but listening back to them the next day you’ll probably realise that it sounds a bit like a drunken karaoke.

Also if you start too early, you kind of can’t stop, right?

Which means you have to keep going and towards the end of the session you’re no good to anyone.

Best thing to do is reward yourself for your hard work once the hard stuff is done.

Not being able to play your lead line properly will waste heaps of time and make you feel like shit (too much boozing will do that also…)

The above also applies to smoking doobies (or harder stuff..)

Enjoy the natural high being in the studio making great music gives you.
Then get totally wrecked to celebrate.

distractions

7.DON’T TAKE DISTRACTIONS WITH YOU

One of the most important things to have in the studio is an unwavering focus on the project, so it’s important to give yourself the best chance at achieving that.

If you can, try to turn off the wifi in the room to stop yourself getting distracted by all the wonderful things the inter web has to offer, and don’t take your phone out of your pocket.

By maintaining focus on the music itself you get more done, and have more time for breaks (that you don’t feel as guilty about because you’re actually ahead of schedule!).

Even if it’s not ‘your turn’ to record your part try to stay engaged with the process and who is currently playing. It will help with not only the performers confidence but will increase the morale of the whole team.

If you are in the hot seat it’s important to have some rapport with the people you’re working with, if you’re just glued to the screen and you turn around and there are 3 people staring at their handhelds it can feel a little lonely and ‘worky’.

You can always check your Facebook notifications whilst you’re getting some well-earned fresh air.

studio-plan

8.MAKE A PLAN AND (TRY TO) STICK TO IT

Last but not definitely not least, one of the most important things to save time in the studio is spending a little bit of time planning how you’ll spend your time in the studio.

Sure you might not always hit your targets (we all remember the formula for how long a session takes..) but having something to aim towards can really help you to get the best return on investment (your main investment being time).

Make a plan for in what order you will record/ mix/ comp things.

This will save so much ‘discussion’ time, and confusion about what to do next.

Go in knowing what is going to suit people. Will your record the drums and bass together? Should the lead guitarist record their parts first because they’re likely to be too high by 5pm?

Does the singer need everything to be recorded and roughly mixed before attempting the vocals so they can get a better performance by being more ‘into it’?

Will you be recording some cosmic analog synths that will basically take you all day to get right?

Are your instruments tuned? Did you already get the beers in for later? Have you called your mum to tell her you won’t be home til late?

Get a whiteboard if you can, a nice big one for the wall and block out times (you don’t have to do it to the minute) and the order in which you’re going to smash through things.

Like I said you won’t in any way be able to stick to it, but having it there will make you at least feel like you’ve really got your shit together.

Have you got any other tips you would like to add?

I would sure like to hear them as I’m sure other studio-heads would!

Please as always feel free to disagree with me and add your views in the comments!

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Lee Jones

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James Parsons - February 15, 2017 Reply

Yes, good advice on planning and so on. I need to get a whiteboard now!

Anyway, I’d not want to record in that space filled with boxes and junk. I see so many people’s home studios that are just so messy and dirty, like a horrible student hovel! I think being clean and tidy is a good thing. Being in your own mess is up to you I suppose, but if you are having people around I think a clean environment, with clear space to put stuff is important.

And I’d keep from breaking out the beers in the studio for similar reasons, some musicians are just *so* clumsy and messy. Party later – this is serious!

Mat - February 21, 2017 Reply

This article is on-point and musicians of all levels should pay attention.

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