Recording can be a challenging task especially for people who are just now starting to get into the music world. How to record a song well has been a struggle for most people ever since music production became more accessible. We’ve tried to simplify the whole process by breaking it down into individual parts which are easier to follow. By the end of this article, you will have what it takes to pick up your instrument and translate your thoughts into music.
Key Takeaway: While recording music is definitely a process, don’t be afraid to try new recording, mixing and editing techniques. With the right gear and by following the proper steps, you can easily create music in your own home studio. Our guide and recording tips and tricks will ease you into the process so you can achieve that perfect sound you’ve been striving for.
Read on to learn more about the proper steps to take during the recording process.
Learning how to record your own music can be both exciting and challenging. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks and can lead to several hours of frustration and time wasted if you don’t follow the right recording process or have the best equipment for the job. Even if you’re on a tight budget, by buying a few key pieces of equipment you’ll be able to record studio quality tracks in the comfort of your own home.
We already covered the essential equipment you need to get your home-studio going, along with some tips on room decoration and sound isolation. You can check all that on our dedicated article.
After you have all the right gear all there’s left for you is to familiarize yourself with the DAW of your choice and initiate the whole process of recording your first song.
Now, let’s dive deeper into recording itself.
There are four major parts to creating a music piece:
- Recording the basic layout of the song
- Editing It
- Mixing It Up
- Mastering It
Each of these steps includes additional sub-steps you will need to follow to ultimately create the music piece you envisioned in the beginning. Before we get into each of them, it is important to mention that recording (or tracking) can happen either on a PC or via a multitrack recorder (without the need for a PC). The second method is far more professional, is a lot harder, and is better left to the professionals.
Now, let’s get into the actual process of recording and creating a ready product. We will try to keep things as simple as possible and showcase the entry-level knowledge a home-studio enthusiast should have.
Part 1 – It’s A Creative Process
Sit down, relax, and start thinking about the architecture of your first project. If you already have it in your head, start laying it out strategically. And by that we mean to follow a certain order – first create the beat and rhythm section, then create the harmonies leading to ultimately creating a well-rounded melody. Only then you can add some finishing touches like sampled effects, drum fills, piano fills, backing vocals, etc.
The first instruments to record should be the drums and the bass guitar (if there is one). In songs which lack these two instruments track the most rhythmic instrument first. For example, if you only want to play guitar and record vocals, track the guitar chords first, then add the melodic guitars on top of it and lastly – your vocals.
Once you are done with the rhythmic part, add your harmonic chord structure. It can be anything from a guitar, to a piano or even horns. Once you got a good chord progression recorded, move on to the actual melody of your new song.
The melody is usually sung or played with your lead instrument, be it your voice or a guitar, for example.
Part 2 – Editing What’s Recorded So Far
After you are done recording you will want to tidy things up a little bit. Editing consists of a few aspects – arranging, editing the timing, noise reduction, comping, and editing the pitch at different parts of the recording.
Arranging means that you can mess around with the different tracks you recorded. If you don’t like one you can remove it entirely or cut it a little bit. You can move a certain section to another part of your song or delete a whole section completely.
Comping consists of choosing the best recorded track (if it took you a few takes) and sort of “sticking” the good takes into one another.
Noise reduction is used to reduce the ambient sounds (or noise) before, after, and between the track’s sections when there is no music playing. Often there are hissing sounds from your amp, chair squeaks, conversations, car noises, etc.
Part 3 – Mixing
This is where things get a little tricky. Most newcomers leave this and the next part to professionals and often opt to pay for it instead of doing it on their own. Still, there are some people who are motivated enough to learn how to mix and master on their own. In our opinion, this is a skill set that can save time, money, and can prove beneficial to the whole creative process behind music production.
Mixing is called the process of making all your different parts, takes, and cuts sound like a unified piece. It is an art among arts and there are people who specialize in just that. The fundamental parts of mixing are equalization, compression, adding reverb, automation, balancing faders, and panning.
Going into details about each of those fundamentals would require a separate article on its own, so we suggest doing extra research and reading on your own if you find yourself in the right mood for it. In general, most DAWs have functions that mix fairly well automatically. This is why we think that, for entry level, deeper knowledge on this topic isn’t really required.
Part 4 – Mastering Your Project
Before your song is truly ready a mastering process is done. It makes it sound even better by using different methods such as frequency balancing, stereo widening, and others.
Once the track sounds ideal to you and the sound engineer, it is converted to its new sample rate and bit depth which are most often 44.1 kHz and 16 bits.
Mastering is almost always done by professionals and we recommend it stay that way if you really want your finished product to sound professional. To master a song you need more powerful tools which entry-level home-studios often lack, so outsourcing is indeed a great option.
Pro Tip: there are multiple sound engineers online who aren’t native to the United States and offer the same (if not better) quality of mastering for far less money.
Our Top Recording Tips
These days, recording at home in your own studio is possible, even if you don’t have a big budget to work with. All you really need is a laptop, some affordable gear, good software, and you can produce high quality recordings that may even rival tracks recorded in pro studios.
But as you probably already know, recording is definitely a process and one that often comes with plenty of trial and error. However, our tips will help guide you through the process so you can easily avoid many of the same mistakes most beginners make.
- First off, buy a preamp. Plugging a mic or guitar into your recording interface directly will usually produce the type of transparent sound that doesn’t feature the volume and warmth that every great track possess. To avoid this problem, buy a preamp. You can purchase a decent preamp for under one hundred dollars. Once you plug in your guitar or mic into the preamp you’ll immediately get the type of volume and warmth your music needs.
- Next, invest in good recording software, but use software that’s beginner friendly. Programs such as Pro Tools are designed for experienced sound engineers. Basically, make sure you can use the software you purchase.
- If you’re on a tight budget, you should also invest in at least one good condenser mic. If you’re recording in a home studio then a top of the line large diaphragm mic is a must. Aside from using this type of mic for vocals, you can also record light percussion instruments and acoustic instruments.
Learning how to create, record, mix, and edit music takes practice, patience, and hard work. Throw vocals into the mix and you’ll find yourself spending even more time on the recording process, experimenting with new techniques and learning how to edit tracks, add sound effects, and switch up arrangements just like the pros. But don’t expect to turn out a studio quality track your first time around. By following the steps we’ve covered here and using the right tools for the job, you’ll find that while this type of work can be very time-consuming and demanding, all that studio time was well worth it.