13 Sure Fire Ways To Sabotage The Success Of Your Home Recording Studio
We have almost all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips. We can easily find articles and posts dedicated to helping us set up our home recording studio, from room preparation to the smallest piece of equipment. One thing we often fail to do is focus on what NOT to do.
And that is exactly what we will be doing in this article. 13 Common mistakes were randomly chosen. We will look at what is wrong with these practices and how to correct them. Although they may not be "deadly sins" in the recording industry, you are almost guaranteed that your audio recording as a whole will suffer, as will your home studio setup in the long run.
Lets take a closer look.
1. Work In An Open Uncontrolled Space
This is a very common beginner mistake. You have a large open living area, so it is very easy to make space somewhere against a wall or in corner to set up a desk to place all your recording equipment on.
The biggest problem here, is the very thing you are setting up to record in the first place. And that is sound. You have no idea with how much sound you are surrounded with at all times. That is until you actually start recording and use quality recording equipment.
Suddenly everything is audible and picked up by the microphone, from dogs barking in a distance, footsteps in the next room, the road traffic outside, the mouse being moved next to your keyboard to the humming of the fridge in kitchen area. Unfortunately you sometimes only realize this mistake after you already set up your recording space.
The need for an isolated controlled space can only be truly appreciated after experiencing the futile attempt to try and control sound in a big open space with many sound sources and other human activity. As a result this can be an time consuming and sometimes expensive learning experience.
As already mentioned in so many other posts, the only real way to be able to control the sound being recorded, is to work in an isolated and fairly insulated space, preferably a completely separate room. Even then, you still won't escape unwanted external and internal sounds, and will have to apply acoustic treatment to the room, as well as place equipment and furniture in their appropriate places for optimal sound quality.
Don't be too distressed if you fell into this trap. There is always a solution, no matter what your circumstances. This a topic for a completely different post though, and is addressed more thoroughly in this article.
2. Place You Speakers/Studio Monitors Right Up Against A Wall
I get it, honestly. Especially if you have a very small room or limited space to put all your equipment in. Naturally it just seems practical to place all equipment and components out of the way against a wall to free up as much space as possible.
Ironically, the problem with this is sound again. The whole reason for setting up your home recording studio in a room is to get the optimal sound quality from your recordings. Placing your speaker/studio monitors right up against the wall though, is one of the worst places to choose for putting them. To best understand this we need to look at how speakers act as a sound source:
From the looks of it, it seems pretty clear as to the direction the sound will be traveling in. After all, your woofers and tweeters are placed on one side of the speakers. They are also both facing in the same direction. It's just logical to assume that this is the direction the sound will be traveling in.
Unfortunately, sound travels in its own unique way. To make things even more tricky, sound waves also react differently to different sound frequencies. Sound from high frequencies like the tweeters normally travel in the direction the speakers face. Bass sounds from the woofers however, travels in all directions.
With speakers placed right up against the wall, the bass bounce off the back wall immediately, causing a reverberation (echo) and amplification of the bass. The result is a distorted sound (a combination of direct, reflected and amplified sound) that reaches the listener/microphone.
To avoid this situation, you need to place the speakers around 2 feet away from the back wall, as well as the adding some insulation material to cancel out most of the remaining reflected sound. (You can read all about speakers/studio monitors placement in this article.)
3. Wait Until You Can Afford "The Right Equipment" Before Getting Started
This is one if for all the perfectionists among us. Yes, we do need good quality equipment and components to record and produce good quality recordings. But he big mistake many users make, is the believe that they need to have all the right components in place before getting started with your recording studio.
Armed with just a computer, an inexpensive microphone and a pair of PC speakers (sometimes bundled with a new computer) you can already start your "recording studio". You can even download some free DAW software to start out with.
Obviously, as soon as you are ready or can afford to, it is recommended that you start expanding and acquire better equipment, software and prepare the best possible recording environment you are able to.
In the meantime, you can start building the most valuable asset you will ever posses in your recording studio; Experience. No amount of money, equipment or recording space can ever replace experience. The sooner you begin, the sooner your experience will start growing.
And to be perfectly honest, you will never be completely ready or have the perfect combination of equipment. There will always be something bigger and better to buy. You will constantly be learning new ways to record or improve your recording space.
4. Place Your Condenser Microphone Directly On A Flat Hard Surface
I already emphasized the importance of the microphone in your recording setup. And in the controlled environment of a studio, I will recommend the use of an condenser microphone over a dynamic mic for vocal and most instrument use.
The condenser microphone's added sensitivity and ability to pick up almost every possible sound, comes with some conditions that has to be adhered to.
In order to make their condenser microphones as user friendly as possible, many manufacturers ships their mics with a small tripod or stand that you can place directly on your desk. Unfortunately, this is recipe for disaster.
Your microphone is sensitive enough to pick up the slightest knock and movement on the desk, even the sound of the keys on your keyboard. Placing a stand without any shock absorption on the desk means any sound from the desk gets transferred straight through the microphone stand and still gets picked up by the microphone. To make things worse, sound from your voice also get reflected off the hard surface from the desk, and this reflected sound also gets picked up by the microphone.
You need to create some space or shock absorption between the desk and the microphone, as well as avoid directing your voice at the desk. The best solution is using an adjustable boom with a shockmount attached to it that you can place in the right position and distance in from your mouth.
(At the very least, use a microphone stand high enough to direct you voice away from the desk, and attach a shockmount that will absorb any vibrations caused by direct interaction with the desk.)
5. Keep Your Recording Studio As Empty As Possible
The ideal scenario is to start your recording studio with and empty room. You then start filling it with placing all the recording equipment and components in their appropriate place. This includes recording desks, chairs and other relevant furniture. You also add acoustic materials where it is needed.
What you do not want to do is to keep your room empty. For some reason this misconception exists among many users. The only objects you should really try and avoid placing in your studio, is hard flat surfaces that will cause reverberation. (The recommendation to keep your room clear of the latter, may have been misinterpreted to create this misconception that a recording studio should be kept as empty empty.)
On the contrary, adding objects that is not reflective and are made of sound absorbing materials actually helps to limit sound reflection and distortion.
6. Always Go For The "Value Added Bundled Option" When Buying Equipment
This is not always a bad practice, but in order to make a product more appealing to a potential buyers, many manufacturers sometimes bundle their products with another product to "add value" to their offer.
This can be an irresistible offer, especially for users on a tight budget. Buying an audio interface while getting a microphone for free or buying a microphone with a free XLR cable and included "Limited Edition" DAW software, seem like a very good deal.
This may result with you ending up with an inferior component that you just use because it came free with the component of your choice. Since you never did proper research into the free component you end up with the impression that your recording setup is now "complete". (Especially if you are on tight budget, you will not be inclined to be too critical on the component you got for free, as you don't want to spend additional money and energy on a component you already have.)
In the worst case scenario you end up with a very poor quality "free" component that can end up ruining your whole recording production.
I just need to add that a bundled deal is not always a bad one. Sometimes you end with two or more very high quality products and safe a lot of money.
Just refrain from always waiting for a bundled deal and when you do consider one, do your research on both the product you were looking for as well as the "freebie" included.
7. Neglect The "Insignificant Accessories" In Your Recording Setup
This something not just limited to the recording industry, but to many things we purchase or invest in. You spend a small fortune on a luxury German sport scar. You now own what you always dreamed of. Yet, as soon as the novelty wears off and it comes time to change those expensive Pirelli tyres or recommended battery, many people are inclined to go for the cheaper pair of tyres or battery, as these seem less important than the car itself. (Not realizing that the grip and tread of the tyres, and the consistent voltage that the battery supplies to the important electronic sensors, all play vital role in the performance of the vehicle.) Not the most perfect analogy, but you get the idea.
Exactly the same happens with recording equipment. You got the best microphone, audio interface, headphones and pair of studio monitors. You feel all set, and as long as everything is connected and working, you are happy.
In the meantime the quality of your XLR and other audio cables play a very important role in the quality of your audio. Not just the quality of the connections, but even the length of the cable can have a huge effect on sound quality. I would go as far as to state that a proper pair of cables and connectors can make a bigger difference to your recording quality than spending hundreds of dollars on better components.
The same applies to accessories like microphone booms, shockmounts, speaker/ studio monitor stands and even your recording desks. The importance of getting the right accessory that has all the attributes needed for the best performance, should not be taken lightly or overlooked.
Try and take as much time and effort when it comes to choosing an accessory as you do when when choosing an expensive piece of equipment. You will be grateful and the long run and your recording setup will reward you.
8. Continue To Get The Best And Most Expensive Component Available
Once you get a taste of proper recording equipment and how well your audio can sound, it is easy to fall in the trap of looking for the next best component for your setup. This can be a never-ending and very expensive exercise.
Although you will most probably always be able to find better sounding component, as a home user you are going to reach a point where your setup is more than good enough for its recording environment.
Within the confined spaces of your converted room or home recording studio, you are limited as to how far you can go with equipment. At some point your equipment simply won't be able to overcome the limitations of your recording environment. It is just a simple fact we all have to accept, and it is not a bad thing.
Rather spend your time and effort on getting the best from your current system, including components, software and recording environment. You will be surprised how much hidden potential lies beneath the surface of your existing components and software you still need to uncover.
9. Thinking Acoustic Treatment Is Only Meant For Big Commercial Recording Studios
This is one misconception that must be debunked as quickly as possible. Actually the direct opposite of this way of thinking is true.
You are already handicapped by a small recording space in a rectangular room with directly opposing parallel walls, causing the effects of reverberation (echo), amplification and the distortion of sound to be that much more severe. This makes the use of acoustic materials that much more important.
I am not going to go into detail about acoustic treatment. (You can read all about it in this article.)
Just never neglect acoustic treatment in your home studio. It is not that difficult if understood correctly, quite inexpensive, and will make the world of difference to your sound quality.
10. The Tendency To Always "Eat The Microphone"
This picture is all too familiar. When you see a photo of an artist performing on stage, in many cases its with the lips pressed right up against the microphone, and in some extreme cases with the mouth wide open and the microphone "shoved" halfway into the mouth.
And there is some method in this madness. Artists performing at a live event, especially in a noisy environment like a rock concert, don't have much of a choice. They are competing against some very loud instruments, fellow vocalists and a very noisy crowd of thousands.
That is why they are often told by their sound engineers to actually "eat the mic". The only way for the sound engineer to capture and isolate the sound in such a noisy environment, is to have the performers mouth and sound directed at the mic in the closest possible distance. They cannot just turn up the gain (volume) to capture more of the sound, as this raises the noise level and possibly capture other unwanted sounds as well.
Now that we understand where and why this habit exist, you can throw it out of window, as what applies on stage differs completely from what happens in the controlled environment of a recording studio.
Dynamic microphones most often used during live events, are robust and use a relatively simple mechanism that makes it less sensitive to sound. This enables them to cope with very loud sounds for sustained periods. All these characteristics allow them to be handled the way you see pictured and still produce an acceptable quality.
In your home studio, the chances are pretty good you are using a condenser microphone. Combined with the controlled quiet environment of a studio, your approach should be almost the exact opposite. Condenser microphones are active (powered) and its much more sensitive diaphragm makes it very sensitive to the smallest noise.
As result, you need to create some distance between your mouth and the microphone to produce a recording that is clear and not distorted. (Up to a foot in distance, depending on the microphone and studio.) Not only will this allow the sound to develop and sound natural over distance, it will also help to protect the microphone. Condenser microphones are very sensitive, and are prone to be damaged or completely destroyed by an overwhelmingly loud sound. (To find out more about the difference between microphones, you can find it here.)
In summary, always take your microphone and environment into consideration and adjust your technique accordingly.
11. You Know You Have "Everything Figured Out"
Your recording finally sounds just perfect. You set up all your hardware and adjusted and fine-tuned it over the course of months. You spend hundreds if not thousands of hours learning all the features of your DAW software. Now you can just sit back enjoy the fruits of your labor.
You deserve to sit back, enjoy the moment and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Just don't stay there too long.
Complacency can be a very dangerous thing. There will always be something you can improve, learn more about and adjust to make your recordings better. Even the most experienced sound engineer will tell you that they still don't have it all figured out.
It doesn't mean that you should force yourself ruthlessly ahead and keep looking for something to change. Simply be open to new ideas, gain more knowledge and be willing to make changes when it is appropriate.
12. You Keep Relying On Just One Source To Monitor Your Sound
We often see sound engineers sitting behind a mixing console with a pair of headphones on. Similarly in music videos, artists are "staged" performing in recording studios with their cool looking trendy headphones. This sometimes creates the misconception that a good pair of headphones is all you need to produce a good recording.
Look carefully at any professional recording studio, and you will see 2 or more studio monitors prominently occupying their rightful place in the recording setup. You simply can't rely on just one source to monitor and judge the overall performance of your recording.
Your headphones may be able to pick up the smallest detail that some other sources are unable to. However, you still need to get a more realistic indication of what your recording will sound like in a room with sound coming out of a pair of speakers/studio monitors and fill the studio.
Only by using both sources to evaluate your recorded audio will you be able to get the best possible result.
13. Always Trusting Post-Production Software To Correct Poor Recordings
DAW software are very powerful and getting more powerful by the day. It can mimic almost any real instrument, recreate almost any kind of real world reverberation, and provide a host of special effects too numerous to even start mentioning. It also posses an impressive set of tools to correct and adjust recorded audio.
The downside of this, is that all these tools can create bad recording habits. If a recording sounds bad during the actual recording phase, it is sometimes not addressed at all during this time. It is sometimes assumed that a flaw in the recording can and will be corrected during post-production in the DAW software.
You probably heard the saying, "Garbage In Garbage Out". This simply means if the original source "recording" is of poor quality, the final product will be sub-par as well. Your DAW software can be powerful and versatile, but it can only correct or improve a poorly recorded piece of audio so much. And why waste so much time in the first place when the problem could have been avoided in the first place during the recording phase?
By simply moving microphones and instruments around for the best recording quality, as well as adjust the gain and other input functions on the audio interface, many of these issues can be addressed and even completely resolved during the recording phase.
Always pay attention to setting up everything in the studio to sound at their best during the recording stage, and use your DAW software to only fine-tune and put the final touches on a recorded sound.
These 13 mistakes that are commonly made by many users in a variety of recording setup are just a few of many. But by addressing and eliminating these issues you will already take a huge step towards making your recording studio and final audio production much more successful.
Don't worry, you don't have to get everything right. Even the best professional setup is not perfect by a long shot. Just keep moving in the right direction and enjoy the process.
Feel free to leave me any comments or suggestions you may have. Remember to join my Mailing List to be informed whenever a new article is released, and share new developments and helpful hints & tips.
Catch you in the next article and happy recording!