Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment With Your Home Recording Studio
It is always wise to learn from experts, use tried-and-tested methods and follow the right procedure. But sometimes, thinking out of the box and experimenting with something new can solve a problem with your home recording studio you have been battling with for weeks. It may even open up a whole new world for you...
Over the months or years, you have become used to listening to experts and specialists in the recording industry whenever you need to solve a problem or need to take that next important upgrade in the studio.
From reading dozens of articles on recording authority websites, to watching hours of Youtube videos on a subject, you have developed a blind loyalty to these online sources you have been relying on for so long to help you get where you currently are with your recording setup. (After all, following their advice got your studio up and running in the first place.)
Many of these websites and online experts you are following, have very strong opinions about subjects like studio setup, type of equipment, to the way you should be using your DAW software. Some advocate strongly for or against certain practices with specific "dos and don'ts". Even on some very debatable subjects.
As a result, you don't stop for a second to pay any attention to any original thought or idea you may have to solve your problem or try something new. You are so afraid of what may go wrong, you may never find out how well your idea actually might have worked.
Off course I don't imply for a second that you must follow any idea that pops into your head and do something silly or dangerous.
If you read and watch enough informative content about all things related to the home recording studio (or even have your own personal experience from years in the recording industry), you should have a clear understanding of the difference between clear practical guidelines and concrete facts on the one side, and what can be seen as more opinion based information on the other.
It is this latter, opinion based information we are represented with, I want you to question. (To a greater or lesser extend, we all have enough common sense to the distinguish between concrete facts and personal opinions.) No matter how much of an expert someone might be, no one is always right and there is not always just one correct way of getting a desired result.
We will get to your own ideas and opinions in a moment. I just want to emphasize the importance of doing a thorough job when doing serious research or just want some more information on a product or procedure.
Always try and find at least 3-4 different sources to read/watch about a certain topic. Never trust just once source, no matter how knowledgeable and respected they are in the recording industry and how loyal you are to them. Like I already mentioned, no one knows everything.
I know for fact that I most certainly don't, and will really urge you whenever you read any of my articles, to read at least 3 completely different ones, find the similarities and make up you own mind.
Back to the original topic of experimenting and implementing your own ideas. There are may common sense facts and proven guidelines that you can rely on and don't want to meddle with. (Dropping a condenser microphone with its sensitive diaphragm from a dizzying height for dramatic effect, or banging your fist on the desk to the rhythm of the beat while all your recording equipment are on the same desk, are just two extreme examples.) Not only is it a guaranteed way of ruining your recording, you also stand a very good chance of damaging or completely destroying your equipment.
I am going to highlight a few hypothetical scenarios which already may have set guidelines, but where experimenting and playing around with your own ideas my just solve a unique problem. The whole point is to help you to break free from "rigid rules" and allow yourself to think more freely and try different things to solve any recording or post-production problem.
Time to look at a few scenarios, but just remember, you do not need to limit yourself to these examples.
When reading up about studio monitor/speaker placement, you may have come across the guidelines advising you to place the speakers at ear level. The "equilateral triangle" position (using an invisible triangle of equal lengths and equal internal angles) to correctly place the speakers the right distance apart from each other and from you/your microphone, also springs to mind.
After setting up the "correct" height, you realize a previous height you were you using while setting up produced a much better result. Your recording confirms this. Your room's dimensions and ceiling height just reacts better to the position you "stumbled" across while setting up.
The point here is that many guidelines, like speaker setup, are calculated for setup in an ideal environment with everything else perfectly set up. Your equipment and room you use as a studio, are unique in almost every possible way.
Don't be afraid of experimenting and playing around with your equipment placing. You really have nothing to loose, and will most probably find a unique placement that works best for your specific setup in the process.
Very much the same goes for your equipment settings. Your condenser microphone's manual recommends a certain gain setting for your audio interface preamp for producing the best results. Yet, you get a much better result from another setting you have been playing around with. The sound is just right, crisp and clear, not peaking at the right moments and the recording sounds great.
So, no need to point out the obvious again. I think the argument for experimenting and trying out your own ideas has been made very clearly.
Obviously solid guidelines are extremely valuable and are very effective in most cases. They only time they may become a potential stumbling block, is when they limit your own decision making and ability to explore new ideas.
Guidelines are just that. Guidelines. Especially when you are at a complete loss as to where to start with your recording studio or equipment setup, expert guidelines provide you with a solid foundation to help you get started. From there you can follow more advanced guidelines and combine them with your own ideas and experiment until you get the ideal outcome for your specific setup.
From some my articles , you will already know the importance of using acoustic materials in your studio. But what if you listened to your sound after setting up your equipment, and you are very happy with the results and don't want to change anything, even if you haven't applied any acoustic treatment yet?
Well, maybe you simple just don't need any special acoustic treatment. You may be working from your bedroom or small study, filled with a bed, curtains, couches and shelves. All these objects acts as acoustic treatment, with curtains, bed and couches absorbing and stopping any reverberation. Bookshelves or loose standing closets with all kinds of objects on them, may be in such a position that it scatters sound instead of directly reflecting it, acting as a sound diffuser.
Without knowing it, you already created a "studio" with just the right acoustics for your recording setup.
Just because something like acoustic treatment is highly recommended, does nor mean it applies in all cases. Trust your own ears and judgement and don't underestimate yourself.
If your audio sounds 90% right in the described scenario, why not play with the curtains, reposition your shelves or objects on it slightly? Maybe throw a towel or blanket over the one pesky reflective surface in the room, and all of the sudden you have the ideal recording environment. (And you saved yourself some money and unnecessary effort in the process.)
The final scenario is basically identical to the "equipment placement" and "equipment settings" scenarios. Here I would encourage you to experiment and play around even more. There are so many different outcomes by combining and adjusting different settings in your software, you may come across a surprising result that can be really effective and packs a punch, if not for the project you are currently working on, to remember for future projects.
Just make sure the original recorded file is saved somewhere safe, so that you can always go back and start again if you got so carried away that you made a bit of a mess of the working file. (Hey, that's how we learn and gain experience!)
After all this I hope you see some common message running through all the different parts of this article: Learn the basics, use the tried-and-trusted guidelines to get started and broaden your knowledge, but don't be afraid to experiment and explore your own ideas.
As with many other fields, its easy to box ourselves in and be very cautious to venture outside the norms and "rules" of the recording industry. I trust you will see the advantages of trying out your own ideas and exploring new avenues, especially in the privacy and freedom that your home recording studio provides.
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Catch you in the next article and happy recording!