How to have a million-dollar studio on a french fry budget.
by, 08-25-2010 at 11:49 PM (1126 Views)
OK, I lied. It can't be done. But what actually can be done is nothing short of clean and effective sound recordings that you can make at home with modest equipment and truckloads of dedication and practice.
In order to accomplish this feat, compromises must be made. One must realize that the “big boy” studios cater to an extremely wide variety of clientele. The same studio may record a metal band for a week, then host a soloist with pre-recorded tracks for two days, then record an African-Djibouti band, followed by a string quartet, then a grand concert pianist.
So, where is the compromise? It is in the fact that you can't do all the above on a french fry budget. You must decide what and how you will record on a limited basis. For most of us, this is not too hard of a decision to make. Are you a singer/songwriter multi-tracking all your own parts? Congrats! That's the easiest way to do things. Your studio will fit in the corner of your bedroom.
Are you recording your band? You will need a room that can be dedicated to this task, but read this: portable equipment can make the difference between “can” and “can't”. Who said the studio must be set up all the time? Road bands break down their equipment every night, transport it to the next gig, set it up again, and make more music. Who says you can't do the same, albeit in a slightly different manner? Just move the cars out of the garage for a day or two. Clean out the tool shed. Rent a community center gymnasium.
Modern technology has dropped in price to where most anybody can afford the basic equipment needed to make a clean digital recording. Where then, is the difficulty?
Two things: Experience and the room you record in. Let's deal with the room first.
My bedroom studio is a common American household bedroom with parallel walls and carpet on the floor. I crammed all my stuff into the corner section and viola! No flutter or standing Waves. I don't record a drum kit, though. My main mic has a pop filter and I have draped a towel on another mic stand back behind the mic. Now I get a tremendously tight clean sound when I sing. For me it was that easy.
If your room has a bad sound, then you must do something. Lots of reverb? Hang something on the walls. Close mic the drums. Close mic everything and use ambient mics in the background recorded on separate tracks. Put furniture in the room. Couches and chairs do a great job of absorbing sound. Bookcases full of books (pulled out to different lengths) also help diffuse the reverb.
Point is, you can always do more to improve the sound of your room. Here on Recording.org there are many threads about bass traps, diffusers and the like, all of which can be constructed using basic carpentry skills. They can also be made attractive to look at so that your significant other doesn't object!
Experience is another matter. Start with a cheap mic and you'll get cheap sound, but you won't recognize how bad it sounds. Start with a Shure SM58/57, and you'll get a professional mic that you aren't good enough to handle yet. BUT, you will grow into it. Learn about gain staging so that you get more signal and less noise.
Play with FX and plug-ins. Do a mix of something you recorded and then sit on it for a week. Don't listen to it at all during that time. Then listen again a week later and notice all the mistakes you made. Learn from those mistakes.
Take that same mix and sit on it again for a month. Then go back to it and take out all the FX and plug-ins If it sounds better without them, then you were overdoing it. Novices usually use too much reverb, delay, EQ and compression. Back off them and let the sound breath a little more.
Play with mic positions. Mic your acoustic guitar from 5 different places. Record each one. Play it back and notice the difference in the sound quality. Sing into a mic straight ahead of you. Now angle it so that it is above you pointed down at your face. Sing again. Now lower it and angle it so that it is under your head pointing up at your mouth. Notice all these differences. It will take time, but this is time well invested.
Read, read, read about recording, mixing, and mastering. And after you are done reading, go read some more. Fall asleep reading. Have dreams about recording. Then go and record. Record some more. When you are done, record something else. This is how you get good at it: by immersing yourself.
Fear not beginners! For you can make astounding recordings on a limited budget. Simple equipment, a few tricks for your recording room, and lots of practice, and you will get to where you want to go!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go listen to some mixes from last year. I'm not looking forward to it...