It happens. You get all excited to record that next hit song, and in your blind fury to satisfy that impulse, mistakes are made along the way. Recording mistakes may be minor, some may make you cringe each time you listen to the song. Whether or not you can tolerate these mistakes is beside the point. Getting it right from the source is the easiest and best way to set yourself up for success and make a good song GREAT!
Now, this isn’t the most exhilarating read in the world, but it serves as a great reminder to have beside you as you make your way through a song. If even one of these points makes you think twice before hitting that record button, it’s worth it.
First off, yes, we live in a digital age where you can achieve incredible feats while sitting at home. As incredible as this era of home recording technology is, we have to keep in mind that clipping is still only a few decibels of headroom away...
Clipping happens when a signal has overloaded a channel. On the meter this will be indicated by the noise level “touching red”. Once you’ve recorded a signal that’s clipped, almost no amount of post-processing will fix it.
Before you hit the record, button make sure you have ample amounts of headroom. Everyone seems to have a different idea on this; as a rule of thumb aim for about 6dB of headroom to be safe.
When you produce a sound, it’s represented visually as a sine wave. Now, let’s suppose we have two mics sending signals at the same time so we have two sine waves. The relationship between these two sine waves is what we call a phase relationship, or simply “phase”. Now, bear with me, because I know a lot of you guys glaze over when it comes to talking phase. If these two waves are in-phase that means the sine waves are matching up exactly and we are getting a clear playback sound. If these two waves are out-of-phase that means the sine waves aren’t matched together and you’ll get this phase/flange type sound on playback that is NOT ideal.
Take the time to position your mics to get the best phase alignment and the best sound.
Another area where there are a surprising number of mistakes: instrument and vocal tuning. You’d think if you were out of tune with other instruments it would be noticeable. Yet, there are those who forget to tune up before hitting the record button and signing off on something that isn’t in the correct pitch.
This is crucial, if you’re not in the correct tune, even if you’re just a little off, something won’t sound right in the song and it’s not fair to rely on a post-production fix when it’s easy to get it right from the source.
Tune before you hit the record button, and then re-tune every few takes so you can maintain the correct pitch throughout a song or album.
The process of editing eludes some people, and that’s okay. This is a conversation every band should have with their mix engineer: are the tracks edited, or are they just raw recorded?
If you’re engineer is okay with handling edits then you’re in the clear. However, if you are editing the song yourself it’s important to take EXTREME care and to create as transparent a song as possible with no noticeable edits.
Edit on the go and you’ll find the overall task of editing is much easier than leaving it all until the end. With a take freshly recorded your ears already know how it may need to be edited for timing and tightness. Why put it off until the end? Just edit the take right then and there, make sure it’s a clean edit, and move on! The longer mistakes are left, the more chance it has of being forgotten about until you hear it on the final playback and can’t change it!
Effects “baked in”
Now, this is something that is more good practice than an actual mistake. Nonetheless, as you’re starting out it’s a good idea to get into the habit of keeping your takes clean. This is to say that there should be no extra effects baked into your track. Examples of this could be things like delays or reverb attached to guitars and vocals. Other examples could be things like compression and EQ. Whatever the case may be, if you’re not 1000% sure it’ll be kept in the final mix than leave the raw track as it is. I repeat: LEAVE THE RAW TRACK AS IT IS. This will give the mixing engineer far more options than working with an already processed sound, and will more than likely leave you happier with the final product as well.
In this incredible world of home recording technology, you can do a lot with very little. You can record that huge guitar sound without even playing through an amp, you can have insanely intricate and precise drum tracks without ever having to play drums! This takes a lot of problems out of our equation of tracking, such as acoustics. Now, while we’ve eliminated 90% of this problem by having Silent Recording Solutions at our disposal, treating your rooms acoustics are still very important for tracking vocals. Luckily enough, for us home studio warriors, you really don’t need fancy panels and absorption solutions. Got a big couch in the room? Good start. Have a shag rug on the floor? Getting there. Have a bunch of thick blankets to hang off the walls? Now you’re cooking with gasoline.
Bad Takes (fix it in the mix)
It’s nothing to be embarrassed over. Sometimes we record bad takes! You know what the beautiful thing is? If you record a bad take, you can re-record it until it’s perfect! You know what a lot of people seem to do about bad takes? Not care, and leave it for the mix engineer to fix! Why is this? You have the power at your literal fingertips to make changes to any instrument and vocal you want! WITH EASE!
This one is easy guys. If a take doesn’t have that magic you’re after, don’t settle. Re-record until you think it’s perfect. Take the time and do it right!
Get it Right at the Source
We’ve discussed the idea many times in this article, but it’s a point that comprehensively rings true and that is to get it right from the source. If you record a take and it sounds amazing, you’re going to know it. If you record a take and it doesn’t sound great or has some mistakes, and you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about, then don’t lie to yourself and believe that it will all somehow work out...
Take the time, have some patience, train your ears, and get it right from the source. There are no shortcuts and no excuses for not getting it right from the source.
Recording Checklist to Keep In Mind
No clipping of any kind
No phase between two sources
Each instrument, including vocals, in perfect tune for each take
Edit takes as you go
Try not to “bake in” any effects during tracking, initially
Be aware of the rooms acoustics and treat it appropriately
Do not sign off on bad takes to “fix it in the mix”
GET IT RIGHT AT THE SOURCE