I decided to put finger to keyboard after recently coming across a sudden abundance of home recording advice and expertise online, some of which is often counter-productive when trying to create a natural-sounding recording of your voice or instrument at home.
There is a lot of great post-lockdown advice on the technical stuff, setting yourself up with a good microphone, interface/pre-amp, deciding what software or DAW to use. I am very happy to chat to anyone who wants any advice on this (please do drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org) but in this article I am dealing with the absolute basics:
The Room – ‘They’ tell you to record yourself as dry as possible with no sound reflections, close up to a decent microphone so that the audio can be manipulated to the max by expert mix engineers. However one of the biggest defining factors to a classical or more natural sound rather than a commercial sound, is that the space that we perform in as actually part of the music! Music is written to be performed in a particular space, so it is important that we keep this in mind while planning where to record ourselves.
A makeshift vocal booth made from wrapping a duvet around your head and the microphone is not the way to go. Find the acoustic in your house that you feel most comfortable singing in. The aim is to find a balance between resonance/reflection (most easily achieved by a bare room with no carpets or furniture) and detail (most easily achieved wrapped up in a duvet). The space in between is the warmth that we want. Find a nice resonant acoustic if you can, and then treat it slightly to dampen it down. This can be done with the aforementioned duvet perhaps pinned to an expanse of bare wall if there is one, or a rug placed in the middle of the floor for example.
Microphone Technique – ‘They’ tell you to position the mic as close to you as possible. This gives you an accurate recording, cuts down on background noise and interference, and gives you the most scope for adding effects to the sound afterwards. This does not take into account that we then miss out completely on the space that our music is being performed in, also adversely affecting our performance if we can not hear any natural resonance to our voice or instrument.
I would recommend placing whatever mic you are using at least 2-3 metres away, and then pointing yourself 20-30 degrees either to the left or right of the mic – whichever side has the most ‘space’ around it. This should give you a good balance of the resonance and detail and hopefully give you some natural warmth.
Some mics and pre-amps have a low cut feature. This cuts out the very lowest frequencies when you record – this can be really useful if you are concerned about background noise such as the rumble of passing cars etc. If you don’t have this feature, this can be adjusted afterwards with some EQ. Again, please do drop me a line if you want any help or advice on this.
Make sure that you check you microphone levels by singing or playing louder passages and checking that the red light doesn’t come on in your interface or in within whatever software you are using. If the levels max out, the sound will distort and this can not be fixed after the fact.
The most important thing is that you are recording your best possible performance with the best possible natural sound. We can fix or adjust any audio issues that occur as a result of this, however if our focus is on just getting the most detailed sound (wrapped in our duvet), you can not add the musicality of a performance in afterwards!
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