Recording studios have changed quite rapidly in the last few years. What used to be limited to large commercial operations can now be achieved in a bedroom or basement, with even the most modest of budgets.
No matter what type of music you record, or how simple or complex your studio is, there are a few tips to keep in mind when you're starting your recording project. Remember, these aren't just beginner's tips; I know many recording engineers - myself included - who've been doing this for years who live by these same rules.
It's easy to get caught unprepared -- here's five tips to help you avoid it.
1. The Better The Source, The Better The Recording
The first rule to live by is quite simple: the better the source, the better the recording.
Think of your microphone as your ear. If something sounds bad to your ear, chances are it won't sound great in front of a mic. Making sure your source is the best it can be is the first thing to remember whenever starting a new project. That could mean a new set of strings, fresh drum heads, or having your vocalist do warm-ups before tracking. And, no matter what, everybody should tune before a take.
Remember that there's a lot you can edit out later on down the line, but there's a lot that you can't add if it's not naturally there -- that includes tone, body, and definition, all things you'll lose if your instruments aren't in good shape.
2. Save Your Work Often
Back in the mid 90s, I remember getting a 850 megabyte hard drive; I never thought I'd fill up that hard drive, and felt very proud of myself for being so far ahead of the times.
Now, storage space is virtually free. A terabyte of hard disk storage can be bought for less than $100, and there's no excuse not to back up your sensitive data.
Nothing is worse than losing something you worked for hours on, especially when you're running your studio as a business and you have a paying client. Always save your work between takes. It also doesn't hurt to have an external hard drive that you backup your sessions to nightly; if something happens to your hard drive, you'll at least have a copy to start over from.
3. Always Keep Spare Parts
You may not think of this at the time you're buying your equipment, but stuff does break, even if brand new, and sometimes, instruments may need last minute repair. Believe it or not, I've had a few sessions fail due to brand new equipment!
Keeping basic items at your studio will always help keep things going smoothly when the inevitable happens. Stock a set of guitar strings (both electric and acoustic), some drum sticks, and always keep spare instrument and microphone cables on hand. You never know when your session will be saved because you came to the rescue! It also helps to be able to kindly suggest a new set of strings to the stubborn guitarist who showed up with old, dead strings on his axe.
4. Nothing Leaves Until The Check Clears
This tip applies only to the home studios that record for profit, not your simple project studio, but it deserves a mention of it's own. Don't ever, ever let any mixes leave your studio until you're paid in full. This includes mp3 copies you send out via email, and CD-Rs you let leave your studio with rough mixes. At any point during the recording process, a financial dispute of some sort may arise, and they've still got a rough mix. This is rare, but it happens.
Remember, anything you let leave your studio, you can never get back. Just ask any of the number of engineers who've gotten burned by non-paying clients!