There are three things that it takes to make a good recording: 1) A good performance, 2) A good engineer, 3) And good equipment. Professional audio manufacturers sell products by convincing the consumer that all it takes is buying their equipment and one can make a professional recording.
Some manufacturers even try and replace performance requirements with plug-in’s and electronic or software instruments as part of the deception that these things just don’t matter. Anyone who has tried to do a recording at home with a $100 dollar microphone preamp and analog to USB digital audio interface and an Shure SM57 will be able to hear the wide gap between the results at home and what is heard on your average home recording. So, is there a way to fix a poor home recording to sound like a professional recording?
The simple answer is, no. “Fixing” recordings often results in an even more compromised sound in the end. Good recordings come from the three elements mentioned at the beginning and in no other way. However, there are some practices that might help should one continue to think that they can “fool” the laws of acoustics and electronic circuit designs and still get the same results at home as you do in a professional studio.
One of the main things to stop doing when starting a home recording, stop looking at articles (especially YouTube videos) online that offer suggestions on what microphones to use, where to place them, etc. Most of the articles that I have found are from people who are not experienced sound engineers. Why? Because most professional sound engineers aren’t going to go around teaching everyone how to do their job. Some might but only if they are paid to write the article or are selling a book. It’s not good for business, and there really is a great deal that is to be learned in school and in years of experience that you can’t put into a short article or YouTube video.
Trust your ears. Every guitar, every amp, every drum set, every vocalist, and every acoustic space sounds different. That means that there is no feasible way to teach how to record in every situation. And each situation or style will work better with some techniques and not others. This also means that you have to possess some kind of vision of how you want your music to sound. However, every sound engineer still has to use their most important tool, their ears, to create the best sound possible.
Learn the basics of sound. There is no right place to put a microphone. Knowing the basics of sound will help you know better what you need to fix in order to get the sound that you are looking for. The first three fundamental principles of sound that someone should learn are proximity effect, phase, and frequencies. These principles relate to each other, but a proper understanding of how these three work together will help to avoid most of the drawbacks found in home recordings. If you are going to try and play sound engineer, you should at least learn some of the things a sound engineer knows.
Just because Home Depot sells hammers doesn’t mean I can build a house. The same is true with professional audio. Just because Guitar Center sells a microphone, doesn’t mean you can record an entire album. While these tips probably won’t completely bridge the gap between home and professional recordings, if one embraces this paradigm, one is able to get a more respectable and possibly a recording more acceptable for public consumption.
Nick Galieti is the owner/engineer/producer at Independent Music Studios in Salt Lake City, UT http://www.independentmusicstudios.com
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