You will find many articles on the internet with tips and tricks for mixing and making a song sound its best. The best way to make sure the mix, and ultimately the final product sounds the best it can is to record it with excellence. With that in mind, here are my top 10 tips for making a great recording.
1. Commit to a sound
We live in the digital age, options are great, and we can use any number of plugins to craft sounds inside of our DAWs. We have an unlimited number of choices. However, creative producers hear a sound in their heads and strive to capture it during the song’s recording. Don’t be afraid to be creative and commit to sounds early. Committing to a sound fosters creativity and can inspire you to try unique ideas that take you away from generic production techniques.
2. Pre-Production is Key
When you’re working with an artist, pre-production is a great time to work on lyrics, melody, and song arrangements before you even begin to press record. Pre-production allows you an opportunity to build a relationship with the artist or band that you will be working with. You can earn their trust, and that will go a long way in helping you make a great recording with them. Preparedness is one of the most valuable recording tips will ever hear.
3. Get it right at the source
This is similar and yet different than committing to a sound. Getting it right at the source can make sure that the guitarist is playing a guitar with proper intonation. You can create the greatest guitar sound in the world, but if the guitar is out of tune in the middle of the fretboard, then your takes will sound bad. Another example of this would be using a noisy piece of gear. It would be a shame to capture a great performance only to have it ruined because there is an annoying buzz or hum throughout the entire take.
4. Use High Pass filters
It’s common for microphones and preamps to have a high pass filter that can be switched on easily to remove any unnecessary low end. This topic is often debated on internet forums, but strategic use of the high pass filter can significantly clean things up in the low end of your sound for a tighter overall production.
5. Use caution before you stereo mic something
Early on in my career, I was stereo mic’ing everything. Whatever the instrument was, I would place a close mic on it and then stereo room mics. When it came time to mix, it was a muddy, reverberant mess. Be choosy when you use stereo microphone techniques. Not everything needs to sound like it’s in an ample space. Often I mic my upright piano with a single ribbon mic.
6. Use the gear you know
Nothing can stop a session dead in its tracks quicker than having to interrupt the process to learn how your gear works. It’s a temptation we all face. You got yourself a new piece of gear to play around with and you immediately want to begin making music with it. New gear is great but make sure you balance it out by also using tools that you are familiar with. This is particularly true if you are everorking with an artist under limited time constraints. Using something that you are familiar with will help you keep the session moving forward and save you time.
7. Label everything properly
Label the tracks that you record and label them properly. We’ve all seen the memes where everything is labeled, Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, etc. If you do this, you are inevitably setting yourself up for a slow workflow. You will have to audition all of those tracks one at a time to find out what they are. If you are sending the song off to a mixer, they will love you when they open up your session and see, Kick In, Snare Top, Snare Bottom, etc. It makes their job easy and will make you someone that they want to work with. As we mentioned before, being organized in all aspects of the recording process is a just a general pro-tip, outside these top 10 recording tips!
8. Backup, backup, and backup
Do yourself a favor by never finding yourself in the situation of having to explain to a client why you lost their song (or even worse, album!). Many IT professionals will tell you that if it’s not backed up three times, it isn’t backed up. When I am working on a session, I have two drives going simultaneously, and I use the software Synchronize! Pro X. The drives are mirrored, and I have synched up exactly. When I get ready to send the session off to a mixer, I will copy it again on another drive and send that third copy to them.
9. Leave enough headroom when recording
There have been many instances where I have needed to record a track and had a mic preamp and no external compressor. We are working in the digital age, and one good thing about that is the super low noise floor that digital offers. Keep your preamp low, and you can always bring the signal up later. This will help you safeguard against nasty-sounding digital clipping distortion.
10. Maintain your focus
You, as the producer and engineer, need to maintain your focus. If you bring in an artist that is new to the studio, they are looking for your to have as the person of authority. When someone is paying you to make a recording for them, they are looking for you to maintain focus and keep the project moving forward. Make the artist feel comfortable. Maintaining your focus will help the artist to focus as well.