Top 10 Tips: Recording a Home Demo

10.) Perfect your songs/arrangements before recording.

Some people like to let the ideas flow during recording. Maybe you would do this in a jam band to catch some brilliance of spontaneity. Perfecting your songs and arrangements beforehand, however, can save you a lot of time in the “studio.” Making a good recording always takes longer than one would like, especially if you plan to go on the road soon. Have a good idea of what sound you’re looking for before you record. If you don’t like a section of lyrics, change it. Chances are you will like it less later.

9.) Be creative, but don’t overproduce.

Demos should leave a little to the imagination. If you’re sending a demo to a label, you want to give them your “sound,” while giving them room for new ideas. You definitely don’t want to produce in such a way that your recordings sound nothing like your live show. The recording should “demonstrate” how you sound live, only more perfected.

Harmony is a good idea to spice up vocals. Double- (or even triple-) track your vocals to add fullness. Panning instruments gives a nice stereo sound, but some frown upon panning demos as A&R execs may be listening to your demo with one broken speaker (doesn’t seem likely, but you never know…).

8.) Listen to professional recordings.

While it is a good idea to listen to other local bands, matching your recordings to pro recordings gets you closer to the industry standard. While it is difficult to achieve this sound, aiming high will get you closer. Listen to your own tracks relative to pro recordings rather than other home demos.

7.) Minimize extraneous noise.

This is probably the most obvious tip. Record in a room that doesn’t echo (unless you want it to) that lets in as little noise as possible. There’s nothing worse than hearing children screaming in your mix (unless that’s what you’re going for).

6.) Get your sound right before recording.

Perfecting your overall sound before recording minimizes the need for post-recording editing. Use a pair of good headphones and listen carefully to the input stream coming from the mics. You may need to use a mixer to adjust the frequencies. If you have a warm blues amp and you’re looking for a more modern rock sound, you may need to reduce the mid frequencies and increase the presence. Watch the amount of reverb you use, you don’t want your input to sound muffled.

5.) Get it all mastered.

Either do it yourself or send it to a pro. When mastered, a set of songs are sonically maximized, the volume will be that of industry standards and equal across tracks, and the songs will be equalized to maximum potential.

4.) Be comfortable.

If it’s hot, turn on the A/C between takes. If you’re tired, take a break. Playing when you’re tired can result in poor performance. Get plenty of sleep the night before. Keep hydrated (especially if you’re the vocalist). Warm-up for everything, no matter what you do.

3.) Use the right mics.

Notice that I said “right” mics rather than “expensive” mics? Often times a well-considered, lower range mic can do a better job than an expensive mic that doesn’t suit your need. (Disclaimer: stupid story ahead!) When I first started recording many years ago, I purchased the Shure SM58 to record with, thinking it was a better choice than the SM57 since it cost more. What resulted was a muffled mess of noise. I ended up purchasing the SM57 anyway. The moral: just because a mic costs more doesn’t mean that it’s better. Do your research and purchase the mic that suits your needs.

This is harder for vocalists. I’ve tried many mics ranging up and down the price spectrum. While I tend to stay away from the super low end (and can’t afford the super high end), I have found that price does not equal sound quality. Determine what type of voice you have, and then do some research as to what mic suits you best. The best mic I ever used was a handmade mid-price tube condenser mic from a local company. I preferred it over mics twice its price because it suited my needs.

Finally, choosing the correct mic to your needs eliminates the need to mess around with EQ settings. This saves both time and the quality of your sound.

2.) Know your gear!

Learn to use your recording system properly. If you use software, learn how to edit tracks effectively. It’s best to have an idea of what every button and knob does, even if you never use it. The quality of recordings increases exponentially as you learn to use your gear.

Similarly, you should have some idea of how to mix and apply effects. The recording process is difficult, but the mixing and editing process is twice and grueling and time-consuming (but very rewarding).

1.) Practice.

This applies to every aspect of music. You should be able to play in your sleep! Doing so will not only improve your performance, but will vastly increase the time spent recording. You will notice that your abilities will increase dramatically over time. Try new techniques (especially if you’re a budding vocalist) and you won’t be disappointed with your growth.