Help! My Tracks Don't Sound As Good As Pro Studio Tracks

2012 Dec 10, 2012

Can raw tracks recorded in a modest home studio sound as good as raw tracks recorded in a top tier pro studio with expensive gear? That was the burning question of one of my readers, Brandon, who posed a few good thoughts via email. His biggest concern was trying to get everything right at the source. And although his recordings have improved in recent months, he feels they still don’t even compare to those tracked a pro facility.

[The pro tracks] just have that professional sheen/sound that I can’t seem to obtain – even before they start throwing effects onto them. I am still trying to figure out what I am missing as my raw tracks still don’t stack up against a pro’s raw tracks…there's just sound plain better. – Brandon (TRR reader)


Via Jérôme Choain Flickr


The Biggest Advantage The Pro Studio Has

Brandon has a really great question. He has decent gear, has devoured every book/tutorial/article on recording, and has seen vast improvement in his recordings accordingly. But he’s on to something as it relates to the pro studio. There is one huge advantage the pro facility has over a typical home studio, and that is the actual recording space. A good studio will have at least one nice live tracking room, suited for drums, guitar amps, vocals, etc.

Guaranteed, drums tracked in a pro studio will sound better than the same kit tracked in my home studio, even using the same preamps and converters. There’s something about a big sounding room that makes drums sound, well…big! Don’t be discouraged though. I just recorded drums for my new album in my humble home studio and I’m confident they will sound big…in the mix!

No One Will Hear Your Raw Tracks

Which brings me to a critical point. In the end, all that truly matters is that your tracks sound amazing in the final mix. It’s a fact that no one other than you (or perhaps the members of Dueling Mixes) will hear the raw tracks. Yes you want your raw tracks to sound amazing, because it makes mixing that much easier and faster. But you have to keep something in mind. In the home or project studio, we usually work with more limitations than a pro studio.

Typically the pro studio will record through different colored preamps, with perhaps a touch of compression and EQ. You’ll see it with session musicians in Nashville for example where when tracking drums, their raw tracks already sound mixed because they’ve been run through outboard gear on the way in. Most of us are tracking dry, straight to the DAW. Our processing typically comes in the mixing phase. So in reality, it is unfair to compare your raw tracks with theirs. They’ve already got their foot in the mixing door, you haven’t.

Have The End In Mind

When I’m recording drums, guitars, vocals, or anything really I try to keep the end in mind. To be sure, I spend a good amount of time on mic placement. It’s your first line of EQ in a way. I also watch my levels and gains staging. I don’t want to record anything super hot. I do my best, with the knowledge and tools at my disposal, to capture the most musical and clean sounding tracks possible.

But I do all of this with the mix potential in mind. If I know what some compression and room reverb can do for my drums then I’m not freaking out that my drums sound smaller than a pro studio drum recording. If I know the kind of sounds I can get with saturation plugins and console emulations, I stay calm.

The process of getting a great sound in the home studio is a little bit different than that of a pro studio. Record great tracks, yes. But then use the DAW as your ultimate tool to bring those great tracks to life with tasteful EQ, compression, saturation, reverbs, delays, automation, and the like. In the end we all want the same thing, to deliver phenomenal recordings to our listeners. Who cares how we get there or how our tracks sounded in the beginning?

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