“Learn” Your Studio

2010 Sep 27, 2010

The other day a reader posted a comment regarding my lack of acoustic treatment in my studio and he wanted to know how I got my mixes to sound “good” despite the bare walls. His question leads to an important part of recording well in your home studio that I want to briefly explain today. No matter how much acoustic treatment you have (or don’t have), in order to get great recordings and mixes at home you need to “learn” your studio.


Via Trevor Cox Flickr

Not Quite The Truth

If you aren’t yet satisfied with your recordings in the home studio then pay attention. The biggest thing that can hinder your progress is not being able to hear your tracks properly. Your studio room and monitors are probably giving you a misrepresentation of how your audio is actually sounding. Talk about frustrating. That is why you hear the “big boys” of recording telling you to invest in quality acoustic treatment, great monitors and converters, or even to ditch the home studio and just record in a pro studio.

In one sense they are right. Those things will go a long way to ensuring that what you hear is what you are actually getting in your DAW. But sometimes those are not options to use “small guys”. Money is tight. And more importantly (to me anyways), those things aren’t necessary. There is a perfectly good alternative: simply take the time to learn your studio’s shortcomings and quirks. Than you can compensate for them and come out just fine.

An Example

For many of us, we have typical drywall in our rooms. Without much absorption or diffusion materials to make a difference, any sound coming from our speakers (or guitars, vocals, drums, etc) will simply bounce off the walls a bunch of times and then come back to our ears (or our microphones) with a much higher frequency response. In essence this tricks our ears to thinking things sound “brighter” than they are. This can affect our microphone placement technique, as well as how we EQ in the mix.

Then we take the mix out to the car, or on our iPod, and we notice that everything sounds a bit muffled. Where did all that high end go? It was only present in that room! So unless you can get all your fans and listeners to only listen to your mixes in your studio then they won’t get the full effect. Not a good plan.

Instead, in this example, we could learn from our first few mistakes, and know to boost the highs a bit, mix a bit brighter than we would like, and adjust mic placement accordingly. We would do this all while knowing that in the “real world” it will sound just perfect. If this seems like an annoying extra step right now, don’t worry. Your room usually stays the same so it won’t be long before you’ve learned how it “sounds” and can figure out how to adjust accordingly.

Acoustic Treatment Is Not Your Answer

There is nothing wrong with acoustic treatment in your studio. In fact it will help tremendously. Kind of a no brainer. What I’m saying, however, is that if the budget and the landlord prohibit you from going that direction don’t think that you’ve somehow missed out and that you can’t do this. Acoustic treatment is not the solution to great recordings or mixes. You are. Learning your studio so you can make better tracking and mixing decisions is the key.

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