Reader Spotlight: Tim James Does DIY Hip Hop Right

2015 Mar 02, 2015

It’s insane the kind of music people are making in their home studios these days.

With nothing more than a $99 microphone, a $99 USB interface, and some $99 headphones – TRR reader Tim James recorded, mixed, and mastered an insanely good hip hop record called HeartHeaded.

More proof that talent reigns supreme, not gear. Take a listen.

The Studio Setup

Tim’s studio perfectly represents what I’m all about, the absolute basics needed to make killer music.

Starting with his Gateway PC running Cubase 5 to his Sterling ST51 microphone (a perfect a example of the $100 microphone threshold), to using a PreSonus Audiobox USB interface and some KRK KNS6400 headphones, everything about his setup is affordable – but more than adequate.

Throughout the entire process I’m working with a $99 microphone and the PreSonus AudioBox USB. When you’re going online and seeing more expensive Mics and Interfaces, you can’t help but think Expensive = Better.


But again, when you shared how you used a $69 Mic to record ‘What Lies Beyond,‘ I felt some validation to my set up and my process. I have to constantly remind myself that just because I’m using less expensive equipment, that doesn’t equate to poorer quality.



If music and mixing is my craft, my goal should be to produce my best possible outcome with the tools I have at my disposal. – Tim James

I think we can all identify with Tim’s struggle. We always think that more expensive gear equals better, and that gear in general is the difference maker in a recording. In reality, WE are the difference maker. Not the gear we use.

And no where is that false sense of hope found than in the world of plugins.

I would record then go online and checkout the latest software and equipment being talked about, would search for the best FREE Plugins, etc…


Then, in this post you were talking about how you used 5 core plugins for about 85% of your work. To be honest, I was doing this already but thought my mixes were lacking because I didn’t have any Waves or UA plugins (those are the brands that stand out the most). I realized that I had a good thing going with the tools I had in reach and began to chill out a bit.




So the core plugins that I used were Cubase 5’s stock EQ, Compressor, Reverb, Delay, and Limiter. I would also use the stock DeEsser, Gate, and DeNoiser from time to time. A real go-to FREE third party plugin was the Ferric TDS tape dynamics simulator; I added that on every vocal track and on the masters as well, which worked great. And as a part of my mastering process I would use the Linear Phase Equalizer from TRacks.



That’s everything I used; stock plugins were utilized for a bulk of the work. – Tim James

Did you catch the beauty of what Tim said? Once he realized that he “had a good thing going” with this stock plugins (i.e. they are perfectly capable of producing professional results) he was able “to chill out” a bit!

The moment you realize you already have everything you need to make a killer record, you can not only put your wallet back in your pocket, but you can stop worrying so much about what you don’t have and instead relax, and get back to music making.

Gaining The Confidence To Make An Album

There is so much more that goes into making a great record than the gear or even the skill necessary. There’s a deeper psychological element that either prohibits us from doing great work or pushes us forward to excellence.

I had just walked away from LSU’s PhD program in Sociology to pursue music full-time. As I would meet with one of my friends at a local coffee shop, he would always tell me that the quality of my recordings sound really good.


I thought they were ok, but not as good as he was telling me they were. Then I read the “Why You’re Better Thank You Think…” article and immediately saw a parallel between myself and Ted.



A lot of my work is done in isolation and I didn’t think it could compete with a “professional” mix. When I finished the article I gave a second thought to what my friend had been saying and started to gain more confidence in my recording and mixing abilities. – Tim James

This point about working in isolation is huge.

We have no realistic litmus or barometer for how we are progressing. By setting too high of a standard for our music, we can become paralyzed into never releasing any music, or never even finishing a project.

That’s a tragedy, because music is a gift that is meant to be shared – and the truth is, you get better when you finish things.

The Home Studio Success Formula

This project sounds like has been in large part about self discovery for Tim. Now that he’s on the other side, his final thoughts for us reveal a powerful (but brilliantly simple) formula for home studio success.

Graham, your blog posts really encouraged me to believe in my own abilities, work with what I have, and know that if I do those things the end results are going to be positive. The ‘Heart-Headed’ project is my wonderful end result. – Tim James

Did you catch the two part formula?

Confidence In Your Music + Working With What You Have = Positive Results

The reason most people never see the results they want is because they leave out one or both of these two parts. They either have no confidence in themselves, or they are hell bent on finding the “right” gear for their studio before they ever record anything “for real”.

Tim figured it out. Will you?

Stream Tim’s entire album on SoundCloud – then download it for FREE on his official site. If you like what you hear, support him with a tip.

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