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5 Big Mistakes To Avoid When Recording In-Home


It is becoming more common than ever before that songwriters are setting themselves up with their own in-home recording studios to forgo the process of booking and paying for studio time that they need to rush through in order to get everything done within the allotted time.

However, even with the expense of paying for studio time, there is no denying the obvious benefit to the professional recording process; the ability to work with professional equipment and a sound engineer.

The in-home recording process may not include these luxuries, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t make your next project in-home with high-quality results. As long as you understand the mistakes that are made all too often by songwriters who take the in-home recording route, you will have the opportunity to make your next recording project a success even on a budget:

1. Over-using effects

A common mistake that songwriters make when attempting in-home recording is to rely on effects, both pre-amp and post-recording, to make up for the lack of clarity, warmth and overall quality of a recording.

The most commonly over-used effect is reverb, which is all too often used to make recordings sound less ‘flat’ or ‘more professional’. Truthfully, pinpointing the proper amount of reverb to use to remove the flatness of a vocal recording is rather difficult and is why so many make the mistake of drowning out their recordings by making them so ‘wet’ with reverb that the notes become slurred together and indistinguishable.

A rule of thumb should be to always try to record as clean as possible, avoiding pre-amp effects whenever possible, and then only using effects to do minor touch-ups or additions afterwards.

2. Cheap cables

Your recording equipment is only as good as the cables you have connecting your rig together. This goes for all aspects of your recording, from the cables you use for your instruments and microphones to those used to connect your recording equipment together and to your computer. Each cable used is carrying the signal of your recording and any cheap cables in the mix can add unwanted distortion.

You don’t need to go out and buy solid gold cables, but just be wary about the cables you are buying, and try to avoid the extreme discounted cables at all costs.

3. Only using one set of speakers

This is especially important for bass-heavy music such as hip-hop. A big mistake that is made when doing in-home recording is to use one set of speakers for mixing, assuming that the bass levels on those speakers will be consistent with any other set. They won’t be, so don’t do this!

You want to test your mix on a few separate sets of speakers to make sure your bass isn’t either too weak or way too overpowering. You should obviously be using monitor speakers in your studio, but you may want to test out how the music sounds on lesser speakers as well, such as computer speakers, iPod headphones and a car stereo since those are some of the most common places people listen to music.

4. Recording quietly

This mistake can be costly if overlooked! You want to make sure your input signal is as loud as possible without redlining the recording – this can also be bad news by leading to distortion on the recording. The reason for wanting a loud input signal is simple; you can always make your recording more quiet, but you can never make it louder without distorting the final product.

5. Ignoring intonation

This is particularly important for songwriters using string instruments in their recordings. When you decide to record your music, make sure you buy brand new strings and take the time to properly tune each string both to a tuner and to each other to ensure your music comes out clean, warm and accurate. Now, another way that you can ensure proper intonation in your recordings is to make sure the neck of your guitar is properly straightened out, as a bowed neck can also lead to inaccurate tuning and an overall poor quality recording.

A big way to help our community learn from each other is to share your own in-home recording experiences. Leave us your ideas and solutions as a comment below!

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40 thoughts on “5 Big Mistakes To Avoid When Recording In-Home

  1. Great list Jon!

    I’d have to add “trusting your room.” Even if you try your best to average out the sound on multiple sets of speakers, every listening environment has its own set of sonic bugaboos. Even in a professionally treated room, you can’t trust most speakers below 50 Hz. Mixing on phones is even worse!

    Many mastering engineers, myself included, offer mix consultation to fine-tune your mixes before mastering. That’s especially important when you track and mix in the same imperfect room, on the same imperfect playback system.

    1. Hey Brian! Thanks for reading and excellent advice – Im glad to have your input here as you are certainly an expert on engineering/ mastering that I know we can all trust. 

    2. before even mastering or mixing take your rough tapes to your musician friends and ask what they think or should you record again. Another person’s feedback is always a plus before you can say my song is good to release.

    3. How can I send u some music to get your input?

  2. Fuck that. Record gnarly. Record loud. With whatever the fuck you got. Just capture some energy and music played by people playing for the right reasons and the recording doesn’t mean shiiiiiiiiiiiit, part’na! Drive the board, saturate the tape and fuck shit up.

    1. Hi Peter! Thanks for commenting – I certainly understand your enthusiasm for capturing music in its purest form and don’t at all disagree with you that the energy of a recording can make all the difference, whether or not its ‘glossy’ or of the highest quality. That said, many times a recording does need to be well-produced in order for it to be placed or licensed and this is a main goal of Songtrust; to help the songwriters who are collecting royalties for the placements, performances and streams of their songs to do so more effectively.

    2. Not sure if this is serious or not, but I’ll take it as serious as it raises a good point. Point 6 should be work with what you have. Better to have a demo of a decent song recorded with software like Garageband that you have figured out well, than a mediocre song recorded with a brand new Pro Tool rig you can’t work that well.

    3. you sound really smart. how’d you get that way?

    4. Gottdam I gotta love your cavalier attitude. Good stuff.

  3. great job! This is perfect. Another good thing to mention might be understanding mic placement. 

  4. These are definitely some good things to avoid. Especially the one set of speakers part. Gotta hear it from multiple sound sources 4sho

  5. These are definitely some good things to avoid. Especially the one set of speakers part. Gotta hear it from multiple sound sources 4sho

  6. There is a really cool product that I saw on Kickstarter called SnapRecorder. Which allows you to record at home. I already backed their project on KS, all of you who want to record at home should check it out!

    1. Justin, the new and improved SnapRecorder is available for pre-order on Kickstarter starting today for as low as $55. Orders will be shipped out in December of this year. Check it out on Kickstarter:

      1. What you think about mix craft

  7. Number 2 is maybe a little fishy, but I get it… can’t have crackling/unreliable cables. But Number 4 as absolute trash advice! Unless you are recording to tape and have to deal with a high noise floor (not an issue in most home studios, read, digitial), there is no reason to record as hot as possible without going red… record no where near red. Mix no where near red. Then make it louder when you master.

    You absolutely and very easily can make a recording louder without distorting it after the fact… what you can’t do is undo clipping and distortion resulting from recording too hot.

    1. Number 4 in article is accurate, see remark to ApathyNihilism.

    2. There is something to be lost in digital recording if you don’t record at a good level – you aren’t using the full resolution of the 24 (or more) bits available.

      When you’re recording, try to get your input signal to be peaking fairly close to full scale (being sure that it doesn’t the red, of course), and this will mean your digital signal will be high resolution. This loss of resolution cannot be re-captured by normalizing the level of the digital waveform.

      Between the two problems – clipping distortion if it’s too loud, and low resolution if it’s too quiet, the former is the most obvious, but the latter shouldn’t be ignored.

  8. what Geoff said

  9. Great tips, my problem was recording vocals without a PREAMP,,just from a mixer into the computer, after so many tries got bad results, so wired it through a powered mixer into a PC input bus, will all EQ flat, and got the RAW voice powerful.. your tips with the reverb was what I was doing, thakns

  10. “Your recording equipment is only as good as the cables you have connecting your rig together.”

    There is very little difference (if any) between cheap cables and expensive cables. Unless the cables are actually faulty, which can be an issue with either cheap or expensive cables. Spending a fortune on upgrading cables is not a first priority for home recording. Learning the skills of engineering, microphone placement and technique, and so on are far more important.

  11. “This mistake can be costly if overlooked! You want to make sure your input signal is as loud as possible without redlining the recording ”

    Not true at all. With 24-bit recording, you can record quietly, and thus avoid the risk of overs, without any compromise in quality.

    “The reason for wanting a loud input signal is simple; you can always make your recording more quiet, but you can never make it louder without distorting the final product.”

    This makes no sense. Of course you can make a recording louder without distortion. Use a trim, a fader, a limiter, a maximizer, a compressor…

    1. Recording Quietly into a digital recording system will lower the dynamic range of the end result, for example a recording into a 16-bit recorder-using half of the level will give you 8-bit resolution which will put the dynamic range at about 48dB (slightly better then telephone quality) and later this might affect the signal to noise level. If you use 24-bit resolution it would be ok to record at –12 to –18 DBFS and still have outstanding dynamic range. I believe it is better to record each track at higher levels and adjust the levels during the down-mix which will give you a lot more control.

    2. ” With 24-bit recording, you can record quietly, and thus avoid the risk of overs, without any compromise in quality. ”

      Not true. See my reply to Geoff above.

  12. Multiple sets of speakers are indeed important, and include cheap speakers, headphones, and even phone earbuds in the test list, as a good recording has to sound good on all of those.

  13. Two of these bits of advice are just plain wrong: 2 and 4. That’s all I have to say.

  14. […] the internet at your fingertips, you can pretty much learn how to do anything that you want to do. Not 100% sure how the mastering tool works on your software? Look into it! Find out how it works and use what you […]

  15. I disagree with #4. You can make a quiet signal louder in post without distortion. It’s a signal that is too hot or too loud that will stay distorted. There are steps to take to find the right balance. Other than that great list. I wrote a book called “How To Build A Recording Studio For Less Than $200” that’s available on amazon. I go over some recording and mixing techniques that will help you get started. Shameless plug, I know, but it is truly a great book to get you started.

    1. As an engineer, I agree that recording louder will give benefits. Those thay disagree are facing to realize that all tracks added together contribute to noise. If you instrument is recorded too quiet, you lose dynamic headroom and expanding it artificially using digital techniques will also amplify the noise. Additionally keep in mind that digital sound is like an LCD screen with pixels. Too much magnification and you see the pixels. Same concept. Use all 24 bits if you have them don’t magnify 8 bits into 24.

  16. I have some advice.

    1.Keep your home studio clean with plenty space cause the easiest thing to happen is get your foot in a cable and crash your gear.

    2.Dont buy cheap monitors,it will be more expensive in the long term,cheap monitors stop giving an accurate sound after 2 years and become useless for recording purposes.It sbetter save for good ones.

    3.Keep your recording gear all set up so anytime of the day inspiration hits the door you are ready to record a basic idea and not stop to plug and set everything up

    4.Expensive gear doesnt equal great music,it can only improve an already good song so work on your MUSIC and dont be caught up in the perfct sound thing.
    Today everybody can record at home with decent semi pro sound,the ones that stand out will be those able to create great music not just sound profesional

    5.Dont ever sell your old gear,try to store it for as long as you can.Music is a cycle what sounds old and dated today will sound “vintage and cool” tomorrow.You will find yourslf hitting your head against a wall for selling that old drum machine or keyboard that is discontinued.

    6.I agree recording too loud cant be fixed but recording quiet and boosting volum later is not the same as a signal recorded with its full dynamic range,and surely boosting a weak signal will improve background noise. So spend whatever time is needed setting up the mic,input levels.

    7.Disconnect any internet conexion on your computer,close any program that is not needed to record so all the power of the unit goes into recording without interuptions or clicks.

    8.Make sure you save on WAV not mp3. Thats a very common beginner mistake

    9.Buy an external hard drive so your computer dosesnt run slow loaded with files and if the laptop crashes you got your material in a diffrent location.
    Also pay for an online storage cause any hard drive can be damaged and loose data as a result.And finally,your completed songs or final demos should be in a physical CDs.Oldschool but effective

  17. I think that if you’re new to recording, it’s worth going into a professional studio for a few sessions first to get a feel for the equipment. Once you’re comfortable with how it all works maybe you could consider setting up a home studio, however only if it would be cost effective.

  18. Nice Post.. Excellent Info.. Really amazing.. This was a fantastic article… really superb….

  19. This feels like a lot more work than should be necessary. I don’t understand why Animoto can’t add voice over the way WeVideo has it right in their app. It feels like I might need to create video in Animoto & then upload to WeVideo for simplest way to record while viewing video but this seems a bit clumsy too.

  20. great tips, you may also like to read my article “How to Record Vocals: 8 Common Mistakes You Should Avoid”

  21. I like what you said about just using one set of speakers; however, if you have many, you can play around with them and make sure that they are optimal for your recording equipment. I think that at the end of the day, the music speaks for itself. This information is perfect for anyone who might be looking into starting up their own recording company.

  22. Since I usually record at home and I’m so lucky to find this post. Very useful tips, thanks a lot!

  23. I think instead, using a set of ‘Flat-response’ speakers should be mentioned. So that you have an exact representation of the sound that’s produced on output. I remember years ago mixing vocals on some Boss Headphones… bad idea… too bass-heavy.

  24. The company I work for had recently sent out an email to let us know that a sound mixer will be coming through the office to get the sounds of all the machines working to make a video with later. I liked the mention of needing to record as loud as possible without distorting the full sound. I hope that my company will be hiring a professional, I had no idea that recording could be this complex.

  25. I gave this recorded song to one of local broadcast channel, they told me u r at basic level, we could not broadcast this song. Is there anyone who tell me the mistakes??

  26. Good advice on recording at home. Important to keep it simple – seems to work the best for me.

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