Songwriting is somewhat of a dark art. Every successful songwriter will continually work to hone their craft, develop new tricks, and look at their process from a different angle. There is no silver bullet when it comes to creating a great song; each person will have their own technique and what works for them may not work for you. The key is to keep an open mind, learn from others and take advantage of the great information available online. One such example is Songwriting Magazine – a great resource for writers to read regular tips and tricks from industry professionals.
Naturally, once you’ve polished your technique and have something complete, you’ll want to record it and share it with the world. Fortunately, home recording technology has moved in leaps and bounds thanks to digital software. Subsequently, this is one aspect of your craft where it doesn’t have to be hard to get very good results.
Home recording can yield very professional results; you just need to get the foundations right first. Here are our top tips to help get you off on the right foot.
Getting Started Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
Thanks to digital recording software, musicians can essentially have access to an entire recording studio on their laptop. Logic 10 for Mac is now available for £139.99 (prev – £500+), and gives you access to recording technology previously unobtainable to the masses.
Once you’ve invested in some software, you’ll also need a microphone and audio interface if you plan to record audio. Fortunately, the quality of most entry level models has improved greatly. Even a simple USB microphone will get you started with great results and also negates the need for an audio interface. Shure makes a great studio USB condenser (the PG27USB), which can be used for a variety of applications, including vocals and acoustic guitars.
Although condenser microphones are more common in the studio, you could also consider using a dynamic mic instead. Condenser microphones will capture more detail, which can be great for acoustic instruments and many vocals, but you’d be surprised how many world famous records use dynamic SM57 & SM58 mics for vocals and many other applications. (Check out our ‘Sometimes all you need is an SM58‘ post for more on this). Shure sell bundle packs for the SM58 and SM57 featuring an XLR – USB converter (the X2U) to get you started.
Get the Audio Source Right First
Inexpensive equipment can achieve great results, but the finished recording will only ever be as good as the source you record. For this reason, it’s vital that you spend time getting the most out of your instrument. Getting started should include changing your strings regularly, setting up your instruments intonation, always tuning up in-between takes and warming up your voice before recording.
It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many musicians think everything can be fixed in the mix. Get a good source going in, and you’re already half way there to a great sounding mix. Don’t skimp over the details at this stage, you’ll only regret it later when you’re presented with a mixing headache.
Treating Your Room Acoustics
A further detail to consider is how your room sounds. Anything you record will be affected by the room’s acoustics, and unless you’re lucky enough to have a perfect sounding room – you’ll want to calm down the rooms reflections. This will allow you to control the natural reverb in the room, and give you greater control through a reverb plugin during the mix. If funds are limited, you can achieve reasonable results by hanging bed sheets or using a mattress, but this is limited and doesn’t look pretty. For the best results, consider purchasing a purpose built kit from Primacoustic; their popular London Room Kits are carefully designed to address primary acoustical concerns that are common to all rooms.
Experiment with Microphone Positioning
The complexities of mic technique are perhaps a topic for another day, but as a general rule of thumb, the important thing is to listen. Moving your mic just a few centimetres can have a drastic effect on tone. It’s important to experiment with distance, axis, and positioning relative to the instrument until you get the desired result.
The techniques used for each instrument are different, but most importantly, remember to use your ears, and remember – if it sounds good, it is good.