Making mistakes in the studio is one of the most common things we do. Musicians hit the wrong note, we accidentally record over something and need to go digging through a bunch of takes to get it back… It’s okay. Mistakes help us learn and refine our process to make fewer of them as we go. Sometimes, studio mistakes can even lead to a great revelation - like loading up the wrong delay settings but finding that the incorrect settings actually work better in the production than the ones you were aiming for.
Making mistakes is what makes us human, but there are plenty of home studio mistakes that can be avoided altogether if we’re prepared for them. These aren’t things like hitting the wrong keyboard shortcut; they’re actionable tasks that we can do consciously to set our home studio up for success.
You don’t have to learn from your own mistakes - you can learn from others’. Let me save you a lot of wasted time and energy by sharing some of the most common home studio mistakes I have seen and have run into myself to help you get back to making killer music.
Following Outdated Advice
How many times have you heard someone say you should record as loud as you possibly can without clipping? Sure - we all know digital clipping is bad. It distorts your signal unnaturally and you end up with destructed dynamics and wasted dynamic range.
But what about just below clipping? Is it really considered best to record as close to clipping as you can?
The simple answer is: no.
In the digital realm, we’ve got a lot of space to work with and a very low noise floor in most situations. This means that tracks can be recorded a solid 10 - 15 dB below clipping, leaving you all of that headroom for transient peaks & processing. You gain so much flexibility from leaving yourself plenty of room that the benefits easily outweigh the cons of not getting as close to that little red light as you can.
So where did this advice come from? The analog world.
Back in the days of recording to tape and using large format consoles, pushing your tracks to just below clipping was desirable. You’d hit a sort of “sweet spot” that your tracks could live in before clipping that analog engineers aimed for. And if something happened to push a bit beyond that level on the console or while being printed to tape, guess what? They were rewarded with saturation - not harsh clipping. In the digital realm, we’ve got plugins that emulate that saturation without the risk of clipping on the way in.
Record with plenty of headroom and your recordings will see an instant improvement and a whole lot less unintentional clipping.
Taking Advantage of Your Microphone’s Polar Pattern
If you’re not familiar with polar patterns - they’re the directionality of your microphone and dictate where they pick up sound from, and more importantly, where they don’t. Some common polar patterns are cardioid, omnidirectional & figure-8.
Cardioid microphones pick up sounds from the front of the mic, but largely reject sounds from the rear. Figure-8 patterns look just like they sound and pick up sounds evenly from the front and the back of the microphone. Omnidirectional mics (sometimes just referred to as “omni”) will pick up sounds from all directions evenly. There are tons of in-between patterns and specialty patterns like “hypercardioid” which have exaggerated characteristics of a cardioid pattern, but starting with these three building blocks will help you use your studio mics more effectively.
Most home studio setups start out with a cardioid microphone, largely because that’s the most common polar pattern produced. What most home studio engineers and producers don’t realize is that the polar pattern does so much more for their sound when placed correctly in the room than it does when it’s just pointed at the singer.
Because of the rear rejection inherent in cardioid microphones, engineers have the ability to cancel out the worst parts of their room by placing the back of the microphone toward things they don’t want interfering with their recording. At the end of the day, your mic should always be pointing at the source you want to capture. This is just taking it a step further and placing it away from the things you don’t want to capture.
As you learn more about how cardioid mic placement affects your sound, you may want to experiment with other polar patterns too. Figure-8 mics have some very cool stereo applications and “one mic” uses with two singers facing each other, and omni mics can be amazing if the room sounds good and you want to capture all of it in your recording.
Home Recording With Major Studio Results
Getting a great sounding production isn’t limited to large recording studios and hasn’t been for quite some time. If you’ll notice, more and more of these GRAMMY-winning producers and engineers are working in home studio setups with little more than their computer doing the heavy lifting.
I’ve seen seasoned pros completely downsize their hardware rigs for plugins and a powerful enough computer to handle their processing needs. There’s never been a better time to learn what they’re doing in their home studios to get the results you’re hearing on the charts, and JST VIP is just the way to do that. JST VIP members get access to tons of eBooks, courses & other resources all geared toward getting the best possible sound out of your home recording space.