How far should I take my home recording studio?

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by kmgiants, Aug 6, 2008.

  1. kmgiants

    kmgiants Member

    Jul 30, 2006
    This originally was going to be a typical "what gear should I get?" question, but actually, I think I need more basic advice first, or perhaps a reality check.

    Here's the question:

    Is it ridiculous to think I could get album-worthy stuff on a limited budget, in a space (my home) that may not be usable for anything but close mic'ing? Or would I be better off letting the pros handle the heavy lifting on the most critical tracks, in the studio where we can try different pricey mics and preamps, etc?

    Here's the situation:

    I've finally become frustrated with my ancient home recording set up (a Digi 001, lower end mics, no outboard preamps or compressor) and ready to move into the 21st century. I'm a songwriter and front a rock band and mostly have used home recording for making acoustic demos (acoustic guitar and vocals) that work to give to the other bandmates and for copyright submission, etc. It's also become sort of the final step in my songwriting process - let's me step back and listen to a song a bit more critically.

    The band is getting ready to record a full length album, independently, but something we'll try to use to get airplay, promotion, hopefully reviews, and to sell at shows. Our plan is to do it with the following workflow, mostly to save money while trying to get something high quality:

    1) record drums, rhythm guitars, bass, and scratch tracks for solos and vox with full band in the studio.
    2) add backing vocals, elec gtr solos, and any doubled guitar tracks at home.
    3) going into a nice studio for acoustic-critical tracks (primarily lead vox and acoustic guitar)
    4) Do editing and mixing w/ a high level professional. Then mastering, etc.

    So my thought was to get an mBox 2 Pro, an FMR Really Nice Preamp, a pair of good small condensers (Oktava maybe), and possibly a better vocal mic for step 2. But it occurred to me how much of a bonus it would be if I'd have the capability of creating great sounding (or at least worthy of a release) lead vox tracks at home. Basically to be able to do a good chunk of #3 above in the comforts of my own home and not being on the $tudio clock. Am I dreaming?

    I do want to take my recordings (and recording skills) to the next level, as well as update my gear, but I can't afford the top end gear (neumann, avalons, etc.) or multiple choices in mid level gear. I enjoy recording, but I know it's easy to get carried away w/ getting that next piece of gear, none of which is cheap. I'm just looking for some ideas about "where to draw the line" w/ my home set up.
  2. Rusty G.

    Rusty G. Member

    Aug 27, 2005
    Lafayette, LA
    Good questions, and you're probably going to get as many answers as there are people that regularly post here.

    From my perspective. . .I've got a ProTools TDM System, with ProTools A/D/A converters and use a Great River mic pre for the stuff I do at home: Guitar tracking, bass and vocals.

    I usually come up with an idea and drop a steady drum beat with an old Alesis HR16 and then track the guitars, bass and vocals.

    I backup to my G4 and also to a 160GB storage device called a Rocstor.

    I take the Rocstor to a nice ProTools facility to track drums.

    It's during the initial tracking stages that I learn what works and what doesn't. Usually, the idea in my head isn't what happens on tape (disc, but I'm old school). I try different guitars, different amps, different tunings, different keys, and different parts altogether, until I've got what I consider good enough.

    If you haven't already tracked the parts, I would suggest doing all of your pre-studio arranging at home. Try to get great performances at home that you can replicate in the studio. I know, sometimes a great performance just happens on inferior equipment and you can't replicate either the feeling, or just the performance that just "happened." No problem, just take that track and import it onto the good stuff.

    My position is this: Do as much of the work at home, so that when you get into the studio, you know what you're trying to achieve, and that what you're trying to achieve is going to sound right.

    Lot's of luck!

  3. marcher5877

    marcher5877 Member

    Jan 13, 2006
    There is the best answer you will get.
  4. GP_Hawk

    GP_Hawk Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    Good advise. Ask yourself this, how long do I have to get a good quality cd out for promo's ect. If you decide you want to buy up studio equipment and do it all yourself, it's going to take you time. And learn as you go...a lotta time. You'll be mutlti tasking yourself through the process and it won't be pretty in the end, even if you do manage to get a cd done within a years time.

    You would be better off doing what Rusty mentioned, prepare/pre production, then go into the studio and get it done right with experianced ae's and great equipment. You'll have to play producer, that should keep you busy enough. Get those tunes down tight and know where you want to take them before you go in to track. You'll get that cd out and you'll be happy. Don't fall into that trap of being everyone at once, it never works out well in the end. The bonus is you'll probably learn more working with seasoned AE's then trying to do it all yourself.

    Good Luck!
  5. E-Rock

    E-Rock Member

    Jul 20, 2005
    Yeah, I think Rusty's got it.
    I just switched from PT to Logic @ home. It's a much better compositional tool (for me anyway). I have some killer outboard pres/compressors, and a small collection of good mics. I can get truly amzing sounds at my place, but some things I can never do at home. Big, live drums are impossible without the right room.
    I love the idea of tracking drums at a real studio, doing things like vox,guitars,keys @ home, then do your final mix @ a real studio.
    Home gives you endless time to play with options, and to just mess around in general.
    A real studio allows you to get sounds much quicker, and focus just on being a musician and not wearing too many hats.
    Home studios are great, but I LOVE being in real studios. :)
  6. GregoryL

    GregoryL Supporting Member

    Jan 24, 2008
    Toronto, ON
    Totally agree with E-Rock ... bass, vocals, guitars, and keys - no reason they can't be done at home with great results. Bass in particular - generally DI, so bass in the studio really seems like money down the drain to me.

    Drums and real piano - tough at home.
  7. loudboy

    loudboy Member

    Nov 3, 2003
    Sedona, AZ
    You've got exactly the right plan, to get the most bang for your dollars.

    You may want to figure out what you could do at home, and spend a little on a killer chain to do that. Find that perfect mic/pre/comp for YOUR voice and you'll be free to cut great vocals when you're inspired.

    However, I'd do all my editing at home. No sense to pay for that pro studio so a guy can push a mouse around all night. Mixing w/a good engineer in a good room is key, as is tracking drums.
  8. kmgiants

    kmgiants Member

    Jul 30, 2006
    Great stuff all. Thanks so much and keep it coming! To clarify a couple things - 1) I definitely am not going to try to record live drums at home. For purposes of the album, home recording would be very likely used only for backing vox, electric guitars, possibly acoustic guitars, DI bass if needed and just maybe lead vox, and minimal hand percussion. 2) I don't really use recording as much as it sounds like rusty does learning what works and what doesn't - though agree entirely that it can be very helpful for arranging. I mostly stick w/ acoustic guitar, voice, pen, and notebook for the real writing work! And then I usually record it just to get it down, share it w/ the other guys in the band, then we work it in rehearsal, and then usually live. So that's usually where I'll find that something might not be working or where we get the rough edges smoothed out.

    And GP_Hawk's words of wisdom ring very very true to me. I really do consider myself a songwriter first, a guitarist/singer/performer second, and a recording engineer.... well... it's probably somewhere after beer-drinker and baseball fan on a list like that! I'm lucky in that my band includes a very very talented drummer and a very very talented lead guitarist and we all get along really well and trust each other's opinions. And we're extremely tight live, but do need to take the songs to another level in terms of thickening things up for a recording.

    I've been writing a lot lately, and therefore recording more, which has gotten me really tired of the weak/slow processing of my ancient mac G3, and the so-so sound of my old CAD E100 mic and the digi 001 pres. But no, I don't want to spend hours and hours testing out various mic positions to get a good stereo acoustic sound. I'd *much* rather spend hours and hours working on that next song.

    Unfortunately, I don't think I have the budget to experiment to find the perfect mic/pre/comp signal chain for my voice. I'm stretching the budget to go beyond $2k for *everything*. One possibility - grin and bear it w/ the slow computer, but invest in nicer mics and a pre. It's unlikely I'd ever be tracking more than 2 mics at the same time, and while the computer is damn slow, it does work.

    In fact, on our EP which we recorded a year ago, I added backing vox at home that we did use on the final. Sounded fine in the mix! If you care to check it out, it's the backing vox on first track "Palm Trees and Baby Blue" here:
  9. Sunbreak Music

    Sunbreak Music Member

    Sep 27, 2007
    Scottsdale, AZ
    It's hard to be a master of all trades, so you have to make a decision about where you want to go. Sound engineering is a lifelong pursuit, as is musicianship. I couldn't make up my mind, so I do both.

    If you have decent ears, work hard enough, study, and listen to the "right" people (i.e. don't take every word you hear on the net as gospel), you can crank out some really nice stuff in a homespace. Really nice.

    I started out just wanting to make some basic recordings...and was bitten by the bug. :D
  10. devinb

    devinb Member

    Jun 28, 2007
    Cleveland, Ohio
    After finding out how quickly I can work in a studio where all I do is play and sing, I've decided not to try to do actual recording at home.

    I do however do a lot of pre-production at home, such as making click tracks with tempo changes and such.

    I'm not big on lots of edits, but if I was, I would probably try to do things like that at home.
  11. kmgiants

    kmgiants Member

    Jul 30, 2006
    You know, that's a great point. Just finding good mic placement all by yourself can be really tedious and time consuming. Hit record, perform, stop recording, playback, compare to previous position, move mic, repeat. And repeat and repeat.... Though I'm seeing that the mbox 2 pro has a footswitch jack you can use to stop/start recording? That could be a huge time saver.

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