Great sound quality is one of the key attributes that any recording studio should have.
I’ve spent so many years with team, creating and producing music and with the vast experience that we’ve gained I can assure that this is primarily a game of quality.
You could be running the best studio with the best technology and equipment, but if you’re not able to deliver music that is of a high quality,
Your state of the art studio won’t do you any good.
That’s why its paramount that you invest time in learning how to properly produce music in order for you to stand a chance at making it.
Your clients need to know that what they’re paying for is of great quality, and they’ll most definitely judge this for themselves by what they hear.
With that said, before you start running around to start gathering expensive gear,
It is important that you figure out what you have and how you can use it to get a better quality sound.
In this post I’ll go over the best methods I’ve employed over the years to make sure I put out quality sounding audio,
by optimizing my studio and utilizing various techniques.
With that said let’s get into how you can improve the sound quality that you produce in your studio.
good recording techniques will put you way ahead, that’s why you have to ensure you employ the right techniques.
while a good mixing and mastering session can help, you’ll need a good recording first,
because what will set you up for quality is your willingness to go the extra mile to ensure that get the nitty gritty right before you can even think of mixing.
the very first thing I wish to emphasize is that,
when it comes to recording you have to know that not every recording will be the same.
that is why you have to get rid of the notion that you’re going to follow the same process everytime.
what you instead have to do is treat each recording with some context.
therefore, employ the right tools when working on recordings,
for example; an eq that would work well with a singer that has a high pitched voice may not work as effective,
when it used on the same singers voice if they are recording a song that requires them to use a lower note bassy voice.
what I’m trying to tee up is that knowing what you’re working with and how to work on it is initially one of the key things that will influence the kind of quality that you get.
secondly, make sure you’re using a good quality microphone that will capture sounds properly,
in this case a Condenser mic will obviously do a better job than a dynamic microphone.
but this doesn’t mean all Condenser microphones are the same and that they’ll work with everything.
sometimes you’ll find yourself in situation where you need to play and record live instruments,
a dynamic omni directional microphone would work best in such a case.
therefore, make sure you read reviews of different microphones before you even attempt to purchase one because it will greatly affect the kind of output that you get.
and please, PICK the right microphone.
microphones have different flavours and will work best in certain given situations.
in any case that you find yourself lost on which microphone to use on a particular artist,
try a variety because in the end you’re looking for quality.
thirdly, the artist being recorded plays a very essential role in the final fate of the recording.
that is why it is important the vocalist be comfortable and have practiced before they record,
this will greatly depend on the artist,
it’s your job to ensure that they are ready and guide them whenever necessary.
another great technique you can employ is making sure that the vocalist keep a distance from the microphone,
make sure they aren’t too close or too far away.
but rather have them at an optimal distance.
this is necessary to avoid any sibilance and explosive sounds that occur as a result of the vocalist being too close to the microphone.
you also don’t want drowning vocals resulting from the vocalist being too far away from the microphone.
another technique is optimizing your vocal recording booth,
be aware that they are particularly small for a reason therefore ensure that construct a reasonably sized booth.
smaller spaces produce great recordings, because you won’t have any reverb, echoes or delays that are usually a result of a large area being utilized as a recording space,
large areas are generally meant to maintain and give off an acoustic footprint but recording booths are designed to do the exact opposite.
another technique which is more of a rule,
is to decouple your microphone from the ground, therefore make sure you use a shock mount and have your microphone suspended in the air,
make sure your mic stand isn’t stemming from the ground because any rumbles on the ground will easily be captured by your microphone.
also ensure that you have rubber pads beneath your microphone stand,
if you don’t have rubber pads, you can use mouse pads or place a mat or a rug underneath the stand.
the other thing to put into consideration is using the right kind of recording headphones,
I’d advise that you use closed back headphones and have the vocalist record with the headphones on,
because some will get tempted to remove one side of the headphone so they can hear how they sound,
which will in turn create open back headphones.
recording with open back headphones will have the instrumental bleeding into the recording which is not good because this will greatly affect your mix.
one other thing is getting your gain staging right, from the get go,
this will require you to have the vocalist give a sample of how loud they intend to record,
in order for you to pull out enough gain from the pre-amplifier to feed into compression at the appropriate level.
you’ll want to have enough gain present without clipping or distorting.
Digital Audio Workstation [DAW]
The digital audio Workstation will affect the sound quality of the final product to a minimum degree.
but it is essential, non the less.
it will be the heart of your processes, because you’ll almost process everything through it,
and it is the very tool that will transform your recordings into actual playable music.
you’ll have to make sure to use the right DAW, if you want your studio to produce industry standard music,
the most commonly used is Pro Tools, but your preference may differ.
you have to use what you’re comfortable working in,
and strive to learn more, because you can’t have enough knowledge in this business,
I decided to include the DAW in this part of the post even though it’s not as important as the other elements,
but I wanted you to know that you cannot ignore it, because it is still the tool you’re using to work on your recordings,
and you’re therefore better off using the right tools, rather than the average.
so invest in a good DAW and learn as much as you can
I have a comprehensive list of the best DAWs that you can get started with here.
granted it is not an easy task to choose the right daw, but the list I’ve gathered in the post above is a great start because the list is of DAWs that aren’t very different in quality.
and they all provide a firm base for processing audio with different sets plugins.
When you’re producing music you’re always looking to capture clear recordings,
you always have to strike the right balance with external sound sources and what you intend to record.
this may sometimes be referred to as the noise to speech ratio.
noise from electronic sources can be draining,
hearing a buzzing sound in your recordings is one of the most irritating things when you’re recording.
these things will usually occur as a result of bad connections that may lead to signal interference.
it is as a result of this noise that I always advise good cable management,
cable management doesn’t mean making the cables look fancy,
it’s about taking care of the cables and ensuring that you’re not getting any feedback in the form of electrical noises.
one common cause of “buzzing” electrical sound are what are referred to as ground loops.
the question then is, what is a ground loop?
a ground loop is what is caused by the interconnection of electrical equipment that results in multiple paths to ground,
therefore a closed loop is formed.
in a studio, this will cause a humming buzzing like sound that is the result of having two or more devices connected to the ground,
a ground loop can cause potential danger and can cause an electrical shock therefore you have either remove one of the ground paths,
to form a single point ground or isolate one of the ground paths with an isolation transformer or balanced circuitry or an optical coupler.
a ground loop won’t damage your speakers,
incase you were wondering,
but the buzzing sound it produces could bleed into your recordings and therefore produce poor quality recordings.
with that said,
you should also kep in mind that, synthesizers, especially the earlier versions, might be difficult to record,
because there are some issues that can alter the sound quality.
most of the times the instrument in itself may be noisy, in such a case,
you’d consider recording the synth into a separate audio track,
and using a denoising plugin to clean the recording,
synthesizers may have noise at source which would give you limited options,
in which case you’d consider maximizing the out put level to a certain extent though,
you can’t have it set so high to an extent where you start to notice distortion on loud chords.
this is one option.
if you have access to any noise reduction box, they can be very effective, when maximizing the output level seems not to be effective.
ground loop hums may also affect your instruments,
and one thing I’ve found to be effective is to feed the cables of unbalanced instruments into balanced mixer channels.
with virtual instruments, you won’t have any cables give you headaches or ground loop hums,
your only problem at best would be the virtual instrument being inserted into a channel that has levels turned up too high.
this would cause distortion.
the main purpose of acoustic treatment is to ensure that unwanted noises are reduced to a minimum,
that is why you have to spend a considerable amount of time working on your studio acoustics.
great acoustics are able to keep unwanted noises out and wanted noises in, therefore you can work with a settled mind that you won’t get any interference and you’ll not also disturb your neighbours.
the very first thing that you have to know before you even get started with acoustics is to understand the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption.
understanding these two concepts will give you clarity.
and we all know that clarity is power.
so, what then is the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption?
soundproofing when done right, will stop the transfer of sound, from flowing through one space into another through a surface, e.g a wall.
when you soundproof you’ll require a material that is able to prevent sounds from passing through them by absorbing the sound.
on the other hand,
sound absorption is primarily concerned with the acoustics of a room and not the transfer of sound waves beyond that room.
sound absorbing changes the way in which sound waves bounce off surfaces.
when sounds bounce off walls that are not treated for sound absorption you get irritating echoes, reverberations and so on,
which you generally don’t want present in the room.
in most cases people will be concerned with trying to keep noise out or trying to keep sounds in.
therefore they may go for either soundproofing or sound absorption.
but the best way to go to get the right acoustics for your music studio is to employ both techniques.
therefore here are a couple of things you can do to improve the acoustics of a recording studio.
use perforated acoustic plasterboard
these can definitely improve and enhance the quality of sound in your studio,
you can use plasterboards with acoustic ceilings to create an even more optimised space,
this way you’ll be able to absorb more sound and minimise things like reverberation.
flat ceiling surfaces cause sound waves to bounce off them resulting into feedback that the microphone can capture and would hence reduce the quality of your recording.
these ceiling surfaces come in different styles and you can utilize any that suits your particular style.
bass traps are also a good way to take care of the low frequencies,
they can be very effective especially in tighter home studios,
where bass frequencies pose a significant challenge.
acoustic panels and bass traps make for a great combination,
panels are able to take care of the mid-high frequencies, therefore to take care of any low end,
adding bass traps can assure that you take care of this.
it’s always good to get in touch with plasterboard, ceiling and sound absorption specialists,
in order to get good advice about the intended area for treatment.
floating the floor is also another good technique for sound proofing,
I have an entire article on flooring here.
Ensure outstanding performances
like i discussed in the recording techniques section of this article,
you’ll find that it is important to get the recording done right.
and this will mean having a quality performance.
no amount of editing will make a bad performance magically turn great.
the very first step is making sure the performance is great,
and this will largely be dependent on the performer.
that’s why it’s always great to have the vocalists or instrumentalist do a little bit of exercises before they even get into the booth or recording area.
this is not only to improve on what they have, but it is to also to have them comfortable enough and have them in a state where they are ready to make a killing!
this applies to both instrumentalists and vocalists by the way.
I always advise people that are recording to bring or have a roadmap that can get them on how their particular final product should be.
because what I’ve noticed is that people may come ideas of how they want a song to sound, but once they get into the studio,
their initial idea turns into another idea that then turns into a million other ideas.
this may entirely not be a bad thing, but if it’s done to an extent that just makes the song bad,
it is a bad thing.
therefore they need to have a roadmap.
this will be their quality assurance tool.
if it’s a band that is being recorded make sure you have them all on the same page,
make sure they have their roles described, make sure they have their arrangements in place.
this will make the recording process much easier to carry out and you can be sure to produce quality.
it is the duty of the producer to direct the artists, therefore it is good to assume responsibility for the song,
and pitch in whenever you have to.
Understand the music you’re recording
This and the previous point are so greatly correlated, because your duty to guide the artist,
will be based upon your knowledge of the music that they are recording.
this will set you apart from any other producer,
because you’ll be going the extra mile and will therefore form a particular direction as to how the recording should go.
different genres of music require specific tools to make sure that what you get as the final mastered song sounds great.
that is why it is vital as the producer to know what you’re getting into ,
and then get a sense of how you’ll go about it.
The pareto principle
So what exactly is the pareto principle?
the pareto principle reminds us that the inputs do not equal the outputs.
this principle states that, 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes or actions.
in application to improving the quality of our music.
we must understand that 80% of great sounding track, will be as a result of recording and the 20% will be the result of good mixing and mastering,
this point drives me back to the fact that a great recording is the key thing you have to focus on because it will guarantee how good the song sounds and the quality.
remember that having all the gear in the world won’t mean much if you have artists that have a bad recordings.
that is why it is essential to use this principle in accordance with your goal,
which is quality.
as you have noticed,
this article has not just focused on improving your studio acoustics for great quality recordings and overall final product, which is the song.
I have gone in depth and in detail to give context on how you can improve the quality of the music you produce,
by focusing on areas other than the studio itself.
this is to give you good context and a mindset to work with what you have.
with that said
the very first step is making sure that you employ the right recording techniques, before you even think to switch around things in your studio.
use the right techniques that I’ve described here, and you’ll go very far with this.
the second step is getting the right DAW, and working with one that you are familiar with.
theres no point in switching to a DAW you know nothing about, unless you’re willing to start learning it all over again.
the third thing to look out for is electronic noises that could compromise your output,
make sure you have your cable management in place and make sure to plug everything appropriately to avoid any unnecessary buzzing sounds.
the fourth thing you would have you look at the actual studio and see how you can treat it acoustically.
I advise that you seek out an expert that can help you assess your studio room because not all studios are the same,
what works for me may not work for you and vice versa.
as part of the recording techniques you have to make sure that vocalists and instrumentalists perform to a degree of great quality,
80% great recording +20% editing = quality
also have a good understanding of the music you’re recording in each session, because this will give you an advantage,
and you’ll be able to help the artist much easier because then you’d understand where they are trying to take the song.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much I enjoyed sharing the knowledge.