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Top 10 Recording Tips

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Okay, let’s do the top 10 recording tips. There will probably be a part two, three, four, or five, but this is my top 10 recording tips, because as you know, this is called Produce Like a Pro. It’s not always just about mixing. It is a lot to do with recording!

So what is my top 10 recording tips? Number one, and this is one that’s come up a lot with engineers and producers and mixers. Whenever I interview people, they mention this one a lot. Number one, commit to a sound. If you’ve got a great drum sound, a great guitar sound, whatever it might be, commit to it. Print it. Once you commit to a sound, you can be inspired to try something else on it.

If you’re always generically printing something to figure the tone out later, you’ll probably find that your whole session could become generic. But if you get an exciting guitar sound and you’re doing another overdub, it’ll inspire something else. If you can, commit to a sound, because also, mixers will love it when they get an idea of the sonic landscape that you have created.

So number one, commit to a sound.

Number two, pre-production is key. If you’re working with a band, or even a solo artist doing pre-production before you even get into the studio in fantastic. It’s a wonderful opportunity to work on the songs, on the arrangements, the tempos, the keys, the lyrics. Maybe working on the melody ideas, the chord structure… You can do so much in pre-production before you even press record, or even put a mic up in front of something. Pre-production is huge.

Also, something that we don’t always talk about that’s great about pre-production, it gives you an opportunity to establish a relationship with the artist. As the producer, you can get in there and talk to them about their songs. Work on the lyrical ideas, push them a little bit to sort of strive for greatness, and by doing that, you’ll build a great relationship with your artist. So when you do come in to record, they’ll trust you. That’s another thing that’s important about pre-production is building trust with your artist.

Number three. This one is so important, and probably could come first. Get your sound source right first. Get the right sound source. It doesn’t matter if it’s the world’s most vintage-y, expensive, hand made instrument. If it’s out of tune, it’s out of tune. It doesn’t matter if it’s the world’s most expensive fuzz pedal if you’re getting, like, a buzz right through the middle of it. It’s still going to sound like poop.

You need to get your sound source right at first. Get a really, really good sound source. Something that’s inspiring for the musicians, so they get an incredible performance, then worry about how they’re going to capture it after that. You need a great sound source first.

Number four. When tracking, don’t be afraid to use high pass filters. Especially on microphones. If you’re tracking an acoustic guitar, if you’re tracking overheads, if you’re tracking a tambourine and a vocal, and there’s like, room noise, there’s traffic noise outside, there’s air conditioning hum sometimes, there’s all kinds of situations where you’ll get, like, low rumble. Even in some of the nicest studios I’ve been, I’ve had issues like that, believe it or not. But obviously in a home environment, it can be much, much worse.

So if you’ve got like, a 60Hz high pass filter on it and it’s not a kick drum, and it’s not something that’s going to need that super lows, then don’t be afraid to use it. Tracking — getting it right at the source like that is really, really huge, and I know there’s a lot of confusing talk about high passing, but high passing correctly and smart can really clean up your recording process and your mixing process, so don’t be afraid to use the high pass filter on your microphone, or on your preamp.

So you get the sound source right. Obviously, be smart about it. Don’t go up to 150 on a bass guitar. There’s no reason really to high pass a bass going in, unless you’re doing a cabinet miking another cabinet. Maybe you’ll want to go in at 20 or something, because there’s some low rumble, because you’ve got a 15” speaker miking a 15”, but let’s be honest, in most situations, high passing at the source, done properly will save you a lot of headaches, and make mixing quicker and easier, and roughs will come up beautifully.

So don’t be afraid to high pass when necessary.

Number five, stereo or mono? This is a big one, because I’ve done this so many time, especially when I was up and coming, I would stereo mic everything. I would put room mics on everything, so I would have like, an acoustic guitar, and I’d close mic the acoustic guitar, and then put some stereo room mics on it, and before you know it, everything had stereo room mics, and I’d push that in my mix, and it was just a big lot of reverberated mess of my room.

Be careful with it. Stereo miking is a wonderful thing, but do you need to? Many, many instances, in fact, 99% of the time, when I’m recording my upright piano for instance, I use an AEA ribbon mic. A mono ribbon mic. Just pulled back picking up the whole sound of the piano.

It’s very rare — I do do it, but it’s very rare I stereo mic my upright. There are so many things like that where I don’t need to stereo mic. Now, I’ve learned the hard way, I used to stereo mic everything, and I end up with 192 tracks of stereo miked stuff, when really, all I really want to do is maybe take my piano and pan it slightly to the left, but I’ve got this stereo — the point is like, just think carefully about it.

Do you need a stereo image on everything? If you don’t, panning is your friend. So think about it. Do you need to be in stereo before you mic, because mono can work in many, many situations. Probably 90% of the time, I’m working in mono, unless I’m room miking overheads, etcetera for drums, and probably a grand piano. A lot, not all, but a lot of the other time, I’m barely using stereo mics.

Number six. This is an interesting one. I think just because a piece of equipment is new, or you’re in a studio and it’s like, you know, something that you’ve never seen before that you really want to try. That’s great, but always balance that out with what you’re trying to do. Don’t just use gear for the sake of it. Don’t just use gear because it looks flashy. When you’re working with an artist and you’ve got time constraints, it’s really smart to use equipment that you know really well, and you know inside out, rather than spending an hour experimenting with a new compressor that’s got lots of bells and whistles and lights all over it, and VU meters, and LEDs, and all that stuff.

You’re much better off with something really simple that you understand, because let’s face it, even with the biggest albums in the world now, the budgets have shrunk massively. So no matter whether you’re doing it in a home studio, or you’re doing it in a recording studio, you’re probably going to find that you’ve got time constraints to get things done.

So unless you’re specifically wanting to experiment, go for equipment that you know really, really well, and you will get great results with the stuff that you know well.

Seven. Label everything properly. You’ve seen the memes, I’ve posted them, everybody’s posted them where everything is called Audio 1, Audio 2, Audio 3, Audio 4. Now it’s funny, it’s a joke, but it’s really difficult, even when it’s a track that I’ve worked on on my own. If I was to open that up and see 100 takes called Audio, I’m going to have to sit there and go back and listen to it. It only takes a few seconds to label properly, and if you label it properly, clearly, and easily, you will move so much quicker around your session. So label really well.

Not to mention, if you give it to an external mixer, they’re going to love it if the kick in is called kick in, if the snare top is called snare top. Labeling properly is a wonderful thing.

Eight. This is one that could come in any order. Backup, backup, and backup. We’re in digital. It’s wonderful! Digital is fairly stable. A lot more stable than ADAT tapes were, but things happen. Drives break down. Drives get erased. I’ve seen situations where an intern has taken a speaker out of a cabinet and put it on top of a hard drive. Yeah, a magnet on a hard drive. Complete — that was it, the hard drive was gone.

The point is, there’s all kinds of situations, so backup. I would go further than just suggesting that you always backup. I always have two mirrored drives. I actually use a software called “Synchronizer Pro X.” It’s really, really popular in Los Angeles. Every studio has it, it’s made by Qdea, and it’s called Synchronizer Pro X. I have no affiliation with them, but I highly recommend it. You can use other ones, but the point is, my drives are mirrored. So you record on one drive, you have a backup of it. At any point during the day, you can copy from one to another, but I always leave it on sync, so basically, what it does is it looks at both drives and makes sure they are identical. That’s really important that you have identical drives.

And frankly, when I moved to that last stage, if there’s an external mixer doing it, I will have a third drive, and I would take all of the final mix files and put it onto that. That way, I’ve got two hard drives with all of the album on it, and a third hard drive with mix files for the mixer.

To me, there is nothing safer than backing up as many times as you can. I’ve had many, many horror stories, but ultimately, I’ve always come through, because we’ve always backed up to multiple locations.

So backup, backup, and backup.

Nine. Leave enough headroom when recording. There are many instances where I’m recording, and I don’t have a compressor on that particular mic. I’ll be traveling with my laptop and maybe a little Audient IO, and I don’t actually have a hardware compressor with me. I’ve had this happen to me many times before. I’m traveling, I’m out of state, I’ve got my laptop setup, I go back to the hotel, and I have to put a vocal idea down for a cartoon idea I’m working on, and I don’t have that hardware compressor, and I go to sing, and I’ve set my gain up for this, [singing], and of course, I’m [loud singing] hitting this, and boom, I go into pure distortion.

As we all know, there’s nothing worse than like, nine dB of crushed digital clipping.

So, what I should do in those situations, especially considering we’re in the wonderful world of digital now where signal to noise is so much better, and these little IOs, like, the little Audient IOs are just so much cleaner than what I had even with the Mbox and before. So now, I’m in a situation where I can print with a lot more headroom. I can print a lot quieter signal, and allow myself — you know, a good like, six, seven, eight, nine dBs worth of headroom over the top, even with the peaks that I seem to be getting when I’m singing.

This I believe is really important when you don’t have hardware compression, but just in general, something that’s really worth leaving. The great thing about digital now is that given a decent sort of recording environment, like a quiet hotel room, I can boost that signal up, and you’d be surprised, there’s no background noise.

So leave yourself enough headroom, especially on things like vocals, where you might have a singer singing like this, who suddenly wails and screams.

Other acoustic instruments can do that as well. You know, a guitar player can be playing very soft, you sit there, you dial it in, you print a nice big fat signal, and suddenly, wang, they go down and boom, you’re blowing up your system.

No, you’re going into full clipping.

So it’s really important to leave your stuff enough headroom.

This is a big one! Ten! This is all encompassing. You, as the producer, the engineer, need to maintain your focus. What I mean by that is if you’re bringing in an artist, especially an artist that’s fairly new to a studio, they’re looking to you to be the voice of reason. They’re looking to you to have knowledge. So if you’re just going to experiment, say, with a vocal mic, like have eight vocal mics sitting there, it might be a little scary for them. Now, obviously, we can have this discussion about like, “Oh, you want to find the right microphone.”

Well, it’s your job as the producer or the engineer to know your microphones, and know your singer, and have a good idea of where to start from. Now, it might not be perfect where you start from, but the point is, it’s not just a fun time to experiment with like, eight microphones.

That’s fine when you’ve got six weeks on an album, and you’ve got a massive budget, you can sit there with your choice of all of these different famous microphones, but when somebody is paying you to come into your studio, you need to come across as focused, and understanding.

Now, obviously, a $1,000 microphone, a $500 to $1,000 microphone, these days is pretty darn good, no matter who the manufacturer is. Those are wonderful microphones in that price range, so a decent-ish, like an LCT 550 up to a 414 from $500 to $1,500 is a lot of great microphones in that price range.

Some even cheaper. And the point is, like, 90% of the time, they’ll give you a good result on the vocalist.

So think about that. Think about keeping the continuity, know your gear really well, and basically, it all just comes down to just maintaining focus. Having the artist feel comfortable. Like, you know what you want, you’re resolute, you’re obviously understanding of their needs, you’re understanding of their opinion, you’re listening to what they say, but at the same time, you don’t show fear or confusion, and you’re not trying out multiple microphones, and preamps, and compressors, and cables, and power supplies, and all of that stuff, because they’re going to sit there thinking, “Does this guy or girl know what they’re doing?”

So maintaining your focus creates focus in the studio.

Alright, that’s ten of many, many tips. Those are the ten that I feel are really important to me, and come up all the time in recording sessions. There’s plenty more, I’m sure there’ll be a part two, three, four, five, but have a marvelous time recording and mixing.

Please subscribe, go to Produce Like a Pro, sign up for the email list, and you can get a whole bunch of free goodies, and of course, you can try the 14 day free trial of The Academy. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing, and I look forward to seeing you all again very soon!

Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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