5 Home Studio Tips for Success
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Okay, so today, I want to talk about how to be successful as a producer, engineer, mixer, song writer, musician, in your home studio environment.
Number one, and the most important thing, and I know this is really obvious, but the most important thing is work hard. If you think back and anything that you have had some success in, whether it be a subject of school, a sport, video games. How did you get good at any of those things in life?
You got good at them by putting the hours in. So really, don’t be afraid to put in the hours. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve made plenty of them, and I still do, but that’s how we learn.
The great producers and engineers, some of these wonderful people that I’ve been interviewing, the guy’s at like, 60 years old that have had a great track record of success have made many bad albums along the way, and they’re continually growing and continually evolving.
So don’t be afraid to make mistakes and work hard. Apply the same work ethic that you did to getting good at anything from a sport, to a subject at school, to a video game, to whatever it is in life. Just take that same attitude by practicing and apply it to your home studio.
Number two, be realistic. Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Now, I’m very blessed. I have a lot of fantastic equipment that I’ve acquired over the years. However, I don’t have a huge drum room. So if a client wanted to record five people in a large room, and collect all of the ambience in a pair of stereo mics, it’s not going to happen in my room, so I have to be realistic with my clients. I have to tell them what I can and can’t do.
I know the reality of the situation, and just putting reverb on everything is not going to give me that same feeling of say, a jazz band playing live in a room. So I have to be realistic.
However, there are certain strengths that I do have. I have wonderful equipment to record great vocals, and guitars, and basses, and small, dry drums. Now, whatever your equipment is, whatever your skill set is, just understand it. My skill set — you know, is pretty vast over the years. I do all kinds of genres of music, but if I’m working on an organic track, and I want to bring in some EDM elements, very often, I hire a couple of guys that work for me to do some dance elements while I’m tracking the real instruments, and they give me options. I then may look at those options and use some of them, or create some of my own, but I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I also understand the commitment to time and getting something done.
So don’t be afraid to be honest, be realistic, and play to your strengths and not your weaknesses. Don’t overcommit to a client and then not be able to meet a deadline, and not deliver something that you can’t deliver. I’m sure that you’ll have great skills, so focus on those great skills and don’t be afraid to step outside of that and have somebody else help if necessary.
So be realistic, play to your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Number three, be patient. Success takes time. I’m 975 years old now. Not quite, maybe 974. The reality is, all joking aside, I was a teenager in the ’80s, so my period of recording was the ’90s. That’s where it started to come together for me. In ’95, I had a record deal, and I was the guy in the band who recorded the bands demos, and that got to another record deal with another band, and I recorded those demos, and that turned into a production/engineering/song writing/mixing career.
But that took a long time. I was doing demos with cassette players. I had my father’s stereo and a Phillips cassette player, and I would play guitar, and I would record it on the Phillips cassette player, I took the cassette out, put it in my dad’s stereo, and with the second cassette in the cassette player, I’d play that back and do a guitar overdub to it.
So I continually rotate those two cassettes, and believe me, it sounded dreadful. By the end of 10 overdubs, it was just hiss, but that’s how I started. The results were dreadful, but that’s how I started, and then I went to a four-track cassette. From a four-track cassette, I eventually got to ADATs. From ADATs, I go to Pro Tools.
In between, I had different experiences in high quality studios with one-inch tape machines, half-inch tape machines, I basically ran the gamut of all different types of technologies. I played with Cubase, and you know, when Cubase was I think eight tracks? I had Steinberg, Notator, I had all the different kinds of DAWs before they were really even called DAWs. When they were just MIDI devices, and I’ve been through all of those different things.
I probably didn’t make a recording that would be considered listenable by most people until, I don’t know, fifteen years into recording?
Now, the great thing is the technology is available now so you can fast track that. What stopped me probably — not definitely, because we all have our own growth rate, but probably what stopped me getting great recordings sooner was the fact that I didn’t have access to great recording equipment.
Now, the wonderful thing about the age we live in is you have a computer, just a simple two input or one input interface, a nice, quality condenser, and you can pretty much do anything with a little USB keyboard. You can trigger some virtual synths, some pianos, put some drum beats down — for less than $1,000 these days, you can be making great music.
Even less. I know Focusrite have that little studio system which is like, $300. And everybody makes these inexpensive things that can get you going.
So you can get from A to B faster, but even then, it’s still going to take some time for you to hone your skills and soak up all of the information that’s out there, and to be honest, regardless of my YouTube channel, and other YouTube channels, and books, and videos, and all of the stuff you can get, regardless of all of that information, you still have to do it to learn it.
I don’t know about you guys, but for me, I actually have to record something and make a mess of it first before I really understand it.
I can read a book, and it can tell me how to use this specific piece of equipment, but until I actually use the specific piece of equipment, I don’t really understand. I’m not the guy that picks up the manual, reads it, and then starts using things perfectly. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s not me.
I have to kind of skim through the manual, plug it in, make 57 mistakes, and then go, “Oh, that’s what they mean when they said do X, Y, and Z!”
So be patient, and understand that even the best guys in the business, the biggest and best names, had a lot of failure and mistakes along the way to get to a successful career.
Point number four, and this is a double header, it comes into an A and B section. Quality over quantity. So firstly, think about it with your gear. Now, we can all start off and we — these days, we all do start off with the most simplest interface. It can either be the built-in interface to your PC — I know PCs these days, you can put a sound card in there and start recording quite easily.
With Garage Band on a Mac, you can sing into the internal mic, and you can build tracks. I mean, you can start really, really inexpensively, and that’s fantastic, but be careful when buying equipment. I get a lot of emails from people, and a lot of comments from people who have a lot of equipment, but they have a lot of low priced — not even mid-range, but low priced equipment, and they’re always asking about buying new stuff, and my best advice that I can humbly give, unless you’re recording a string section or a drum kit, you don’t need a lot of cheap mics, or an interface — a cheap interface with a lot of inputs. You’re better off using smaller amounts of equipment, but higher quality.
So instead of buying $1,500 worth of cheap microphones to mic a drum kit, which you only record once or twice a year, buy a nice condenser, and maybe a nice mic pre.
Now, everybody is going to have a different opinion about this, and I completely understand. Sometimes, the best thing for people, honestly is to sound proof their room better, because they may have a lot of bleed into different rooms, and that is going to stop them from being able to concentrate on their work.
It might also be acoustically treating the room better so you can actually hear better. It might be getting better monitoring, like a high quality pair of headphones if you’re starting on headphones, or better, powered speakers.
But whatever you do, and you can read, and research, and leave comments and questions, and interact on the equipment — a less is more approach always works as far as I’m concerned. Having better quality, smaller amounts of equipment is a lot better than having a lot of lower priced equipment which isn’t really raising your game.
So take the philosophy of quality over quantity. You don’t have to spend a fortune on any one thing, but make sure you’re buying the best thing you can afford for that price. What’s fantastic is there’s lots of forums, and obviously leave comments and questions below, but there’s places you can go to and you can research better quality gear.
The second point in quality over quantity, of course, is your work. Make sure that you’re doing high quality stuff to the best of your ability in a timely fashion over rushing and trying to do a lot of stuff that people are going to listen to, and is going to destroy your reputation.
When you’re up and coming, it’s much better to do things to the best of your ability than it is to do things three-quarters of the way there, just to make deadlines, because if you set yourself realistic deadlines and take on a realistic amount of work, you’re going to get better quality stuff, you’re going to get a better reputation, and you’re going to get more work.
So point two in quality over quantity is make sure you’re doing the work to the best of your ability, so that people really see what you can do, and you build a great reputation.
Number five, last but no means least, and this is one I’ve learned through bitter experience, don’t give your masters away until you’ve been paid. It’s a big deal. I personally work two different ways. I either do 50 up front and 50 on the back end, so let’s just say, a project’s — whatever price it is, I ask for half the money up front, and then half the money on the back end.
If it’s an album project, I usually do it in thirds, and the reason for that is because album projects tend to go over longer periods of time. I’m just doing two songs for an artist, for instance, I will do 50% up front, 50% on the back, because that might be days worth of work.
But if I’m doing an album project, it could be as much as week to weeks of work, and so I do a third at the front, a third when I begin mixing, and a third on the back end, when it’s finished, where we’ve all agreed that the mixes are final.
Not mastering, but we agree the mixes are final. And the reason why I say not mastering is because if it’s an album project, I don’t usually master it. Usually it goes to somebody independently. So I don’t need to stand behind their costs, I want to stand behind my costs.
Now, the two different ways to get paid makes sense. 50/50 on a shorter project, especially if it’s completely contained in my studio. The thirds on the larger project are all — because if you’re six weeks into a project and you’ve only made a third of the money up front, it’s hard to pay your bills, and also, you’ve got musicians maybe you’ve hired, or external studios, or whatever it is, you’ve got a set of costs, and they might not want to wait six weeks to get paid.
So quite often, I’m paying people quite a lot of money up front, and I’m sitting there with zero money in my bank, because I’ve covered all of the expenses. So I always work on the larger projects and the bigger paid ones in thirds. So it’s a third up front, a third after tracking, and we begin mixing, and a third on the back end.
So don’t release the final masters and especially the files to the artist or the label, or anybody until you’ve had your final payment. Whether you do 50/50, or thirds, don’t release those files or masters until you’ve been paid.
So thank you ever so much for watching. Please as ever leave a bunch of questions and comments below, subscribe, go to Produce Like a Pro and sign up on the email list, and you’re going to hear all about the new site, and all of the exciting things that we’ve got going on.
As ever, please leave your experiences. What’s happened to you? What have you experienced? What’s your growth? How did you become better and better, and how do you continually become better? There’s so many things out there on YouTube to help us, there’s books, there’s video series, there’s — obviously no substitute for experience, sort of actually doing it and being in a room, or assisting.
You know, I talk to a lot of engineers and producers in our web series that share their experiences, and a lot of it is just assisting. There’s a guy that we’re just about to release a video of, who after 15 years of being in the industry, he moved to Los Angeles and felt like he was starting again, and he went back to assisting, even though he’d produced and engineered in Chicago, he went back to assisting in LA studios so he could learn more stuff in a professional studio in Los Angeles.
So there’s lots of paths to become good at this and to grow, and I’d love to know what yours are, so please leave a bunch of comments and questions, and thank you ever so much for watching.