Home recording vs a pro studio: does it really matter?!

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Home Recording on a Budget[This article was written by guest contributor Steven James Wylie.]

A recording story about the importance of the people you work with

As technology has advanced in the last decade, the world of digital recording has evolved at an exhausting pace.

I recorded my first project in 2003 on an Akai DPS16. It had a HUGE 10 gig hard drive and some cool effects. It was an entirely self-contained unit. I would use loops in Acid on my pc and line them out into the Akai. I was thrilled. My friends and I had some good fun with it. We had no idea how digitally ignorant we were. We just knew we could make music and it was WAY better than our analog Tascam 4 track!

MP3 quality? Wave files? Whatever! Even for 2002, my lack of knowledge was embarrassing, but I was an artist! Don’t bother me with the technical crap! Ridiculous. We had great songs and concepts, but the recording quality was obviously not going to be up to par. Hindsight is 20/20.

When Apple came out with Garageband, I immediately loved it and made an EP with it in 2008. It was a major step up in sound quality. I could do more things with the built-in midi sounds and plug-ins it came with. It was a great experience. Simple and clean. The finished musical product was way better, but still not quite there.

In 2011, I upgraded to Logic and recorded my first single called “Winter Is Over” with it. It was a guitar heavy song without a lot of drums or rhythm section. It was, in my opinion, the best thing I had recorded on my own to that point. Now most of us know Logic is on the more affordable side of professional recording software, but I have loved using it. It was an easy transition for me because I was used to Garageband. Its not Pro Tools, but it can do most of the same things.

Bring in the pros

However, after I continued to work on the song “Winter Is Over” I was still not happy with it. So what was I missing? I had the gear to do most of the same things that the pros were doing. I ended up getting help from a Nashville veteran who has become a good friend to me, Mr. Bret Teegarden.

I recently asked Bret, who has mixed and mastered my two most recent projects, for his thoughts on the subject. He had this to offer:

“As far as people using home studios instead of pro studios, I would say that great results can be achieved with either. However, a pro environment can be less frustrating and can actually save time and money, if you value your time. The other factor is in using actual pros to help with production. There are many people with home studios, but generally pros have already made all the mistakes a home recordist or hobbyist has yet to discover.”

So, is a home studio as good as a pro studio? I agree with Bret, it can be dang close. Let’s also take into account that professional studios often can offer much bigger spaces and better sounding rooms than a home set up. However, what makes any recording better 90% of the time, in my opinion, is the people you have working on it. It is what made my new EP “Everything I Love” my best work to date. I could have had each guy come over to my studio and lay down their tracks. I would have had to have the drums done elsewhere to start, but otherwise, my home studio would have worked. However, I would never have gotten the synergy that came from having everyone together. I would not have had the engineering and production expertise of guys like Jeff Pitzer, Bret Teegarden and Chris Omartian. They are all very gifted at what they do, and it was revelatory to work with them.

In summary, let’s just say software and hardware are nice. In fact, what we can do with them now is amazing! However, people are what make any given endeavor great. Until we find a way to replace them, (and let’s hope we don’t) they will always be the difference-makers. And that’s probably true well beyond the music business.

There you have it. Go forth and be “pro.”

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  • I am amazed with what I can do with a Blue Yeti USB mic, a computer, MixCraft daw and a guitar. I stopped going to studios long long ago. I’m not trying to win production awards, just make songs and music people like! : )

  • eLeMz Music

    The “new” age old debate! My two cents?! I think your right, the do or die determining factor is the one sitting behind the controls. I have heard some near perfect mixes come out of home studios and shitty ones come out of pro ones…and while we are taking about those, what makes them pro anyway? Brick and Mortar? Equipment? Location?…these days I think this debate only ruffles the feathers of the pro studio owner. Good stuff..signing out…@eLeMzMusic

    • Agreed, I think “pro” all comes down to how good your ears are, and how well you (or the engineer) know the monitors.

      @ Chris Robley

    • I agree with Chris, not only does it come down to how good your ears are, but how good you are at solving specific problems with the mix. Some people think they have good ears because they can hear that the ‘overall’ mix isn’t quite ‘right’, but they have no idea exactly what the problem is, so mixing becomes a ‘hit or miss’ proposition, that can turn into a frustrating time waster. In a perfect world, everyone that buys a DAW would be forced to take a basic music engineering course..

      • Mick Keogh

        A bit of a blog I intend posting somewhere..
        Commercial recordings are usually produced as a result of many professionals and technicians.
        Each working their own degree of magic.
        The industry knows having someone else along helps exceed limitations combining the skills of the artist and producer .
        Eliminating many common pitfalls of the one man and his daw.
        A producer generally works closely with the artist/s to mould the piece and more often than not has some control of creative input.
        A mixing engineer will “hear” the piece differently and highlight aspects only ”fresh ears” can identify as strengths in the production.
        Then mastering (the final stage of the project).
        Not only does it enhance the material but often can correct problems that
        can only be identified at the mastering stage.
        I personally have come to the conclusion that if we are to enjoy real success from the comfort of our spare rooms.
        We should embrace the tried and tusted methods of the industry we compete in.
        We should have the different hands at work.

        I have found that mastering is my particular strength and intend to roll out an affordable service to raise the bar of “spare room”
        productions to a truly broadcastable quality.
        It’s a try for free thing if anyone’s interested and the results are at times gob smacking.

    • Amen to this brother. This is dead on…

    • The Sav

      I like them both however i am not the greatist enginer but i do like to be able to create whenever i see fit! After that i tend to take my work to the pros for a touch up and if they say that this track is bogus or needs more gumpsion then ill redo it with them pushing me! The mark of a good enginer is when u can hear a big differance between what u did and what they did! also pros usually will push u during tye session to make ur work better if thats not happining then do it yourself!
      The Sav

    • Robert Caleb Potter

      Dissatisfaction with result is what made me get into home recording in the first place. Who has the time in the pro shop to tweak all those contols, add those little differences that will eat up time and money? Experiment? Fagetaboutit. Nope, give me the good old analog 15 ips, some good mics, a keyboard and some outboard electronics with synch capability and turn me loose.

  • NigelMusicNZ

    There’s a place for both and you can have both – horses for courses. Good pros will do it faster, better (that’s skill and experience) and let you concentrate on the music (which is what you do, right?). Home is cheaper and allows more experimentation. You can even use home rec as a test bed before you go into the pro studio. And if you want the best, use the best – not all studio rec is the same.

  • boldeagle1

    As a pro studio owner I’m biased, but I do know that we have spent a lot of money on superior equipment so that our clients can experience the best pro sound possible. The satisfaction from recording a good song should last a lifetime and we try to help make that possible. Few home studios offer the choice of 75 microphones, Neve and API consoles, outboard converters and more. Now I know equipment alone is only one factor but our staff do this every day and are very good at it.

    At the same time, I started as a home recordist and loved every minute of it and understand the thrill and pride that goes along with learning the craft. If you can turn out pro sounding material working at home then stick with it. If you want to concentrate on your creativity and have the benefit of professionals work to help you realize your dream then I doubt you’ll regret the experience and contribution of a real pro studio.

  • Tokyo Rosenthal

    I’ve found it’s all about the person behind the controls, plain and simple. If there’s a “mad genius” working out of his house on Garage Band, and has decent vocal mics, and has a good enough ear to correct you when you sing off key, then maybe it can work. But at the end of the day, that same person, working in a professional environment, will likely put out a better product. It’s the difference of playing ice hockey on a frozen pond or on a well maintained indoor rink. But the key is the engineer. He has to have the skills to use “Pro Tools” as best as possible, whether in a studio or a bedroom. As a friend of mine told me after taking an extensive and expensive Pro Tools course, “I’ve seen The Dark Side”. He found out what can be done with even limited gear if put into the right hands.

  • I have a home studio – but when I am the singer, guitar player, etc… I want to be focused and lazer sharp on my performance for a new release. I have been blessed to hang out, know and work with some great engineers. (Engine+ears!) They are the driving force to a great performance and creative sound ideas. (Tom Dowd, Mark Pinski, Gerry King, Eric Shilling…) I have learned soooo much from them. They bring another level of energy and magic to a recording and are indispensible for an artist to have on the ‘team!’

  • DanIAm

    If you put someone out of school who never cooked in their life and a chef in a kitchen, aside from luck the Chef should come up with the best meal and you may not even want to finish the meal from the school leaver. This is the typical comparison between someone mixing at home and a pro mixer.

    I’ve had some amazing meals from home cooks, but that’s only a handful of people after years of cooking with it as a passion, whereas a Chef should consistently deliver great food (and how let down do we feel those times that a chef delivers crap food). Then there is that level above, I think it’s fair to say that if you want food that blows your mind, it will be one of the food industries top chefs that delivers it.

    Mixing/mastering is the same as food analogies above. It’s not just good ears, it’s experience, training and the passion that kept them doing it every day for years.

    So, even if you build your studio with proper acoustic treatment and get great gear, tracking at home is one thing. However mixing is cheap these days, so don’t kid yourself, unless your a gifted “home cook” send your tracks to a pro for mixing if your music is going to be out there for sale.

    Tracking. Home is fine if you have the gear as you have the time to redo it thousands of times until you’ve got it right. But a studio is cheap, they have spent considerable sums on sound treatment (vs my cheap homemade vocal booth), have much more gear to select from (I only have one condenser and one dynamic) to get the best sound – and can better fiddle with mic placement/configurations – whereas I’m too busy singing/playing. Also as mentioned in the article, the energy of the band playing together comes through where most home studios aren’t big enough and not everyone has suitable gear for multitracking.

    I am not a pro mixer, I have no vested interest that I’m trying to hawk, this is just my experience of recording.

  • I was fortunate to study under a master engineer/producer who recorded such greats as Strisand, Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald among hundreds of others. I took those lessons and applied them to my own home studio usage. but just because you have your own home studio does not make you a wiz. you must learn how to use these things properly. Someone I know has been using his ProTools like a 4track recorded until I showed him just a few things and opened his eyes, lol.

  • I’ve had my own home studio for twenty years. The home studio is definitely best for composing and arranging your tracks. But sometimes you need that pro studio sound to make it all work!

  • DanaJorge

    I rarely use ‘pro’ studios, only on occasion to complete a near finished production. Many of the problems inside professional studio’s center around bad mixes such as the drums overwhelming the song and/or drowning out the vocals in a sea of thundering bass lines and guitar leads. If your final cut gets by and is so so, that’s not good enough. No one cares more about music than the songwriter/musician. But the bottom line will always be: “How does it sound?”. Your mom and sister will tell you “it’ sounds great”, but what about reaction from a total stranger? Is that stranger willing to pull out a credit card and download your tune?

  • Jennifer Coleman

    I am an opera singer and recently recorded my EP ‘Simple Gifts’ with an amazing string quartet. I wouldn’t dream of recording that at home. Getting a professional in was money well spent. The sound quality is fantastic. tweet: @Jenny_Coleman

  • Supercapital

    The main difference I see is people spend 2-3 years being a perfectionist while slowly making a record at home/project studio style. Versions get thrown away, fiddling around happens, experiments are done and amateur mistakes are made and learned from. In an actual pro studio you go in knowing what you’re arrangement is, what “sound” you’re going for and the players know the treatment and are ready to *do the work*. Soon after the recording is ready for release.

  • TJR

    Personally I like to record all my tracks at home and then take it to a pro to do the mixing and mastering.

  • Joseph


  • Patrick

    Here are a few things to consider when considering a professional studio versus a home studio. It is a common myth that because a recording sounds good it is professional but is it? Does it sound generally the same or at least satisfactory on each system it plays back on? If not do you know why that is? No? A professional engineer knows. Is it missing dynamics or does it seem muddy? Do you know why that is? No? A professional engineer knows. Do you confidently know what those settings and tools are for in located in your software or what they do when you are editing or mixing? No? A professional engineers knows what they are and what they do. Do you know you are not suppose to mix though headphones or why that is? How about do you know things can go wrong in during multi tracking only to be discovered later during a mix if something was recorded wrong during a session that could also lead to pressing endless bad copies of the same mistake/s to CD’s etc later down the road? No? But a professional engineer would know that and this little quiz you may want to consider when deciding between a professional studio and a home studio and especially if you are doing it for someone else on a paid scale which is why professional engineers go to school. One thing is for certain there is a lot of people out there that are masquerading as professionals who are not professional but sooner or later something will catch up with them perhaps a lawsuit maybe who knows requiring them to produce their credential as a professional and though believe it or not there is a lot more that can go wrong however it could be something already mentioned here. But even still if you are wanting to put yourself out there be aware that people will notice not just what your licks and vocals sounds like or the band as a whole they will also notice big how professional your recording sounds as well and clubs and will venues notice that too.