5 Tips to Improve Your Home Recordings Right Away

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Home Recording Tips for Musicians[This article was written by guest contributor Pat Walsh, lead guitarist of the band Chaser Eight.

As most of us are well aware, we’re now living in the age of the home recording studio. An old laptop with some inexpensive gear can now produce high fidelity recordings that can rival those made in expensive studios. Still, many musicians who aren’t engineers (me included) can find the task of recording and producing a great track a little daunting. Through a lot of trial and error I have learned a few things over the years while producing tracks for my band, Chaser Eight. Here are 5 tips that home recording enthusiasts can employ right now to start getting more polished recordings.

1. Get a Preamp  

Plugging a guitar or microphone directly into your recording interface can often produce a very transparent sound that lacks the warmth and volume that a great track requires. There is an easy and inexpensive way to get a better source sound: plug the guitar or microphone into a preamp first. 

A decent preamp one can be obtained for as little as $50 and will immediately add volume and warmth to everything that you record. A few technical things to note: First, if you buy a tube preamp, it’s best to junk the tube that comes with it and replace it with a better one (doing so requires nothing more than a screwdriver) which you can buy at a guitar shop.

Secondly, keep in mind that the output of the preamp will require a balanced audio cable such as a TSR or XLR cable. Don’t try and connect the preamp to your interface with just an instrument cable, even though it will fit into the input.


First plug your guitar or microphone into a Preamp, like The Tube MP pictured above, rather than directly into the Interface for improved sound quality.

2. Dive In And Constantly Use the Web As a Resource

I notice that friends that are new to this will buy large books about home recording before they start actually trying to do any real recording themselves. These tomes can be solid resources, but for the most part, I think it’s best to bypass them at first and just dive right in. Trial and error is the best teacher.

Most contemporary recording software programs, like GarageBand, are very user friendly and don’t require a lot of time to learn at a basic level. Just start experimenting, and develop your own base knowledge. Once you’ve done this experimentation, then it’s time to use the web to learn specific tasks. The two best sources of information are YouTube and a site called GearSlutz. They each provide oceans of tutorials and advice on virtually every topic with respect to recording. Maybe you’ve learned how to record drums fairly well on your own, but you are not sure how to properly EQ a snare drum. Go look it up. Maybe you have recorded a good vocal track but you’d like to know a little bit more about using pitch correction effectively? Seek and you shall find. I continue to learn new methods this approach.

Again, don’t try and take in all of this information at once. It will overwhelm you and make the task of engineering great tracks seem impossible. Advanced books and the like are actually more useful after you’ve gotten a lot of hours under your belt, not before.  

3. Invest in One Good Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

This isn’t earth-shattering news to most home recording enthusiasts, but I can’t overstate its importance: it is imperative to buy a good condenser microphone. 

I strongly recommend that anyone mastering their own recordings, even on a shoestring budget, make purchasing a large diaphragm condenser microphone mandatory. The reason I believe in this item so dearly is that in addition to recording vocals, you can also record acoustic instruments (acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, etc.), light percussion (tambourines, bongos, etc.), and a whole host of other things.

I also love to use mine as a room microphone when recording drums. If you start buying separate condenser microphones of various shapes and sizes for all of these different tasks then your wallet is going to take a beating, and the results really won’t change all that much. I’m a fan of the Rode NT1A, but if you want to stay under $200 there are plenty of excellent options out there.

home recording mic

This Rode NT1A, a large diaphragm microphone, can be used to record many things besides vocals.

4. Invest In Some Good Mastering Software

One thing that virtually any new home recording enthusiast inevitably says is, “my track is done, but it’s not as loud or punchy as my favorite band’s tunes are.”

Many folks will then turn to professional engineers to master their finished songs. While these consultants often do great work (at increasingly cheap rates), it is no longer required that artists use them.  If you are like me and like to record a lot of material, using a lot of outside engineer help is just too expensive.

Nowadays, mastering software is inexpensive, user-friendly, and very effective. I use a product called Ozone by Izotope. You can get it for about $200, and older versions of the product can be had for even less. Other options exist as well, and none of them take very much time to learn. The components of the software, like the Reverb or Compression units, can be used on individual tracks within the recording as well, so these products have many, many uses beyond just mastering the final tune. Of course, professional engineers are going to be better (I don’t think Coldplay is going to decide to start mastering their tracks using $200 software), but you will definitely be very happy with the results you get, and they will be on-par with what you hear professionally mastered.

5. Get Decent Monitors, You Don’t Need Great Ones

Some home recording enthusiasts fall into the trap of buying excessively expensive monitors for playback. If you happen to be a Rockefeller or a Hilton and can shell out $7,000 for massive monitors with an obscenely powerful subwoofer I’m all for it (and please, let’s be friends). But if you are on a budget like me, nothing fancy is required.

My inexpensive M-Audio AV40 speakers, with no subwoofer to speak of, get the job done just fine. The only important thing is to simply know the characteristics of your monitors compared to other speakers. Listen to your tracks (as well as commercial recordings) on headphones, car stereos, and cheap computer speakers and compare what you hear to the sound profile of your monitors. Maybe your monitors don’t project certain frequencies especially well so you know to turn those up a little bit when mixing. It is really no more complicated than that. If you follow this rule your tracks will be just as well mixed as the guy or gal who is using an exceptionally expensive monitoring system.

studio monitors

My democracy loving M-Audio Monitors get the job done at a low cost.

If you would like to hear these techniques in action, check out my band’s music at either of these locations:


Chaser Eight on itunes

For more tips on home recording, check out Disc Makers’ FREE guide:


[Headphone image from Shutterstock.]

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  • Thanks for the tips!
    It's crazy how we can do all this stuff ourselves now a days.

    • Das Goravani

      dig it man, yes, i was born in sixty.. as serious kid musicians (I’m Bono/Michael Jackson age exactly, two years older than Obama) we always knew “A home recording studio is $20,000… it was.. we lived close to Leo’s Music in Berkeley CA, and IT WAS that much.. I managed to get a Teac 4 Track Reel to Reel used for $500 while in college.. that made me awesomely attractive to all my friend musicians.. but that’s JUST 4 tracks on tape that stretches sometimes.. ouch.. and now.. JIZA MOLIZA it’s just sitting on ur desk for under 2 or 3 grand and WAY BETTER.. CRAY, how we CAN DO, ALL THIS STUFF, these days, OUSELVES.. TOTALLY CRAZY. Yes. I remember when there was only black and white TV and radio.

  • Keith Clevenger

    I tried a cheap (ART) preamp, but I didn't appreciate any improved sound quality beyond my MOTU interface's built in preamps. I think you might have to "belly up to the bar" and get a GREAT preamp if you have a decent interface- for any noticed improvement. IDK

    • Tralala76

      Of course a cheap Preamp would not improve anything, forget the advice above, its totally useless, i use my TC Impact Twin Preamps and they are great, noone can tell me i need a Preamp…of course i do if i buy a 1000$ UAD Twin Finity but not a 50$ Preamp, lol.

  • nam_erehwon

    The KRK VXT6 monitors that I have were semi-spendy, but they are one of the best reference monitors that I’ve ever heard!

  • Robert Kumpf

    Most artists can get recorded! I looked into several studios. Many studios offer stereo-recording services for under 75 dollars per hour! Get online! Get recorded! Get into business!
    Have some fun!
    Robert Lee Kumpf

  • Mac

    absolute bullshit… buy, buy, buy…
    if you are not a talented nothing will help
    if you are… nothing will stop you… message in your music will pass thru the equipment

  • Great point about “trial and error” to make decisions. That’s really the only way to be confident with each additional dimension that you add to your home studio. Check out our post on this topic as well. It’s a bit more simplistic, but helpful for musicians who are working on a budget and are new to home recording. http://blueroommusicstudio.com/saving-time-money-well-made-demo/

  • Some good tips here to consider, although I think improved technique is always more valuable. Knowing how to use the equipment you have. Audio Recording Stuff

  • Yeah, I’m getting back into it too. Always the learning curve! Good luck, and happy recording.


  • Really great write up.

  • Really great write up.

  • Marius Krige

    Do you need your songs or upcoming CD mastered, check out my Gig on fiverr for the lowest prices. Just click the link below to get more info.


  • David C Wilson

    Great post. Thank you so much for the tips. Very useful article for music enthusiasts. For people who don’t have a recording studio can consider, online music recording studios. They are very affordable and you will get professional service without spending lot of money.

  • Amazing Tips !! These are best tips for beginners who want to record vocals at home. And the setups that you have provided are also very useful. http://www.vocalmatch.com/how-to-record-vocals-at-home/

  • Well, I’m no pro at home recording, but I think a good mic and pre-amp would be the next things to get (and they’re very important).


  • By “good mic,” I mean something better than a Snowball. Maybe a 414, SM7B,… something like that.


  • sam

    Probably the million dollar secret for any recording artist is …..you are as good as your weakest recording equipment… before picking an equipment consider all the possible alternatives.. look out for reviews that give you all possible options depending on budget and where you are in your recording gear, here is an example Home Studio Recordings Gears Reviews

  • Maximus

    I highly recommend investing in production classes through a school like Berklee.edu online. Best investment I ever made. Screw trial and error…there are just some things you won’t figure out and those in the know will be releasing superior quality tracks while you struggle. You can do a lot without spending cash on unecessary equipment. If you know what your doing, you can make mediocre equipment sound great. I should know, I wasted 15 years on trial and error. I could have learned everything I needed in 3 months.

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