Making The Most Of Your Home Recording Studio
with Ryan Duke of Fortis Amor
Before I knew anyone who did any home recording other than using a 4 track. and when everyone still used pagers, I was in my high school drafting class we had to design and build a house out of little sticks. My little stick house had its own humble recording studio. Years later, I started building my real studio, which in no way matched my original design. When I started, all I had was Reason 2.5. I couldn’t even record guitars or vocals which is what all my music is written around. It didn’t matter. I programmed the drums and bass parts, added synths, and kept making music. Learning how things worked and how to tweak. It was a lot of fun.
Eventually I got a free version of Cubase SE3 or SX3, I can’t remember off the top of my head. It was limited, but more than enough. I had a homemade computer with 10GB hard drive and 128MB of RAM. For real! When I finally started recording guitars, it was so slow the file would show up in the wrong spot in the DAW and I had to manually move each file to fit in time.
I’ve never been interested in lots of gear. No matter how much nice gear you have, you will not get a great recording if you don’t learn how to record and mix. The most important and valuable piece of gear is attached to the sides of your head…. your ears, of course! Your ears and all the gear is captained by your brain. You have to learn how to hear what you like and how to get your music there.
Out of everything in the studio, I found learning how to use an EQ has been the most important to me. If you get good at the EQ you are most of the way there. You can buy fancy plug-ins that spice up your mix and that’s all good, but if you can’t EQ well, then none of it will matter. Practice working with the EQ in subtle ways on a regular basis. Just like practicing your instrument. A little each day. Keep a dated journal of what happened and why you made certain decisions with the EQ or levels. Overtime you will see plenty of results.
I did this with mixes. I’d mix a recording and date it, then go back and do it again and again. Then analyze why one sounded better and why I made the decisions I made. This gave me real life feedback about how I perceived frequencies and mixes. It also helped me a lot more than all the info I ever read on the subject. Studying is important, but if you don’t put it into practice you will get nothing out of it.
For recording my new full length album, Fortis Amor, I used Cubase 5 and didn’t upgrade at all throughout the process because my computer was so old I didn’t want to lose what I started with. It probably would have been fine, but I didn’t chance it. In the end it worked great.
I didn’t get the best recordings when I started and didn’t realize this until the mixing stage. I wasn’t about to go in and record everything again, so I spent a lot of time just mixing and mixing and mixing. What felt like a waste of time actually taught me a lot about how to mix. Specifically to not use many plugins and to work that EQ. I made a lot of revisions to the mix until I was finally satisfied. I knew the recordings were good enough to work with and I just needed to be patient and learn how to help each instrument find its place in the mix.
The most difficult section of the album was the intro to the opening track ‘Particles’, when the electric guitars and drums come in on top of the orchestra. There are strings, horns, and woodwinds in there and five different guitars. I had to change things to make it work and automate the EQ as well. The final track ‘Take Heart’ has a lot of synths and other noises going on as well which made that track a little extra track to sort though.
Once I got to the mastering phase it was as close to what I wanted it to sound like, that mastering seemed really simple in comparison. When you master you can’t tweak much, the options are very limited which makes it go by fast. You can’t change anything, it’s already done.
I took away from all of this a valuable guide: when recording and mixing, if you limit your options you will make the most of what you have and not rely on more plugins or fancy gear.
If you’re struggling with home recording, just remember to keep at it and most importantly have fun! Don’t give up, if I can do it, I don’t see why you can’t.