If you’ve read a few of the articles on this website you’re probably starting to see a theme. There’s a big push to start recording at home and this is very deliberate.
You see if you hope to have any chance of launching a successful career as a band or singer you need songs. Plain and simple. Without them you’re just talking about being in the music industry.
Oh and if theses songs just live in your head or on some notepad somewhere they’re not going to help you. You need recordings of your songs.
I’m a big advocate of recording at home because when you’re just starting out you need a relatively inexpensive way to experiment with your sound without having to watch the clock. You’d be amazed how much money is wasted by bands who go to commercial recording studios to just jam.
I’ve even heard of bands who snuck into other bands’ recording sessions, used the time to record and left all without the original band noticing because they were too busy “vibing”. This is an expensive waste of time and I don’t want you to fall into this trap so home recording is the way to go when money is tight. (And even when it isn’t).
Before you set up your home recording studio you need to know that there may be limitations to consider that can slightly or dramatically affect the way you create and ultimately record. Keep reading below to see what I’m talking about.
You Might Not Be Allowed To Record Where You Are
I went into more detail in another blog post but here are a couple of reasons you might not be allowed to record at home:
If you live in a gated community there may be prohibitively strict rules preventing you from setting up a home recording studio. Conducting business in these neighbourhoods is often frowned upon especially if it means you’ll have a constant flow of visitors to and from your home or a bunch of cars parked outside.
If any of these or other activities associated with your recording sessions becomes enough of a problem, you might be looking at fines and even prosecution. It’s best to check these rules first to be sure that you won’t be exposing yourself to a world of hurt if you get reported by that nosey neighbour.
This one should be obvious but if you’re going to be making a ton of noise in an apartment, chances are pretty good you’ll attract unwanted attention. This will of course vary from building to building but just be mindful of the neighbours you share walls, floors and ceilings with.
As much as you love music, it really isn’t fair to subject 9to5ers to rumbling bass lines and crashing cymbals at any time during the day or night. Some people work night shifts, others have young children who need to nap and unless they specifically request it, no-one wants to be subjected to noise from neighbouring apartments.
Depending on the laws of your land it might actually be illegal to set up and operate a small business where you live. When you first start to record your operation might not be considered a small business but it may transition into one eventually so tread carefully here.
Where I live I can run a business out of my house as long as I have to correct documentation but I’m not permitted to host or post signs there. Be sure to talk to an attorney or your relevant local authority to make sure you’re operating within the confines of the law.
Space Issues Limit Options
You can definitely set up a very capable recording studio in a surprisingly small area. I can say this because I’ve done it multiple times. Having said that though, “small” is a relative term. A Cessna is considered to be a small plane however, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to fit one in any of the bedrooms in my house.
Here are some things to consider:
How Much Space Do You Have?
If you only have a corner of a bedroom to house a desk with a computer and a couple of chairs, then you can set up a space to record but live instruments will prove challenging. A vocal booth and drum set will probably be out of the question.
How Many People Will Be Recording?
If it’s just you then a small space will suffice. However, if you’re trying to record an entire live band you’ll either need a room large enough to house everyone plus their instruments OR you’ll need to record everyone individually.
Recording musicians one at a time is surprisingly common and often produces incredible results but remember this won’t facilitate the “jam sessions” where musical magic has been known to occur.
Will You Be Sharing The Recording Space?
In small spaces it can be difficult to designate a dedicated space for recording. Many of us started out by having a small set up in their bedroom. I currently use a spare bedroom as a recording room and an office. If your recording space is doing double duty these are best case scenarios.
If the only place you have to record is shared space like a living room or dining room this can get a lot more disruptive if there are others living with you. There’s no telling how many relationships have been strained and even destroyed because of a lack of separation between work and home.
Getting A Final Mix Can Be Tough
Before you even start you need to consider how much of the song creation process you plan to do in your home recording set up. This will determine how much money, work and customization you’ll need to apply to your recording space.
Bedrooms are not the ideal place to create a final mix. To get the best result here you need a room that’s been acoustically treated using professionally made materials. A rectangular bedroom with drywall and ceramic tiles just isn’t going to cut it.
Acoustically treating a room properly can become very expensive if your plan is to use the room to mix. However, there are a number of materials on the market right now that can help you convert a typical bedroom into a decent place to record and get a decent mix down (pre-cursor to the final mix).
Unless you plan to become a mixing engineer, it’s usually not worth the expense to set up a full-blown mixing room.
A commercial studio is usually a better option unless of course you can get a consistent enough flow of mixing jobs to justify the expense (and hassle) of setting one up for yourself. In this case a commercial building is probably a better option anyway since you probably don’t want complete strangers showing up at your house.
Need Help Setting Up Your Home Recording Studio?
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Interruptions From Family
When my kids were younger I had a nice little home recording set up in a spare bedroom that I was never able to use :(. Even when I did my best to keep the volume down I ran the risk of waking up the baby and getting “the look” from the wife. Needless to say I didn’t make much music in those days.
As my kids got a little older the new problem became interruptions. It turns out young children get even more excited about the whole idea of making music than I do. As a parent I couldn’t be prouder but as a songwriter I have to admit this was by no means ideal.
If I might offer some suggestions to help you learn from my mistakes:
- Set working hours and explain to your family that the only interruptions that can be allowed during this time are emergencies. Actual emergencies where lives are in danger. Running out of peanut butter doesn’t qualify
- Wherever possible try to set your working hours at times when the house will be empty anyway. Useful since no-one is going to respect the working hours.
- Consider alternative locations away from home where you can get non-recording aspects of song creation done. Writing in the backyard or at a park can be quite a liberating experience.
- If you have children, make time to involve them in your song creation process from time to time. They’ll either love it and eventually be able to help you or they’ll get bored and never bother again. It’s a win-win!
Isolation vs Collaboration
I’ve said it many times - the best and most successful songs I’ve ever worked on have always been collaborations. In fact I can’t think of a single person who can say otherwise.
Every hit song requires ALL of the following elements to be in place for the magic to happen:
- Manager who creates the marketing and promo strategy
- Marketing and promo people who execute the strategy above
- Record label(s) who get the music to the people
- Audiences whose feedback helps keep you on track
I say all of this to say that if you’re only able to create in a small space right now then you’ll probably work in isolation at times. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it’s all about you though. Even if you start out playing all of the roles I listed above you’ll definitely need a team to pull this off on any sort of scale.
You Can Still Do This
Even although I’ve listed out (some of) the limitations of recording at home I don’t want you to think it’s not a good place to start. It most certainly is and you’ll learn so much about the recording process as a result that you’ll be a lot easier to work with once you’re able to expand your set up.
Limitations can be and often are temporary so always do what you can to get the most out of the options you have available to you.
- If you can’t record final vocals yet record demo vocals for now.
- If you don’t have access to the live instruments you’d love to hear on your track record synth versions for now. You can always overdub later.
If I’ve learned one thing from this business it’s that your next (or first) hit can come from the most unlikely of places so keep plugging away.
I’d love to hear your thought on how you’ve overcome limitations as you pursue your own musical aspirations. Please be sure to share your experiences in the comments below.