Music production in the home studio is hard. But not for the reason most people claim. It’s not for lack of quality gear or because of the room sonics. Quality gear is more affordable than ever, and if you know what you’re doing the sound of your room won’t get in your way.
No, the real reason producing great music out of your home studio is hard is because you are doing it all alone. You are playing the role of the musician and the engineer.
Be Honest About Your Bias
Can we be honest for a moment? You and I, as engineer/musicians, are biased about our songs. Since we are the artist, we think our songs are great. They might be pretty good, but they aren’t great by default. For them to be great we need to tear them down to their core, make the sure the foundation is strong, and patch in any holes. What I’m talking about is honest self critique.
After writing and demoing your songs you have to shift over into critical mode. You need to think like a producer or engineer, listening to the songs for the first few times. Try to get past your bias (thinking your songs sound awesome) and ask good questions like: What is this song missing? What is the weakest thing about this song? What is the strongest thing? Does the arrangement hold my attention from start to finish?
Work On A Stronger Arrangement
I always say that good arranging is good recording and mixing. What I mean is that so much of what makes a great song great is the arrangement. All the great parts and moments of our favorite songs are arrangement decisions, not recording or mixing decisions. It’s the arrangement (which instruments, which parts, and the relationship between them during the song) that pulls the listener in and captures her attention.
So before hitting the record button you need to move from musician mode to engineer mode and begin building an even stronger arrangement. Think about what the best instrumentation would be for the song. Cut out weak parts of the song. Tighten up the chorus. Flip the bridge around. Add vocal harmonies that are missing. You get the idea. You are enhancing the song before it’s even captured in your DAW.
Choose Musician Over Engineer
The typical home studio owner starts out in the musician mindset, creating and writing songs. This is likely inspired him or her to buy some recording equipment in the first place. But then he must put on his engineer hat in order to critically assess the songs strengths and weaknesses and to record them with sonic professionalism and clarity. Ironically, though, in order to get an incredible recording and mix, the home studio owner needs to shift his mindset back to that of the musician.
We’re creating a piece of art, not a science project. So when the rubber meets the road I choose the musician side of my brain over the engineer side, because the art (the music) will drive a great recording, not the engineering. We need both, but at the end of the day, one is more critical to the success of your home recording goals.
If you find yourself becoming too technical with recording or mixing, it’s time to step back and think like a musician. Does the music move you? Does it pull out the desired emotion? Is it fun? If not, get back to work. If yes, call it day. A successful day.