Home Recording Myths – Part 1

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Today I want to expose a few home recording myths floating around out there. The problem with myths is that they can seem logical or “common knowledge” when really they are a distraction from actually recording, making music, and getting experience in the studio. Maybe you’ve heard some of these myths before or maybe you’re new to all this, either way this post should help. So let’s dive in…

TRR Home Recording Myths Pt. 1

Via plaisanter~ Flickr

Myth #1 – “The preamps in your audio interface are junk. You need to buy an external mic pre.”

I see this one paraded around all the time on the internet. It seems that no matter what audio interface you have, someone is criticizing the built in mic pres and making claims that if you want to make good recordings then an additional mic pre is a must. There are two problems with this myth: First, it creates an attitude of discontentment in your equipment, leading you to put too much responsibility on the shoulders of more gear when really it should fall on you and your skills. Second, it doesn’t really give a concrete answer to your “problem” since which mic pre to get is also debatable; leading the home recording newbie into a spiral of confusion and self doubt.

The reality is this: the mic preamps built in to your audio interface are more than likely clean, clear, with plenty of headroom to capture an accurate recording. Recording technology is so widely available these days that it does not take much money to create a quality signal path like it did 40 years ago. Sure an external preamp (a tube pre for example) will have a unique “sound” to it, but it won’t simply be “better” than what you have. Just different. And that’s not what you need right now. You need quality components (which you have) that will get the job done so you can focus on making good decisions with mic placement, the tone of your instrument, arrangement, and creativity in songwriting and performing.

Myth #2 – “Home recording = demos. Serious recording takes thousands of dollars and a studio.”

I come across a lot of nay-sayers on the web who think the whole “home recording” industry is a sham and really the most you can do at home with this affordable gear is just make a great demo, but not a pro recording. I think this is just ignorant snobbery. First of all, I’ve already written a post on 3 top major label bands who have recorded great albums (one of them Grammy award winning) at home. Check it out and listen for yourself. Second this myth shows blind belief in the root of Myth #1, that more gear and money spent equals better recordings, which is just not true.

I’ve said it a million times before, but a good recording is only as good as the song, the arrangement, the musician, and the creativity put into it. Sure if those elements aren’t there, or one or two of them are really weak, then you may just end up with an OK demo. But the gear is not the limiting factor…YOU are! A great example of this is famous singer/songwriter Ari Hest. ari_hest_green_room_sessionsBeing a major label musician Ari has spent plenty of time in nice studios with great gear making great recordings. But during some downtime before his latest album was to be released on Columbia records, he decided to toy around with some recordings in his New York apartment.

He picked up a $100 M-Audio interface and a $100 microphone and used Garageband on his laptop to record what later become The Green Room Sessions, an amazing self recorded, produced, and mixed EP which Columbia picked up and released immediately. He pretty much embodies the mindset of “I am what limits my music, not gear”. If you haven’t picked up the EP, you can click through to the iTunes store to get it!

No Excuses…
Don’t let these recording myths hold you back. Just tune out all the noise and instead spend your time making music. You’ll only learn more, get better at it, and have fun. And ultimately isn’t that what making music is all about? Having fun?

Click here for Part 2 of this post!


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39 Responses to “Home Recording Myths – Part 1”

  1. Alrod

    Great article! I do have a question though. As far as the Ari Hest Green Sessions go, did he do his own mastering as well or did Columbia Records take over at that point? What type of gear was used in the mastering process and can “Major release” mastering of this sort be done on a similar budget that you are such a strong advocate of?

    • Graham

      Hi Alrod, thanks for commenting! He did NOT do his own mastering. He wrote, recorded, and mixed the EP himself on his laptop. The mastering engineer said it was in great shape when he got it, just had to mostly adjust some EQ balance. It was major label mastering so I’m guessing your usual top of the line analog gear.

      There are plenty of quality mastering houses out there who will be more than happy to take your money and master your project…do I recommend it? Probably, yes. The beauty of mastering is having a new set of ears in on your project. It won’t work “magic” on your mix, but it will usually balance it and bring out the best in your mix so that the whole album (or EP) will sit well together and will play nice on many speaker setups. Hope that helps!

  2. Alrod

    Thanks Graham!
    I admit I was one of those people who kept searching for the next great piece of gear that I just knew was going to take my recordings to the next level. I am finding out now that it is the “little” things that make the big difference. A great example is room treatment. I always wondered why my recordings sounded boxy and nothing like what I hear on the radio.

    I did some research and decided to go with corning 703 (the foam stuff just didn’t cut it for me), and oh my goodness! I couldn’t believe my ears! The new detail, depth, width, etc. was amazing. I was actually getting ready to dump $3K on a new set of monitors and in my case all it took was $300 to make my existing equipment sound great. All my recordings now translate well regardless of what I plat them through.

    I had literally spent thousands trying to fix what boiled down to bad room acoustics. I have since been able to sell off a lot of equipment and focus on more on playing music. Your site is so refreshing and “real”. It helps reinforce that great recordings aren’t all about the best equipment. It’s about keeping it simple, mastering the equipment that you do own, and spending the majority of the time focusing on the music. I look forward to future articles. Keep up the good work!

  3. Graham

    Alrod – Great story! So glad your recordings are sounding better. And thanks for your kind words about the site. It keeps me going!

  4. Manolis

    Fantastic read and you are ABSOLUTELY right about the myths! I find gear limitations and not “top of the line” equipment very inspiring. As a musician I’m getting more creative with less gear! I think it’s opening doors than closing! And of course it’s WAY more fun.

    I’ve just found out about your website. You are doing great job! I’m gonna check all your articles for sure! Keep up!

  5. Nazim

    superb article. its sooo true what you have said. i faced the myth many times. i am a newbie. learned a lot from your videos and articles. got many answers.. actually all, and still learning from ur videos and articles. it helped me a llllotttttttt..:D
    plz keep posting. will look forward.

  6. Alex

    The thing is that nowadays you can get gear with _at least_ the same quality with much affordable price. That makes things affordable and that there is also quality in personal studio. In old days equipment costs so much that it was not affordable for individuals to get even quality soundcard. Modern big studio has just more gear and more expensive gear
    but would you hear a difference in that final mix? I guess the biggest difference is the teamwork behind that who is sitting behind the desk when they had even that 80s equipment which you have now…

    Do you really remember how much costs 16bit 44kHz stereo, 96dB SNR soundcard on 1994 (CardPlus for example)? Now you can get one with 24bit/96kHz which has digital in/out too, and for less than 80 USD which is better than that oldie. Or just add 80 USD more and you get an audiointerface with 10 in + 10outs, all with 24 bit and 96kHz. It was a dream if you were in 90s becouse it was not affordable back then!
    How much costed a synthesizer? Keyboard controller? Did you got it for 100 USD ? Go ahead, now e-bay is full of second hand synths for less than 200 USD/piece which costed more than 10 times more back then. Mixer was with the price of the car, now its not. did you had computer harddisks with
    atleast ONE gigabyte capacity on 1994? Now you have 128GB disks and as solid state devices for less than 200 USD.
    And of course – CD writers, dont forget their availability and prices.
    So bottom line – in now every person can have that equipment which was in old days in a big studio which dont cost so much anymore. everyone can have that one-mans-orchestra. Devices quality and their affordability have become so much better that difference compared to big studio are only in a big debats.

  7. Giuliano

    I recorded my first album (that you may listen on http://www.eulersnumber.com) at my home with a pc and a tc el. konnekt 8 firewire audio card and it sounds better that most of big names major recordings (imo). Besides this, I also recorded a demo (demo because of the limited time I had to spend with it) of my band: digital drum on BFD and the other instruments miked by an AT2020, listen to them at http://www.redfunky.it and tell me what you think!

  8. DNeale

    One of my favorite releases of all time is Iron & Wine’s debut EP, which was recorded in a small bedroom, totally lo-fi, utterly beautiful. Rich, deep, and full of rustic flavor, it resonates gloriously because of the terrific songwriting and the wonderful performance. Any good engineer will tell you, you can have all the high-end gear in the world, but if the performance is sub-par the recordings will be sub-par.

    Rock the cheap gear, pour your heart into a great performance, and release your creation to the world.

  9. Mark

    Great post Graham! I think GAS just runs in the veins of us audio guys and that certainly gets in the way at times. Although it would be nice to have an SSL to play with 🙂

  10. PASCAL Philippe

    Nice points !

    I second Alrod point of view.
    If you got some spare money and space in your room, make or buy cheap bass traps and put them everywhere you can, instead of changing converters/preamps.
    Between ceiling/walls and corners are good starters and they don’t take so much space.
    You can find countless help in this domain on the web.
    It is going to sound a lot better, for tracking and mixing.
    Some spare ones on walls can help too. They not only absorb bass freq, but the rest too. There is no real limit to basstraps, just a matter of money/space.

    Acoustic treatment is going to give you a LOT better sound than 10 times the same investment in pres/converters 😉 And it can be really cheap.

    And try to mix in another room than tracking, it is a simple trick and can help a lot to hear acoustic drawbacks.

    Thanks for your articles !

  11. Jose

    If you want a nice de-ezzer, all you guys need to do, is go to your audio editing windows, highlight the portion of audio you want to affect, and then use the audio normalize process that your program offers, and it will do an excellent job. I use cubase and it does a wonderful job. You don’t need anything else to de-ezz, and it is like I say excellent. Don’t waste your money in extra programs.

  12. Bryan

    Just finished reading “Home Recording Myths – Part 1” and how refreshing to hear some good commonsense comments free from hype, bias and marketing! Looking forward to reading more.
    Thanks alot.

  13. Niklas J. Blixt

    Great content! This goes kind of in line with the series I’m doing at the moment over at my website. Where I try to get more people to realize that they probably have all the gear they need to record and release an album on their own if they just know how to use it. The series are called “How to record an album” and can be found, for whom of you who might be interested, here: http://niklasjblixt.com/category/how-to-record-an-album/

  14. Filipe

    What you said about arrangement i think it might be really true. Sometimes i watch guys playing guitar with a loop pedal and they make whole amazing sounding songs with just the loop pedal and maybe a drum backing track, on the spot, while you’re watching them do it.

  15. Michael Barsoum

    Hi Graham
    I recently downloaded “the legendary Red 2 & 3 plug-in suite” from focusrite. It’s supposed to emulate the characteristics of the real thing (used in professional recording studios all over the world). See the link below
    In Logic, every plug-in has the option of 2 views. Editor is the “fancy visual” and Controls is “straight-up words and faders”. The legendary Red 2 EQ doesn’t even have all the eq frequencies to play around with like the Logic version. YOU ARE RIGHT, THERE ARE MUSICAL MYTHS.

  16. Matt Buckley

    Great article, as always! However, I’ve definitely come across built-in pres that simply did not live up to basic “clean” standards in my older M-Audio ProFire 2626 that was really exposed when using small-diaphragm condenser mics like the Shure SM81 on a low-volume source. Drums or close-mic’d guitars, no problem. But when I used a stereo pair to capture a choir in a large room, I had to crank them up to 7 or 8 to get a decent signal only to find a super-high noise floor. I had to jump through hoops to get rid of the hiss.

    Granted, if I was using that interface just to record basic band tracks, those preamps would’ve passed just find. But in my experience, there can be a vast difference before ever hitting tonal coloring attributes in built-in pres.

  17. Cranky

    I used to rely on the preamp in my old Behringer Xenyx802 mixer unit, but found its weak tonality to be sorely lacking . Since switching to the Mackie 402VLZ4, with its pro-grade Onyx preamps, I find it much easier to achieve a more ‘professional’ sound.

  18. Martin Weeks

    Ah yes, your blog is just so absolutely true and accurate. I personally know a phenomenal guitarist and engineer who owns his own full out recording studio. And yes his music is amazing and clean and beautiful sounding [in his control room] and he absolutely swears that without all his gear (hardware) all music sucks. Funny thing is though, he recently asked me to do him a professional favor for a split down the middle of money earned. He wanted to do videos with top quality sound for local businesses in our area. (good idea of course) but he wanted me to spend my days off doing cold calls to pizza restaurants. I tried to explain to him that the level of engineering he is operating on, is not even close to in the budget of a small localized pizza sandwich shop type of place, and that there were dozens of Web Build Business site out there already that can just grab canned music and do segue pictures of pizza, and Parmesan all day. He got so insulted over my refusal to waste time on this when I already had numerous large business people via linked in that would and could afford his high end production, that he completely Reneged on all our contractual agreements. To his mindset everyone needs to have his hardware gig or they are all fools, and yet he seems to be having a lot of trouble selling any of his huge catalog of music. And he’s directly affiliated with Harpo, the Cardassians and a bunch of others. Hmm…snobbery? Maybe that’s the root of his problems not the gear. Thanks again, I’ve made more progress in the past six months from watching your videos and reading the blogs than I’ve made in the past five years just pounding through. Take care.


  19. Ivan

    The information gave me a new and good perspective .. Thanks .. What are you thoughts about the pres on an Mbox 2 ?



  1.  Home Recording Myths – Part 2 « The Recording Revolution
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  8.  Miti e leggende dell'home recording - parte 1 | Roberto Porpora
  9.  Budget Gear, Doubters, And My Weird Way Of Seeing The Home Studio | The Recording Revolution
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  11.  Your Audio Interface Has Clean Mic Preamps (Which Is Neither Good Nor Bad) | The Recording Revolution
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  13.  What Do You Really Need In Your Studio? | The Recording Revolution
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